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.
With increasing emotional problems, Brian Wilson began to withdraw from the band's recording sessions. He did participate on over half of the songs, but Wilson's only "new" contributions to 20/20 was a soothing waltz entitled (rather prophetically) "I Went to Sleep" and his and Mike Love's "Do It Again". It had been a hit in the summer of 1968, and was added on as commercial insurance, although a small snatch of the Smile-era "Workshop" session was hidden at the track's fade-out.
In the wake of the elder Wilson's partial absence, younger siblings Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson began to take the helm both inside and outside of the studio's control room. Carl produced a version of Phil Spector's "I Can Hear Music," giving The Beach Boys their last original 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 and featuring a quick X-rated interlude at the fade-out. Undeniably, the most controversial moment on 20/20 is "Never Learn Not to Love", a Charles Manson song originally titled "Cease to Exist" that was reworked by Dennis.
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 the Fall of 1967 as a potential solo single, it was completed with Carl Wilson's help during the album's 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.
After all the admirable work by his bandmates, it was ironic that Brian Wilson would steal the show with three older compositions: "Cabinessence" (re-spelled as one word on 20/20) and "Our Prayer" derived from the mythical Smile sessions; "Time to Get Alone," begun during the Wild Honey sessions but newly recorded here. Initially intended for Three Dog Night, when they were known as "Redwood", it became a major highlight of 20/20 (although Stephen Desper claims the song is a complete re-recording and not the original late 1967 track).
Released in February 1969, 20/20 sold better than Friends, reaching a still underwhelming #68 in the US, but it went as high as #3 in the UK. It was followed up by the single-only release of "Break Away" (co-authored under a pseudonym by Murry Wilson with son Brian), a serious attempt at a hit, 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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