Monday, 29 August 2016

Becoming The Beach Boys: The Complete Hite and Dorinda Morgan Sessions - review

Becoming The Beach Boys: The Complete Hite and Dorinda Morgan Sessions
The Beach Boys (Omnivore)

A few years back, an album of early Beach Boys’ numbers labelled Beach Hits or Greatest Hits or even Surfer Girl was a common sight. Of course, on closer inspection it wasn’t THE Surfer Girl album, but a collection of songs recorded in their pre-Capitol days (occasionally rounded out by numbers by other artists) produced by Hite and Dorinda Morgan between 1961 and 1962 when the Boys changed from The Pendletones to The Beach Boys and then, briefly, to Kenny and the Cadets. It was 1990 before Steve Hoffman located the original recordings, which he re-mastered and in 1991 (on DCC Compact Classics) released as Lost and Found, containing the master takes and a selection of other takes from the sessions. Following that, there was an aborted attempt to have a subscription release of the full sessions (as remastered by Hoffman) under the title, First Wave, in 2000 by Beach Boys historian and collector Brad Elliott, but the band claimed that Bruce Morgan, Hite and Dorinda’s son, didn’t have permission to issue the set and put a stop to it.

So… here we are in 2016 and we have the official release of the most complete set of recordings yet by the nascent Beach Boys, this time mastered by engineer, producer, mixer and long-time Brian Wilson associate Mark Linett, recently seen playing Brian’s engineer Chuck Britz in the film Love and Mercy (2014).

Although only three of finished numbers (Surfin’ Surfin’Safari and Surfer Girl) have come to be regarded as iconic early Beach Boys’ songs, in the manner of other recent collections, like the Smile Sessions box set, this is a fine example of rock archaeology and it pays to listen to the evolution of a song and the ways the Boys change their contributions and the tone of their vocals. Surfer Girl is a particularly good example of this, with the first take painted in much darker hues than the version we're familiar with and missing the lyrics to the bridge.

Lavender, a sentimental tale of lost love written by Dorinda Morgan, shows already how mature and skilful a vocal arranger Brian Wilson already was and the finished version is fleshed out with some stylish jazz-inflected stand-up bass by Al Jardine and guitar licks by the 15 year-old Carl Wilson.

The astute among you may have noticed that there would appear to be the odd take missing (take four of Luaua, for example), but what is presented here is what's left. Either there were no other takes or the tapes are missing.

Jim Murphy’s excellent liner notes complement the set, filling in the gaps and explaining the genesis of songs like, Surfin’, which came about as a result of a Mike Love and Dennis Wilson fishing trip during which they discussed surf instrumentals and wondered why nobody had sung about the topic.

The band’s early influences are clear: from the jazzy Four Freshmen-style vocal arrangements of Lavender, to the doo-wop (via Jan and Dean’s Baby Talk) of Surfin’, to the Chuck Berry influenced Surfin’ Safari, to the surf guitar in Carl’s Beach Boy Stomp (aka Karate).

The set closes with two songs by Kenny and the Cadets from March 1962 – Brian and Carl and their mother Audree, with Al and Val Poliuto of the Jaguars singing over two pre-recorded tracks written by the Morgans (though credited to their son, Bruce to help him on the way as a songwriter).

A month later and The Beach Boys are making the demos at Western Recorders that would secure them a contract with Capitol and their first album, Surfin’ Safari.

For the dedicated fan, this is a fascinating and revealing picture of the birth of a band who would become one of a handful of major players in the development of rock music.


This seems like as good as time as any to remind you that Jim Murphy is the author of the excellent book, Becoming the Beach Boys 1961 - 1963 (McFarland), to which this release is a companion. This was featured here with review and interview:

Here’s Jim’s excellent website that serves as a companion to his book – and so much more:

If you want more on Al’s early history, check out Andrew G. Doe’s In The Beginning:

Another excellent tome cvering the early history of the band is Jon Stebbins’ The Lost Beach Boy: The True Story of David Marks, One of the Founding Members of the Beach Boys (Virgin Books)

Now if only Omnivore could release their Dennis Wilson compilation …

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