In the summer of 1967, while their counterparts across the pond, The Beatles, were releasing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in part as an admitted response to The Beach Boys 1966 masterwork Pet Sounds, the Southern California sound architects were moving inland. This two-disc set sheds light on the symbolic aural migration east that year five decades ago when the Boys embraced the soulful sounds of Detroit and Philly. Long a fan of Phil Spector girl groups and the Motown sound, Brian Wilson and company at the time were finalizing Wild Honey and it’s decidedly R&B single, “Darlin’,” marking the group’s shift away from the early songs of cars and surfers, and the more recent Pet Sounds orchestration, to a stripped-down, blue-eyed rock-and-soul, touched with lyrical dabbles into psychedelic imagery, such as “Country Air.”
Here the star is Wild Honey, released for the first time in stereo format, as well as a dozen-and-a-half highlights from that session comprising the first disc. The second disc features a bushel of previously unreleased work both from Brian’s house for the aborted Smiley Smile album, and a slew of material from the September Lei’d in Hawaii, a faux-live record made mainly in the studio. Five tracks from a Thanksgiving concert in Washington, D.C. round out the collection.
The stereo mix of Wild Honey is alive with dynamics, sounding as full and realized as it deserves; Carl Wilson’s voice is at his gritty best. The bulk of the remaining tracks fill in the history of ’67 in totality, but feel more like a study of a band seeking a new identity rather than the concise, focused effort Wild Honey provides at the outset. While any fan would revel at the inside look of this creative process, naturally it’s loaded with some moments, like two versions of “All Day All Night,” both with whistle, that may be essential only for completists.