Depending on who you talk to, the greatest Beach Boys records are either Pet Sounds and SMiLE (ok, some will argue for Beach Boys Today). Yet there is a pretty strong contingent who champion Sunflower and Surfs Up, recordings release in 1970 and’71, respectively. These were made at a time when main songwriter and creative driving force in the group, Brian Wilson, was taking an effective back seat from the limelight.
Those latter two records are the focus of a quite wonderful five CD super deluxe edition calledFeel Flows, newly released by Universal Music and Capitol Records. Not only do you get great sounding remastered versions of those two seminal albums but also a wealth of outtakes, alternates and live versions. These latter recordings provide not only incredible insights to the making of the original albums but also reveal — effectively — several additional albums worth of fine unreleased material.
In that way, Feel Flows is a “holy grail” for serious Beach Boys fans.
Indeed, this set is mostly for the already committed fan of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. If you are a casual listener and not familiar with Sunflower and Surf’s Up, I do recommend you listen to them both first. I’m partial to the latter but both are no doubt tied to one another.
These albums represent that important moment where the other members of the band — especially Carl and Dennis Wilson as well as Al Jardine and Bruce Johnson — stepped up to the plate and hit home runs while Brian was mostly coping with a host of personal challenges (if you are not up on that part of Brian’s story, do watch the fine film Love & Mercy starring John Cusack which documents his at times terrifying ordeal).
And on Feel Flows it is this essence of The Beach Boys fully coming together as a mature band which comes to the front of the mix. All the band membmers delivered some tremendous songs of their own, particularly showcasing the writing talents of Dennis Wilson including the rocking opening Sunflower track “Slip On Through” as well as “Got To Know The Woman,” “It’s About Time” and the beautiful “Forever.”
Of the two albums represented in this set, I think Surf’s Up sounds a bit better but both sound good as CDs go. Sunflower always had an unusual high end sparkle to it even on vinyl and that is even more apparent on the CD. Surf’s Up is no less bright but it all comes together with more warmth, feeling and flow, if you will.
Feel Flows is streaming in MQA format on Tidal (click here) and Hi Res on Qobuz (click here) at 88.2 kHz, 24-bit resolution. I’m not entirely sure I like how the Sunflower material sounds here — if the CD is bright, this stream is even brighter for some reason and takes a bit to get used to. In this case, I think I like the way that Qobuz is handling the music as it somehow feels a little less processed. Sunflower was an early 16-track recording and is known as something of an audiophile quality recording so I wonder if some of their original production aesthetic was optimized for eventual pressing on vinyl. Some tracks are brighter than others — “Add Some Music To Your Day” sounds a bit quirky while “Got To Know The Woman” just rocks madly.
That said, the tracks from Surf’s Up sound closer to how the original album sounds on both services.
This is just the tip of the iceberg on this wonderful set. Please tune in tomorrow when I’ll explore more of the outtakes, alternates and live recordings in the Feel Flows collection.