You’ll get a mess of joy with Sail On Sailor: 1972!
In 1972, The Beach Boys were at a bit of a crossroads.
They were thirsting for some hip cred, and in the previous year they went a fair way towards achieving it, by doing a concert with The Grateful Dead at The Fillmore East, and releasing an ecologically forward album, Surf’s Up, which became their highest charter in four years.
By 1972, however, they weren’t quite where they wanted to be with their cool factor, and there were talks about them changing their name to “Beach” or “The Beach”-thankfully, that didn’t happen. What they did was add Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, two members of the South African rock band, The Flame, whom Carl Wilson had recently gotten to know and produce, in part to replace the erstwhile Bruce Johnston, and also to attempt to reach a more progressive marketplace. They recorded an album, Carl and The Passions/So Tough, the name a retread of one of the very early Beach Boys band monikers, which, while maybe not making them any hipper, is probably their most diverse and most underrated albums of all-time. It contains soulful rock (“You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone”), gospel (“He Come Down”), two tender cum intense ballads by Dennis Wilson (“Make It Good” and “Cuddle Up”), hippie-rock (“Here She Comes”), a Maharishi-inspired tune (“All This Is That”) and the single “Marcella”, which mined similar retro territory to “Do It Again”. The album should have been a hit, but Warner Brothers didn’t have much confidence in it, and, having acquired the iconic Pet Sounds album from Capitol Records, decided to pair that album with ‘Carl’, basically telling the public, “yeah, we know it’s not that good, but look what else you get if you buy it!”. A shame, because the album has become largely forgotten in the Beach Boys canon.
The Beach Boys had fallen under the spell of a man named Jack Rieley, who had insinuated his way into a managerial position, and whose cockamamie idea it was to record their follow up album in the Netherlands, so he arranged to have the band, their families and a recording studio flown over to Holland. After a few false starts, including a massive disrepair of equipment, The Beach Boys managed to record a masterpiece, appropriately titled Holland, a generously languorous affair containing some of the band’s best ever tunes, including “The Trader”, “Only With You”, and “Funky Pretty”. When the band returned to California and delivered the album to Warners, it was rejected due to “lack of a single”, so Brian Wilson, whose involvement with The Beach Boys had been continuously diminishing over the years, pulled out a demo which wowed everyone who heard it. That tune was called “Sail On Sailor”, which is the title of this wonderful box set containing both of the aforementioned albums, tons of demos and outtakes, a full live concert from Carnegie Hall circa late 1972, and more. This 6-CD set is a wonderful follow up to 2021’s Feel Flows box, further highlighting a period of The Beach Boys which cries out for more and more exposure.
Disc one contains Carl and The Passions/So Tough, along with several previously unreleased demos, the best of which are “The Road Not Taken”, a partially spoken word rough cut of what was to become “All This Is That”; a beautiful a cappella take on “All This Is That”; and a lovely alternate version of “Cuddle Up”. Disc 2 features Holland, along with the fairy tale Brian Wilson had written for it called “Mt. Vernon and Fairway” (a paean to the street corner containing the house Mike Love had grown up in); although it’s a pleasant, innocent listen, thankfully Warners and the band had decided not to include it on the album, but rather as a 7-inch included in the package, and more previously unreleased tracks, including a new mix of “We Got Love”, the song which “Sail On Sailor” had replaced on Holland (in The Netherlands, some copies with “We Got Love” had been released before they were quickly pulled back, making them quite the collector’s piece; note: I have one), a wonderful rocker called “Hard Time”, which wouldn’t have fit on Holland, but sadly was never released until now, and single mixes of the Mike Love/Al Jardine Americana suite, “California.”
Discs three through five are the main reason to purchase this set. Three and four contain the aforementioned Carnegie Hall concert, which is a fine mix of current tracks, older deeper cuts, and the hits. The most salient thing this show illustrates is that The Beach Boys could rock about as well as anyone, the addition of Fataar and Chaplin really helping to flesh out their sound, and is a snapshot in the time not long before Endless Summer and the ill-fated “Brian Is Back” campaign. The album tracks are nicely integrated with the hits, further showing The Beach Boys to be an “album band” more than anything else. Great stuff!
Disc five is full of further previously unreleased demos and outtakes from both album sessions, and some of them are wonderful, particularly a take of “The Trader” with just track and backing vocals, also the same for “Funky Pretty”, which is a revelation as one can finally figure out what they’re singing in the background, a very rough demo of “Sail On Sailor” with “dummy lyrics”, and a cool tune called “Out In The Country” (not the Three Dog Night hit). Disc 6 has more goodies, including “Mount Vernon and Fairway” sessions tracks (how’s that for completist?), a raw instrumental version of “Susie Cincinnati”, and a 2022 mix of the “California” trilogy, among many others.
Sail on to your local record shop and get this box, as soon as you can!