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Ins and outs of most recent Beach Boys reissues, part 1

The latest Beach Boys reissues feature mono and stereo mixes
The latest Beach Boys reissues feature mono and stereo mixes
Capitol/EMI

There’s no better time than the dead of winter to revisit the work of the band whose name conjures up visions of summer: the Beach Boys.

You can thank EMI Japan for the latest Beach Boys reissues; the company requested the releases as a tie in with the band’s most recent tour in Japan, and so they’ve been released in this country as well. In addition to being remastered, most of the releases have mono and stereo mixes, some previously unavailable, and it’s a great way to get the two mixes on one CD. But unlike the “two-fer” Beach Boys sets that came out in 1990 and 1991 (and were upgraded a decade later), there are no bonus tracks or extensive liner notes.

“Surfin’ USA,” the band’s second album, has one strong song (the title track), a couple of good ones (“Lonely Sea,” “Shut Down”), and a lot of filler — there are five instrumentals for one thing, and three of the other songs are covers. Granted, “Misirlou” (yes, it’s a different spelling from Dick Dale’s original) and “Surf Jam” do rock, but it shows the band’s creative juices weren’t entirely flowing yet.

“Surfer Girl” also kicks off with a classic track (the title song), and is overall a much stronger album. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also the first album that Brian Wilson officially produced, and you can hear him begin to stretch out, as on the string arrangement for “The Surfer Moon.” The album also has “In My Room,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” and “Catch a Wave,” as well as some pretty good second tier numbers like “Hawaii,” the wild closing instrumental “Boogie Woogie,” and a heavy surf theme (“The Rocking Surfer,” “Surfer’s Rule,” etc.).

If “Surfer Girl” rode the waves, the “Little Deuce Coupe” album cruised the streets. But there are only eight new songs, as four of the tracks (including the title cut) are recycled from previous albums (one of them, “409” is presented here in a first-ever stereo mix). It’s still fun as a collection of love songs — to cars. There’s a cautionary note sounded in “A Young Man is Gone,” a tribute to James Dean, and “Be True to Your School” and “No-Go Showboat” are also highlights.

“Shut Down Vol. 2” opens strong with “Fun, Fun, Fun” and the sublime “Don’t Worry Baby,” but then suffers from surfeit of weak material, most obviously in the case of the painfully unfunny mock “rehearsal” track “‘Cassius’ Love vs. ‘Sonny’ Wilson.” Too many of the songs feel like rough drafts instead of finished work, and the covers (“Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “Louie Louie”) are okay, but nothing special. Still, you do get “The Warmth of the Sun” along with the two classic opening tracks.

The rest of the reissues will will be covered in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.