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Author Topic: Beach Boys' response to Sunflower reception  (Read 4703 times)
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« on: March 22, 2006, 06:39:43 AM »

I've been going through a real Sunflower phase lately, listening to the album over and over and enjoying and admiring it so much.  Probably my second favorite album of all time, after "Pet Sounds."

One thing that strikes me listening to it is how much effort the group really put into it.  All the songs are just beautifully arranged and produced; it seems like a real attempt to do a sequel to "Pet Sounds" in the production arena.  Also it's pretty clear that Brian was heavily involved in the project, after being almost absent from 20/20.

It was their first album for Warner Bros., and they were happy to get free of Capitol.  I know the label rejected their first submitted version of the album, but I have also read that advance orders for the "Add Some Music" single were very promising.

I guess what I'm wondering is, does anyone know if the Beach Boys were really expecting big things for Sunflower, commercially and critically?  And were they crushed when it bombed on the charts?  I would think it would be pretty devastating to put together such a fantastic piece of work and then have it only reach #151 on the US album charts.  I mean, Brian was disappointed with the reception for Pet Sounds, but it hit the top ten and spawned a top ten hit (WIBN).  Sunflower was an utter debacle by comparison.

David Leaf's book mentions in passing that Brian put a lot of work into Sunflower and was devastated when it flopped, causing him to withdraw again from the band.  Does anyone know more about this?  And what about the other band members?
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« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2006, 08:59:00 AM »

Fred Vail was back promoting the BB's at this point, and he's told me the guys were completely devastated by the reaction to Sunflower in the U.S. But remember the record did very well in the UK. In the states however nobody would play it. Fred recalls a program director from a major station going on and on about how great the BB's were to him, and then refusing to play Add Some Music on his station...because the BB's weren't hip anymore. Fred also told me the band was drawing crowds in the range of 200 people around this time. He said the curtain would go up and the house would be a fifth full, he was amazed after playing to packed houses of thousands of screaming fans for so many years... that the BB's were even bothering with such depressing concerts. But slowly they began to turn it around. Within three years they were drawing 20,000 again...within five they were selling out stadiums.
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« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2006, 09:40:34 AM »

Fred Vail was back promoting the BB's at this point, and he's told me the guys were completely devastated by the reaction to Sunflower in the U.S. But remember the record did very well in the UK. In the states however nobody would play it. Fred recalls a program director from a major station going on and on about how great the BB's were to him, and then refusing to play Add Some Music on his station...because the BB's weren't hip anymore. Fred also told me the band was drawing crowds in the range of 200 people around this time. He said the curtain would go up and the house would be a fifth full, he was amazed after playing to packed houses of thousands of screaming fans for so many years... that the BB's were even bothering with such depressing concerts. But slowly they began to turn it around. Within three years they were drawing 20,000 again...within five they were selling out stadiums.


Thanks for the interesting response, Jon.  What I can never fully understand is why the Beach Boys became so un-popular in the late 60s when they were still producing incredible music.  I was born in 1970, so I don't know what it was like first-hand, but it seems that if radio had just played their stuff from Sunflower it could have caught on.  I know they were not "hip" by the standards of say the Doors or the Rolling Stones, but there were a lot of hit records around that time by groups that could hardly be considered hip, such as the Cowsills or the Carpenters, and a lot of other acts I probably haven't heard of because their music hasn't stood the test of time.  Why wasn't "Forever" a hit single?  Or "Add Some Music"?  Or "Deirdre"?  It's not like this stuff is inaccessible.  It's catchy and hummable.  It also happens to be very moving and complex and beautiful, but it should have been popular.  People just didn't listen.
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« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2006, 10:13:50 AM »

Ya know,that always kind of miffed me too.That the BB's were so unpopular at a time when they were writing the best music of their career(my opinion).To me,Sunflower/Surf's Up/Holland and In Concert '73 was the most "progressive" time in their writing and live shows.Absolutely Brilliant music......and yet minimal interest from the public.
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« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2006, 12:27:10 PM »

In defense of the radio stations "Add Some Music" is not a very cool song. Its more of an AM radio song. Not hip.  Add Some Music and Deirdre are interesting to listen to, but not very often. All i Wanna Do/Cool water is cool though.  most of the others sound dated but thats just my opinion. I think SunFlowe is one of Brians weaker efforts if he did produce most of it. 20/20-Friends sound briliant in comparision and Brian did work on quite a few 20/20 songs. I always thought he only worked on a few Sunflower songs.
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« Reply #5 on: March 22, 2006, 12:33:34 PM »

My understanding is that Brian's involvement in Sunflower, while obviously present, is overstated.  Stephen Desper could enlighten us more about that, but looking through his book I don't see much difference between Brian's involvement in Sunflower and in Surf's Up (in terms of producing, singing, and playing on the tracks).  The major difference is that Brian wrote more songs for Sunflower - but on some of them his role may be exaggerated (like Deirdre - I believe Bruce has said he contributed one line of lyric for the song).  Carl produced the non Dennis and non Bruce tracks, with the exception of Add Some Music which was Brian's baby.  If I have this wrong, somebody step in and correct me!
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« Reply #6 on: March 22, 2006, 12:41:33 PM »

I wouldn't compare the reaction to, or popularity of, Surf's Up, Holland and In Concert to Sunflower. Surf's Up went top 30 and Holland and In Concert went top 40 and they all got FM radio play and sold decently. While they promoted those LP's the BB's crowds were consistently growing...they had regained a core popularity. It wasn't like Endless Summer came out and then suddenly the crowds went from 200 people to 50,000. During '71 - '74 the BB's had grown into a band that easily drew 15 -20,000 a show...Endless Summer becoming a major hit instantly doubled that of course. But unlike Surf's Up, Holland and In Concert, the Sunflower LP was a total commercial bomb in the states(as was Carl and the Passions although not as bad), and Sunflower coincided with the bottoming out of their llive popularity as well. I agree it deserved to be a hit...it's one of their three or four best records no doubt. But something about it, and the timing of it, cause it to be the BB's worst seller ever...until Summer in Paradise...which IMO deserved what it got.
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« Reply #7 on: March 22, 2006, 12:42:31 PM »

I think Brian's production is overstated.  But his involvement, at least vocally, is way more than on Surf's Up.  Brian sings on pretty much every song on Sunflower.  Not so with Surf's Up, where he pretty much only sings on his own compositions.
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« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2006, 01:09:42 PM »

I think Brian's production is overstated.  But his involvement, at least vocally, is way more than on Surf's Up.  Brian sings on pretty much every song on Sunflower.  Not so with Surf's Up, where he pretty much only sings on his own compositions.

No doubt.  BW is all over Sunflower, and if you listen to the period outtakes his presence is heavy as well.

He reigned it in a bit on Surf's Up, but you can still pick him out quite a bit more there than on the two albums that followed.  (Josh, am I correct in my assessment that Brian doubles Carl's lead vocal on "Fourth of July"?)
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« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2006, 01:50:02 PM »

This Whole World and All I Wanna Do would have been 'cooler' lead singles. Forever and Slip On Through might have been okay, too. The rest of the album doesn't really have "hit single" on it. I really like Add Some Music to Your Day, but it's definitely not a early-70s FM song.
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« Reply #10 on: March 22, 2006, 02:18:13 PM »

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Josh, am I correct in my assessment that Brian doubles Carl's lead vocal on "Fourth of July"?

I don't hear Brian, no.  It's kind of strange how the leads are mixed.  The volumes are pretty different, and Carl's pretty sloppy at times.
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« Reply #11 on: March 22, 2006, 02:29:42 PM »

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What I can never fully understand is why the Beach Boys became so un-popular in the late 60s when they were still producing incredible music.

Pretty easy to understand I think. They failed to release SMiLE, which would have established them as progressive and cool with the burgeoning hippie crowd. Instead they overhyped the crap out of, built expectations, and then released the god-awful substitute Smiley Smile. Next up they bailed out on Monterey Pop , thereby missing a golden opportunity to solidify their popularity with the Northern California crowd alongside Hendrix, Joplin, Airplane etc.  The BB's were now your parents music all dressed up in candy-striped, Disneyland squareness. People were not turned on, they stopped tuning in, and the BB's dropped out of the charts.
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« Reply #12 on: March 23, 2006, 12:02:43 AM »

My understanding is that Brian's involvement in Sunflower, while obviously present, is overstated.  Stephen Desper could enlighten us more about that, but looking through his book I don't see much difference between Brian's involvement in Sunflower and in Surf's Up (in terms of producing, singing, and playing on the tracks).  The major difference is that Brian wrote more songs for Sunflower - but on some of them his role may be exaggerated (like Deirdre - I believe Bruce has said he contributed one line of lyric for the song).  Carl produced the non Dennis and non Bruce tracks, with the exception of Add Some Music which was Brian's baby.  If I have this wrong, somebody step in and correct me!


No correction, just an addition...

I once read that Brian's minimal contribution on Deirdre had something to do with the song We're Together Again. I don't mean the lyrics, but the way the first verses are sung. Compare the melody of the Deirdre part "The trouble you had, It wasn't so bad" with the intro of Were Together Again.

Does anyone have more information on this?

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« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2006, 12:22:34 AM »

Except WTA was written by Ron Wilson, not Brian,according to AGD.
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« Reply #14 on: March 23, 2006, 03:13:12 AM »

This Whole World and All I Wanna Do would have been 'cooler' lead singles. Forever and Slip On Through might have been okay, too. The rest of the album doesn't really have "hit single" on it. I really like Add Some Music to Your Day, but it's definitely not a early-70s FM song.

This Whole World and Forever definately would've been good singles. Tears In The Morning actually was a big hit single here (in Holland), so I believe that with some promotion it could've been a hit everywhere else too.
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« Reply #15 on: March 23, 2006, 03:21:25 AM »

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What I can never fully understand is why the Beach Boys became so un-popular in the late 60s when they were still producing incredible music.

Pretty easy to understand I think. They failed to release SMiLE, which would have established them as progressive and cool with the burgeoning hippie crowd. Instead they overhyped the crap out of, built expectations, and then released the god-awful substitute Smiley Smile. Next up they bailed out on Monterey Pop , thereby missing a golden opportunity to solidify their popularity with the Northern California crowd alongside Hendrix, Joplin, Airplane etc.  The BB's were now your parents music all dressed up in candy-striped, Disneyland squareness. People were not turned on, they stopped tuning in, and the BB's dropped out of the charts.

I agree with all of that but as someone mentions further up, music that was 'soft' was also popular at the time.  I'd say this is a question of marketing.  If you're known as a middle of the road, easy listening act that has nothing whatsoever to do with all that long hair and drugs crowd you were going to sell lots to a predominantly conservative and middle-aged audience.  Whereas the Beach Boys found themselves caught between the two camps - pop music squares to the 'hip' counter cultural types, hairy druggy rockers to Mr and Mrs Middle America.
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« Reply #16 on: March 23, 2006, 07:02:19 AM »

Slip on Through was released as a single - the followup to Add Some Music.  It failed, as did Forever when released later (as the Bside to Cool Cool Water - what were they thinking releasing Cool Cool Water as a single?)
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« Reply #17 on: March 23, 2006, 07:03:40 AM »

If they had just released Seasons in the Sun they would have had a top ten hit and their popularity may have been restored two years before it did start coming back.
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« Reply #18 on: March 23, 2006, 07:09:53 AM »

Yeah, that's the thing... would ANY single have failed at the time? Cool, Cool Water was definitely a bad choice since it's so long and more of a 'mood' piece. This Whole World was a b-side instead of a-side!

Slip On Through/This Whole World (Brother 0929/29 June 1970)
Tears In The Morning/It’s About Time (Brother 0957/November 1970)
Cool, Cool Water/Forever (Brother 0998/February 1971)
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« Reply #19 on: March 23, 2006, 07:29:48 AM »

If they had just released Seasons in the Sun they would have had a top ten hit and their popularity may have been restored two years before it did start coming back.

Seasons In The Sun - surely the name of The Beach Boys should have been above such maudlin slush.     
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« Reply #20 on: March 23, 2006, 09:51:35 AM »

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What I can never fully understand is why the Beach Boys became so un-popular in the late 60s when they were still producing incredible music.

Pretty easy to understand I think. They failed to release SMiLE, which would have established them as progressive and cool with the burgeoning hippie crowd. Instead they overhyped the crap out of, built expectations, and then released the god-awful substitute Smiley Smile. Next up they bailed out on Monterey Pop , thereby missing a golden opportunity to solidify their popularity with the Northern California crowd alongside Hendrix, Joplin, Airplane etc.  The BB's were now your parents music all dressed up in candy-striped, Disneyland squareness. People were not turned on, they stopped tuning in, and the BB's dropped out of the charts.

I agree with all of that but as someone mentions further up, music that was 'soft' was also popular at the time.  I'd say this is a question of marketing.  If you're known as a middle of the road, easy listening act that has nothing whatsoever to do with all that long hair and drugs crowd you were going to sell lots to a predominantly conservative and middle-aged audience.  Whereas the Beach Boys found themselves caught between the two camps - pop music squares to the 'hip' counter cultural types, hairy druggy rockers to Mr and Mrs Middle America.


Interesting analysis, Sir Rob.  There probably has always been and always will be a dichotomy between the "hip" music of an era (around 1970 this was probably the Stones, Hendrix, the Doors, and I don't know who else) and the more "square" stuff (the Monkees, the Carpenters, Cowsills, etc.)  The "square" stuff isn't just for the middle-aged conservative crowd but also for kids, especially teenybopper girls.  In the early-mid 60s, the Beach Boys, like the Beatles, appealed to that group (kids/girls), which makes up the majority of the broader pop audience.  No one can stay on top with that audience for more than a few years, though.  The Beatles, starting around 1965-66, managed to move over to the "hip" audience with records like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.  Their decision to stop touring and focus on the studio was at least a tacit acknowledgement of the need to make this shift.

Brian also tried to make a similar shift (indeed, he stopped touring before the Beatles did), and was probably on the way to doing it with Pet Sounds and SMiLE.  But the scrapping of SMiLE probably did the Beach Boys in with the hip audience, and now they were too old for and out of touch with the teenybopper audience.  To their eternal credit, they did not simply try to stick to the formula (as Mike Love wanted them to), but Brian, Carl, Dennis, and Al (and Bruce) kept producing original, creative music that was true to their own vision.  The music they made, from Smiley Smile through Holland, is so phenomenal (in my opinion, at least) that it is hard to understand now why it wasn't more popular.  Although it has been pointed out in this thread that Surf's Up, In Concert, and Holland sold respectably, still the Beach Boys were nowhere near the top ten in the US from 1967-73, even though they were having arguably the best run of studio recordings any act has ever had.

But I think Sir Rob has hit on a good explanation for it.  They were caught between two worlds -- hip and square -- and didn't fit into either.
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« Reply #21 on: March 23, 2006, 10:42:32 AM »

I've always thought that some aspects of this period of the Beach Boys career tend to be oversimplified.  We like to make stories simple, so, for example, in all the books, Monterey Pop becomes a symbol of the band's new "un-hipness".  But Johnny Rivers performed, and Dionne Warwick had been on the schedule...

The Beach Boys were making some great music from 1967-73, so why wasn't it selling?  I don't think the answer is that simple.

Sunflower was and is a great album, but it doesn't have anything on it that sounds like even a mild hit single to me. 

"Breakaway" is a truly great song- but also doesn't sound like a hit single to me.  Hit singles are a tricky thing.  To me, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is a much better song than "Help Me, Rhonda", but not nearly as good a single.

Singles and albums were almost like two different markets back then, and the Beach Boys just couldn't seem to score in either.  They went from a wildly popular act to a niche one, and I think it had a lot more to do with them than it did the changing times.  Remember that the top selling single of 1967 was (I think) Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler with "The Ballad Of The Green Berets" and the top selling act that year (I believe) was not the Beatles or the Stones but the Monkees.  Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons continued to do just fine.

The post-66 Beach Boys were an act that reminds me a little of something Jerry Garcia once said about the Grateful Dead: Not everybody likes licorice, but people who like licorice, really like licorice."
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« Reply #22 on: March 23, 2006, 12:31:11 PM »

Sunflower was and is a great album, but it doesn't have anything on it that sounds like even a mild hit single to me.

Bingo! 20/20 didn't bomb as badly as Friends and Sunflower because it had "Do It Again". As much as I love "Add Some Music to Your Day", can anybody imagine the soft mega-seller Carpenters releasing a single with this song at their peak? I can't.
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« Reply #23 on: March 23, 2006, 03:35:23 PM »

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Josh, am I correct in my assessment that Brian doubles Carl's lead vocal on "Fourth of July"?

I don't hear Brian, no.  It's kind of strange how the leads are mixed.  The volumes are pretty different, and Carl's pretty sloppy at times.

I don't think Carl's vocals as they stand were intended to be the "final" vocals...the same story as with "Soulful Old Man Sunshine".  The productions were abandoned for one reason or another before
they were "finished".  Both songs as released were spliced together from different working
mixes.  That said, I'm glad they were, because if they weren't, we wouldn' have them, and they're far too good for us not to have!

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« Reply #24 on: March 23, 2006, 06:46:05 PM »


Singles and albums were almost like two different markets back then, and the Beach Boys just couldn't seem to score in either.  They went from a wildly popular act to a niche one, and I think it had a lot more to do with them than it did the changing times.  Remember that the top selling single of 1967 was (I think) Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler with "The Ballad Of The Green Berets" and the top selling act that year (I believe) was not the Beatles or the Stones but the Monkees.  Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons continued to do just fine.

You make a really good point here.  I think we tend to put too much trust in the general publics barometer to recognize good material and support it.  I think a lot of good music (as well as film, art, all forms of media) goes unnoticed in the time it's produced. 

The "changing times" argument is one that always confuses me, because there's evidence for it and against it.  Cancelling the Monterey Pop Fest seems like a big mistake, but can you imagine the '67 era Beach Boys on the same stage as Hendrix?  Also, the lackluster support for Pet Sounds (Which should have been promoted as the breakthrough LP it was) and the burnout of Smile didn't help Brian's confidence any in even trying to remain in the game.  Drop off the radar long enough, and even your biggest fans stop checking back for you.

I think the biggest hurdle they had to overcome was the awkward transition from the striped shirts to "Men with Beards".  From a public image standpoint, the Beach Boys never seemed to get it right.  Music as a commodity doesn't speak for itself, and before Music Videos, concerts and public image were and still are, major promotional tools for Artists.  The Beatles turned away from the matching suits and became themselves not only on stage but in their private lives, however ridiculous the clothing or facial hair.  Watching Mike Love wear those ridiculous hats and Marihishi robes on stage, you don't get the image of somebody being who they are, though admittedly it's hard to tell with Mike.

Part of me tells me that they could've done things differently and remained successful, and another tells me that all recording acts from the early 60's on, were doomed to a life of oldies and Las Vegas.  People were looking for a radical change in '67, and no matter how much the Beach Boys changed with the times, the cliche of surf music and candy striped shirts prevailed.  I think a success Pet Sounds might've turned this around, but it's unlikely such a radical change in music production would've agreed with the same people who made "The Ballad of the Green Berets" a number one record.

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