Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Anyone who has followed this blog for the past year and a half knows that I like to revisit a few albums at a time by a particular artist as I work my way through their catalog. The goal is usually to acquaint myself with songs and albums I may have missed the first time around, before they languished on my CD & LP shelves for years, and usually my existing opinions have been confirmed (with albums both great and mediocre). In the week since my last post, I’ve spent time with three Beach Boys albums released in 1966 & 1967, as well as one that wasn’t actually released (those recordings were recently re-worked into a representation of what might have been). Within these four titles I experienced incredible highs and some disappointing lows, but it was never less than enjoyable. They also reminded me how much the band had changed within 5 years of their debut album, and because I was born in 1966, it’s hard to imagine how fans of their surfing and hot rod songs reacted to these changes at that time. They may be legendary now, but I’m sure there was a lot of head-scratching going on back then.
Some albums attain “classic” status but don’t really live up to the hype, while other lesser-known albums should be tagged with that label. In some instances, however, the legend only scratches the surface, and that’s certainly the case with Pet Sounds (1966). Although it’s about a million miles from “Surfin’ Safari” or even “California Girls,” this album was the culmination of everything Brian Wilson had been working on in the studio after he stopped touring with the group. It was also a direct reaction to the songwriting and production advances that The Beatles displayed on the previous year’s Rubber Soul. The most well known song, “God Only Knows,” was sung to perfection by Carl Wilson, with Brian and Bruce Johnston adding vocals during the outro. Paul McCartney once stated that he thought it was the greatest song ever written, and it’s hard to argue that point. The only word that comes to mind each time I hear this song is “Wow.” It’s a perfect combination of melody, vocal performance and instrumental arrangement. It was also the perfect soundtrack to the final scene of the film Love Actually. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” displays similar “grown-up” sentiments to “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man),” but everything about it is much more sophisticated than that earlier record. “Sloop John B” is their arrangement of an old folk song, brought to the group by their resident folkie, Al Jardine. Until this week, I don’t think I was aware that Brian sang lead, as I had always assumed it was Carl or Al. The arrangement is amazing, going from sparse & simple to full-on Phil Spector wall-of-sound, and the a capella section in the middle is startling. “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is simply one of Brian’s greatest achievements, shifting from the swirling, almost hypnotic verse to the more straight ahead pre-chorus (“They say I got brains but they ain’t doin’ me no good”) and the mournful chorus. I also love the spacey Theremin near the end.
The almost hymn-like “You Still Believe In Me” is probably the song that made the most impact on me this past week. I love the baroque sound of the harpsichord. Brian’s wailing falsetto after “I wanna cry” is gorgeous, and the choir of vocals that follows is stunning. The lyrics are romantic but also reveal Brian’s insecurity (even though most of the lyrics are credited to Tony Asher, I have to believe this song was all Brian). “That’s Not Me” is a driving rocker with Mike Love on vocals, and it features only Brian, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson instead of the usual session musicians. It’s followed by the sparse & haunting, “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder),” which has some powerful and emotional vocals from Brian (especially the line, “Let’s not talk about tomorrow”). “I’m Waiting For The Day” has an interesting arrangement, shifting from powerful and bombastic to a more pastoral sound, then shifting again after “I’m waiting for the day when you can love again.” The string section before the vocal outro was also a nice touch. The slightly syncopated rhythm and honking sax (or is that harmonica?) on “I Know There’s An Answer” make it stand out from the rest of the album. It’s nice to hear Al and Mike share lead vocals for a change. “Here Today” made me feel both happy and sad, with several distinct sections: the sparse intro (“It starts with just a little glance now”), the cascading pre-chorus (“A brand new love affair is such a beautiful thing”), the fun section (“It makes you feel so bad…makes your heart feel sad”) and the bright chorus (“Love is here today and it’s gone tomorrow”). The instrumental “Pet Sounds” has a Burt Bacharach/60s soundtrack vibe, which leads into the amazing album closer, “Caroline, No” (which was actually released as a Brian Wilson solo single in 1966). The lyrics express heartbreak and the loss of innocence, all delivered via Brian’s breathtaking vocals. The stark musical backdrop is perfect, as instruments are slowly added to the mix. Pet Sounds is definitely among the contenders for “greatest album of all time.” It certainly earns every ounce of praise it receives, and for this brief period Brian was leading the game of sonic one-upmanship with The Beatles. That lead wouldn’t last long, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.
Brian’s next undertaking was the single, “Good Vibrations,” which took months to complete and became their third #1 hit and probably their biggest worldwide smash. The groundbreaking production and vocal arrangement set it apart from anything they had done, and Brian’s goal was to produce an album that was just as innovative, to be called SMiLE. It’s been well documented that the limitations of studio technology, record company pressure and numerous other factors caused the album to be delayed, and eventually Brian’s ambition got the best of him and he scrapped the whole thing. For years, SMiLE was the holy grail of unreleased albums, as song fragments and re-recordings would surface, indicating how brilliant it might have been. Several years ago, Brian recorded a version of SMiLE with his solo band, piecing together a running order that may or may not have matched his original intentions, but it was the closest he would get…until Capitol Records released SMiLE Sessions (2011). Based on the blueprint provided by Brian’s solo release, this version uses the original Beach Boys recordings from 1966 & 1967. Although I can’t review SMiLE as it was originally conceived, I decided to delve into this release and get to know these songs now, as that knowledge will come in handy when revisiting the albums released in the wake of SMiLE’s disappearance. If Pet Sounds was a departure from their earlier recordings, SMiLE was from another planet, with poetic yet abstract lyrics by Brian’s new collaborator, Van Dyke Parks.
The album opens with two brief tracks, “Our Prayer” and “Gee.” The former sounds like a hymn with those heavenly vocal harmonies, while the latter (with it’s refrain of “How I love my girl”) is basically a doo-wop tune that leads into one of the key tracks, “Heroes And Villains.” I’ve known this song from the re-recorded version that appeared on their next album (to be discussed below), but this version is so good it’s beyond comprehension. There are so many things happening, both lyrically and musically, and I can only imagine what an undertaking it must have been to put it together into coherent form. No matter which version got released, it would’ve been difficult for fans and radio programmers to grasp everything that’s going on, and lyrics like “I’m fit with the stuff, to ride in the rough, and Sonny down snuff I’m alright” wouldn’t have made things any easier. With 21st century ears, and as a progressive rock fan who loves extended tracks with multiple sections and time signatures, this song is right in my comfort zone, and it’s never sounded better to me. “Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)” is a little too scattered, and I don’t really like the ooga-chugga section near the end, but the “rock, rock, roll, Plymouth Rock, roll over” section has been embedded in my brain for a week. I could only describe “Cabin Essence” as “strange Americana,” and I mean that in a positive way. The verses could be a campfire ditty, but then there’s the swirling psychedelic sound of the “Who ran the iron horse” section. “Wonderful” is a highlight: a tender ballad with harpsichord and slowly ascending vocals. “Child Is Father Of The Man” only consists of the words in the title, but it’s the haunting, interweaving vocals that make it so special.
[The Beach Boys –“Surf’s Up (SMiLE Sessions version)”]
“Surf’s Up” is another one of those all-time great Brian songs. The lyrics might be hard to crack (“columnated ruins domino”?), but his vocals are extraordinary. They reprise the theme from “Child Is Father…” at the end, which was a pleasant surprise. I also noticed that the descending xylophone melody is similar to Joe Jackson’s “Breaking Us In Two,” a favorite of mine from 1982. Sparse percussion and Carl’s soft vocals carry the song “Wind Chimes,” until it opens up to a bigger arrangement. “My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine)” is a downbeat, cello-laden version of “You Are My Sunshine,” and another example of “strange Americana.” Although “Vege-Tables” is catchy and finger-snapping fun, I find it a bit silly and unnecessary. I do, however, enjoy the “sleep a lot, eat a lot, brush ‘em like crazy” section. “The Elements: Fire (Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow)” is a dissonant and frightening instrumental with a circular melody and lots of eerie slide whistles. After “Love To Say Dada,” which is basically a wordless interlude, the album ends with the aforementioned “Good Vibrations.”
There are some bonus tracks (on the main CD and the bonus disc) that mostly consist of alternate mixes, vocal montages and studio chatter. They’re interesting and in some cases very enjoyable (especially Brian’s solo version of “Surf’s Up”), but the 19-song album is what I focused on. Although there are many incredible performances throughout the album, and I’m impressed with the ambition on display, I never warmed to it as much as I did with Pet Sounds, which was obviously a very tough act to follow. Still, I’m glad that I spent so much time with SMiLE Sessions, as these songs would provide the framework for several of their subsequent albums.
After the dissolution of SMiLE, they still needed to release new product for Capitol Records, so 16 months after the release of Pet Sounds they delivered Smiley Smile (1967) to a public that had moved on. Featuring less polished, newly recorded versions of several SMiLE songs alongside some new ones, it was the first album to bear the credit “Produced By The Beach Boys,” and also the first to be mostly missing their distinctive harmonies. The version of “Heroes And Villains” here is much less polished and intricate, but as the version I’ve known for years it’s still pretty impressive. The minimal arrangement on “Vegetables” might have been an inspiration for the sparse songs on The Beatles’ self-titled album in 1968 (a.k.a. The White Album), and apparently includes an appearance by Paul McCartney chomping on a carrot. “Good Vibrations” shows up here, even though the single had been released nearly a year earlier, and of course it sounds great. “Wonderful” appears in a sleepier, possibly stoned version that doesn’t hold a candle to the original, and what’s with the laughing party section in the middle? “She’s Going Bald” has a cool bongo groove and a percussive vocal line (sung by Mike), but is ruined by the speeded-up vocal section that makes them sound like they’ve inhaled helium. I do, however, really enjoy the bluesy section near the end (“You’re too late mama, ain’t nothin’ upside your head”). “Little Pad” has a Hawaiian feel, with the ukulele and those “doo-doo-doo” vocals (which might have been an inspiration to singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson), but the drunken-sounding vocals undermine the song. I like the repeated mantra-like phrase (“On and on she go dum-be-doo-da”) and the droning organ backdrop on “With Me Tonight.” It’s probably a good late night song when you’re in a mellow (i.e. stoned or drunk) mood. “Wind Chimes” has a similar drone-y quality, and sounds like a work-in-progress compared to the SMiLE Sessions version. There are elements of “Getting’ Hungry” that I really enjoyed (especially the cool organ intro), and the off-kilter, under-produced feel points to the work of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, most notably in his solo career and on that band’s Tusk album. Smiley Smile is rightfully considered a disappointment, and that feeling is even stronger after listening to the more fully realized SMiLE Sessions recordings, but considering the weight of expectations on them and the hasty manner in which it was recorded, it’s not without its charms. It would be way down on my list of recommended Beach Boys albums, though.
Released just three months later, Wild Honey (1967) was a step back toward relevance, yet they still had a long way to go. The album begins strongly with “Wild Honey,” a little bit of psychedelic soul with a sparse & slightly weird backing track, and Carl really stretching the limit of his vocal chords. There’s also a great keyboard solo (a clavinet, perhaps). Carl sounds like he’s at the edge of his range on their version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Her,” which gives the track a sense of urgency that works in its favor. Most people probably don’t realize that “Darlin” is a Beach Boys song, even though it was a Top 20 hit. I love the driving groove and the horn chart, which gives it a late-60s AM radio pop sound. “Here Comes The Night” has a bouncy bass line and piano melody, and an interesting vocal arrangement (it sounds like the voices are darting through Brian’s lead during the chorus). “Let The Wind Blow” recalls Pet Sounds with stark piano and Mike & Brian sharing lead vocals. Brian moves nicely from yelping vocals to his falsetto, and I love the section with “Don’t take her out of my life…” It’s nice to hear their group harmonies, which have been mostly absent on these last two albums, on “Country Air,” most notably at “Get a breath of that country air.” I like the simplicity of the “mm-mm-mm” vocals during the verses. The harmonies are a bit rougher on the minimally arranged “Aren’t You Glad,” but it has a cute, simple melody and I enjoyed the trumpet line. “A Thing Or Two” jumps from jazz/pop in the verse to a more rockin’ sound in the chorus (“Do it right baby…”), with Brian’s vocals sounding tougher than usual. My favorite discovery on this album is “I’d Love Just Once To See You,” a confessional song with some nice guitar work (both finger picking and acoustic strumming), and simple lyrics (“I’m doing this and I’m doing that”; “I’m wasting the night away”). The first few times I played this album it didn’t make much of an impression, other than a couple of tracks, but it slowly worked its way into my head. They were still finding their way, and the lack of their distinctive vocal blend is sorely missed, but Wild Honey was a step in the right direction. I definitely like it more than its predecessor, but I think you have to be a dedicated Beach Boys fan…and give it enough time to sink in…to really appreciate it. I’m glad I gave it so much attention, and I think I’ll continue to appreciate it even more in the future.
I enjoyed listening to this batch of albums as much as any that I’ve revisited, and yet ironically it took a long time to write my thoughts down. Sometimes music is so perfect (Pet Sounds, much of SMiLE) that it’s almost impossible to explain why that’s so. In the end, most people reading this post will already know the music, and I hope you’ll share your thoughts and let me know how these records have impacted you. Or maybe just pull out your copy of one of these albums, sit back and remind yourself how good they are. After all, the music is what really matters. I’ll be back next week to wrap up their ‘60s recordings before moving on to the next decade (and the formation of their own record label).
Once again right on point. You have have mentioned Phil Spector a few times. No accident. Brian loves his work. To the point where the studio musicians Brian used was in fact Phil Spector’s “wrecking crew”. Brian has stated that his favorite song is “Be my Baby”. Just listen to “Don’t Worry Baby” and you are in Spectorland!( I stole Spectorland from Todd Rudgren. He produced Bat at of Hell. There is a great DVD about the making of the album and in it he coined that phrase when talking about “You took the words right out of my mouth”)
Paul McCartney has indeed commented many times that “God Only Knows” is one of his favorite songs.
If you don’t own it please get the Brian Wilson “Smile” album. He did a great job on it. He wanted to make it so close to his original vision that he had Van Dyke Parks fill in lyric gaps! It is truly wonderful. Brian won a Grammy for the arrangement on “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”.
You are also dead on about the Beatles writing inspiring Brian to do better. That also is true in the reverse. The Beatles have stated that Sgt. Pepper was definitely influenced by Pet Sounds.
Lastly, although Paul and Brian are dear friends their differences can be summed up as follows:
Paul once wrote a beautiful melodic song but did have lyrics for the arrangement. The working title was “Scrambled Eggs”. That song went on to become “Yesterday”. Brian wrote a song with an interesting melody. He called it “Vegetables”. It went on to become “Vegetables”!!
Eddie, thanks for sharing all that information. The reason it took me so long to write down my thoughts on these albums is because the music is only one aspect of what was going on with the Beach Boys at the time. I want to focus this blog on the music, but I also like to keep things in historical perspective, and comments like yours really help to flesh out the story.
I do have “Brian Wilson Presents Smile,” but it left me feeling a little cold even though I enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of his solo albums, and it was great to hear those songs put together into a version of what “SMiLE” might have been, but each time I played it I kept thinking, “it’s not The Beach Boys.” His backing band always does an amazing job with vocal harmonies, but there’s something special about the blend of the Boy’s voices. That’s why I enjoyed “SMiLE Sessions” so much, because it was based on the template created by “Brian Wilson Presents Smile” but used the original recordings. If Brian had today’s modern editing equipment in 1967, “SMiLE” would’ve been released back then.
I love what you wrote in the past paragraph, comparing “Scrambled Eggs/Yesterday” to “Vegetables/Vegetables.” So true, and incredibly well stated.
Also, I agree that any commentary on Brian and The Beach Boys has to include references to Phil Spector, as Brian was so in awe of his production sound and techniques, as well as his musicians. Even when he doesn’t reference specific Spector-related songs, the influence is often there in his production choices.
Thanks again for reading, and I’m glad you’re enjoying this series.
Rich – I think you nailed “Pet Sounds” in your assessment, I thoroughly agree with what you say. Re: “Waiting for the Day” – I’ve always loved that string section before the vocal outro; I’m glad you mentioned that. Do you know why “Caroline, No” was released as a Brian solo single? That seems like a strange move. Did Brian himself push for that? Or did Capitol? I’ll bet Mike Love wasn’t too happy… Re: “Smile” – I enjoyed the Brian re-record but, like you, I found it a bit clinical and chilly compared to the original recordings. Once the “Smile” sessions were released last year, I felt like I didn’t even really need to own the 2004 Brian version anymore…Did you know that Brian released “Wonderful” as a single in the UK in 2004 and it was a top 30 hit there? Your desciption of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow as “dissonant and frightening” cracked me up – that’s exactly what it is. RE: “Smiley Smile” – I find it to be a druggy mess; you say it’d be way down on your list of recommended Beach Boys albums – it wouldn’t even be on mine. Re: Wild Honey – I never understood why Al’s vocal was allowed to sound like that – he’s clearly singing too high – most bands would run through it once like that and say “oh, obviously the key’s too high! ” or “oh, we need to let someone with a more suitable range sing this! That choice, by band famous for gorgeous vocals, has always been a mystery to me. Anyway, thanks for another great read.
Hi Alan. Not sure why Capitol released “Caroline, No” as a Brian solo single, but I imagine that had to be a record company decision. They probably felt that the music he was working on for “Pet Sounds” didn’t sound enough like Beach Boys hit material, so they wanted to keep it separate from the group’s releases. I can’t imagine the guys were terribly happy about it.
I’m glad to hear that you agree about Brian’s version of “SMiLE” being too “clinical and chilly.” At the time it was a great thing that he finally put together a version of the album, but I doubt I’ll play it very often now that I own the “SMiLE Sessions” CD. I had no idea that Brian had a UK hit in 2004 with “Wonderful,” although I’m not surprised. He (and The Beach Boys) have continued to be huge over there, especially compared to the U.S. after “Pet Sounds.”
I can’t argue with your description of “Smiley Smile” as a “druggy mess,” but after listening to it a bunch of times I was able to get through that haze and enjoy it for what it was: a thrown together collection of mostly under-produced re-recordings of “SMiLE” songs.
As always, thanks for reading. I really enjoy our conversations, and I’m glad to see we’re usually on the same page regarding The Beach Boys.
Pet Sounds is one of my favorite albums and I feel bad for people who can’t appreciate it (Believe me, they’re out there. Check out any message board thread on “overrated” albums and you won’t have to read far before someone is slamming this one.) I discovered Pet Sounds at exactly the right time in my life: my early 20’s, when I was trying to figure out my place in this world. These song lyrics captured my feelings exactly and the music and production sealed the deal.
Regarding Smile, I’m glad this material finally got an official release. It’s a bit of a mess but what a glorious, wonderful mess. I hope at some point they will put out a one-disc version of this with just the album proper as I’m afraid casual listeners might be scared off by the multiple takes, studio chatter, etc. that are on the Smile Sessions discs.
Smiley Smile has always irritated me, especially after some of the original Smile tracks appeared on a boxed set in the 90s. Now that the Smile Sessions are available, I can listen to Smiley Smile as a sort of “unplugged” version of Smile. It’s just a shame that for many years this was the only version officially available. Wild Honey is a good, solid album, though hard to speak of in the same breath as Pet Sounds and Smile. One thing I’ll say for it: on the twofer it’s definitely a good palate cleaner after Smiley Smile.
Hi Glenn. I definitely understand your feelings about people who don’t appreciate “Pet Sounds,” but as someone who has his own list of overrated albums (“Astral Weeks” & “Exile On Main Street” being two examples of albums I really enjoy, but don’t understand why so many people consider them to be those artists’ masterworks) I’ll cut them some slack. The people I have no patience for are the ones who maybe listened to these albums once and decided that they stink. Sometimes the best art takes time to sink in, and even if you don’t love it you should be able to appreciate it. It’s hard to imagine anyone not appreciating the artistry behind “Pet Sounds,” an album that continues to reveal new layers as I get older.
That’s a great idea about having a single-CD of just “SMiLE,” as I’m sure a lot of people were put off by all the extras (and that’s not even counting the box set version, which even I avoided…there’s only so much studio chatter and alternate takes I can listen to).
As I mentioned to Alan in a previous comment, “Smiley Smile” became easier to appreciate after playing it numerous times and getting to know the more fully-realized “SMiLE Sessions” versions of those songs. It’s not a very good album by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not as unlistenable as I originally thought. You made a great point about “Wild Honey” and the 2-fer CD with “Smiley Smile.” That disc is probably easier to play than just a single disc of “Smiley Smile.”
Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate it. Enjoy the weekend.
I can only echo all the raves for Pet Sounds. Just an incredible album and I continue to discover new things in it (I’m very late to the party, having first heard it only a few years ago). God Only Knows and Wouldn’t It Be Nice I was already well familiar with, as they are some of the best pop songs of all time. Sloop John B is another personal favorite, and would probably make my Top 10 BBs songlist as well. The vocals and the song’s arrangement are just incredible. (On a side note, I know the BBs didn’t write Sloop John B originally, but I’m intrigued by how if you take the lyrics literally it surely must be one of the darkest songs they ever recorded, with the song’s young narrator completely trapped in a totally confusing, chaotic situation and unable to escape.) I’m Waiting For The Day is another gem, with a powerful ‘wall of sound’ arrangement that really excites… seems like it too could have been a hit single. You Still Believe In Me is quite moving, with lyrics particularly haunting coming from a young Brian (“I know perfectly well I’m not where I should be…”). There really isn’t a song on the album I don’t like.
Smile then. I have to confess that I am only familar with the Brian Wilson Presents Smile release, and, well, I like it a lot! I don’t yet have the ‘new’ 1967 Smile Sessions release, but I can tell I’ll need that one too from the raves it’s been getting. Agree with you Rich, Heroes and Villains is a spectacular song…honestly, of all the various versions floating around there isn’t one I don’t like, so strong is the arrangement and so intriguing the lyrics. And Eddie, it’s funny because Vegetables is another favorite of mine… perhaps it’s a throwaway lyrically, but there’s a sweetness and demented cheer to it I can’t resist, kind of akin to some of the offbeat Basement Tapes songs from Dylan and the Band. While there aren’t many individual songs from Smile I’d point to as all-time favorites, there’s something intimate and personal about the work as a whole that keeps me coming back to it, with lots of cryptic lyrics that resist easy analysis and keep me listening (Surf’s Up is a good example of this). There’s also something interesting about how seemingly none of the various Smile releases is exactly what Brian envisioned back in 1966/7, either in execution or in running order… it’s a mystery that continues to intrigue.
Can’t comment much on Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, as I’m not familiar with them, but I’ve had the Sunflower and Surf’s Up albums in fairly heavy rotation the last month or so, so looking forward to opinions on those when we get to them. Thanks as always, Rich!
Hi Jon. Not surprised that we’re in agreement on “Pet Sounds.” After everything we’ve written about it, it could just as easily be summed up with, as you put it above, “just an incredible album.”
I hadn’t thought about “Sloop John B.” in terms of the lyrical content, mostly because it’s a cover of a folk song, but it’s an interesting point. I wonder if Brian considered part of a narrative. One thing I forgot to mention about “God Only Knows,” which always perplexed me, is how a love song that begins with “I may not always love you” can be so universally adored. It goes to show the power of an amazing melody and vocal performance. That song could’ve been about toilet paper and it still would’ve been impressive.
If you love “Brian Wilson Present Smile,” I have to think you would be blown away by “SMiLE Sessions.” As I mentioned in this post, I can’t imagine ever needing to hear Brian’s version again, other than as a point of comparison. I love his backing band, but their vocals don’t have the same resonance for me as those of the Beach Boys. Also, as much of a pleasure as it is to have Brian recording new music in the 21st century, his voice is a shell of what it once was, so he sounds significantly better on those original recordings.
I’ll be writing about the rest of their ’60s output in the next couple of days, and then I’ll start listening to “Sunflower,” “Surf’s Up” and several others from the early 70s. Looking forward to discussing those sometime next week.
Very much look forward to hearing about the Beach Boys’ late ’60s output as well. It’s crazy how many studio albums they pumped out in just a decade! I am guessing that, especially post-Pet Sounds, this pace was mostly due to record company demands & advance contracts they had signed, and not because they believed the world had a burning desire to hear albums like Smiley Smile… 🙂
Totally with you on God Only Knows… it’s a quite shocking first line. Kind of an immediate signal that the narrator is talking to his lover with brutal honesty, and disposing of any soothing false words… making the sweet revelation of the chorus (“God only knows where I’d be without you”) all the more powerful. I also remember hearing Brian talk about liking the audacity of getting “God” into a song title… I imagine that was no small thing in a year when the Beatles ran into their own ‘Jesus’ problems. So many chances taken with this song, and they all paid off so beautifully.
I’ll definitely put Pet Sounds on my list of albums to check out. In fact, I might even buy it without listening to it, since I have read so many good reviews of it. “Wouldn’t it be nice” is a bit dated, lyrically, though, isn’t it? Unless I’m missing something, the narrator is looking forward to the time when he is older and married and thus able to sleep in the same bed with his future wife. Hhmmm…didn’t the Beach Boys have groupies? In any case, today when (at least where I live) most teenagers routinely spend the night with their girlfriends or boyfriends with the parents sleeping (or whatever) in the next room, the lyrics do seem a bit dated. Reminds me of Roger Ebert’s remark: In the old days, teenagers went to the movies to see adults make love. Now adults go to the movies to see teenagers make love. 🙂
Phillip, I completely understand your hesitation regarding those lyrics, but that doesn’t apply to everything on Pet Sounds. Also, I’ve always found the naive nature of some of their lyrics to be charming. Just like watching an old movie with corny dialogue can be a nice respite from modern films, listening to The Beach Boys can do the same thing vs. today’s music, which is often more cynical and in-the-know. One of the great things about Pet Sounds is that it’s relatively short (about 36 minutes), and every song has its own vibe. It’s very easy to get lost in it. I hope you enjoy it whenever you hear it.
Also, thanks for sharing that Roger Ebert quote. It’s very funny…and also true.
Phillip, you really can’t go wrong with a Pet Sounds purchase. I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy on there.
It’s funny, I think of Wouldn’t It Be Nice as about as timeless as a song can get. Check out this recent Daily Kos diary for a very different, very contemporary context for the song …
I thought this story was quite touching.
Jon, thanks for sharing that story. I completely understand the perception of many Beach Boys songs as square and old-fashioned, especially the lyrics, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
As for your endorsement of Phillip purchasing Pet Sounds, I would just change it to “I’m sure you’ll find A LOT to enjoy on there” (but I’m sure that’s what you meant).
I’ll definitely check it out. The question is, should I do it before or after checking out some vintage Iron Maiden albums? (Will you be reviewing Maiden albums here?) I avoided Iron Maiden for a long time because of the Eddie imagery, which I still don’t like. However, after I started listening to Planet Rock internet radio, more often than not when a song came on which a) I didn’t know and b) found really interesting, it was by Iron Maiden. Musically, at least their good stuff is really good. Lyrically, while not up there with, say, Ian Anderson, Neil Peart or Roger Waters, they are still above the typical heavy-metal lyrics (David Coverdale comes to mind).
I’m guessing Rich has some Maiden albums in his collection. Actually, there are probably quite a few people who enjoy both Iron Maiden and the Beach Boys. However, I’m probably the only person in the world who bought tickets for ZZ Top and Julia Fischer on the same day.
Phillip, I own just about the entire Maiden catalog (I used to have the two Blaze Bayley-era albums, but I found them to be so uninspired that I got rid of them), and I will definitely be revisiting them and writing about it here (although I don’t know when yet). I had the same issue with the Eddie character that you did, back in my high school days when they were huge, so other than sort-of knowing “Run To The Hills” and “The Number Of The Beast,” I ignored them. Then in ’97 or ’98, on a whim I picked up used copies of four of their albums and immediately got hooked. Within a year I owned all of their albums. Between the galloping rhythms (that evoked one of my all-time favorite bands, Big Country) and the extended songs & crazy time signatures (which appealed to my prog-rock side), I knew I found a very special band…years after everyone else. I’d be happy to offer some suggestions on where to start, but I think there are some obvious choices. However, it shouldn’t stop you from checking out Pet Sounds too. It’s really an easy album to fall in love with…and if you don’t like it, it only takes up 36 minutes of your life.
I gave an example of dated lyrics above. However, it’s not so much that they are dated which puzzled me but come from the same group who sang “two girls for every boy”. 🙂 But wait—that’s not the Beach Boys, that’s Jan and Dean. OK, Brian Wilson was one of the writers, but maybe he wrote the music and Jan Berry the lyrics. Maybe Jan and Dean were the Rolling Stones to the Beach Boys’ Beatles? Maybe we should look for (drum roll, please) hidden meanings in surf songs. “And if my woody breaks down on me somewhere” then takes on a whole new meaning. 🙂 (Of course, Surfin’ USA is based on Sweet Little 16, which is obviously about a groupie.)
Phillip, regarding Jan & Dean, I’m not sure how much of that song was written by Brian, but I know he had a lot to do with producing them and arranging their vocals. As for your “woody breaks down…” comment, that cracked me up. Thanks for the laugh. Keep ’em coming.
“I own just about the entire Maiden catalog (I used to have the two Blaze Bayley-era albums, but I found them to be so uninspired that I got rid of them),”
That seems a common sentiment.
“and I will definitely be revisiting them and writing about it here”
Definitely looking forward to that!
“(although I don’t know when yet).”
Somewhere in time, perhaps? 🙂
“Between the galloping rhythms (that evoked one of my all-time favorite bands, Big Country)”
I actually saw them at this year’s Cropredy festival. Without Stuart Adamson, of course (sort of like Maiden without Dickinson?!). However, I don’t know them well enough to say how this performance compared with the original. I recognized a few songs and it was certainly technically OK. (Outdoor festivals, especially in England, always have the threat of rain. However, it was so sunny and hot that I actually was wishing for a few more clouds. So I wasn’t complaining!)
“I’d be happy to offer some suggestions on where to start, but I think there are some obvious choices.”
Presumably The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, and Live After Death?!
After hearing them a few times on Planet Rock, it was a YouTube performance of “Journeyman” which convinced me to check out that album, Dance of Death. This has a rather direct connection to the Eddie/Death imagery. (As someone pointed out, the same image on a heavy-metal album cover and in a Bergman film are received differently. I also once heard someone comment on some scenes from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (obviously related to 666) as “very heavy metal”. Sweden in particular, and Scandinavia in general, has a very, errm, lively heavy-metal culture; I wonder if there is some Bergman influence there.) This is a fairly recent album, after Dickinson came back, and I actually like all the songs, so I figured that the vintage stuff must be really good. Not knowing where to start, I went for the recent En Vivo live album, but plan to go back to the good old days next. I’ve also heard that, although they have (probably too) many compilations, there are actually a couple of good ones covering the early and later stages of their career.
“However, it shouldn’t stop you from checking out Pet Sounds too. It’s really an easy album to fall in love with…and if you don’t like it, it only takes up 36 minutes of your life.”
Indeed. Maybe I’ll buy it and some Maiden albums on the same day. The sad thing is, those familiar with only modern stuff (rap etc) probably literally couldn’t hear any difference. 😐
Phillip, I’m glad you had a chance to see Big Country with Mike Peters. I think he’s done a great job of filling Stuart’s shoes, although no one could come close to Stuart’s brilliance. I was fortunate to see them in April 2011 in Edinburgh when I was in Scotland for a wedding. I had only seen the original Big Country twice before, and that was nearly 20 years ago, so it was an amazing experience to experience them in their homeland (even though only one of the remaining original members is Scottish) and get to hear those songs played live again.
The Maiden albums you mentioned are definitely the ones to go with, although I would add Killers to that list. Even if you don’t love Paul DiAnno’s voice, the songs are, well…killer. I’ve really enjoyed the albums they’ve released since the reunion with Dickinson, but haven’t spent enough time with them to comment on how they hold up against their classics. That’s one of the reasons I look forward to revisiting their catalog and writing about it here, but it’ll have to wait until I’m in the mood for them. Not that this is a lot of work, but it takes some mental energy to spend so much time with the music of one artist for such an extended period of time (and not something I ever did before starting the blog last year).
I’ve never seen any Bergman films (I know, “for shame!”), so I’ll have to take your word on their possible connection to Maiden’s music. As for Scandinavian metal, I’ll leave that for people with much stronger intestinal fortitude than myself. I do like a lot of Swedish progressive rock, which tends to be very dark (with the exception of the wonderful Flower Kings), but never got into the death metal & black metal scenes (especially with the occult connections, church burnings, murder, etc).
Wow, this subject couldn’t possibly be farther from The Beach Boys, but that’s why it’s so much fun to like a wide variety of music.
I hope you have a great weekend.
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“The Maiden albums you mentioned are definitely the ones to go with, although I would add Killers to that list. Even if you don’t love Paul DiAnno’s voice, the songs are, well…killer. I’ve really enjoyed the albums they’ve released since the reunion with Dickinson, but haven’t spent enough time with them to comment on how they hold up against their classics. That’s one of the reasons I look forward to revisiting their catalog and writing about it here, but it’ll have to wait until I’m in the mood for them.”
I recently bought Piece of Mind, Powerslave, Live After Death, Somewhere Back in Time and From Fear to Eternity. The last two are compilations, covering the first 7 and last 8 albums respectively. I haven’t heard all of From Fear to Eternity yet, but what I have heard is good. Whether or not it is good as the classic stuff remains to be seen. Of the newer stuff, I have Dance of Death and En Vivo, which is a live album dominated by newer stuff. I really like both. Even if the newer stuff isn’t as good as the classic stuff, it is still probably quite good. Number of the Beast wasn’t in stock, otherwise I would have gone for that as well. I’m familiar with some of the songs from the first 2 albums from the live albums, though of course with Dickinson singing. On the compilations, all the songs with another original vocalist are replaced by live versions with Dickinson. Since Maiden are so good live, this makes them less incongruous than the original singers would.
All of Piece of Mind is good, reminding me of the 2nd through 4th Rush albums, particularly 2112 (one part of “Revelations” sounds a lot like “2112”, but this is probably not intentional, like “22 Acacia Avenue” sounding like “Friday on my Mind” by the Easybeats). Only one song made it onto the compilation album, but all of them are good, which indicates that one needs much more than just a best-of collection (or even the 3 best-of CDs I have, since the second one is a double) in the case of Maiden.
To me, the music has little if anything to do with the Eddie imagery. I’m sure that many people overlook them for this reason, as we did for a long time.
Another thing: the classic albums were recorded in the early and middle 1980s. This was the time of Kate Bush, New Wave, too much echo on the snare drum, over-production, Fairlights on Joni Mitchell albums etc. Even Rush and David Gilmour and, to a lesser extent, Jethro Tull made some wrong turns in the 1980s. However, the Iron Maiden albums, as far as the sound goes, could have been recorded in the 1970s—none of this 1980s nonsense. And perfectly mixed as well. (I have the digital remasters from the 1990s, but even the original ones must have sounded very good.)
“As for Scandinavian metal, I’ll leave that for people with much stronger intestinal fortitude than myself. I do like a lot of Swedish progressive rock, which tends to be very dark (with the exception of the wonderful Flower Kings), but never got into the death metal & black metal scenes (especially with the occult connections, church burnings, murder, etc).”
I’m certainly extremely far removed from the death-metal, black-metal etc scenes. I think there is a problem in referring to them as “metal”. The typical “bad” metal with growl vocals, extremely distorted guitars etc is about as far from, say, Maiden’s “Wasted Years” (which could almost be Bon Jovi on a good night (for Bon Jovi)) as George Jones is from Johann Sebastian Bach. Actually, it is much farther. There is more variety within “heavy metal” than within the rest of music! Certainly not all Scandinavian (including Finland, although technically not a part of Scandinavia) metal is of this ilk; there is lots and lots and lots of power metal, symphonic metal etc, stuff like the first Nightwish album. Also, bands like Opeth used to be death metal but are now more akin to 1970s progressive rock. I now have a list of about 150 bands to check out. Probably 30 of those are Swedish. I recently saw Beardfish as the opening act for flying colours. A bit too bizarre for me, but an interesting show and very dedicated musicians.
Phillip, it’s funny to be speaking about Iron Maiden and death metal in a Beach Boys post, but that’s the joy of being a music fan. En Vivo is one of the few Maiden CDs I don’t own, although I saw a broadcast of the video on one of the high-def music channels recently and it was great. Live After Death is still their best live album, and I seem to remember really liking the Live At Donington CD from ’92, I believe. They released two live collections from that tour, right before Dickinson left, but the other one (A Real Live One/A Real Dead One) didn’t have the same energy as the Donington CD.
I’m not surprised that Piece Of Mind is the studio album you seem to really like, as it’s my favorite, and I like your comparison to those early Rush CDs. Steve Harris has always acknowledged how much he loves, and has been influenced by, prog rock…even when it could’ve been career suicide to admit that. Since I got into Maiden in the late-90s, I’ve always thought of them as prog+metal, and that’s maybe why I got into them in such a big way. You also make a great point about the production of those ’80s Maiden albums, and how they didn’t succumb to the questionable sounds of that era. I think credit should probably go to producer Martin Birch, who had previously done great, era-defining work with Deep Purple and Rainbow.
It’s funny that you include David Gilmour in your list of artists who made some questionable sonic choices in the ’80s, as his one solo album of that decade (About Face) is probably in my Top 10 albums of the ’80s. I do, however, agree that there are some production touches that weren’t necessary, and they also affected Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (another Top 10 album for me, even though it does sound dated now).
I’ve heard several Beardfish albums and I really love them. I enjoy a lot of the more esoteric prog-rock artists, especially Gentle Giant, and Beardfish has a lot of their quirkiness in their sound. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me.
By the way, even though I’m subscribed to your blog, I never get any emails alerting me to your posts. I’m not sure if that’s something I need to correct, or if your blog settings don’t automatically send emails to your subscribers. Please let me know your thoughts, as I really enjoy reading your posts whenever I remember to stop by.
Do I have a blog?!?!?!
I’ve been thinking of starting one, but haven’t actually done so yet.
I did sign up at a couple of places, but that was so that I could log in to comment on other blogs.
Which posts do you enjoy reading? I’d like to check them out. 😐
Or have I posted so many comments (in your blog and elsewhere) that it looks like I have my own blog?
My bad. I think I was having an online discussion with another blogger about metal bands right around the time you posted your last comment, and I must have morphed the two of you into one person. Sorry…I hope that didn’t hurt too much. Ha!
If you started your own blog, what would be the theme?
That was close! I though I had forgotten my own blog!
I think it would be very general, i.e. I could write about anything which interests me. However, I would probably write only stuff which I consider an original contribution and which should interest others. For example, if someone had already written a good post on some topic, I wouldn’t write on it as well if I agreed (though I might link to it). I also wouldn’t write about stuff like my car breaking down or whatever, unless it was somehow relevant to something else. In other words, the signal-to-noise ratio should be high.
I listen to a lot of music, but don’t play (well, a bit, but I am out of practice). Apart from that, my main interests (at least those I would brag, errm, blog about 🙂 ) are science and languages. So, maybe a few posts on languages, but I guess most would be on science, particularly astronomy and physics, academic politics etc. However, general politics, current events, whatever.
It’s on my list of things to do. I have some more urgent things. I also have to decide whether to go with WordPress, Blogger or whatever—I don’t want to re-invent the wheel—or perhaps write my own blogging stuff, which might make sense because I have run my own web server for almost 20 years and would have everything under my control and in-house. Even if other options are a bit easier, if for some reason I decided to move to another platform, this would probably be rather difficult.
How much time did you spend setting up your blog?
Phillip, it sounds like you have a lot of interesting topics you could write about (most of which would probably go right over my head). I like the fact that you don’t want to write about something that someone else might have covered, although if you could put your own spin on a topic, why not give it a shot? What I’m doing here isn’t groundbreaking, but I think I found a somewhat unique way to approach writing about music, even though many others have written about these artists and albums before. For me, the most rewarding part of the process has been getting to know so many albums that had been languishing on my shelves for years, and gaining a much bigger appreciation for most of these artists that I already liked…but obviously not enough.
I’m very happy with the WordPress format. Setting up the blog was incredibly easy. I’m not the most tech-savvy person, and I’m also not a trained writer, but they made the whole process so user-friendly. I can’t compare to other blog-hosting sites, but I can wholeheartedly endorse WordPress.
You mentioned Rush’s early albums in a previous comment. What do you think of their latest album? I tried to avoid all the hype that it was “the best album since…blah blah blah,” but after listening to it several times, it really does deserve the praise that it’s getting. They’ll never return to the sound or songwriting of 2112, Hemispheres or even Signals, but it’s great to hear them still pushing themselves nearly 40 years into their career.
As for The Beach Boys, have you heard the latest news that Mike Love is trying to kick Brian, Al & David out of the touring lineup after the reunion tour ends this month, and then continue touring as The Beach Boys with just him and Bruce Johnston? The response has not been kind to Mike, and I hope he’s just doing this as a ploy for more money & eventually agrees to continue the successful reunion.
Being able to put my own spin on something would certainly be enough to justify writing about it.
I have the latest Rush album, but have heard it just a couple of times up until now. It might be the best since Moving Pictures. I’ll certainly be listening to it more. Some albums I like immediately (Piece of Mind comes to mind) and usually these remain favorites, though they might slip down the list with time (because of over-familiarity, because I’ve discovered new things or because they became less interesting when well known). However, there are albums which I appreciate only after listening several times. Obviously, they have to be somewhat interesting in order that I listen again. A good example is Jethro Tull’s Stormwatch. I used to think it much worse than Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses (from the same phase—like Rush, but less strictly, Tull tended to have about 4 albums which had a similar style, though each unique, then changed style), but after hearing it a few times now rank it at about the same level. Just check out the bass on Dark Ages—incredibly good. Then realize it is Ian Anderson playing, which he did because John Glascock died after having played on just three tracks. So, I like the new Rush album, but want to hear it a few more times before forming an opinion.
I have a ticket for a concert in Cologne next June.
I saw Rush twice—on two consecutive days—on the Signals tour in 1983 I guess it was, then not again until 2004. I moved to Europe in 1983, and they didn’t tour much over here for a while. Also, I though their quality went down after Moving Pictures. (Well, it would be difficult to do something better, but they became much worse.) I stopped buying new albums after Power Windows until Counterparts came out. After that, I have Rush in Rio and everything since Snakes and Arrows. Definitely a return to better form. OK, they might never hit the peak they once had, but they are still making good music. I thought about going to a concert in the early 1990s, around the time of Presto, but didn’t since I didn’t like the music from that time. I later read reviews which said they played a lot of old music. 😦 There is a DVD from the Grace Under Pressure tour. I don’t like the music they were making then, but the old songs are played well with lots of energy, even though I prefer the clothes from the 1970s.
I saw Rush again in 2004, in Frankfurt. This was a couple of days before I went into the hospital with cancer. I was very sick at the time but decided to go nonetheless. A good decision. I can be seen in the video, standing at the front in front of Lifeson. I saw them again in 2007 on the Snakes and Arrows tour in Mannheim and then in 2011 on the Time Machine tour.
I heard the Beach Boys rumor, but it sounded like it was already a done deal. There have been various touring lineups over the years. I was glad that I saw this lineup on this tour, but I always thought this was a one-off thing. Maybe Brian, Al and David should do a cover of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts”. 🙂
Phillip, your last comment gave me a good laugh, so thanks for that.
As for Rush, we’ve have similar reactions to the various stages of their career, although we diverge a few times. I was a huge fan through Signals but didn’t love much of what they did in the ’80s (Grace Under Pressure through Hold Your Fire)…although I eventually came around to appreciating those albums a lot more. I was working at Atlantic Records when they signed to that label, and was blown away when Presto was released. It’s still among my favorite Rush albums. I continued enjoying all of their Atlantic albums, but none of them had an impact on me the way everything through Moving Pictures had.
I’ve only seen them twice, first in ’81 at Madison Square Garden on the Moving Pictures tour, and then again at the same venue in 1994 on the Counterparts tour. Both shows were excellent. I think the combination of rising ticket prices and the glut of Rush live DVDs has kept me from attending any of their recent concerts. I’m sure I would have a great time seeing them now, but having seen them at the peak of their powers, I never feel like I’m missing something essential. Plus, I’ll just buy the tour DVD whenever it’s released.
I’m sorry to hear about your battle with cancer. I certainly hope it’s behind you now and you’re back to 100% healthy. I’m glad to hear that Rush’s music was able to make you feel better, even if it was temporary. The power of music is really special. Which video are you referring to, that you appeared on? Was it the R30 DVD?
As for Jethro Tull, I agree that Stormwatch is up there with the other two you mention, even though it wasn’t as immediately accessible. However, I think Songs From The Wood might be my favorite Tull album. I always loved the rootsy celtic vibe, even though it still has some of the heaviness and prog elements that we came to expect. “The Whistler” might be my favorite Tull song, although that could change depending on the day and my mood.
“Phillip, your last comment gave me a good laugh, so thanks for that.”
I have to admit I stole it from the excellent music magazine Mojo, which used it as the title of a Mike Love interview a few years ago. Mojo has on average a pun per page; I’m sure many are lost on many people (some are lost on me, and I have a reputation for punishing everyone with my puns).
The cancer came back in 2008, but after a second bout of chemotherapy, much more aggressive and including an autologous stem-cell transplant (i.e. my own blood stem cells were collected, then came chemotherapy which destroyed many good cells as well, then the stem cells were re-introduced and a new blood system was built up), I am hopefully now cured for good. Next year will be 5 years.
Songs from the Wood is one of my favourites as well, maybe my top-ranked Tull album. Also up there are Thick as a Brick and Stand Up. I like “The Whistler” but “Velvet Green” is perhaps even better.
Yes, it is R30. I’m visible for a few seconds a couple of times. I had my long hair then (longer than Geddy Lee’s in the 1970s, which is saying something). Alas, after losing it all during chemotherapy it came back thinner and thus not as well suited to wearing long, so now it is only as long as Geddy Lee’s is today. 😐
I read Mojo every month but wasn’t aware of the abundance of puns. Will definitely keep an eye open for them going forward as I’ve always enjoyed puns (and making my friends and family groan at them).
Sorry to hear about you cancer recurring in ’08, but I really hope it’s all behind you now. My wife is an oncology nurse, so I’ve heard lots of stories about cancer patients, various treatments, and all kinds of outcomes (many with happy endings). I do believe in the healing power of music, and your love and knowledge of many kinds of music has obviously helped you through some difficult times. I hope there’s only happy times ahead.
Considering I’ve been without hair since my early-20s, consider yourself fortunate to be able to have Geddy-length locks. Haha.
Have a great weekend.
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Regarding the release of “Caroline No” under Brian’s name, Timothy White, in “The Nearest Faraway Place” (bio of the band), quotes Brian Wilson: “I’ve always used the word ‘spiritual’ in my life and my career, and the high, pretty voices and mellow instruments all add up to something spiritual for me. I get a little paranoid about being made fun of for my voice, but if I release a song under my name, if I could get a single going, it will be a spiritual release for me, and I’d have a hit.” Alas, because Brian’s name wasn’t yet that widely known, and folks were waiting for a new Beach Boys song, it was not a hit.
Thanks for sharing that snippet from Timothy White’s book. That really sheds some light on this subject. I appreciate you enlightening me on this.
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I’ve long been a fan of late-sixties/early-seventies Beach Boys, but your in-depth posts provided me with some new info and insights–thanks!
I’m glad I could help out in some small way. Revisiting their catalog for this series was an eye-opener for me in many ways. I appreciate all eras of their career now more than ever.