Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 1 – The Alternate Surfin’ Safari Album (Sea Of Tunes C9703)
1. Summertime Blues (inst. takes 1 and 2) / 2. Summertime Blues (inst. take 3) / 3. Summertime Blues (inst. take 4) / 4. Summertime Blues (overdub 1, takes 5 / 6) / 5. Summertime Blues (overdub 1, takes 6 / 7) / 6. Summertime Blues (overdub 1, take 8) / 7. Summertime Blues (overdub 1, take 9) / 8. Summertime Blues (overdub 1, take 10) / 9. Summertime Blues (overdub 1, take 11) / 10. Summertime Blues (overdub 1, take 12) / 11. Heads You Win, Tails I Lose (overdub 1, take 13) / 12. Heads You Win, Tails I Lose (overdub 1, take 14) / 13. Heads You Win, Tails I Lose (overdub 1, take 17) / 14. Land Ahoy (inst. take 1) / 15. Land Ahoy (overdub 1, takes 2/3) / 16. Land Ahoy (overdub 1, take 4) / 17. Land Ahoy (overdub 1, take 5) / 18. Little Girl (You’re My Miss America) (inst. takes 1-2) / 19. Little Girl (You’re My Miss America) (inst. takes 3-8) / 20. Little Girl (You’re My Miss America) (inst. takes 9-11) / 21. Little Girl (You’re My Miss America) (inst. take 13) / 22. Little Girl (You’re My Miss America) (inst. take 15) / 23. County Fair (inst.) / 24. County Fair (overdub 2, take 13) / 25. Cuckoo Clock (inst.) / 26. Cuckoo Clock (overdub 2, take 12) / 27. The Surfer Moon (inst. take 1) / 28. The Surfer Moon (inst. take 2) / 29. The Surfer Moon (inst. take 3) / 30. Cindy, Oh Cindy (inst. take 1) / 31. Cindy, Oh Cindy (inst. takes 2 – 4) / 32. Cindy, Oh Cindy (inst. take 5-7) 33. Cindy, Oh Cindy (inst. take 8) / 34. Cindy, Oh Cindy (vocal take)
Al Jardine is quoted as saying that the Beach Boys have one of the greatest backlogs of unreleased music. Sea of Tunes, founded in 1997, were on hand to back him up & foist more out takes & session tapes on the average BB’s collector than they ever thought possible. Allegedly stolen by a disgruntled Capitol employee that was helping to compile “The American Band” album who would then borrow the master reels, copy them to digital video tape & replace them once the job was done.
Midnight Beat then took up the task or preparing these & offering them to the market. More chronologically minded rather than moved by money ( Other wise they’d have released a smattering of “SMiLE” outtakes for the discerning fan .. ) then the obvious first release was the “Alternate Surfin’ Safari album”. 34 tracks of various instrumental takes, overdubs & vocals – akin to the Led Zeppelin, the Beatles & Jimi Hendrix studio sessions – this is a fly on the wall look at the progression of each & every album the Beach Boys recorded for / under the Capitol label. This is certainly a testing point between wether you’re a crustacean of the ocean floor of Beach Boys fandom or just a floating voter.
The disk begins with 12 takes of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”. The Song originally written for the Teenage market, about the teenagers of the time. After around a half minute of chatter the band start up with take 1 which ultimately breaks down as there’s no instruction to how the track is meant to move. Take 2 falls flatter than this with a slow slump as one by one the band stop playing as they’re still a little confused with what goes where. Take 3 is much better with the track bouncing along at a brisker pace, the breaks are all in the right place.
It’s from here that it’s obvious that the sessions weren’t yet held secure by Brian as the engineer states as the track is about to begin “Get a feel on the bass guitar, get that groove going, here we go with .. ” but it obviously wouldn’t be long before Brian was up on the helm. Take 4 is practically the same take with no real differentiation on the takes so ended up as being the final take. Track 5 & we’re in to the vocal overdubs. It’s obvious from this first take that Mike is struggling with the faster portions of the lyrics. The first pass falters as he gets to the 3rd line then he fumbles & stalls.
The next pass ( take 6 ) is better with Mike getting a hang of the hiccupy vocal styling of the original. Track 5 ( Take 6 ) begins with someone in the studio praising the engineer on his beard. The track starts with a dual vocal overdub that crashes when the two voices crash as they can’t quite get it in sync. ( Take 7 ) is again much better but they know they haven’t quite nailed it as Mike can be heard chatting with over the end. Track 6 ( Overdub 1, Take 8 ) introduces harmonies to the song & although they’re mixed a little lower in the track then they’re still apparent.
Brian is obviously not quite as happy with this take as before the next track starts he can be heard to say “you gotta recover real quick from the “Too young to vote .. “” before the tape cuts in to track 7 ( Take 9 ). This track folds when Al misses his connection by a couple of beats towards the end. Track 8 ( Take 10 ) starts the track again but this time it beaks down when the verses are skipped & verse 3 takes the place of verse 2. Track 9 ( Take 11 ) this again is a break down as the boss’ line “You can’t go out because you didn’t work a lick” line is missed. Track 10 ( Take 12 ) is the final take & is the finished product – although because of of Sea of Tunes tapes it sounds a hundred times better than the C.V.
Track 11 – “Heads You Win, Tails I Lose” is the 13th vocal overdub of this track recorded on Sunday 5th of September, there are a couple of coughs inherent from the band but towards the end Mike starts berating Brian for wanting to change the words which causes the track to be scrapped. The next take is announced as “31828, “Heads You Win, Tails I Lose, Cathy Schnecenberg special take 14” ( I can only assume that this might have been Steve Venet, Nick Venet’s brother’s, girlfriend who was at the session & contributes to “County Fair” ) but for some reason Mike hasn’t been on message & something goes wrong rendering the take unusable. Track 13 ( Take 13 ) is the master take with the track being announced as “Poifect!” in a mock New York accent from the control room.
Track 14 starts the first of 5 takes of “Land Ahoy” a Brian Wilson solo lyric & a track recorded for “Surfin Safari” but wouldn’t actually show up until the “Rarities” album & then again on the 2001 twofers when it appeared as a bonus track. It’s firstly played out as an instrumental track which is note perfect first time & then it’s left over to the vocal overdubs & handclaps. Track 15 ( take 2 ) is stopped quickly as Mike chats over the intro ( Take 3 ) progresses much further in to the track but a loose handclap is enough to stop the proceedings & the band as asked to start again. ( Take 4 ) sounds no different to the CV but Brian shouts out for a retake obviously hearing something awry .. ( Take 5 ) would become the official take that the band would use.
Track 18 begins 14 takes of “Little Girl ( You’re My Miss America )” – On the album it would be Dennis’ only vocal & renamed as “Little Miss America” but here it’s rendered as an instrumental track only. The engineers are still having fun as the take announcements are made in a jocular style. Take 1 breaks down after only 30 seconds with a fumble of the bass guitar & the The 2nd take announcement is delivered with a rapid scattershot style & the take runs throughout it certainly sounds perfunctory but there’s more takes to come .. track 19 begins with an extra curricular rehearsal as the take is announced. Once it does then the take lasts a full 13 seconds before folding, take 4 fares a little better before it collapses, the engineer points out that the band seem to be playing a little too fast & asks for them to tone it down a little before they go on. Take 5 is missed out completely for take 6 – wether this is a mistake in part by the control room or Sea Of Tunes didn’t receive that take isn’t clear but take 6 lasts about a second before take 7 is announced.
This time they’ve certainly paced themselves & the difference is quite clear to discern – it still doesn’t stop it breaking down after a couple of seconds though & running through to take 8. Far more successful this time clocking in at around 1:20 but still not considered ‘The Final Take’ the control room call out for “One More For The Battle” asking if the band need microphones so they can sing it as they play it & essentially perform it live. The band aren’t un-familiar with the studio but they must have been far more comfortable playing this out live, in front of a bunch of screaming girls.
Track 20 showcases takes 9 – 11 with take 9 breaking down immediately & not getting much further an a quick guitar jangle and a tap of the cymbals, take 10 is better but, as they’re still not miked up, the band are still struggling to keep it together. Dennis loses his way at the end of take 11 but the band must be eager to get something in the can as they continue in to track 21 & take 13 – this also romps along before hitting a full stop with a guitar flub. Straight on to track 22 & take 15 which is announced as a “Ricky Nelson special”. This rattles through with out a mistake & must have been the best take before the vocal track was laid down ( of which, unfortunately, they aren’t included .. )
Track 23 & an instrumental take of “County Fair” and a close contender for a “Stacks of Tracks” issue. It throws no more light on to the track but would be pleasing for someone who collects this stuff. Track 24 is take 13, Overdub 2 featuring producer Nick Venet as the Circus caller & ( possibly ) Cathy Schnecenberg as the girl the protagonist is trying to impress. Essentially the same as the C.V. but begins with the take announcement, a smattering of studio chatter & rather than fading out comes to a halt naturally.
Track 25 is Cuckoo Clock ( County Fair by another name & with a different bassline essentially ) the Band must have been very well trained with this rhythm by this time as this seems to be a one take pass as is track 26 & take 12, overdub 2 that lasts a full 11 seconds longer than the CV.
Tracks 27, 28 & 29 are takes 1 – 3 of “The Surfer Moon” another track that would go unreleased until “Surfer Girl” – It’s a slow track akin to “Lonely Sea” from “Surfin’ U.S.A.” the type of which the Beach Boys catalogue is littered with. – it’s pretty enough but obviously they didn’t know where to go with it & there were obviously no lyrics attached at this time. Take one begins with consternation that the guitar chords can’t be heard over the bass notes but it’s understood that this will happen so the band carry on anyway.
Take 2 begins with a slip of studio chatter that features brian asking for the intro track to be turned up & the announcement of “Here we go, urr .. Surfer Stomp .. Surfers Moon take 2 .. I’ve got this stomp on the mind man” and the track of crickets chirping that fades out a few seconds after the band start playing – this obviously wouldn’t last out the course & they aren’t heard on the string lead version. . Again it starts off promisingly enough but someone struggles with the chords before long & the track fails around 40 seconds in. Take 3 is again preceded by the crickets & ends with the crickets. It really doesn’t stand out & was possibly best left behind.
Tracks 30 – 34 are takes of yet another non – album track & who should be in the controllers studio but Murray. On this occasion he’s offering words of advice & generally being quieter than usual but still finds time to offer his opinion on what the boys should be going for. Take 1 is a short lived instrumental before Brian hears something that isn’t quite right. Murray hears something that he actually approves of & congratulates Carl on a rhythm well done.
Takes 2 – 4 skip along with out major incident – a few loose notes here & missed beats there although the total of the 3 takes amounts to less than 2 mins. Track 32, Takes 5 – 7 find Brian getting more & more enthused & angry with his band. Murray is shouted down as he asks if Carl could change his rhythm but as it’s Brian’s baby he won’t allow it to be changed. Track 33, Take 8 is the sound of the band hitting the sound that they want & running through the track as they’re happy with.
track 34, is the vocal take of this track. A different take was released on the Surfin’ Safari twofer but with an additional comment by Murray.
Overall it just depends on your tolerance to this kind of thing. Sure the Beach Boys early records are of their time, sometimes a little goofy & these takes sometimes verge on the repetitive but to hear a band moving towards the peak of their powers & in stunning sound quality then it’s by no mean feat that these should be ignored. These early volumes ARE for the completist only but by the time we hit Pet Sounds then these sets are impossible to ignore.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)