20/20 is the sole 1969 album release by The Beach Boys, and their last studio album to be released with Capitol Records for the next seventeen years.
20/20 got its name from its distinction of being The Beach Boys' 20th official album release (counting the three "Best of…" packages and Stack-O-Tracks). Brian Wilson poked fun at the title by hiding behind an eye examination chart inside the gatefold cover's photo. Otherwise, Wilson's involvement in the album was far less than perceived at the time.
A short time after the release of Friends in June 1968, Brian Wilson, due to growing mental instability and addiction to cocaine entered a psychiatric hospital for a brief period of time. Though Brian held writing credits on over half of 20/20, and occasionally contributed during the recording of tracks after 20/20, large portions of his writing were sourced from material worked on prior to June 1968.
WRITING AND RECORDING
In the wake of the elder Wilson's partial absence, from June 1968-November 1968 younger siblings Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson began to take the helm both inside and outside of the studio's control room for the production of 20/20. Carl produced a version of Phil Spector's "I Can Hear Music," giving the Beach Boys their last US Top 40 US hit for the next seven years. Dennis progressed from his contributions on Friends to deliver the dramatic and dynamic "Be with Me" and the somewhat racy "All I Want to Do," sung by Mike featuring a fade-out of Dennis Wilson and an unknown woman having sexual intercourse. "Never Learn Not to Love" derives from a Charles Manson song given to Dennis Wilson by Manson originally titled "Cease to Exist". Dennis reworked the track and Manson was reportedly infuriated by the alteration of his original work, and he made threats toward Dennis Wilson in response.
Bruce Johnston had been waiting for his moment after years of supporting the others on stage and in the studio. He was finally able to release one of his compositions on 20/20, the lush instrumental "The Nearest Faraway Place." The composition was reportedly inspired by Brian Wilson's work on Pet Sounds, and its title was based on an article found in Life magazine. His second contribution was a cover of Ersel Hickey's "Bluebirds Over the Mountain". Begun in September of 1967 as a potential solo single, it was completed with Carl Wilson's help during the album's late 1968 sessions. Perhaps reflecting on "Sloop John B" and feeling that lightning could strike twice, Al Jardine suggested to Brian that they work on another folk standard, "Cotton Fields." Wilson produced a recording, but feeling that Brian was holding back again, Jardine went ahead and rerecorded the song six months after Brian's version was released on 20/20. Al's instincts were on the ball, as it turned out, for while the retitled "Cottonfields" (the last Capitol Records single) was a US flop, it became a huge hit internationally in the Spring of 1970.
"Cabinessence" (stylised as one word on 20/20) was tracked in October & December 1966 except for Carl Wilson vocal on verses, which was recorded November 1968. "Our Prayer" was tracked October 4, 1966, but as it was recorded in a single microphone, the track was in mono; because of this, overdubs were recorded November 1968 to create a stereo mix. Both of these tracks and the "Workshop" tag on the album version of "Do it Again" derived from the Brian Wilson led Smile sessions; "Time to Get Alone," begun during the Wild Honey sessions but according to engineer Stephen Desper, was newly recorded for 20/20. Initially intended for Three Dog Night, when they were known as "Redwood", it has been cited by reviewers as a highlight of 20/20.
Released in February 1969, 20/20 sold better than Friends, charting as high as no. 3 in the UK and reaching a moderate no. 68 in the US. It was followed up by the single-only release of "Break Away" (co-authored under a pseudonym by Murry Wilson with son Brian), which only succeeded in the UK. Undeterred, and booming with confidence and the sense that they were on the verge of a major creative renaissance, The Beach Boys began formulating what would prove to be one of the most acclaimed albums of their career.
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