When I first heard that The Beach Boys were preparing a 50th anniversary box set I must admit I wondered to myself, “How many times can this band reissue the same old songs?”
Well, not only have The Beach Boys dug into their vaults far beyond even the superb 1993 Grammy winning Good Vibrations box, unearthing some truly magical moments in the process but, even after the endless reissue campaigns of the past 35 years, the new box set – Made In California – offers an avalanche of the best sounding and most interesting nuggets yet from the band’s long, storied career.
“I really never get tired of doing this, I’m always finding something new and fresh,” the set’s co-producer and longtime Beach Boys compiler/archivist Mark Linett told me recently.
New and fresh, indeed. If you think you’re tired of hearing the same old Beach Boys tracks you’ll really be in for a treat. Made In California features nearly 200 of the best sounding versions of just about every Beach Boys classic you can think of, including over 60 previously unreleased recordings. And the deluxe set is presented in a lovely, high school annual-inspired hardbound book with personal recollections from the band’s members, replicated classic artwork and memorabilia, photos from the band’s archive, and handwritten yearbook-style inscriptions from Beach Boys Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks.
“The Good Vibrations box was done in the early, early days of digital mastering, so everything was on analog tape, and using the mono masters,” Linett told me. “Even when we got to later projects like the Pet Sounds box set (in 1997), with true stereo mixes, it involved synching up the tracks by hand on tape machines and constantly watching them to match the phase as closely as possible, but by hand. In the meantime technology has improved and we’ve accumulated a whole bunch of stereo masters and have recovered a lot of missing session tapes, so that’s made a huge difference in what we can offer on this set. And of course now we’re in a much more advanced digital world, so our stereo mixes are really head and shoulders above what’s come before, both sonically and technically.”
“I know people who swear by the plugins that match the technology used at the original sessions,” Linett told me. “I’m more concerned with ‘does it sound’ good than ‘is it the absolutely correct plugin.’” That approach certainly paid dividends on Made In California.
Highlights of the box set include spectacular stereo versions of “Don’t Worry Baby”, “California Girls”, a host of tracks from the recent SMiLE Sessions box set, and – for the first time in stereo – “Do It Again”. But even the original mono masters of tracks like “Warmth of the Sun” and “Good Vibrations” have never sounded better. If you’re a fan the set is a must-have.
So is this the final word on The Beach Boys?
“It’s funny but we have filled in gaps in the archive by people coming forward with session tapes and tapes of outtakes, and we’ve encouraged the label to make a big push in the press about that in the hopes that more people will come forward with missing tapes,” Linett confessed. “So since tapes have been recovered as recently as the SMiLE Sessions box I’m hopeful that more reels will come to our attention.”
And finally, since I had the man largely responsible for bringing The Beach Boys’ catalog into the 21st Century, I had to ask what he felt the best sounding version of Pet Sounds was. “I think the recent Mobile Fidelity version is the best, hands down,” Linett told me. “It’s just a superb mastering job. It’s absolutely the one to get.”
This article is copyright 2013 by Jeff Slate. A more detailed, technical version of this review will appear in an upcoming issue of TapeOp Magazine. No part may be reprinted or referenced without permission and/or attribution. All rights reserved.