Updated: Sep 4
By Bob Deakin
On this day in 1970, the Beach Boys Sunflower album was released. It was the last day it wouldn't be playing on a constant loop in my head.
I spent a lot of my childhood in Florida, and Sunflower was the foundation of the soundtrack of my life for the period I lived in Saint Petersburg in the early 70s. Shorts, no shoes, sunshine, and every day out the door with little else on my mind but a tropical adventure. I’ve never recovered.
Do you have an album that acts as the score of your life for a period? I put the LP on the turntable as much as anyone in the family, but I can’t remember for sure. My brother Matt bought Sunflower, and everyone else wore it out.
"Add Some Music was my favorite," Matt told me a few weeks back. “It just spoke to me about all the different ways music can reach you.”
I agree with Matt. Lyrically, this song goes deeper than most Beach Boys songs, and it’s a deceptively complex arrangement. Acoustic guitar is what I think of when I hear this. Mike Love and Bruce Johnston sing lead with Brian and Carl Wilson showing up later.
The refrain is sung by Carl and is a total escape from the essence of the song. I feel like I'm on a mountain overlooking a California sunset.
When you're alone
(Add some music add some music)
Is like a companion
(Add some music add some music)
For your lonely soul
This is a beautiful arrangement and, again, like three songs in one. On this album, the band goes to levels it never did. This is great stuff.
It concludes with a wonderful passage that Brian sings, uncredited. You can’t fool me, ambiguous album credits.
When day is over (when day is over)
I close my tired eyes (I close my tired)
This song is a tour-de-force of vocals. There are four lead vocalists. It’s interesting that Mike Love and Bruce Johnston sound very much the same but with a different delivery.
Sunflower features a wide range of styles, from county to rock, gospel, piano ballads, and a little psychedelic. Nothing at all connected to the surf and car tunes of the Beach Boys in the early 60s. I dare say most - except for the music aficionados - could even identify the band if they heard this. There was no hit song, and it timed with the breakup of the Beatles.
Brian Wilson was not playing live with the band at this point, as everyone knew, but his hands are all over this album. Listen to the backing vocals of “This Whole World” and “Slip on Through.” The other guys are singing, but it’s all him.
As I digress, I can’t emphasize how numerous and how beautiful the changes in “This Whole World” are. Carl Wilson sings lead, and all of them sing backing vocals, but Brian’s vocs dominate the recording. The track is less than two minutes, and it’s like six songs in one.
Listen to the unique drumming of Dennis Dragon (brother of Daryl). Heavy double beats on the kick drum and low toms. It creates an almost subsonic effect on a good system.
For fun, try to follow the beat to "Slip On Through" during the verses. Dennis Dragon plays this one too. The snare drum hits on the "and" of the beat, which creates a nice tension throughout. Nerd drummers understand.
Gospel, rock, and a sophisticated instrumental track with a glockenspiel at the forefront. Effin’ brilliant. Who thinks of this stuff? Brian Wilson.
“Got to Know the Woman” keeps the upbeat California 70s groove going. If you don’t know Dennis Wilson, listen to this. Gospel style and very unusual sound for the Beach Boys. Incredibly complex recording for a relatively simple song.
Although not the first time, female backing vocalists enter the Beach Boys session for this song. Why? Not sure, but they sound great. It was Dennis’s doing. Brian and Carl sing anyway and didn’t need any help.
Again, an extravagant arrangement, with half of Los Angeles playing on the session, and it works. Sunflower is still spinning on the turntable in my head.
End of Part II