20/20 (The Beach Boys album)

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20/20
2020Cover.jpg
Studio album by The Beach Boys
Released February 10, 1969 (1969-02-10)
Recorded September 19, 1966 – November 21, 1968
Studio
Length 29:46
Label Capitol
Producer The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys chronology
Stack-o-Tracks
(1968)
20/20
(1969)
Sunflower
(1970)
Singles from 20/20
  1. "Bluebirds over the Mountain" / "Never Learn Not to Love"
    Released: December 2, 1968
  2. "I Can Hear Music" / "All I Want to Do"
    Released: March 3, 1969

20/20 is the 15th studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on February 10, 1969. The LP was named for being their 20th overall album release. Much of it consists of outtakes from earlier albums. It reached number 3 on UK record charts and number 68 in the US. Brian Wilson was absent during most of the album's recording after admitting himself into a psychiatric hospital, requiring brothers Carl and Dennis to retrieve several outtakes he had recorded years earlier. While Brian does not appear on the front cover, the inner gatefold of the original vinyl release features him alone, behind an eye examination chart.

The singles "Do It Again" and "Bluebirds over the Mountain" preceded the album's release by several months. The former was the band's first attempt at revisiting the surf sound they had abandoned since All Summer Long, topping UK and Australian charts, and the latter contained a B-side co-written by Charles Manson: "Never Learn Not to Love". 20/20 was the last studio album released on Capitol Records that would contain new material for the next 17 years. The following singles "I Can Hear Music", "Break Away", and "Cotton Fields" concluded their contract.

Background[edit]

On June 24, 1968, the Beach Boys released the album Friends, which peaked at number 126 and remained on the Billboard Top LPs chart for 10 weeks. It became the group's worst-selling album to date,[1] with record sales in the US estimated at 18,000 units.[2] To recuperate from the album's poor sales, the band quickly released the standalone single "Do It Again". The song was a self-conscious throwback to the group's early surf songs, and the first time they had embraced the subject matter since 1964. It reached the US top twenty and became their second number one hit in the UK.[3] Biographer Chrisian Matijas-Mecca wrote that "while this may have been some of Brian's strongest work of the period, it did nothing to reverse the band's decline in popularity."[4]

Brian Wilson said that by early 1968, the group had begun losing thousands of dollars "on stupid things ... cars, houses ... bad investments ... a heck of a lot of corporation money on Brother Records, our own company, and in boosting other artists who just didn't make it, and didn't have a single hit."[5] One of these artists was Ron Wilson (no relation to Brian), who co-wrote "We're Together Again" with him for the Beach Boys, but the group's recording was left unreleased. In turn, Brian produced an ultimately unsuccessful solo single for Ron, a cover of "As Tears Go By", which was released by Columbia Records in September.[6] Another artist that the group worked with was an ex-convict named Charles Manson, who was then seeking a career as a singer-songwriter. Dennis Wilson befriended Manson and was interested in signing him to Brother Records.[7] Brian and Carl Wilson (not Dennis as is sometimes suggested) proceeded to co-produce several tracks for Manson at Brian's home studio.[8] These recordings remain unheard to the public; music historian Andrew Doe stated that the tapes exist, but that they have "not a hope in hell" of being released.[8]

Over the summer of 1968, Brian attempted to record an arrangement of the 1927 show tune "Ol' Man River". According to music writer Brian Chidester, the session tapes "reveal Wilson conducting the Beach Boys to such extreme perfectionism that both he and the band seem at the end of their rope with one another".[9] Friend and Three Dog Night singer Danny Hutton recalled that Brian expressed suicidal wishes at the time, and that it was "when [Brian's] real decline started".[10] Afterward, Brian was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, possibly of his own volition,[11] where he was prescribed Thorazine for severe anxiety disorder.[9] Brian's issues were not disclosed to the public, and sessions continued in his absence. Band engineer Stephen Desper remembered that "it was a big relief, particularly for Carl. The feeling was that they'd finally admitted to [the problem] ... 'Now he's gonna get some help.'"[11]

Once discharged, Brian rarely finished any tracks for the band, leaving much of his subsequent Beach Boys output for Carl Wilson to complete.[9] Regarding Brian's participation on the group's recordings from then, Desper said that Brian remained "indirectly involved with production" through Carl.[12] Dennis said that the group were forced "to find things that Brian worked on and try and piece it together. That's when [he started having] no involvement at all."[13] Brian's former wife Marilyn recalled that Brian withdrew because of perceived resentment from the group: "it was like 'OK you assholes, you think you can do as good as me or whatever – go ahead – you do it. You think it’s so easy? You do it.'"[14]

Recording and content[edit]

Older songs

The two oldest tracks on 20/20 were sourced from late 1966 sessions for the band's unfinished album Smile. "Our Prayer" is a wordless hymn composed by Brian, while "Cabinessence" is a song written by Brian and Van Dyke Parks. Both tracks were given additional vocal overdubs by Carl and Dennis Wilson in November 1968 at Capitol Studios.[15] Brian was opposed to the inclusion of those tracks and refused the invitation to participate in the overdub sessions.[16] Stephen Desper described Brian being "superstitious about those tunes" and "[left] the house when the guys were working on them. He didn't want anything to do with them, really."[16] He commented that "Cabinessence" was "finished, more or less, with Brian's guidance through Carl."[12]

"Bluebirds over the Mountain" is a cover of the 1958 Earl Hickey song, produced by Bruce Johnston in September 1967 at Western Studio[17] and completed in October 1968 at Bell Sound.[18] "Time to Get Alone" was written and produced by Brian for the group Redwood (later Three Dog Night) between sessions for the Beach Boys' Wild Honey (1967). It was completed by the Beach Boys in November 1968 at Brian's home studio.[18]

May – July 1968 sessions

"Do It Again", a Brian Wilson and Mike Love collaboration, was the first track that was worked on after concluding the sessions for Friends.[18] It was recorded in May and June 1968, released as a single two weeks later, and ultimately chosen as the opening track for 20/20. Brian later called it the finest song that he wrote on the album.[1] The album mix differs slightly in that it briefly segues into another Smile outtake, "Workshop", which consists of construction noises and sounds from carpentry tools.[19] "I Went to Sleep" is a waltz written by Brian and Carl with a gentle mood and observational lyrics similar to other Brian songs of the period.[19] "The Nearest Faraway Place" is an instrumental produced by Bruce Johnston with the string arrangement by Van McCoy. The title came from a Life magazine article written by Shana Alexander.[20]

Leftover tracks from these initial sessions included "Been Way Too Long" (also known as "Can't Wait Too Long"), "Walk On By", "We're Together Again", "Sail Plane Song" (also known as "Loop de Loop"), "Ol' Man River", and "Walkin'".[18] "Been Way Too Long" is an unfinished song started by Brian in 1967. "Walk On By" is a cover of the 1963 Burt Bacharach/Hal David song, recorded at Brian's studio on the same day as the first "Do It Again" session.[18] "Ol' Man River" was intended to be in medley with the standard "Old Folks at Home".[21] "Walkin'" is a song written and sung by Brian that was worked on for two days in June 1968.[18] Band archivist Mark Linett said "he gets so disgusted singing it that you hear him throw down his headphones and that’s the last time anybody ever heard of it."[22] Also recorded, according to band manager Nick Grillo, was "a hundred hours of Charlie's music at [Brian's home] studio".[20]

September – November 1968 sessions

For the majority of July and August, the Beach Boys toured the US and appeared on a few television talk shows.[18] Most of the subsequent new material was tracked at Capitol Studios.[19] Carl produced a rendition of the Ronettes' 1966 song "I Can Hear Music" for the group, and it was the first time he was given a sole production credit. Brian said that he also contributed to the recording, explaining "I wanted the instrumental track ... to be smooth and subliminal. I used acoustic guitars. Carl wailed on the lead."[1] Biographer David Leaf called it "the turning point in the transition of musical control in the Beach Boys from Brian to Carl".[1] Brian also produced a version of Huddie Ledbetter's "Cotton Fields" that he later called "one of the best [records] we've ever made". The idea was suggested by bandmate Al Jardine, who thought they might be able to replicate the success of "Sloop John B" (1966).[1]

"Never Learn Not to Love" was originally written by Charles Manson under the title "Cease to Exist". According to biographer Peter Ames Carlin, Manson penned "Cease to Exist" specifically for the Beach Boys to record,[23] and biographer Steven Gaines said that Manson "reportedly" wrote the song to help ease tensions within the group.[24] In exchange for the publishing rights to "Cease to Exist", Manson agreed to a sum of cash and a BSA motorcycle.[25] Dennis produced the Beach Boys' version in September 1968, reworking the song's bluesy structure and altering its lyric (the opening lyric "Cease to exist" modified to "Cease to resist"). The title was also changed to "Never Learn Not to Love", much to Manson's indignation.[23] In 1971, when asked why he did not credit Manson, Wilson answered: "He didn't want that. He wanted money instead. I gave him about a hundred thousand dollars' worth of stuff."[26]

Dennis wrote and produced two more songs that appear on the album. "Be with Me" was described by Leaf as "dark and eerie ... perfectly capturing his emotions of the era."[1] "All I Want to Do" is a rocker that features the sounds of Dennis having sexual intercourse with a groupie.[16]

Release and aftermath[edit]

Lead single "Bluebirds over the Mountain" (backed with "Never Learn Not to Love") was issued on November 29, 1968 in the UK (number 33) and three days later in the US (number 61), becoming the group's lowest-charting single since their 1961 debut "Surfin'".[27] According to biographer Keith Badman, "the new recordings mark[ed] the emergence of Carl and Dennis as producers and of Steve Desper as the group's engineer. Desper is now part of the Beach Boys' fold and remains a chief engineer on their work early into the next decade."[28] After touring the UK in December, the Beach Boys return to Brian's studio to work on the music that would become Sunflower (1970).[28]

Released on February 10, 1969, 20/20 sold better than Friends, peaking at number 3 in the UK and reaching number 68 in the US.[1] The cover photo included every member of the group except Brian, which Matijas-Mecca referred to as "a sign that the group was determined to forge their own identity without their founding architect."[29] A photograph of Brian hiding behind an eye examination chart does appear on the gatefold cover.[28] Rolling Stone reviewer Arthur Schmidt said the album was "good, [but] flawed mainly by a lack of direction (a sense of direction being last evident in Wild Honey, more a collection than a whole."[30] A reviewer for the underground paper Rat Subterranean News commented that even thought it was "against all my carefully established principles to like The Beach Boys," he enjoyed the LP, yet described most of side one as "weak".[31]

On April 12, the Beach Boys filed suit against Capitol Records for unpaid royalties and production duties in the amount of $2 million (equivalent to $13.3 million in 2017).[32] Weeks later, Brian told the music press that the group's funds were depleted to the point that they were considering filing for bankruptcy at the end of the year, which Disc & Music Echo called "stunning news" and a "tremendous shock on the American pop scene". Brian hoped that the success of a forthcoming single, "Break Away", would mend their financial issues.[5] He wrote the song with his father and ex-band manager Murry Wilson. It was released on June 16 with the B-side "Celebrate the News", a Dennis song, and peaked at number 63 in the US and number 16 in the UK.[33] The group's contract expired two weeks later with one more album still due,[34] after which the label deleted the Beach Boys' catalog from print, effectively cutting off their royalty flow.[32] The lawsuit was later settled in their favor and they acquired the rights to their post-1965 catalog.[16]

In August, Charles Manson and his cult of followers committed the Tate–LaBianca murders and were apprehended by police three months later. Their former connections with Dennis and the Beach Boys became the subject of media attention. Manson was later convicted for several counts of murder and conspiracy to murder.[35] During the trial, Manson released his debut album, Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, on March 6, 1970. Consisting of 13 tracks recorded between 1967 and 1968, it included Manson's original arrangement of "Cease to Exist". Approximately 2,000 copies of Lie were distributed, but only 300 albums were reportedly sold.[36]

Retrospective reviews[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4/5 stars[37]
Blender (Friends/20/20 reissue)4/5 stars[38]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[39]
MusicHound3/5[40]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[41]

Music critic Richie Unterberger wrote that 20/20 was "one of their better post-Pet Sounds records ... The highlights, however, were a couple of Smile-session-era tunes ... as hard as they were trying to establish their identity as an integrated band in the late '60s, their new recordings were overshadowed by the bits and pieces of Smile that emerged at the time."[37] Biographer David Leaf called it "one of the most artistically interesting releases of their career and certainly one of the stronger later LPs."[1] Peter Ames Carlin wrote that "whatever the album lacked in thematic coherence, it made up in the quality of the pieces contributed by each band member."[16] Brooklyn Vegan's Andrew Sacher said that the first side is "uneven and often disappointing", yet side two is "almost flawless".[42]

In 1976, Dennis called 20/20 "the only letdown of the Beach Boys' career that embarrassed me through and through".[43]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Lead vocal(s)Length
1."Do It Again"Brian Wilson, Mike LoveMike Love, Brian Wilson2:25
2."I Can Hear Music"Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil SpectorCarl Wilson2:36
3."Bluebirds over the Mountain"Ersel HickeyLove, C. Wilson, Bruce Johnston2:51
4."Be With Me"Dennis WilsonDennis Wilson3:08
5."All I Want to Do"D. Wilson, Stephen KalinichLove2:02
6."The Nearest Faraway Place"Bruce Johnstoninstrumental2:39
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Lead vocal(s)Length
1."Cotton Fields"Huddie LedbetterAl Jardine2:21
2."I Went to Sleep"B. Wilson, Carl WilsonBrian Wilson, C. Wilson1:36
3."Time to Get Alone"B. WilsonC. Wilson, B. Wilson, Jardine2:40
4."Never Learn Not to Love"D. WilsonD. Wilson2:31
5."Our Prayer"B. Wilsongroup1:07
6."Cabinessence"B. Wilson, Van Dyke ParksC. Wilson, Mike Love3:34
Total length:29:46
2001 CD reissue bonus tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Lead vocal(s)Length
13."Break Away"B. Wilson, Murry WilsonC. Wilson, Jardine with B. Wilson2:57
14."Celebrate the News"D. WilsonD. Wilson3:05
15."We're Together Again"Ron WilsonB. Wilson1:49
16."Walk On By"Burt Bacharach, Hal DavidB. Wilson with D. Wilson0:55
17."Old Folks at Home/Ol' Man River"Stephen Foster, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein IIB. Wilson with Love2:52
  • Charles Manson's contributions to "Never Learn Not to Love" remain uncredited.[10]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart Position
Dutch Album Chart 20[44]
German Album Chart 23
UK Top 40 Album Chart 3[45]
US Billboard 200 Albums Chart 68

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Leaf, David (1990). Friends / 20/20 (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 
  2. ^ Stanley, Bob (n.d.). "The Beach Boys and Friends: Their Forgotten Gem". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved June 15, 2018. 
  3. ^ Badman, Keith (2004). The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band, on Stage and in the Studio. Backbeat Books. pp. 221–223. ISBN 978-0-87930-818-6. 
  4. ^ Matijas-Mecca, Christian (2017). The Words and Music of Brian Wilson. ABC-CLIO. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-4408-3899-6. 
  5. ^ a b Wilson, Brian (May 31, 1969). "Why we're in such a struggle for cash". Disc & Music Echo. p. 7. 
  6. ^ Matijas-Mecca 2017, p. 87.
  7. ^ Love, Mike (2016). Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy. Penguin Publishing Group. pp. 203, 208. ISBN 978-0-698-40886-9. 
  8. ^ a b Doe, Andrew G. "Unreleased Albums". Bellagio 10452. Endless Summer Quarterly. Retrieved July 13, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c Chidester, Brian (January 30, 2014). "Brian Wilson's Secret Bedroom Tapes". LA Weekly. Retrieved February 1, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Carlin, Peter Ames (2006). Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Rodale. pp. 138–141. ISBN 978-1-59486-320-2. 
  11. ^ a b Carlin 2006, p. 141.
  12. ^ a b Brian Wilson – Songwriter – 1969–1982 – The Next Stage (Documentary). 
  13. ^ Wilson, Dennis (November 1976). "WNEW-FM" (Interview: Audio). Interviewed by Pete Fornatale. New York City. 
  14. ^ Was, Don (1995). Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (Documentary film). 
  15. ^ Badman 2004, pp. 188, 387.
  16. ^ a b c d e Carlin 2006.
  17. ^ Doe, Andrew G. "GIGS67". Bellagio 10452. Endless Summer Quarterly. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Doe, Andrew G. "GIGS68". Bellagio 10452. Endless Summer Quarterly. 
  19. ^ a b c Matijas-Mecca 2017, p. 90.
  20. ^ a b Badman 2004, p. 222.
  21. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 143.
  22. ^ "Beach Boys Producers Alan Boyd, Dennis Wolfe, Mark Linett Discuss 'Made in California' (Q&A)". Rock Cellar Magazine. September 4, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2013. 
  23. ^ a b Carlin 2006, p. 138.
  24. ^ Gaines, Steven (1986). Heroes and Villains: The True Story of The Beach Boys. New York: Da Capo Press. p. 213. ISBN 0306806479. 
  25. ^ Sanders, Ed (2002). The Family. Da Capo Press. p. 64. ISBN 1-56025-396-7. 
  26. ^ Nolan, Tom (November 11, 1971). "Beach Boys: A California Saga, Part II". Rolling Stone. 
  27. ^ Badman 2004, pp. 232–233.
  28. ^ a b c Badman 2004, p. 240.
  29. ^ Matijas-Mecca 2017, p. 89.
  30. ^ Schmidt, Arthur (April 19, 1969). "Records". Rolling Stone. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  31. ^ Priore, Domenic (2005). Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece. London: Sanctuary. ISBN 1860746276. 
  32. ^ a b Gaines 1986, p. 221.
  33. ^ Badman 2004.
  34. ^ Badman 2004, p. 238.
  35. ^ Gaines 1986, p. 219.
  36. ^ "Lie: The Love and Terror Cult – Review". AllMusic. Retrieved January 7, 2017. 
  37. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie. "20/20". Allmusic. Retrieved April 25, 2011. 
  38. ^ Wolk, Doug. "20/20". Blender. Archived from the original on March 10, 2005. 
  39. ^ Larkin, Colin, ed. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). London: Oxford University Press. p. 479. ISBN 978-0-19-531373-4. 
  40. ^ Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel (eds) (1999). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 84. ISBN 1-57859-061-2. 
  41. ^ Brackett, Nathan; with Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). New York, NY: Fireside/Simon & Schuster. p. 46. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 
  42. ^ Sacher, Andrew (February 9, 2016). "Beach Boys Albums Ranked Worst to Best". Brooklyn Vegan. 
  43. ^ Wilson, Dennis (November 1976). "WNEW-FM" (Interview: Audio). Interviewed by Pete Fornatale. New York City. ; Dennis Wilson – Pete Fornatale Interview 1976 on YouTube
  44. ^ Dutch Charts - THE BEACH BOYS - 20/20
  45. ^ "UK Top 40 Hit Database". EveryHit.