Beach Boys’ ‘Feel Flows’ Box Set: Review

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The Beach Boys from the era (Photo: Iconic Artists Group LLC / Brother Records Inc.; used with permission)

The Beach Boys will undoubtedly be most remembered for the first two chapters of their career. In the first, which ran from 1961 into 1965, they produced a long list of irresistible harmonic numbers about surfing, cars and young love—songs like “California Girls,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Don’t Worry, Baby,” to name a few. Then in 1966 and 1967 came the period when group leader Brian Wilson moved into uncharted territory with dazzling results on inventive albums like Pet Sounds and the long-unreleased Smile.

The Beach Boys’ greatness didn’t end with that era, however. True, their later work is not as consistently outstanding, but it contains more than a few high points and garners less attention than it deserves. For evidence of that, look no further than Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions 1969–1971. This 2021 collection, which features five CDs housed in a 48-page hardcover book, showcases the band’s resilience and resourcefulness at a time when its Capitol Records contract was ending on not-so-great terms and Brian was partially sidelined by mental health issues. One reason for the strength of the Beach Boys’ material during this period is that all six members of the group stepped up to the plate to contribute memorable songs and lead vocals.

The original Sunflower and Surf’s Up—which first appeared in 1970 and 1971, respectively—do incorporate the occasional loser. “Student Demonstration Time,” which weds words by Mike Love to the music from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Riot in Cell Block 9,” is much closer to pretentious than profound, for example, and the nods to environmentalism, “Don’t Go Near the Water” and “A Day in the Life of a Tree,” also feature banal lyrics.

But you’ll find lots of standouts on these records. Bruce Johnston contributes the sweetly nostalgic “Disney Girls,” for instance, and Carl Wilson adds “Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows” (the latter with flute by jazz artist Charles Lloyd).

Listen to a live version of “Disney Girls”

And like George Harrison in the Beatles, Dennis Wilson emerges as an underused asset with ballads like “Forever.”

Listen to the a cappella mix of “Forever”

Related: Our in-depth interview with Brian Wilson

The best tracks, though, feature Brian as writer or co-writer, including the poignant “Til I Die” and such bright, upbeat numbers as “Cool, Cool Water,” “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “This Whole World.”

Listen to the a cappella mix of “Til I Die”

Listen to the classic “Cool, Cool Water”

Then there’s Surf’s Up’s title track, a number originally intended for Smile that weds a typically abstruse Van Dyke Parks lyric to one of Brian’s more adventurous melodies.

Listen to an a cappella mix of “Surf’s Up”

Remastered versions of the two albums that contain all these songs are just a starting point for Feel Flows, which features more than six-and-a-half hours of music. Assembled by Mark Linett and Alan Boyd, who put together the Grammy-winning Smile Sessions, the box incorporates live recordings, demos, radio promos and more. Amazingly, given the huge amount of archival Beach Boys material that has appeared over the years, only 25 previously issued tracks—including the 22 numbers from the original LPs—are among the 133 selections. (A promo video for the box erroneously promises 135.)

The Beach Boys from the era (Photo: mptvimages.com; used with permission)

Like many similarly sized boxed sets, this one does include some content that seems likely to interest only the most fanatical fans, such as instrumental backing tracks and versions and mixes that differ only slightly from the well-known recordings, Still, you’ll find lots of fascinating obscurities in the package’s long list of bonus materials. It includes spirited concert versions of six tracks from Sunflower and five from Surf’s Up, for example, as well as an extended rendition of “Til I Die” with alternate lyrics.

Related: Our Album Rewind of the Beach Boys’ album Smiley Smile

Also here are an instrumental snippet from Lennon and McCartney’s “You Never Give Me Your Money” and a reading of “Seasons in the Sun,” the 1974 worldwide chart-topper by Terry Jacks, who worked with the Beach Boys on Surf’s Up.

There are notable, previously unheard renditions of songs such as Al Jardine’s “Susie Cincinnati,” a number that would appear on 15 Big Ones in 1976, and “Good Time,” which Jardine wrote with Brian for 1977’s The Beach Boys Love You. Another standout is Mike Love’s “Big Sur,” a song that has never previously been released in any version, though it sounds related to his “California Saga/Big Sur” composition on 1973’s Holland.

For this performance, The Beach Boys band was augmented with a full horn section and the brass gives “Susie Cincinnati” a whole new edge.

The band’s excellence didn’t end with the years covered by the Feel Flows box: still to come were such gems as the aforementioned The Beach Boys Love You, which ranks with Brian’s most endearing work. But this box alone should be enough to convince many listeners that the group’s latter days were under-appreciated.

Watch “The Beach Boys Feel Flows Chapter 1: I See Love,” described as “a visual exploration of this metamorphic and highly influential 1969-1971 period of the band’s legendary career.”

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  1. Alias Pink Puzz
    #1 Alias Pink Puzz 19 August, 2021, 12:39

    The current touring Beach Boys have added It’s About Time, Feel Flows, and Add Some Music to their setlist.

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  2. Timflyte
    #2 Timflyte 20 August, 2021, 05:44

    This writer needs to read a little bit of history of the Beach Boys before writing a article about them lol. Two huge mistakes ( #1 Big Sur was released before on Holland , in 3/4 time , but the version released on the box set was recorded first #2 Good Time was originally going to be on the album , that became Sunflower , but was taken off but then used 7 years later on The Beach Boys Love You.)
    A Day In The Life Of A Tree has some incredible lyrics , much deeper if you think outside the box.
    Student Demonstration Time…. A song for that era in which it was recorded , much like Neil Young’s ” Ohio “….still has some good advice stay away when there’s a riot going on.
    And the Ecology song ? All these years later and our waters are still filthy….
    Nothing wrong about warning people to be aware of it. It’s to bad most didn’t heed the warning and still throw trash out along highways , etc.

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff
      Jeff 21 August, 2021, 15:36

      Thanks for your comments. As promo materials for the Feel Flows album note, the original “Big Sur” song has not previously been released, though it evolved into the very different number that appeared on Holland. Re “Good Time,” my phrasing was imprecise: I wrote that Brian Wilson and Al Jardine wrote the song “for” The Beach Boys Love You. What I meant is that the number appeared on that album; you’re right that it was actually written earlier.
      Your other comments involve matters of opinion. I’m as much of an environmentalist as the next person but “A Day in the Life of a Tree” and “Don’t Go Near the Water” don’t strike me as particularly profound statements on the subject. Ditto “Student Demonstration Time,” which seems to me to deliver a muddled message.

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  3. TyStick
    #3 TyStick 28 August, 2021, 11:15

    The best Beach Boys album is the compilation “Endless Summer” I bought that in the mid 70s and I have been a Beach Boys fan ever since. Just a great album with some really good songs. It always reminds me of my youth, growing up in California. They need to re-release it and with all stereo tracks and remastered. Just a great LP.

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