Thus far, 2021 is the year of unearthing decades old unreleased tracks. The Rolling Stones did it with Scarlet, which was lost for 40 years and features Jimmy Page. Now it’s The Beach Boys turn with a huge box set of studio sessions from 1969 – 1971, which will drop later this year. However, The Beach Boys still find a way to make new music with the inclusion of the previously unreleased track Big Sur. Written about the natural beauty of Big Sur National Park in the central coast of California.
You can definitely hear the influence of Pet Sounds from 1966 in Big Sur’s lush harmonies against rolling warm musical arrangements. Gone from their repertoire are the staccato guitar, the tinny high vocals and surfy pop of Catch a Wave from 1963. There is a place for the cotton candy surfer pop of early 60s Beach Boys, but I find the post Pet Sounds material far more musically interesting.
You can feel the creative fingerprints of Brian Wilson all over this track, from the track layering to the aggressively anti – pop vocals. The vocals on this track are luxurious and the track itself does not really have a pop hook. This track reads as a love song to Big Sur and is more at home with folk singer songwriters, than the Mike Love pop philosophy. As a side note, it is this creative conflict between Wilson and Love that will lead to the band’s demise.
However, you can hear how this track is decades ahead of its time. Wilson was always pushing the band’s creative energy and his singer songwriter tone in Big Sur is at the core of indie rock today. You can see glimmers of Big Sur in Bon Iver’s Holocene and Fleet Fox’s new record Shore. I love the warmth within this track, which is reflected both in the music / vocals, as well as in the passionate love of nature within the lyrics. You can really hear the band’s longing for California and a return home. This is a beautiful song from beginning to end.
The track Big Sur shows the experimental side of Brian Wilson and how he wanted to move the band out of its surfer rock box. Even though he didn’t write the song, the musicality and vocal harmony follows his vision in Pet Sounds. I like how Big Sur expands how you see The Beach Boys and gives you a glimpse into how the band could stretch itself creatively. A definite listen for Beach Boy and indie rock fans alike.
Listen to Big Sur
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Al Jardine seems to have written California Saga: is Big Sur song part of that entity?
While Al Jardine wrote the compositions for The Beaks of Eagles and California on Holland, Big Sur was written entirely by Mike Love and predates the other two, originally planned as part of the scrapped album Landlocked that eventually became Surf’s Up.
Brian Wilson didn’t write any of Big Sur. Both the lyrics and the composition were entirely Mike Love’s creation.