At a time when both mainstream country and its more traditional-sounding alternatives caught the attention of rock ‘n’ roll royalty, The Beach Boys embraced its own Nashville sound with the 1996 album Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, issued by River North Records. To avoid the potential cheesiness of Brian Wilson and Mike Love-penned pop-country, the group recruited country acts and roots-minded artists to sing lead vocals on modern revisions of Beach Boys standards, with the band handling backing vocals.
Producer Joe Thomas, fresh off working on country albums by Holly Dunn and The Statler Brothers Show regular Ronna Reeves, worked with Brian Wilson to blend The Beach Boys’ unmistakable sound with the personalities of a wide range of guest vocalists.
Although it failed to be a great crossover moment in American pop music history, the album is not without its pluses. Scenes from the album’s accompanying film The Beach Boys: Nashville Sounds capture the incomparable Willie Nelson wowing the father-son team of Al and Matt Jardine with his interpretation of “The Warmth of the Sun.”
Beyond the band’s lone team-up with an elder statesman, stars from the time period offered up their takes on classics they’d heard their whole lives. For example, Lorrie Morgan opens the album with a soulful rendition of “Don’t Worry Baby,” and Toby Keith adds his usual bravado to “Be True to Your School.” There’s also Sawyer Brown’s contributions to a new version of “I Get Around” that’s aged better than Mark Miller’s dance moves and traditionalist Ricky Van Shelton’s reimagining of “Fun, Fun, Fun.” The real diamond among coal, though, remains Doug Supernaw and The Beach Boys’ fun revision of the band’s novelty hit “Long Tall Texan.”
Less Likely Collaborators
It’s not all mid-’90s country stars. There’s also appearances by Junior Brown (“409”) and The Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit (“Caroline, No”). Surprisingly, neither singer offers the best performance from outside the Music Row elite. On Phil Spector co-write “I Can Hear Music,” contemporary Christian artist Kathy Troccoli, a name that sticks out less on the track listing than Collin Raye (“Sloop John B”), James House (“Little Deuce Coupe”) or T. Graham Brown (“Help Me, Rhonda”), puts her country cousins to shame.
It doesn’t necessarily rank among the greatest Beach Boys albums, but it is noteworthy for an unfortunate reason. It’s the last studio album featuring Carl Wilson before his 1998 passing, which makes footage from the sessions even more precious.