Acoustic Sounds

The Beach Boys

Sunflower

Music

Sound

Produced By: The Beach Boys

Engineered By: Stephen W. Desper

Mixed By: Stephen W. Desper

Mastered By: N/A

Lacquers Cut By: N/A

By: John French

November 28th, 2023

Genre:

Rock

Beach Boys Blossom Anew With "Sunflower"

Beach Boys return

The Beach Boys Sunflower.

Original release August 31, 1970

I love this album.

Looking back now I think I know why.

It all had to do with timing.

As far back as I can remember, the California of my youth was represented by those insiped Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello beach movies. Those movies dovetailed along with my afternoon exposure to the Mickey Mouse Club.

Growing up in NYC I just knew about cold dark winters and super hot summers in the Catskills. The Beach was a non-existent image.

The Disneyfication of the media to me was some kind of fantasy land.

I would walk out of movie theaters at the age of 10 wondering what the world must look like in California.

Well, the Beatles hit in 1964 and so did the Beach Boys   

The Beatles had hits and the Beach boys seemingly matched them month to month up until 1966. The Beatles, of course, as well as Dylan learned before anyone else that the long playing album was the coming format. That is what really set them apart from all the British invasion bands as well as the Four Seasons, the Motown artists and almost all the rest of the ‘hit makers’ of the day.

Rubber Soul laid down the gauntlet. The Beach Boys answered with Pet Sounds. Rubber Soul however was both an artistic as well as commercial smash. Not so Pet Sounds. As good as Pet Sounds was, the Wall of Sound style production used by Brian Wilson, who was copying Phil Spector, was on its way out

Both The Beach Boys and Phil Spector were making records in L.A. at the same time in the same studios with many of the same musicians and both hung their future on two simultaneous releases. The Pet Sounds album for the Beach Boys and the River Deep Mountain High single by Ike & Tina Turner

Both releases commercially crashed and took their creators down a serious depression path.

Meanwhile the world turned upside down. The Stones, the Who & Pink Floyd  as well as all the new L.A. bands like The Doors, Buffalo Springfield and Love coupled with the San Francisco bands, (The Dead, Airplane, Quicksilver, Grape) changed the music scene entirely.

To me, as a 15 year old, the Beach Boys, following the hit single “Good Vibrations”, just evaporated from my consciousness.

1968 brought us the double assassination of MLK and RFK and all the summer urban riots coupled with the anti war movement.

By 1969 the landscape was really dark and it seemed to mirror the entire hippie drug scene, especially in NYC. 

The summer of 1969 brought us the Manson murders, followed by the last gasp of hippie culture: The Woodstock festival. The Stones Altamont disaster ended the year on a super dark note.

As ‘69 led into 1970, The Kent State student murders and the anti Vietnam war protests continued the ‘darkness’ of the era.

I spent the summer of 1970 on Fire Island (off Long Island, NY)  , maybe hoping that the sea and sun could brighten my outlook as I had decided to drop out of high school 2 months before my graduation in June.

The Grateful Dead dominated that summer with Workingman’s Dead and CSNY released Deja Vu that March. As good as these were, maybe for me it was not optimistic enough. 

The reason I bring all this back is because, when my friend Jeff Pullin, a Sam Goody audio salesman and super Beach Boys freak told me about a new Beach Boys album, I bought it reluctantly.

The Beach Boys were Frankie, Annette, Disney, sunny & warm and as fake as a barbie doll. 

If Mick Jagger was the “Prince of Darkness’ then Brian Wilson was the Prince of Sunshine.  Was I ready for that?

The answer was/is YES!

Sunflower is so damn sunny, light and hopeful it just swept me away then and it still does.

I bought Sunflower on a whim and before I put it on my new stereo (Dual 1019 turntable w a Shure v15 cartridge, my new Dynaco 120 power amp and matching PAT preamp and  JBL 100 speakers -with orange grills!),  I read the back of the album jacket (as we all did back then).

The Beach Boys left Capitol Records and were now given their own imprint on Warner Bros. (a very serious rock label) There was a paragraph written by Mo Ostin, the president of Warner Bros. Records. Mo Ostin had been written about a lot in the rock press. He ran Warner Bros. Records and was considered a legend. He signed the Grateful Dead and guided the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Sinatra, Crosby & Sammy Davis Jr. to name a few.The fact that he just signed the Beach Boys (and gave them their own record label imprint, Brother Records) really impressed me.

I took the album out of the cover and placed it on my new rig.

Out poured some of the most beautiful music I had heard in a while.

Why was I so moved? Maybe because of the darkness of the visions of much of the music I had digested over the preceding 4 years. That is an oversimplification, i know.

But it just was so positive and maybe I just needed that sunny west coast image to enter my cerebellum.

It was the Beach Boys for sure but with a sophistication that I did not expect. I realized that the music that had taken over my world was not oriented in the way that only the Beach Boys could do.

The most harmonious band to release albums during this time was CSN and CSN&Y.

No doubt they were great but as no duet could ever sound like the Everly Brothers, no other musician/vocalists could sound like the Wilson Brothers. The Beach Boys also had a secret weapon, Mike Love. His nasal whine matched perfectly and when you added Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston, you had a revolver shooting 6 bullets.

Where Pet Sounds was essentially a Brian Wilson solo album, written and recorded while the band was on a European tour in 65-66 and the musicians on that album were actually members of the famed studio collection informally referred to as the "Wrecking Crew", Sunflower was truly a group effort. 

The opening track “Slip on through” with its off time intro, led off the festivities followed by the gigantic multi layered vocal power of “This Whole World”. 

Other stand out tracks are “Add Some Music to Your Day”, “Got to Know the Women” sung by Dennis Wilson), "Deidre", “Cool Cool Water” and my favorite album track “Tears in the Morning”. 

Absolutely no other band does these types of vocals better.

There are 12 tracks and each one leads to the next. While it is true that we listened differently in those days (playing the whole of side one into the whole of side two) there was a natural flow that said to me not only were the songs great, but care was taken as to the arc of the presentation.

The whole band was present and the lead vocals were all shared and none of these leads was “less than". Just another flavor maintaining the consistency of the whole.

I lost my original vinyl copy of Sunflower many years ago and recently bought the SACD version along with a half dozen older classic Beach Boys albums on both vinyl and SACD

Playing it brought back such great memories of 1970.

I then started playing Pet Sounds again. I found vinyl of both a stereo mix as well as a remastered mono mix in my collection.

So much changed in the four years between when these two albums were released and it's not like the BB didn't release albums during that time. They did and I even had some (to my surprise) and never opened!

1970 however, signaled the end of the Beatles and the deaths of Jimi & Janis.

It was a very interesting time. CSN&Y were the biggest American band that year.

1971 was going to unleash Who’s Next, Every Picture Tells a Story, Sticky Fingers, Led Zep IV, The Doors LA Woman & Bowie’s Hunky Dory.

But somewhere in this sea change existed this little bit of leftover innocent Americana. Something not heard in years and maybe that is what was so fresh about it.

Critics may never replace Pet Sounds on the pecking order of the greatest of all Beach Boys albums. I understand that.

But Pet Sounds signaled the end of the bombastic orchestral “wall of Sound’ era that began (in my consciousness) in August 1963 with the Ronettes "Be My Baby" and ended in May 1966 with River Deep Mountain High and Pet Sounds.


Sunflower, in contrast, signaled a new beginning.

Sunflower signaled that the Beach Boys were back.

Beach Boys SunflowerThe original pressing

The critically acclaimed and commercially more successful  Surf’s Up followed a year later but Sunflower has a special place in my heart.

Sonically, Sunflower is a dense recording. Not necessarily an audiophile release in the strictest sense but recorded with true stereo in mind not just separate tracks thrown together by engineers. My memory of listening on my new Koss headphones was a revelation!

The vinyl re-release (a part of a double album with Surf’s Up and bonus tracks) arrived in the post just before I finished this review. I was looking forward to the vinyl revisit.

The new vinyl version's treble was tipped up almost to the point of being unlistenable. Not only compared to the SACD but also to the Qobuz 24bit FLAC from 2016 which were indistinguishable from the SACD and probably used as the reference supplied by the record label. 

The vinyl is now on Capitol/ Universal.

The liner notes tell me that Mark Linett did the mastering EQ (2021) for the new vinyl re-release.

He needs to have his hearing checked. 

Please do not let that dissuade you from enjoying this album. Some feel dark times again are upon us and the Beach Boys Sunflower is here again to let the sunshine in!

Just listen to it streamed, on SACD or an original Warner Bros./Brother album 

Enjoy listening to it if you get a chance, I have enjoyed returning to it  immensely!

Happy Holidays

Jay Jay French

Enjoy my podcast: 

The Jay Jay French Connection: Beyond the Music on Spotify apple and PodcastOne

TrackingAngle welcomes Jay Jay French! Excerpts from his supplied bio: This high school dropout initially disappointed his liberal Jewish mother (who was one of New York state's campaign managers for John F. Kennedy's presidential run) but went on to form one of metal's most successful bands, Twisted Sister in 1973.

 His company, French Management Enterprises manages Twisted Sister where Jay Jay plays dual roles both behind the desk and on the stage. When Twisted Sister released STAY HUNGRY on Atlantic Records on May 10, 1984, the metal world was never the same. Containing the iconic hits,  "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" (along with, "The Price"), Twisted turned the music world on its ears and revolutionized MTV with a pair of accompanying videos that became two of the network’s most popular to this day.

Music Specifications

Label: original album: Warner Bros./Brother Records. Reissue: Capitol/Universal

Catalog No: CAP 31865/ CAPP 069 SA

Pressing Plant: N/A

SPARS Code: AAD

Speed/RPM: N/A

Channels: Stereo

Source: SACD

Presentation: CD

Comments

  • 2023-11-28 02:53:16 PM

    Fred Morris wrote:

    Nice! One of my reservations with 45 rpm remasters is disruption of the flow you so well describe.

  • 2023-11-28 04:26:13 PM

    JACK L wrote:

    Hi

    "The new vinyl version's treble was tipped up almost to the point of being unlistenable" qtd JJ French.

    That's why my last vinyl I want to buy is digital reissues let alone the hefty cost to pay for.

    Thank goodness, I got the Beach Boys old timer: "High Water" an on-the-stage live concert of Pickwick Label (in arrangement with Capital Record) , an compilation AAA reissue in 1973.

    It sounds so live & being-there exciting , sonically balanced - powerful bass with no high frequency tilts at all !!

    That said, I still prefer the less noisy & more 'civilized' live performance of the Eagles at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 28/07/1980, a Elektra/Asylum record label LP which I unexpectedly picked up from my neighbourhood thrift store for only a buck some 10 years back.

    The first track: 'Hotel California' is sooo enjoyable !!! What a historic music treasure!

    JACK L

    • 2023-11-29 10:45:48 AM

      JACK L wrote:

      Hi

      "the Beach Boys old timer: "High Water" qtd JACK L

      • 2023-11-29 11:03:19 AM

        JACK L wrote:

        I like this album so much simply because it compiled 'Fun Fun Fun' (1964 ) & 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow' (The Bird) 1962), 2 outstanding rocks which make me play from time to time despite my being a classical music geek !

        JACK L

  • 2023-11-28 04:59:21 PM

    Todd wrote:

    So this vinyl release is not a 9?

    • 2023-11-29 12:09:02 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      It's up to the writer and I never challenge their numbers, but Jay Jay's 9 refers to the SACD. Based on his write up I'd give the record a 7 and that would be generous. Over the summer the same label released a multi-LP boxed set that was terrifically sequenced but again, Mr. Linnett decided he needed to mess with perfection like the original "In My Room", so he remixed everything and ruined just about everything he touched.

  • 2023-11-28 06:47:52 PM

    Ted Danowski wrote:

    You want the best sounding Sunflower? Buy the Analogue Productions version. No tipped up treble there. It’s the best pressing of this album.

    • 2023-11-29 12:09:34 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Yes, that one is very good of course, as is the original pressing.

  • 2023-11-28 07:18:09 PM

    Jonti Davies wrote:

    Thanks for the review, Jay Jay. Very interesting to read context from someone who was there at the time.

    I have a 1980 Dutch pressing that sounds superb and is very affordable. No treble pain here! https://www.discogs.com/release/2975003-The-Beach-Boys-Sunflower

  • 2023-11-29 12:54:30 AM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    This may be obvious, but sometimes an imbalance between highs and lows is due to using the wrong studio monitors. They need to have flat frequency response. If they don't, the mastering engineer cranks up the bass or highs to compensate for flaws in the recording that don't exist. Excessive treble can also result from the engineer's unacknowledged hearing loss...

    • 2023-11-29 11:18:05 AM

      JACK L wrote:

      Hi

      "the engineer's unacknowledged hearing loss..." qtd S Dome

      Why should this hearing-retarded guy still keep his job there? Is his employer half-deaf like this guy too ?

      FYI, my alma mater graduate bud stopped his decades headphone music for good 2 years back after he put on his hearing aid to fix his retarded hearing.

      Thank goodness, my hearing is still sharp & sound enough to tell digital from analogue even blindfolded !

      JACK L