Some people have said that in my book on the Monkees I’m a little harsh on Davy Jones. It’s entirely possible that I am. But even so, he was capable of some great music, like this:
The thing is, Jones was primarily an actor, rather than a singer or songwriter, which is why he doesn’t come across especially well in my book, because it focuses on the music. Were I talking about the band as *entertainers* though, I would have placed Jones at the top of the list. The man had a stunning stage presence, was effortlessly funny, and seemed a genuinely decent person (as for example in this anecdote from Mark Evanier about an appearance from only a couple of weeks ago)
Davy Jones made my childhood happier with his TV show, and he made my adulthood happier with his work on some of my favourite albums and in one of my favourite films. I feel very, very lucky that I got to see him live on what must now be the last ever Monkees tour.
I have a horrible feeling that my Monkees book will start to sell more, now, for all the wrong reasons. I don’t want to profit off the death of a man I admire, so any profits I make from sales of my Monkees book in March will be given to a Manchester-based charity (since Davy was from Manchester and I live there, I thought that a donation to improve the city he came from would be a good way to go). At the moment, I’m leaning towards the Booth Centre, a drop-in centre for homeless people, but if anyone has any better suggestions let me know in the comments.
Meanwhile, here’s a spotify playlist of some of his best moments as a singer (not all of them — Spotify doesn’t have his lovely version of Nine Times Blue, or the cast album for The Point, or his version of McCartney’s Man We Was Lonely). When he was good, he was *bloody* good, wasn’t he?
GAH! This originally posted with the worst thing ever, rather than Brian Wilson. I apologise more than words can say for that.
Watch this, then you either will get it, or you’ll know you never will:
(For those who care, that’s Brian Wilson in 2004 performing the song Surf’s Up, from Smile, written by Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. The backing band there are Darian Sahanaja (keyboards,vocals), Scott Bennett (keyboards, glockenspiel, vocals), Probyn Gregory (french horn), Paul von Mertens (flute, harmonica, conductor), Jeffrey Foskett (sleigh bells, vocals), Taylor Mills (vocals), Bob Lizik (bass), Jim Hines (drums), Nelson Bragg (percussion, vocals), Nick Walusko (guitar, vocals) and the Stockholm Strings And Horns. Sahanaja, Bennett, Gregory, Mertens, Foskett and Bragg are all part of the Beach Boys touring band for the reunion tour).
The Beach Boys are a hard band to get into. When Mike Taylor asked a while back in the comments to one of my posts which Beach Boys albums someone should try, I actually drew a blank. This is because the Beach Boys rarely made consistently good albums. They started their career when singles, not albums, were the important thing, made one big Album As Statement (Pet Sounds), and fell apart before what would have been their second (Smile).
The band’s work after that, from 1967-74, contains some of the best music ever recorded, but also some of the worst, because they were operating as a democracy. Brian Wilson, the songwriting and production genius responsible for their best music, became less and less interested, and the rest of the band tried to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, while Brian’s brother Dennis turned out to be a great songwriter/producer, and their brother Carl was pretty decent, the other band members really weren’t up to much. (They occasionally hit on something listenable, but more by accident than design).
So this means that for one reason or another, all the Beach Boys’ actual albums are patchy, and you have to do a certain amount of digging in order to find the good stuff.
So where does a beginner start?
First, you’ll probably want the hits. If so, the best of the many, many compilations available is one released in 2003, Sounds Of Summer. Amazon US currently have an offer on to get this with a free T-shirt for $20, incidentally. It’s a 30-track collection, with every track being a top 40 US hit. It contains most of the hits you’ll know (I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda, California Girls and so on), and at least some of these hits are also among the band’s best work – In My Room, Don’t Worry Baby, God Only Knows, Heroes & Villains, Wild Honey and Good Vibrations are great records by any standard.
But after this, you’ll want to get into the band’s artier side. There are various compilations that are meant to introduce this, but all are flawed in one way or another. The best thing to do is dive in at the deep end. The box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys can be picked up dirt cheap – if you’re OK with MP3s, in fact, you can buy the entire 5-CD, 130-track box set for twenty-one quid from Amazon, which may well be the best deal in the world.
That box set contains all the hits, most of the better album tracks, a half-hour-long selection of the best music from the Smile sessions, most of Pet Sounds, and the handful of decent tracks from the post-1977 albums. It’s not perfect – every Beach Boys fan will have their own list of a dozen or so songs that should be on there – but everyone will agree that what *is* on there is mostly essential, and everyone will differ as to those other dozen songs.
If you don’t want to go for the box set, or if you’ve already got it and still want more, the next step is the compilation Endless Harmony. This is a rarities collection put together as the soundtrack for a documentary on the band, and it says something about the perversity of the band that they would leave some of their best music unreleased.
After this, you want two essential solo albums – Brian Wilson Presents Smile (a reconstruction of a finished Smile album, newly performed by Wilson and his backing band) and Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue (get the two-CD deluxe version of this – it’s well worth it).
After you’ve heard all that, you’ll know whether you want to investigate any further or not. You’ll have an idea of the shape of the band’s career and which albums you should pick up. You’ll know if you want the full Smile Sessions box set, or if Brian Wilson’s version is enough for you. You’ll know if you want to hear more of the R&B-flavoured mid-70s stuff or the whimsical soft-psych late-60s.
One piece of warning, though – the Beach Boys’ albums are available on CD as two-albums-on-one-CD packages. Mostly this is OK, but in the late-70s the bands highs and lows were higher and lower than before. The Beach Boys Love You is one of the greatest albums the band ever did, but it’s paired with the frankly feeble 15 Big Ones. LA (Light Album), the last listenable album the band released, is paired with MIU, an album which is torture to sit through. And don’t buy anything (other than Brian Wilson solo albums) from 1980 on. Those albums (Keepin’ The Summer Alive, The Beach Boys, Still Cruisin’, Summer In Paradise and Stars & Stripes Vol 1) range from soulless competence (The Beach Boys, with its drum machines and Culture Club covers) to soulless incompetence (Summer In Paradise, a good argument that all sound recording and reproduction equipment in the universe should be destroyed, and everyone deafened, just in case they might accidentally hear the song Summer Of Love).
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Posted this to Facebook, but then thought it might as well go here too.
I’m having a lot of difficulty in discussing politics at the moment. The problem is that so often debate is polarised between two false alternatives, and actually trying to even express an opinion makes me either have to equivocate so much the point gets lost or conversely accept framings I fundamentally disagree with.
“Do you agree with the health bill?”
“Well, no, actually, I think there are various problems with…”
“Great! I’ll add you to my Save Labour’s NHS From The ConDems Who Are Destroying It petition, shall I?”
“Er, no… I think the problems with the NHS bill are precisely those areas where it’s most similar to Labour’s policy…”
“Ah, so you’re a Tory bastard who hates the poor, then?”
“No… I think the basic idea of the bill is sound, but making it compulsory for GPs to take on extra admin work, rather than optional, for example is a terrible…”
“OK! I’ll put you down for the End The Evil Postcode Lottery campaign!”
“No, I *like* the idea of localism, and people in an area deciding for themselves what their health priorities are…”
“You ARE a Tory!”
“So I’m a Tory because I trust my GP more than, say, Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust who were rated second-worst in the country and who sacked a nurse for comments related to her union activities?”
“Yes, because she was organising against a trust run by a LABOUR council”
I get so tired with that argument though, and many others like that, that I often end up just saying “Yeah, smash the evil bill”, because I do think that on the whole the health bill is a bad idea (and a missed opportunity when we could have argued earlier in the process for a genuinely liberal NHS) and I end up sounding like the worst kind of authoritarian Labourite. Either that or I just hurl abuse at the person I’m arguing with.
I suppose this is the dilemma of the Liberal throughout the ages — agreeing with Labourites about (some of) the problems but disagreeing about the solutions — but it’s put into focus more when the Lib Dems are actually in government, and working with the Tories.
(This is NOT an invitation for a debate over the health bill, for precisely the reasons above. Nor is it a dig at any particular Labour member, or indeed Tory. If you don’t argue like that, then it’s not about you.)