Beach Boys – Fifty Big Ones (review)

Beach Boys – Fifty Big Ones – Greatest Hits (Capitol Records) review

Hot on the heels of their successful reunion album, That’s Why God Made the Radio (see our review here), and a 50th anniversary world tour, comes Fifty Big Ones, their first-ever two-CD set of the biggest and most-loved songs of the Beach Boys.  What immediately sets this compilation apart from the multitudes of collections before it, is that it covers the band’s entire career, nabbing their first national hit, “Surfin’ Safari” from 1962, and rounding up two songs from their reunion record, 50 years later.

So much of what’s included here aren’t just old hits, they’ve transcended that and become something more.  They’re melodies and lyrics that are so common, they might as well be national anthems. What sporting event doesn’t play “Surfin’ USA” sometime during the course of a game?  And “Good Vibrations” and “Fun Fun Fun” have been included in so many movies and commercials, it’s hard to keep track.  And, while the Beach Boys are largely remembered for their good time songs, the inclusion of ballads like “Don’t Worry Baby,” “The Warmth of the Sun,” and “Please Let Me Wonder,” remind us just how insanely talented the band was vocally too.

Fifty Big Ones does a better job summing up the entire history of the Beach Boys than any other compilation.  Sure, the smash singles from the Sixties are here, but, the band released several under-appreciated albums in the Seventies too.  For one, it includes somewhat forgotten chapters like the excellent almost-hit “Sail On Sailor,” sung by Blondie Chaplin.  Kudos to the compilers for including both he and Ricky Fataar in the timeline of the band in the booklet (they were briefly members in the early Seventies, making the once-family Beach Boys an interracial group). This is an era of the band that’s mostly overlooked, but certainly worth delving into further.  “This Whole World” from Sunflower and “All This and That” from Carl & the Passions are both surprise inclusions as well.

For those fans who already own all these songs elsewhere, there’s still reason to grab this collection – six new stereo mixes created by Beach Boy curator Mark Linett.  The mix of “Barbara Ann” makes everything clearer and ups the bass, while “Darlin’” places Carl Wilson’s gritty vocal louder while showcasing horns more prominently.  The real treat though, is a brand new mix of “Do You Wanna Dance” – the drums are bigger, and with the stereo separation, you can really hear Brian Wilson’s Phil Spector-esque production – it’s a thing of beauty.

Of course, for a band with a half-century worth of music, you can’t possibly include everything.  The most glaring omission is the top ten hit “Be True to Your School,” perhaps deemed too cheesy?   Also not included are another car classic “409,” the late Seventies remake of the Dell Vikings’ “Come Go With Me,” and the stunning album cut, “Let Him Run Wild.”  But, there’s still plenty of bona fide hits and great album tracks here to please even the pickiest of fans.

If you purchase the physical copy of Fifty Big Ones, it comes housed in a handsome box, embossed with the Beach Boys’ logo.  The booklet features a short essay by Rolling Stone writer David Wild (does anything else need to be said about the band?), as well as some fun archival photos through the years.  Probably the nicest touch is the inclusion of postcards, featuring each member of the band.  Along with the five most common members (Brian, Mike, Carl, Dennis, Al), there’s also a postcard for Bruce Johnston and David Marks, both members who played key roles in the band in the past, and during their recent reunion tour.

Few bands last more than a couple of years.  Even the hallowed Beatles were together for less than ten.  To celebrate 50 years as a band is a staggering accomplishment.  Sure, the Beach Boys had many lows to go with their dizzying highs.  Fifty Big Ones succeeds by providing all the essential smash hits, and surrounding them with enough key album cuts and almost-hits to make for a very solid listen.  Whether you’re a casual fan or a die hard fanatic, you’ll be pleased with Fifty Big Ones.  –Tony Peters