Releases on The Beach Boys' own Brother Records imprint are nearly exclusively by either the band itself or various members' solo projects. There's one rarely seen exception to that rule, however: a band called The Flame.
They released a couple singles on Brother, one of which, "See the Light" actually hit the Billboard Top 100 in late 1970 and does turn up occasionally. There's also a self-titled album, a somewhat trashed copy of which I recently tracked down here in town. However, after hearing it I'm glad I ponied up the cash, as it's a slice of Beatle-besotted pop that comes across like a soul-influenced Badfinger crossed with the Bee Gees candy pop smarts.
The name The Flame may not be familiar in America to anyone who's not a Beach Boys aficionado, and even in most of those cases it's because members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin were both mid-'70s Beach Boys themselves. Since then drummer Fataar was a part of The Rutles film/album project parodying The Beatles, picked up various album production and sideman credits, and has been a member of Bonnie Raitt's band for much of the last decade. Chaplin was an '80s member of The Band (taking over for Richard Manuel) and since the '90s has played with The Rolling Stones.
I was surprised to learn The Flame has some success before Al Jardine and Carl Wilson "discovered" the band in a London club during the late '60s. I'd always wrongly assumed they were a British band. It turns out that they formed in 1963 in South Africa as The Flames, with numerous singles and several albums released before they moved to London in the later '60s.
Since The Flame is produced by Carl Wilson, one might expect more of a Beach Boys vibe, but that's hardly the case. The album is a mostly hard-rocking disc that owes more to the sound of Abbey Road (or even UK blues rock) than to later '60s Beach Boys discs. That being said, there had been some soulish inroads in The Beach Boys' sound since 1967's Wild Honey, so it's no surprise that Wilson was intrigued by working with The Flame.
It's hard to pick out a highlight on this album; I've listened to it five or six times already and it keeps getting better and better with each spin. My favorite song may turn out to be the short and quiet "Dove," which has the vibe of the spacier numbers on the pre-Big Star band Rock City's posthumous release. The one quibble I have is the semi-experimental quadrophonic mix used for the album, which gives it a bit of an odd sound at times. Some parts occasionally sound inadvertently buried in the translation to two-track stereo, but it would be impossible to say whether that's intentional or not without wiring up a system to the intended specifications -- a sheet for which was included with the album when new!
Beyond the obscurity of The Flame's Brother releases, there's one very intriguing mystery about them -- at least for record nerds. The Beach Boys signed with Warner/Reprise in late 1969 and their first album under the new deal emerged in August 1970. The Flame's Brother records appear to have been issued after that; the "See the Light" single charted in November 1970 and the LP was reviewed in the Dec. 5, 1970 issue of Billboard. However, The Flame's records were distributed by Starday-King rather than Warner/Reprise. It seems bizarre that The Beach Boys deal with Warner would allow them to release Brother records through other companies, so perhaps part of the reason The Flame album is so rare is that the deal with Starday was one that Brother hoped Warner wouldn't notice.
I'm sure somebody knows how this came about, but I haven't been able to find an answer yet. Not too long after the album's release, Starday-King was sold and mostly ceased issuing new recordings, which probably also didn't help anyone buy The Flame at the time. Outside of an unauthorized European reissue a few years back, it's remained out of print since the original release; Brother hasn't bothered to reissue any of The Flame's material, including a completed but unreleased second album. Here's hoping that changes soon. (Brother, 1970)