Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Mike Love’s Beach Boys, 7th July 2013

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 9, 2013

Nobody in the music business polarises opinion like Mike Love. To some he’s the essential element in the Beach Boys’ success — the nasal-voiced singer of their biggest hits, “Mr Positivity”, the hardest working man in showbiz. To others, he’s the evil monster who killed Smile, the reason for the Beach Boys’ descent into artistic irrelevance, and a talentless hack who had the good luck to be born into the same family as a musical genius and has exploited him for fifty years.

For myself, I fall into the middle ground. I have very little respect for Love as an artist — he’s been involved in the creation of many great songs and records, but in the vast majority of the cases the songs he’s co-written were great despite, rather than because of, his contributions. But the hatred toward him from certain quarters is so intense, and so personal, that I often find myself defending him from those who think he’s Hitler and Jack The Ripper combined.

After the Beach Boys’ reunion tour ended last year in circumstances which are still only slowly becoming clear, Love returned to touring with his backing band, which licenses the Beach Boys’ name but which only features one other member of the Beach Boys proper, Bruce Johnston.

This has been widely condemned, and I can see why — last year’s shows were some of the best I’ve ever seen. But what isn’t fair is that much of this condemnation has involved attacks on his band members, who are all excellent musicians in their own right. Two of them, lead guitarist Scott Totten and drummer John Cowsill, were in the reunion tour band, and added a huge amount to that tour — the main reason I’m upset that the tour ended, in fact, is not because I’ll never see Brian Wilson and Mike Love onstage together again, but because I’ll never see Scott Totten and John Cowsill playing with Probyn Gregory, Nelson Bragg, Darian Sahanaja and the rest of Wilson’s great band.

The problem is that when Love started touring as “the Beach Boys” in 1998 after Carl Wilson’s death, the band he was playing with was extraordinarily poor, and even though he’s changed the personnel almost completely since that time — only keyboardist Tim Bonhomme remains of that band other than Love and Johnston — that set people’s perceptions of the band. But — thanks largely to musical director Scott Totten — Love’s band have now reached the point that while they might not be as good as Wilson’s band (mostly because Love’s smaller band is confined to a guitar/bass/keyboard/drums lineup rather than having vibraphones, hand percussion, tannerins and horns to play with) they’re an astounding live act in their own right. They no longer cut the corners that the Beach Boys did when Carl Wilson was still alive — they play the staccato section of God Only Knows properly, rather than eliding it, and they do the a capella break on Sloop John B. They’re *GOOD*.

(Love’s band are the only one I’ve ever seen where I’ve heard non-musician audience members mention the drummer — in the case of Mike Kowalski, the drummer when Love started licensing the band name, people said “Is he drunk? That’s the worst drumming I’ve ever heard!”, while in the case of Cowsill people coming out of the shows say “wasn’t that drummer incredible?!”)

Sunday’s show in London proved that this band are worth seeing. Their set was part of a festival, with a line-up that wasn’t so much eclectic as just stupid. The bill included The Gruffalo, Horrible Histories, Paul Young and The Saturdays, and JLS were headliners. Other days of the Hyde Park festival have coherent bills — next week sees Elton John, Ray Davies and Elvis Costello playing on the same day, for example, which makes sense, but this was just ludicrous, and meant that the touring Beach Boys were definitely not playing to their own audience, but to a bunch of ten-year-old kids and their parents.

They also had to fit a festival time-slot, and were only given an hour — which is still more than any of the other acts, even the headliners, had. Love’s band have essentially three sets they perform, depending on venue. They’ll do three hours or so in a theatre, with fifty-plus song sets including all sorts of obscure album tracks, thirty-five or so songs at an outdoor show where they’re the primary attraction, and a twenty-song shortened set when they’re playing festivals, sporting events, and other venues where they’re not the main attraction. It was obvious going in that it was the latter we were going to get.

This is a shame, as my love for the Beach Boys has little to do with the big hits — I never need to hear Barbara Ann ever again — but at the same time, those songs were hits for a reason, and a show that consists of only them is an exhilarating event.

While waiting for them to come on, and getting into a good position in the crowd, I watched half of Paul Young’s set (pretty poor — his voice has gone). Young got in trouble for extending his set by thirty seconds, to tell the audience that Andy Murray had won the tennis. The Saturdays followed, and were greeted rapturously by the pre-teen kids in the audience, who knew every word of their songs. They still had to drop a song to fit their twelve-song set into the timeslot.

After the Saturdays, it was interesting to listen to the conversation in the audience, which was completely negative about the Beach Boys. “Why are they even here?” “I can’t believe they’re doing an hour when JLS only get forty-five minutes!” “This is going to be awful,” and much more. The audience just wanted JLS — though it was the adults that were moaning. The little kids in the audience were politely applauding anything that came onto the stage, because they were out for a special treat and were on their best behaviour.

But then the band came out. Cowsill, Bonhomme, and bass player Randell Kirsch (who sings most of the falsetto parts for the band — he has a voice very like that of his friend and collaborator Jeff Foskett, who sings the same parts for Brian Wilson’s band) started up the intro to Do It Again, and then Totten, rhythm guitarist Christian Love (Mike Love’s son, who has a singing voice much like that of Carl Wilson, though he doesn’t have the artistry to use it to the same effect), Johnston and Love came out, and ran through three surfing hits back-to-back, going straight into Catch A Wave and Surfin’ Safari.

Surfer Girl followed, with Johnston taking lead on the middle eight, and Love dancing with his daughter Ambha. Straight after came Don’t Worry Baby, with Kirsch on lead — that one sounded just gorgeous.

Normally after Don’t Worry Baby, Love’s band would do a medley of four car songs, all played in full, but in this abbreviated set, the “hotwire the hot rods!” section consisted of just Little Deuce Coupe and I Get Around — the latter was the first one to really win the audience around, with a huge proportion of the audience singing along. While they’d been polite from the first, this got the audience fully on-side, and from here on they were happy with everything.

Isn’t It Time was next, the first real surprise of the show. They played it in more-or-less the single arrangement, with Scott singing Al Jardine and Brian Wilson’s parts, while Love and Johnston sang their own. Unfortunately, they’ve replaced the ukulele part with an acoustic guitar (a shame as Totten played the ukulele on this song on last year’s tour, so clearly knows it), but it was still fun to hear, and a nice track for the fans in the audience.

Love’s shows usually follow a more-or-less chronological progression from 1962 to 1967, with only the occasional diversion, and so now we were up to 1965 and California Girls, with Johnston doing his usual cheesy “Wish they all could be UNITED KINGDOM girls!” bit. Then I Kissed Her followed, with Christian Love sounding as bored as he always does on this one. One imagines him saying backstage “Aw, daaaaad, do I *have* to?”

And then we were into the Pet Sounds section of the show. Sloop John B started this section off, with the lead split between Totten and Love, with Johnston harmonising with Totten on the first chorus. Cowsill had been having some problems early in the set with the kit — bits of it kept slipping, though that was fixed after the first few songs — but I thought the problem had recurred here at first. After listening more though, I realised that Love’s tambourine was far too high in the mix, and he was playing terribly. That marred this and the next two songs slightly, but was the only real musical problem of the performance. Wouldn’t It Be Nice followed, with Cowsill and Kirsch singing Brian Wilson’s part in unison. Wouldn’t It Be Nice is always the most successful song in any Beach Boys-related show in the UK — EVERYONE loves that one.

During the show the band had been using the videos originally created for last year’s reunion tour, and on the Pet Sounds songs this got very odd — lots of footage of band members who weren’t on stage, and especially of Brian Wilson, in 1966, clearly the leader and in charge…

God Only Knows followed, again with the video footage (but not the audio) used during the 2012 tour. Bruce Johnston sang this, and Christian Love did a lovely job on the counterpoint at the end. The video ended with “We love you, Carl”.

Good Vibrations was next, with Christian Love singing lead (with Totten covering the very highest notes). He did probably the best job of this I’ve heard from him, and it again went down very well, though it still seemed odd to see 1966 Brian on the video screens, directing the band…

Kokomo followed, sung by both Loves, and completely killed the momentum stone dead. I know this was a big hit in the US, but no-one except the obsessive fans knows it over here, and none of them like it very much. It works OK in a long set where it can be played as part of a run of more obscure songs, but it has no place in a hits show in the UK.

Luckily, Help Me Rhonda won the audience back round, with a wonderful lead vocal from Cowsill.

Halfway through Rhonda, someone came on stage and told Totten “One more song”. After some consultation between Totten and Love, they decided to do *two* more, Barbara Ann and their traditional closer Fun Fun Fun (with Johnston singing the falsetto tag).

And so they left the stage having overrun their allotted time, on a bill that had been timed to the second…

And the crowd — the crowd that had not wanted to see them at the beginning — roared “MORE! MORE!”

The Saturdays, who a huge chunk of that crowd had been squealing about from the beginning, hadn’t got called back for an encore. But Mike Love’s Beach Boys, astonishingly, were.

I have never in my life seen an audience so thoroughly won over, from mild apathy to roaring approval. Argue all you want about how Brian Wilson’s band is better (it is) or how with only two members the current band aren’t the real Beach Boys (they’re not), or how that setlist is too oriented towards the hits at the expense of the more interesting artistic music (it is). What this band can do is almost bludgeon an audience into submission with one great hit after another, performed impeccably. It’s an absolutely astonishing experience.

And then I was dumbfounded when they started the encore with, of all songs, Goin’ To The Beach — an unreleased, unfinished song from 1979, an outtake from Keepin’ The Summer Alive. Apparently it’s been finished recently, and it’s appearing on the box set next month, but this is a song that only the most utterly hardcore fans have even *heard of*, and which no-one had heard in a completed form before then.

It’s not actually very good, mind — a basic shuffle, with the lyrics “Goin’ to the beach/Goin’ to the beach with my baby” — but it fit the set well and it was ridiculously exciting to be at the live premiere of a lost song, even if it was lost for a reason; and it’s a mark of how well the band had gone down that they were able to take a risk like that and bring the audience with them.

They finished with Surfin’ USA, and I left before JLS came on, as did a thousand or so of the other older people in the audience. As I looked at them — many of them wearing Brian Wilson Pet Sounds tour T-shirts, and clearly, like me, fans of the band’s artistic side rather than the hits — they all looked like I did, with a fixed, stupid grin on their faces, exhausted and in shock.

There is no question in my mind that I would rather see Brian Wilson’s band than this band, and no question that I would rather see the full line-up from last year. But given that those aren’t options right now (Wilson’s only announced four dates this year, all in the US), the question isn’t “is this the best possible Beach Boys show?” — of course it isn’t. But if one asks “was this worth buying a ticket and travelling down to London?” the answer is absolutely YES.

The Beach Boys On CD: Looking Back With Love

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on June 6, 2013

OK, I suppose I have to get it over with…

I have tried, in these essays, to be as objective as I can. Yes, some of the reviews have been harsh, but I have tried wherever possible to find something positive to say. The Beach Boys put out some material that was subpar, but never usually less than interesting.

But Mike Love’s only released solo album (he recorded two in 1978 and one in 2004 that remain unreleased) is terrible. Despite the involvement of Curt Becher as producer, and of Brian Wilson on one track, this is easily the worst album ever to involve any of the Beach Boys, if not the worst album ever released.

And the problem is, by saying this I know it will encourage people to listen to it. Don’t.

There is a whole field of study designed to creating warnings to stop future archaeologists from investigating nuclear waste dumps. The problem is to come up with something that warns them off without inviting curiosity, and the more you protect something and warn people off, the more they want to see it. The message they attempt to communicate is [FOOTNOTE According to http://www.damninteresting.com/this-place-is-not-a-place-of-honor/ ]in part:

This place is not a place of honor…no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.

What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

The idea is to warn off the curious. Some things are best left undisturbed.

The album was produced by Curt Becher, and the band backing most of the album was Scott Blair on drums, Michael Brady on bass, Jim Studer on keyboards and George Doering on guitar.

Looking Back With Love
Songwriters:
Jim Studer, Craig Thomas, Dan Parker

Because his surname is Love, do you see?

The thesis of this song is that the 1960s were an age of contradictions, thus “It was the best of times, the worst of times/An age of reason with a rage for rhymes”. Unfortunately, that line is the best in the song, seriously, and it hits a low in the second verse with the line “Good vibrations/Assassinations”

As an exercise in nostalgia it fails horribly, partly because Dan Parker, the lyricist, has the same writing style as Love himself, cramming in as many lyrics to older, better songs as he can (“Soulful sounds from the motor city, California girls now are sure looking pretty/Two girls for every boy”), succeeding only in reminding you of the better records you could be listening to; but also because it seems to epitomise the saying “If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there”. Lines like “mod rockers dancing in a Liverpool street” suggest that Parker definitely doesn’t remember the 60s.

Combine this with a synth-pop arrangement, faux-Beach Boys harmonies (featuring a guest vocal from Bruce Johnston) and Love at his most nasal, and what you have is unpleasant.

The album goes downhill from here.

On And On And On
Songwriters:
Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus

It makes a sort of sense for Mike to cover this track, since the original, by ABBA, had a backing vocal arrangement clearly influenced by that on Do It Again. That backing vocal is made the intro here, but the problem is the song itself.

While Andersson and Ulvaeus are not the pop geniuses their reputation these days suggests, they were capable of coming up with good songs. This isn’t one of them. The song sounds like an ELO cast-off, and not in a good way, and is hamstrung further by terrible lyrics like “He said, ‘I’m a minister, a big shot in the States’/I said, ‘I just can’t believe it, but I think it’s great/Brother can you tell me what is right and what is wrong?’/He said, ‘Keep on rocking baby, ’til the night is gone’”

Of course, Andersson and Ulvaeus can be forgiven for these lyrics, because they’re not native English speakers. Mike Love has no excuse for singing them.

The backing track is actually a relatively competent example of disco-influenced synth-pop, making the most of the song’s three-chord simplicity, but the combination of the terrible song, Mike’s nasal delivery, and the addition of a vocoder makes it an embarrassment.

Running Around The World
Songwriters:
James Haymer and Blair Aaronson

Possibly the least unpleasant track on the album, this features co-composer Blair Aaronson on synthesiser, and other than the poor 80s production and nasal vocals would be an inoffensive enough track. For the most part it’s just based on a I-vi verse and a ii-V chorus, and the only point of interest is a backing vocal quote from This Whole World.

Over And Over
Songwriter:
Robert James Byrd

This is just strange. Over And Over was originally recorded by the R&B singer Bobby Day (who wrote it under his real name), the writer of Little Bitty Pretty One, but was a number one hit in the US for the Dave Clark Five (whose version is roughly patterned on the old Little Richard song Money Honey) and is quite a catchy example of late-50s R&B.

For Mike to have done a straight cover of either version of the song would have made some kind of sense, especially given that the album seems very loosely themed around nostalgia for the late 50s and early 60s. It wouldn’t have made a lot of sense, because Day’s version, especially, has a very strong vocal performance and Love was at his most nasal at this time, but it could have been a competent, fun cover version.

Instead, it’s done as an ersatz-Carribean track– actually quite similar in production style to Blondie’s version of Tide Is High, which is presumably the influence here (although Becher had been producing similar-sounding records with California Music for years), which fits neither the song nor Love’s voice, and to make matters worse they introduce a totally unnecessary truck-driver’s key change up a semitone before the last verse.

Rockin’ The Man In The Boat
Songwriters:
Jim Studer, Jim Arnold, Michael Brady

If you have ever, in your life, wanted to hear Mike Love singing in his most nasal voice, over a Status Quo style chugging boogie (but with a bridge in the style of Chicago) about watching through a telescope while a female friend masturbates (and close analysis of the lyrics suggests that she has forewarned him of this), then this is the song for you.

If, on the other hand, you are someone whose tastes have not been totally corrupted beyond all human decency, you will stop the track as quickly as possible, and spend the rest of the week showering in the hope that you can someday feel clean again.

The lowpoint (in a track that is already the lowest point in an album made up of lowpoints) comes when Mike once again feels the compulsion to reference an old song lyric — “You know I’d love to lend a helping hand, you’re such a good singer let me join in your band…She don’t need it, got a good vibration”.

This is quite possibly the most monumentally misjudged recording of all time.

Calendar Girl
Songwriters:
Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

The worst’s over now. Mike Love has punished us, has shown us what horrors he is capable of committing, and now we can relax slightly.

Not that this is good — Calendar Girl is a terrible song — but this is actually better than the version of the song the Beach Boys had recorded (and left unreleased) during the LA sessions. The track’s got some energy to it, it suits Love’s voice, and the sax solo is quite nice.

It’s possible Stockholm Syndrome is sinking in, but this sounds like a relief after the last track. But then, anything would.

Be My Baby
Songwriters:
Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector

This track dates from earlier sessions, and features Brian Wilson on keyboards and inaudible backing vocals. Were it not for the layers of 80s synth overdubs, this could have fit on 15 Big Ones, but would have been one of the less successful covers on there. It has none of the dynamics, passion, or majesty of the original, just Mike Love singing lines like “you know I will adore you til eternity”, which should be a howl of emotion wrenched from the gut, with about as much passion as the shipping forecast.

One Good Reason
Songwriters:
Jim Studer and Michael Brady

This is merely tedious, a vaguely doo-wop flavoured 6/8 ballad that doesn’t even rise to the level of truly bad. The second half of the album is definitely better than the first (if better is the right word…less awful, certainly), but it still only rises to the level of “bad”, and the cumulative effect of the album is much, much worse than any individual song.

Teach Me Tonight
Songwriters:
Sammy Cahn and Gene DePaul

Teach Me Tonight is a standard, recorded by, amongst many others, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Earl Grant, and some performers who didn’t have any noble titles in their name at all. It’s one of the songs that people talk about when they talk about the “great American songbook”, though it also fits one of the recurring themes of this album in that it has a metaphor overextended to the point of absurdity.

The track here is in the same late-70s soft-pop style as LA (Light Album) , but with the addition of a Stevie Wonder style harmonica part (played by Tommy Morgan, who played on many of the Beach Boys’ 60s recordings).

Love’s singing is much better here, but the production style still handicaps the track and… it’s only a personal reaction, and others may differ, but for me Mike Love attempting to be coquettishly seductive starts me shuddering and sends me back to that shower again.

Paradise Found
Songwriters:
Mike Love and Jim Studer

Mike Love’s only songwriting contribution on the album is to this, the (thankfully) last song, a duet with Joannie Sommers. Another track that sounds very like Chicago, this one once again falls victim to Love’s compulsion to cram the titles of Beach Boys songs into everything, meaning the main chorus line is “let’s go away for a while”, once again reminding us of something we could be listening to instead of this.

Overall, when listening to any individual track on this album (except Rockin’ The Man In The Boat), it can feel like my introduction was too harsh — one can find tracks throughout the Beach Boys’ career that are worse than any individual song here (except Rockin’ The Man In The Boat). It’s the cumulative effect of the album — the sheer deadening joylessness, the crassness, and, perhaps worst of all, the impression that at least some of those involved actually thought they were doing something of artistic value.

There are moments here that, in isolation, could almost qualify as competent. But they’re few and far between, and overall one is left feeling slightly soiled for having listened to this. But I feel even worse for having written this review — it’s like kicking a puppy. The makers of this album were clearly trying to do something worthwhile, something that would make people happy, and to do it to the best of their ability. To attack them for that seems cruel, but so would letting anyone listen to this album without adequate warning.

In a way, this is one of the most successful works of art that I’ve ever come across, in that it helps me understand myself better — my first instinct, when writing this piece, is to go all-out with vicious, hyperbolic, mockery. Believe it or not, I toned a lot of that down before publication. But I revelled in the cruelty — this album had hurt me with its awfulness, now I was going to hurt its creators. This album showed me a side of myself I’d rather not have seen, and in that way it might be a much more effective work of art than many better albums.

But that doesn’t mean it’s actually any good.

The Beach Boys On CD: The Beach Boys Love You

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on February 3, 2013

The follow-up to 15 Big Ones may well be the most controversial album the band ever did, with fans almost evenly divided between those who love it and those who hate it. In a recent (totally unscientific) poll on one fan forum, Love You made the top ten both of fans’ favourite and least favourite albums.

And there’s a good reason for this. Love You is, quite simply, unlike anything else ever recorded, not just by the Beach Boys but by anyone. It’s almost impossible to get across to people who haven’t heard it just how unlike anything else any major band has ever done this is. Possibly the best way to explain the album’s sound is by a hypothetical:

Imagine playing J.S. Bach a Phil Spector album, then telling him “you have an hour to write as many songs that sound like that as possible”, and locking him in a room with Jonathan Richman as a lyricist. Then take those songs and give them to Tom Waits to record, but with the only instruments allowed being a Moog with its settings stuck on “fart sound” and a single snare drum.

While the result wouldn’t exactly be The Beach Boys Love You, it would probably be close enough on a first approximation. It’s an album where the vast majority of the instrumentation is played by Brian, and is as rudimentary as that implies. Given its release in 1977, it would actually be the only sensible response by a major band to punk, were there any evidence that Brian Wilson had ever heard a punk record at this point — as it is, we have to see it as just convergent evolution. This seems to be the cause of the great split in Beach Boys fandom over this album. Very roughly, anyone who became a Beach Boys fan before punk despises this album, anyone who grew up listening to punk and post-punk music seems to get it instinctively.

This is one of only two Beach Boys albums to be made up entirely of previously-unreleased Brian Wilson songs (the other being Smiley Smile) and is as personal a statement as Pet Sounds, Smile or Smiley Smile. And I am absolutely in the camp for whom this is one of the pillars on which the Beach Boys’ artistic reputation rests. Certainly this is the last album by the group that anyone could possibly argue was great — and there are only two after this that one could reasonably argue are even listenable (though the band’s members would make plenty of good music solo).

It’s not an easy listen, though. It’s bare, minimalist, raspy and human. Apparently Carl Wilson did a lot to sweeten the album before its release (he’s credited as ‘mixdown producer’, with Brian Wilson credited as ‘producer’, but supposedly he did a lot more than that implies), which just makes one wonder what on Earth this could have sounded like before the sweetening.

One thing that must be addressed before we get to the album proper, though, is the claim by some that the people who like this album do so because they’re fetishising mental illness, and that the album itself is ‘a product of mental illness’. This is nonsense.

The album isn’t “a product of mental illness” — it’s a product of an artist who happened to be living with a mental illness. Yes, it wouldn’t be the same if Brian had been mentally better, but likewise none of his music would have been the same if he’d been able to hear in both ears, and we don’t call Pet Sounds “a product of physical disability”.

Just having a mental illness doesn’t make one magically able to make music of the quality of Love You — I worked for several years on a psychiatric ward, and several of the people on that ward fancied themselves musicians, so I can tell you that from personal experience. Conversely, having a mental illness doesn’t suddenly remove all talent, intelligence and humour from someone who has those things when they’re well.

The narrative that mental illness is in some way romantic or confers mystical talent upon those who have it is definitely a pernicious one that needs to be fought. But just as pernicious is the opposite myth — that because someone has bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, or whatever, they instantly become unable to do anything or make any rational decision. People with mental illnesses can be capable of creating great art — even great art that stems from their illness. Or should we dismiss Van Gogh and William Blake, too?

No, Love You wouldn’t be the same album if Brian Wilson hadn’t been suffering from a mental illness at the time — but that’s a good thing. Not a good thing that he was ill, but a good thing that while ill he was able to create great art. Personally, I think we need more art from people with mental illnesses — they’re marginalised, and their opinions and thoughts more or less ignored or mocked, in this society.

But this isn’t something that has to be treated as outsider music and listened to as one would listen to Wesley Willis. This is an album that had a rave review on its release from Patti Smith, that Peter Buck considers one of the greatest ever and that, most importantly, Brian Wilson himself often says is his favourite by the band. This is a strange, but beautiful, work by one of the greatest songwriters ever.

To those who have ears, let them hear.

line-up

Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston (uncredited)

Let Us Go On This Way
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist:
Carl Wilson and Mike Love

And the album starts as it means to go on — with a riff almost identical to that of Gimme Some Lovin’ played on a cheap-sounding electric organ and a Moog bass, while a single snare drum thwacks on the off-beat and Carl Wilson grunts.

This is pop-R&B for the post-punk age, the Spencer Davis Group in a world where the drum-kit and the electric guitar had never been invented. Over a simple, grunting riff played on a farting Moog, stabbing chords on an organ, Jay Miglori’s baritone sax and a solitary snare drum, Carl Wilson soul-shouts “To get you babe I went through the wringer/Ain’t gonna let you slip through my fingers”. The verse is simplicity itself, but then for the chorus line we get something totally different — all the instruments drop out, replaced by a piano, and the two-chord riffs we’ve had so far are replaced by seven chords in three bars, as the ecstatic harmonies come in — “God, please let us go on this way”.

To those who’ve been following the band’s career, this can’t help but be a reminder of the last time the Beach Boys invoked the deity in this way — the similarly gospel-infused He Come Down — but while the harmonies here work in the same way, here they’re shattered voices. The Wilson brothers at this point had destroyed their voices with a combination of cocaine, alcohol and smoking, though Carl’s voice remained comparatively unravaged, and so here rather than the ethereal beauty of even a few years ago, we have what sounds like ancient, weary old men, their voices cracked and shattered, even though when this was recorded all the band were under thirty-five.

But the significant word here, as Patti Smith correctly noted in her review for Hit Parader [FOOTNOTE Which can currently be read at http://www.smileysmile.net/uncanny/index.php/the-beach-boys-love-you-october-1977-hit-parader-selection-by-patti-smith], isn’t “God” but “please”, which she called “the catchword of Love You” but which could equally be called the catchword of Brian Wilson’s entire career. This is a pleading album, and I can’t really put it better than Smith did:

they are pleading w/ the same urgency as the boy in the back seat to the girl in 1963. please it won’t hurt. please. come to me/give to me/tell me/listen to me…[orthography as in the original]

Then after another verse we get the middle eight, and Mike Love’s sole songwriting contribution to the album (apparently he wrote only these lyrics, not those for the rest of the track). And suddenly we’re back in the world of Holland, with Love’s obsessions with telepathy and levitation coming to the fore again. “Seems we have extra sensory perception…now we can fly”. It even sounds different from the rest of the track — the single snare drum thwack has been replaced with a single thump on a tom.

The track builds cleverly, from the single Moog bass under Carl’s vocal at the beginning, to a mass of Moog, organ, sax and chanting Beach Men by the end, but throughout it there is a propulsive energy that had been missing from everything the band had recorded, no matter how good, since about 1971.

A staggeringly good opener.

Roller Skating Child
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Mike Love, Al Jardine and Carl Wilson

“And we’ll make sweet lovin’ when the sun goes down/We’ll even do more when her mama’s not around/Well, oh my, oh gosh, oh gee/She really sets chills inside of me”.

This is one of the comparatively weaker tracks on the album, sounding in fact like a rewrite of the previous track (the verse riff is essentially the same but a tone up), but less inspired, with handclaps and some rudimentary blues guitar attempting to liven it up. Even so, lyrics like the chorus lines quoted above, or “we do it holding hands, it’s so cold I go brrr”, are quintessentially Brian Wilson.

This is probably the most “Beach Boys” sounding track on the album, with Mike Love taking the lead in his nasal tenor, but still the greatest moment is the end, when out of nowhere comes a quick G-flat – A-flat – B-flat rise that’s reminiscent of the chorus to Sail On Sailor, and Brian sings, in his ravaged “low and manly” voice but with the innocence and enthusiasm of a five-year-old, “Roller…skating…CHI-ILD!”

It’s the real entry of the voice that will define much of the album.

Mona
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Dennis Wilson

The Beach Boys Love You, like many records where Brian Wilson has had control, is structured in a way that seems strange to modern ears but made sense at the time. When the Beach Boys were first starting out, in the very early 60s, the convention was that albums would have two sides that were different in style. Side one would be “for the kids” and be R&B or rock style tunes, while side two would be “good music” “for the grown-ups” — orchestrated, sweetened ballads. This was the convention to the point where I actually own a Ray Charles album from the early 1960s whose liner notes feel the need to explain that they’d chosen to mix the two styles up rather than do it the conventional way.

And this is how Brian Wilson structured many (though not all) of his albums. It’s most obvious on The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, but it’s also there on The Beach Boys Today and (to a slightly lesser extent) Summer Days…And Summer Nights! — a side of mostly uptempo rockers, and a side of more sophisticated, more complex, ballads.

So here we get the third uptempo track in a row, and the most fully fleshed-out. This has a full wall-of-sound style production, with massed backing vocals, multiple saxophones, and even drum fills (unusual for this album). Over a four-chord doo-wop progression, a badly double-tracked Dennis Wilson, his voice so damaged he can barely enunciates, shouts lyrics like “Come on, listen to Da Doo Ron Ron now, listen to Be My Baby, I know you’re gonna love Phil Spector” and “Will you, will you will you will you just kiss me/When you leave me won’t you just miss me?” (See what Smith meant about “please”?)

This is a man in his thirties singing a song about the concerns of a boy in his teens, in the voice of a man in his eighties, and if you can listen to it without a huge grin on your face I pity you.

Johnny Carson
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Mike Love and Carl Wilson

Johnny Carson starts off with a verse that sounds almost like the kind of louche Weimar cabaret song that Scott Walker or someone of that ilk might cover, low piano chords and Moog in a minor key, with no other instrumentation, while the singer sings in a low baritone, being almost mocked by the answering chorus.

Except that that singer is Mike Love, and the words he’s singing are “He sits behind his microphone/(Joh-nny Car-son!)/He speaks in such a manly tone/(Joh-nny! Car-son!)”

This is the make-or-break song for this album — at this point either you just decide to go with it and accept that, yes, this is going to be a song about how great Johnny Carson is, and how “every night at eleven-thirty he’s so funny”, where the instrumental break consists of four bars of just a stabbed Cm chord, played on organ and piano, on the on-beat, followed by four more bars alternating between B-flat and E-flat, and where there is a single cymbal crash that is almost the only use of cymbal in the entire album, or you turn the album off and give up on it.

As the song ends with another doo-wop progression, over which the band chants “Who’s the man that we admire?/Johnny Carson is a real live wire”, only those who are willing to listen with an open mind are left, as the album starts to get really good.

Good Time
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Al Jardine
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson

This song is often considered to not fit on the rest of the album — it was originally recorded during the Sunflower sessions in 1970, apart from one “Hey!” at the end that Brian added in 1977, and features a much fuller arrangement than anything else on the album, including strings and horns, as well as having Brian’s very different 1970 voice in the lead.

It’s also the only song that had had any kind of release before this, having been released as a track by American Spring (a vocal group consisting of Brian Wilson’s wife Marilyn and sister-in-law Diane) with the same backing track but slightly revised lyrics (including a vocal part on the instrumental break — “Hey baby, turn up the radio/The DJ just said he’s playing our favourite song/talk to me”). That version is actually in many ways the better mix, having some instrumental parts missing from the Love You mix, and sounding overall much clearer.

Despite all the differences — the orchestration, the simpler structure, Brian’s voice — this does still fit on the album, simply because of the eccentric sense of joy in the track. There’s no other album in the world where a line like “My girlfriend Penny, she’s kinda skinny/And so she keeps her falsies on” would fit.

Honkin’ Down The Highway
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist:
Al Jardine

The only single from the album was this utterly joyous country-rocker. One of the fuller productions on the album, this harks back to the band’s early days of singing about cars and girls, but with a mixture of sophistication and naivety that is utterly astonishing.

On the one hand, you’ve got Brian and Dennis bellowing “honk honk, honking down the highway”, and the fact that Al is singing about “honking down the gosh-darn highway”, but on the other you’ve got astonishing musical moments like the bridge, where a song that has been in E major throughout the verse diverts into a minor key, but only so the song can build up from Bm7 through Em7 and F#m7 before triumphantly going to G major and then to B major, the fifth of the original key — taking us from a minor version of the chord to a major one through a continuous lift that is just about the most joyous thing ever committed to record, especially when combined with Al singing over the top “I guess I got a way…WITH…GIRLS!” in his magnificent, rich voice.

And this is the thing that makes Brian Wilson so special as a songwriter — the combination of an utterly unmediated emotional expression with a peerless musical intelligence and craft. This is the music that an enthusiastic child would make, making up a song about the first thing that came into her head — if that child was at one and the same time someone with decades of songwriting craft.

No-one else can do this.

Al Jardine re-recorded this song on his 2010 album A Postcard From California, with Brian Wilson adding backing vocals, but this is still the superior version.

Ding Dang
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Roger McGuinn
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

A very silly song indeed, running slightly less than a minute long, all on one chord, with the band singing “Ding, dang, dang, Whoo!, ding and a ding dong” while Mike sings “I love a girl/I love her so madly/I treat her so fine/But she treats me so badly” over and over. This took two people to write.

This is Brian Wilson’s favourite song from the album.

Solar System
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson

Side two opens with a wonderful waltz-time ballad, layers of synths under Brian’s ‘low and manly’ voice as he sings a song about the planets that seems aimed at children.

Harmonically, this is the most interesting thing so far — the verse/chorus seems to start in G or D, but soon moves to A, before going to F for the chorus, but then ending on a D chord. It’s one of the most harmonically mobile things Brian had done in years, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. The middle eight, meanwhile, seems to stick mostly to the key of E minor, but with a Cm7 chord that doesn’t neatly fit into any of the other keys.

Lyrically, the song is a look at all the planets in the solar system (except Uranus) and the moon, from a childish point of view — “If Mars had life on it/I might find my wife on it”, along with mentions of various other celestial bodies (“Then there’s the Milky Way/That’s where the angels play”).

It’s absolutely lovely, and for all the criticism Brian’s gruff 1977 voice gets, I have to say that I find the vocals on this track fit perfectly — he was still a great singer, even if he didn’t have a ‘beautiful’ voice. The harmonies on the chorus, with Brian multi-tracked, straining for the high notes he would once have hit easily, are lovely.

The Night Was So Young
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

By common agreement, this is by far the best song on the album, and for once the consensus isn’t wrong. This is the most fully-produced track on the album — and it sounds like a lot of that production is the work of Carl Wilson, as there are probably more guitars on this one track than on the entire rest of the album, with at least three clearly audible parts (a barely-there rhythm part, a vaguely “Hawaiian” sounding two-note repeated phrase mixed high, and a double-tracked lead part played on the bass strings and mixed low). It also has the most conventional drum part, to the point of actually having a little hi-hat work (one of the little-remarked quirks of Brian Wilson’s production is that he rarely uses cymbals of any kind on his recordings, preferring to use hand percussion to play those parts).

Carl Wilson turns in the best vocal performance of the album, a quite extraordinary effort. Listening to “Why she has to hide/She’s passing it by, she won’t even try/To make this love go where it should” you could believe this was Brian’s old trick of passing vocal lines between different vocalists, but they’re all Carl. In fact, it sounds like the only vocals on this track at all are massed Brians in the harmony stack and Carl on lead.

The song itself is a lovely, simple one, with a vaguely Latin or Hawaiian feel thanks to all the major 7ths and 6ths, and with simplistic but effective lyrics that perfectly express the emotion of being awake at night thinking about a love you can’t have. Absolutely beautiful.

This is the only Love You song that Brian Wilson has included in his solo sets when performing live, playing it in 2002.

I’ll Bet He’s Nice
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson

Another absolutely stunning song. The simplest way to describe how good this is is to say there’s a bootleg tape, quite widely available, of Brian demoing several Love You era songs for his bandmates. Their reactions to songs like Mona are…not hugely enthused. But when he plays this one, there are astonished noises and “woo-hoos” in the middle eight, Mike Love starts singing along with the choruses, and Love says at the end “Man, that knocked me out, that was a motherfucker.”

[Note to self -- check that this line was actually in that place before releasing the book version of this, as the tape has been edited quite a bit].

A lovely song built on layers of synths, with the only other instrument audible being a tambourine low in the mix in the left channel, this is an absolutely heartbreaking little song — “I’ll bet he’s twice/As nice as me and it makes me cry/Please don’t tell me if it’s true/Because I’m still in love with you”.

It would be an absolutely perfectly constructed song, in fact, were it not for the middle eight lyrics, which are sung from the point of view of a lover afraid his love will leave, rather than one who has already been left.

This track also features a prominent vocal cameo from former and future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, who sings the multitracked “Well it’s you…” harmonies in the left channel on the fade.

Let’s Put Our Hearts Together
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson and Marilyn Wilson

A simple duet, again built on layer upon layer of synth sounds, this is one of the less complex songs on the second side, rarely venturing far from its home key and staying for much of the song on two chords.

There’s an appealing sweetness to this, and it would take a heart of stone not to be affected at least a little by Brian earnestly singing lines like “maybe I’ll come up with some idea and you’d think that I was clever”, but Marilyn Wilson was never a particularly good singer, and giving her lines where she has to sing a melisma that stretches the single word “good” into six notes over four beats is, frankly, cruel.

I Wanna Pick You Up
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Dennis Wilson and Brian Wilson

A rather sweet, charming song sung to one of Brian’s children, who were at this point old enough to be going to school — “I love to pick you up, ’cause you’re still a baby to me”, this is an innocent little song about loving and caring for one’s children. There’s a subsection of Beach Boys fandom which likes to infer a sexual double-meaning to this song (mostly because of the line “pat her on her butt/she’s going to sleep, be quiet”), but while some of the other songs Brian was writing around this time have some disturbing aspects to it, this is as innocent a song as it gets.

The song is not one of the best on the album (Darian Sahanaja, later musical director of Brian Wilson’s backing band, released a solo version of the song with Pet Sounds style orchestration in the mid-90s, and it doesn’t really hold up under the weight), but like the whole album it manages to communicate an honest emotion, in a direct way, and it’s an emotion that is very rarely dealt with in rock or pop music. And the harmonies at the end are exquisite, with Love’s held bass note about as deep as he’s ever sung, while Dennis sings “little baby go to sleep”.

A minor piece, but a nice one.

Airplane
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Mike Love, Carl Wilson and Brian Wilson

One of the very best things on the album, here lyric and music work perfectly together, as the tiny drifts in chord in the verses, from Gmaj7 to G7 to Cmaj7 to Am7 to D7, always keeping several notes in place from one chord to the next, perfectly capture the feeling of floating along above the clouds, thinking about arriving home.

It’s a hard song to analyse, because it’s just so direct and affecting. Love turns in a remarkably good vocal for him in this range (it’s right at the top of his tenor range, where he’s normally most nasal). But it’s a great one. After the two verses, we get a new section — “Airplane, airplane”, bringing in a hint of Gm to go with the G major key established in the rest of the song, but only so that on the “carry me back to her side” line we can have the rising Sail On Sailor Eflat-F-G sequence. This repeats and then we get Brian singing, almost a descending scale, “down down, on the ground, can’t wait to see her face”, again evoking perfectly in sound the feeling of a slow descent.

And then there’s the tag, where over a two-chord R&B vamp, Brian and Carl engage in a joyous call and response — “I can’t wait (can’t wait) to see (her face)”. This makes up nearly a quarter of the song, and frankly I’d have been just as happy if it had gone on for another five minutes, just hearing the two brothers playing off each other vocally, Carl growling and Brian singing “I can’t wa-hay-hait”. There’s nothing musically clever going on here, just two people singing with such infectious joy that the listener can’t help but smile.

Love Is A Woman
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine

And then finally we get to the song that most people use to dismiss the album. This is, frankly, a bit of a failure — a doo-wop song with lines like “Love is a woman/so tell her she smells good tonight” and “One two three/She’s fallen in love with me/Four five six/She fell for all my tricks”, this has the same childish eccentricity as most of the rest of the album, but doesn’t have the imagination to go along with it, and to make matters worse there’s just enough sweetening added to the mix (multiple saxophones and what sounds like a flute) to make it sound cluttered, while still sounding amateurish.

You can’t expect every song to be a classic, and this is the only one on the album that is less than wonderful, but it seems strange that it was sequenced as the last song on the album. The band — or at least Brian — seemed to like it though, and it was kept in their live set for a while, while Brian chose to perform it on a rare solo TV appearance around this time.

I am entirely prepared to accept that I’m missing something with this song, and that in two or three years something will click, and I’ll realise it’s a great work of genius, because the rest of this album is so unbelievably good that I’m willing to see any failure in it as a failure in me. But for now, I have to say that this is an imperfect ending to an otherwise perfect album.

The Beach Boys On CD: The Beach Boys In Concert

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on January 18, 2013

Ask ten different Beach Boys fans their favourite period for the band as a live act, and you’ll get ten different answers. Over the years, the band’s stage show changed radically, and each period showcased a different aspect of the band. So some may prefer the band’s shows from the late 60s and early 70s, centred around the gentle material from Wild Honey, Friends and Sunflower. Others prefer the “Brian’s back” era of the late 70s, when the now-husky genius returned to the stage to add the quirky Love You material to otherwise nostalgia-driven shows. Yet others will argue for the 1993 box set tour, with its unplugged sets, positioning the band squarely in the ‘classic rock’ field, or the 2008 UK tour, or the 2012 reunion tour, both of which managed the difficult feat of balancing the artistic and nostalgia aspects of the band.

But more than any other period, people mention the 1972-74 period as a highlight for the Beach Boys’ live shows. In some ways, this is entirely for good reasons — this was the period when they had the most adventurous live sets, and had some of the best backing musicians they would ever have.

In other respects, though, it betrays a certain insecurity among Beach Boys fans. The 1972-74 live band were wonderful, but this was also the period where the band was the most acceptable to the kind of people who talk about ‘real music’. Yes, the band had none of the tacky accoutrements that damaged their later shows — no cheerleaders, Hawaiian shirts, cheap synthesisers or attempts at rapping — but on the downside there was a certain obviousness to the arrangements, with delicacy being ignored in favour of a riffy, heavy, guitar-based sound.

This is not to say that these performances were bad, by any means — they do deserve their reputation — but they were good in a very particular way, and represent a vision of the band, as long-haired, bearded, guitar-toting rockers, that practically oozes testosterone. If that’s not the version of the band you’re interested in — if you have less interest in rock music than in pop — then adjust your expectations accordingly.

While this album is compiled from many shows, over two separate tours (an early single-album version, with only material from the winter 1972 tour, was rejected by the record label, so they recorded summer 1973 tours and turned the result into a double album), it is an authentic record of what the band sounded like live at this time, as those who have heard the many audience recordings from this period can attest.

I will have less to talk about with this album on a track-by-track basis than for other albums, as I have already spoken about most of these songs in the context of their original albums. There are some general notes which are applicable to all the songs, though.

Firstly, as stated above, this is a rock album, not a pop one. In general, the songs are sped up and more dominated by guitar than the studio versions. There are also two drummers on most tracks, and at least one of the drummers uses far more cymbal than was ever used on a record produced by Brian Wilson.

Secondly, the harmonies are very different from what one might expect. With Brian Wilson absent from the touring band and Bruce Johnston having quit, the low and middle ends of the harmony stack are far more prominent than the high end. In later years, of course, the band would hire outside falsetto singers to take those parts, as they became more concerned with reproducing the sound of the hit records than with playing their new music, but at this point their set was dominated by songs which had little or no falsetto anyway. On the other hand, Dennis Wilson’s voice is far more audible in the harmony stack than it was most of the time — at this point, he was still unable to play the drums because of his hand injury, and so he was singing a lot more (he very rarely sang while drumming).

What’s perhaps most noticeable is the repertoire. This was the Beach Boys’ third live album in ten years, and yet of its twenty songs, only six had appeared on either of the previous two (and none had appeared on both). This was a band that was still growing, still changing up its setlist regularly, and mixing hits, obscurities and new songs with more concern for putting on a good show than for fitting someone’s preconceived idea of what a Beach Boys show ‘should’ be.

With those points in mind, on to the songs themselves.

line-up

Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar
with backing band members Billy Hinsche, Ed Carter, Robert Kenyatta, Mike Kowalski, Carli Muñoz

Sail On Sailor
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Ray Kennedy, Tandyn Almer and Jack Rieley
Lead vocalist: Blondie Chaplin

Unsurprisingly, the opening track, from the band’s then-new album, sounds very similar to the studio version. The main differences are a more prominent bassline, a slight increase in tempo, and the loss of the ‘morse code’ guitar part, but otherwise this is much like the record.

Sloop John B
Songwriter:
trad arr Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Mike Love

The second in a miniature set of songs about sailing that starts the album, this is, like much of the album, a stripped-down, simplified, but relatively faithful arrangement of the hit. The orchestration is obviously not there (though the flute intro remains), but there are some nice instrumental touches, like the twelve-string guitar being doubled by an analogue synth.

The most notable differences from the record are Carl, rather than Brian, Wilson taking the lead vocal on the verses, the lack of the a capella break (in general the harmonies suffer more than the instrumental parts on this album), and the frenetic pace at which it’s taken (I actually felt my heart racing when listening to this with headphones, it goes at such a pace).

It’s not the best live version of the song (that would be the version on the Live In London album), but it’s a perfectly decent performance.

The Trader
Songwriter:
Carl Wilson and Jack Rieley
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Mike Love

Much as with Sail On Sailor, this was recorded close enough to the release of the studio version that it’s, if not indistinguishable, then still very, very similar. The most notable difference is a prominent bongo track in the left channel, and the inescapable fact that when performed live the transition between the two sections of the song is less abrupt.

You Still Believe In Me
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Tony Asher
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine with Carl Wilson

A very creditable attempt at what is possibly the most difficult song from Pet Sounds to perform live. Obviously, there was no possibility at this point of them reproducing the complexities of the record on stage, but the solutions here (replacing the plucked piano strings and falsetto on the intro with guitar and Moog, for example) work very well at giving the same feel.

This is also the best example of the band’s vocal work on the album. While Jardine can’t reproduce the delicacy of Brian Wilson’s original falsetto vocal part, his stronger, richer tone gives the vocal a pleading note which works just as well, and the transition between his vocal and Carl Wilson on the line “I wanna cry” (which goes out of Jardine’s range) is handled extraordinarily well. The harmonies on this show that while the band were hampered at this point by having their vocal ranges concentrated in the mid range, they could still pull off some beautiful vocals when required.

California Girls
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

Pretty much exactly what you’d expect a live version of California Girls to sound like. The harmonies on this are a bit ragged, and we hear Dennis at the beginning exhorting the crowd to sing along, but you already know what this sounds like. Love’s joking “ooh, we mean it so much!” at the end seems to confirm that at this point, the band still saw their biggest hits as something of a joke and a distraction from their more artistic work, though that attitude would soon change.

Darlin’
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

This kind of material is where the band at this time excelled — songs that depend on a driving rhythm and a lead vocal performance. While the horns from the original are sadly missed, the addition of Hammond organ, along with the best drum and percussion track on the album (some great cowbell work and bongos) makes this the first song on the album that it’s safe to say is a definite improvement over the original.

Marcella
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson, Jack Rieley and Tandyn Almer
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

This track mostly differs from the studio version in that the guitar parts have been beefed up substantially — unsurprisingly given that the original’s glossy sonic sheen is pretty much unreproducible in a live setting. The vocals here again shine — this version of the band was not wonderful at the close harmonies that normally defined the band, but were as good as any vocal group ever at singing interweaving, independent solo lines in counterpoint with each other, and this track gives a great opportunity to show that off. The one flaw in this track is the percussion part in the left channel, which goes slightly out of time on occasion.

This arrangement of the song, as opposed to the studio version, is the basis for the version played live by Brian Wilson’s touring band in recent years, and is also the arrangement used on the Beach Boys’ fiftieth anniversary reunion tour.

Caroline, No
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Tony Asher
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

This, again, has a simplified arrangement (no percussive intro, just straight into the first verse), but this was never a song that needed much in the way of orchestration, and the simple electric piano part (presumably Dennis Wilson) and flute embellishments work perfectly (though the solo gets a little too close to lounge jazz for my own tastes). If you have a singer as good as Carl Wilson and a song as good as this, it’s impossible for it not to sound great.

Leaving This Town
Songwriter:
Carl Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Blondie Chaplin

The upside: the organ solo on this (played by Billy Hinsche) has some real feeling and invention to it.

The downside: this is thirty seconds longer than the already-ridiculously-overlong version on Holland.

Probably sounds really good if you’re stoned.

Heroes & Villains
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Carl Wilson

The early-70s band’s version of this track is spectacular. Al Jardine, on the verses, sounds much more comfortable than Brian Wilson does on the single. Carl Wilson sings the Bicycle Rider lyrics on the choruses (and Mike Love adds in the “heroes, a-heroes, a-heroes and a villains” chant), and again the band are given the chance to shine vocally, including on the only a capella sections on the entire album (for the scat section and the last “I’ve been in this town” section), again singing wonderful cascading, overlapping vocal lines like no other band could do. Easily the highlight of the album.

Funky Pretty
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Jack Rieley
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar and Mike Love

The consensus among Beach Boys fans is that this is a massive improvement on the studio version, and that this is ‘how the song should always have sounded.’

Like most Beach Boys fan consensus, this is bunkum. On Holland, Funky Pretty is a mediocre song brought up to near-greatness by a spartan, Moog-dominated production that makes it sound almost like a piece of experimental electronica. Adding guitar riffs, honky tonk piano and a ‘proper’ rock drum track, and cutting out most of the Moog parts, turns it into something that sounds like a Rolling Stones album track. (It’s no surprise that the band regularly covered Jumpin’ Jack Flash in shows at this point, or that Blondie Chaplin spent most of the 1990s and 2000s as a sideman in the Stones’ touring band).

Let The Wind Blow
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

Of all the more radical reworkings on this album, this is the one that works the best. While the original track, on Wild Honey, has a gorgeous delicacy to it, this turns it into a gospel ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on a Ray Charles or Al Green record, with the original’s shared lead vocal turned into a solo for Carl Wilson. The wordless backing vocal lines from the original are dropped until the last verse, and other than the answering lines and some occasional touches from Jardine, the only vocals we pay attention to here are from Carl Wilson — the whole track is built around his vocal performance. Luckily, it’s an absolutely stellar performance, so while when hearing this one still misses the ethereal beauty of the studio version, this has its own strengths.

Help Me, Rhonda
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine

The oddest rearrangement on the album is this, with all the arrangement details blurred out into a nondescript guitar boogie with little charm and less grace, an excuse for jamming on mediocre solos. Bizarrely, the band stuck with this arrangement as late as the mid-90s (and Brian Wilson still uses it for his solo tours), though Mike Love’s touring “Beach Boys” (and the reunion tour of 2012) thankfully reverted to the original arrangement. Al Jardine does his usual spectacular job, and the audience sound enthused, but it just seems rather cruel to do this to a song that never did anything to harm the band.

Surfer Girl
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Mike Love

Mike Love’s introduction to this, emphasising how old the song is, is another pointer to how mildly embarassed the band were at this time to be doing this material.

Despite this, though, they do a lovely job on this. The harmonies are huskier and more fragile than on the record — these are definitely Beach Men, not Boys — but they still sound good.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson, Tony Asher and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Mike Love

It shows the way the band had improved as musicians over a relatively short time that while on Live In London they cut out a huge chunk of this song (the part where the tempo changes in “you know it seems…”), here they not only perform that section but it gets what sounds like the biggest cheer of the disc.

Jardine once again does a splendid job on the lead vocals, although some of the backing vocals are rather perfunctory.

We Got Love
Songwriter:
Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Ricky Fataar

The one new song of the album was this, a song which had been originally intended for Holland before it was dropped at the last minute. It’s another very pleasant, but unspectacular, track from Chaplin and Fataar, this one possibly influenced by Allen Toussaint’s song Riverboat, which had been recorded by Van Dyke Parks on his Discover America album around the same time, and which has the line “We got love” emphasised several times, and a generally similar feel. (Toussaint’s song would actually have fit well on Holland, and may have also inspired Steamboat).

The lyrics, which sound like Love’s work primarily, are a generic call to treat other people nicely along with some new age stuff equating evolution and karma.

This is the last Chaplin/Fataar collaboration to feature on a Beach Boys album — Chaplin departed from the band, acrimoniously, before the end of 1973 after disagreements with Rieley. Fataar would remain with them until the end of 1974, and leave on mildly better terms, but by the time the next Beach Boys album came out, both would be long gone.

Don’t Worry Baby
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Roger Christian
Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Carl Wilson

Given that they have a bigger band to play with here than they did when recording the single, the band decide to stop pretending and just play this as Be My Baby, right down to the drum intro, and until the lead vocal comes in this bears far more resemblance to the Spector classic than to the Beach Boys’ track (prompting two waves of recognition-applause from the audience — one at the beginning when the track starts, and another when the lead vocal starts and they realise what song it actually is).

Jardine and Carl Wilson split Brian Wilson’s lead part between them the same way they did on Heroes & Villains, with Wilson taking the higher part in the choruses and Jardine taking the slightly lower verses, and both do a very good job, though neither quite has the fragility of Brian Wilson’s original. Jardine messes up some of the lyrics, but in a recoverable way (and oddly is mixed far to one side), but the harmonies are spot on, and this is as good a version of this song as one could hope for given the absence of a 22-year-old Brian Wilson.

Surfin’ USA
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Chuck Berry
Lead vocalist: Mike Love with Al Jardine

This is about what you’d expect — a little faster than the original, the guitars a little more distorted, and with Al Jardine attempting Brian Wilson’s falsetto part. A rockier, more muscular live version of the song, but basically what you’d expect to hear from a 1970s Beach Boys show.

Good Vibrations
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson and Mike Love

This is about as accurate a rendition of an impossible-to-perform song as one could imagine (understandably, as the song is too big a hit, and too much of a masterpiece, to dare mess with). The big change made to the arrangement, and one the band kept through to the late 90s, was to extend the ‘gotta keep those lovin’ good’ section to several times its original length (and change the lyrics on that line to ‘happenin’ with you’ instead of ‘with her’), to allow for an audience sing-along section and a scatted show of vocal dexterity. Other than that, the only notable differences from the record are those made to make the song performable at all live (the ‘theremin’ part being played on a ribbon synthesiser, rather lower in the mix than on the record, no odd instruments like the jew’s harp, the triplets in the chorus being played on guitar rather than ‘cello).

Fun Fun Fun
Songwriter:
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
Lead vocalist: Mike Love

And the album ends with a rather chugging, graceless, performance of this song, which trades the original’s pop energy for a 70s heaviness. Hearing this version, it becomes much clearer why this song was a natural choice for a duet between the Beach Boys and Status Quo in 1996.

Overall, this is probably the best Beach Boys live album one could hope for, and at times it matches or even surpasses the studio recordings. If it lacks the subtlety and gentleness of the best of the band’s studio work, that’s more a reflection of just how special that studio work is, rather than a negative about the band themselves. With current technology, and on current budgets, it’s possible to reproduce the textures of Brian Wilson’s production on stage, but in the early 70s this was as good as it would be reasonable to expect it to get. It will never be my favourite Beach Boys album, but it’s a good one, and one that can be useful for dispelling some of the myths about the group. But there’s a definite sense from this that you had to be there.

The Beach Boys On CD: Holland

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on January 17, 2013

Holland is, in many ways, the last gasp for the Beach Boys as an artistic group. They would produce good work again, both as a band or as individuals, but in future their work would be driven by one or two members of the band at a time rather than being a true group effort.

For the recording of the bulk of the album, the band decamped to Baambrugge in the Netherlands, and had their recording studio shipped over as well (which caused a huge amount of delay). This was at the instigation of Jack Rieley, and many reasons have been given over the years for the move, including tax issues, the idea that a change of scenery would inspire Brian Wilson, and even the laughable claim that it would be harder for those band members with drug problems (especially Brian Wilson) to obtain drugs in Holland than the USA. The fact that Rieley opted to remain in the Netherlands (and, for a while, attempted to continue managing the band’s career from a distance) may say more about the reasons than anything else.

The trip abroad did inspire Brian Wilson, but not in the way that the band had hoped or expected. Instead of coming up with any new conventional songs, his main piece of work during the trip to the Netherlands was a short story with musical accompaniment, Mount Vernon And Fairway (A Fairy Tale), that was initially included with the album as a bonus 45 and is now included at the end of the CD release.

The resulting album was considered too weak to release by Warner/Reprise, until Van Dyke Parks suggested that the song Sail On Sailor, initially not part of the album’s line-up, would make a good single. This replaced the Chaplin/Fataar/Love track We Got Love (which was accidentally included on some early German pressings of the album) and the resulting album got some of the best reviews of the band’s career, though it was less commercially successful, scraping into the top forty in the US, but doing slightly better in the UK where it made the top twenty.

The album is actually one of the most cohesive the band had done, with an ongoing theme of travel, especially by sea, and of a homesick longing for America. It’s also the most collaborative of the Beach Boys’ albums, with many different combinations of band members writing together in ways they otherwise never did.

This cohesion helps overcome what is actually a fairly weak set of material — there’s nothing here on the level of an All This Is That or Make It Good, let alone Til I Die or Surf’s Up, but the album is nonetheless one of the more worthwhile listening experiences of the band’s later years.

line-up

Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar

Sail On Sailor

Songwriter: Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Ray Kennedy, Tandyn Almer and Jack Rieley

Lead vocalist: Blondie Chaplin

The opening song has a history which has been the subject of much recent debate. The generally-accepted story until recently was as follows: the Beach Boys turned in the Holland album but it had no obvious single on it. At this point Van Dyke Parks remembered a cassette he had in his possession of a song being written by himself and Brian Wilson, which had single potential. Various hands brushed up the song, at which point Carl Wilson took various backing band members into the studio and cut a backing track, with Brian supervising over the telephone. Dennis Wilson attempted a lead vocal, but gave up after a couple of takes, and Blondie Chaplin took over.

However, Steve Desper, who had been the band’s engineer for much of the late 60s and early 70s, but had stopped working for the band just before the trip to Holland, claims that the backing track dates back much earlier, and is a track that Brian Wilson had been working on for a long time. He also claims that the song originally had Carl Wilson on lead vocals, and that Chaplin is imitating Wilson’s phrasing exactly (a reasonable claim — Chaplin sounds spookily like Wilson here).

Whatever the truth of this (and I am inclined to believe Desper here), there is also the question of who exactly wrote what. A press release at the time claimed it was “a Brian Wilson-Jack Rieley song with writer credits suggesting informal assistance from a wide range of characters, among them Van Dyke Parks”. Steve Desper, on the other hand, has claimed that the lyrics are entirely Parks’ work, and Parks has claimed in the past that not only did he write all the lyrics but also the chord changes in the chorus and the start of the middle section. If this is the case, then Brian Wilson’s contribution to the song is reduced to coming up with the verse riff (a 12/8 shuffle between I and IV, actually quite similar to a gospel take on Imagine) and possibly the melody.

One might possibly get an idea of what actually happened by listening to a version of the song recorded by KGB, a band featuring Ray Kennedy. This version is credited only to Wilson/Kennedy, and has fairly incoherent lyrics about cocaine and trying to get out of the ghetto. One suspects that Wilson brought his initial idea to several different collaborators, at different times, without necessarily thinking to mention to them that he was working with other people. My own guess (given the reliability of the various parties involved) is that Parks’ account is largely correct — not only is Parks the most scrupulously honest person involved, with an excellent memory, but the song just sounds like a Van Dyke Parks song rather than a Brian Wilson song.

Whatever the process involved though, the end result is the most convincing attempt at R&B that the Beach Boys ever did, with a strong lead vocal from Chaplin, excellent group backing vocals (apparently only featuring Carl Wilson, Chaplin and Fataar from the Beach Boys, along with backing band member Billy Hinsche, session steel guitar player Tony Martin, and Gerry Beckley from the band America, though some have claimed that the other Beach Boys later overdubbed additional vocals), and in its VIb-VIIb-I chorus changes a hook so powerful that the band reused it (a tone up and in 4/4 time) for their 1985 hit Getcha Back.

The song was released twice as a single, hitting number 79 on the charts in 1973, and number 49 in 1975. Despite this relative lack of chart success, it was popular on the radio at the time and has remained a fixture in the setlists of the Beach Boys and their various solo shows.

Steamboat

Songwriter: Dennis Wilson and Jack Rieley

Lead vocalist:
Carl Wilson

The second track on the album continues the sailing theme, here with a typically-inscrutable Rieley lyric about steamboat travel. The lyrics are pretty and evocative, but make very little sense on any kind of literal level — lines like “The stream is a timepiece of children bridged with crystal haze” defy any normal interpretation. On the other hand, the lyric is slightly more comprehensible in the USA than elsewhere, as the “Mr Fulton” referred to, Robert Fulton, is considered a major historical figure in the US for his development of the first successful steamboat. He doesn’t, however, have the same “as every schoolchild knows…” status elsewhere.

Musically, the song is built around simple I-V7 changes for the most part (with a V7-VI7-II7 change at the end of the verse which is actually similar in its effect to the more outrageous chorus progression in Sail On Sailor), until the tag when the V7 changes into a VIb7, with mechanical-sounding drums perfectly evoking the feel of a paddle-wheel turning in the water and the hiss of steam.

The effect is possibly a little too dragged out — the combination of Carl Wilson’s lazy-sounding vocals, however, lovely, and the slow, mechanical pace of the song, tends to drag long before the four minutes and thirty-six seconds of the song is up — but it’s a worthwhile track, and a sign of the stylistic evolution that was bringing Dennis Wilson to the more confident style of his later work on Pacific Ocean Blue.

California Saga: Big Sur

Songwriter: Mike Love

Lead vocalist: Mike Love

The centrepiece of Holland, covering the bulk of side two, was a thematically-linked suite of songs by Love and Jardine called California Saga. Possibly the most artistically-ambitious thing either man ever did, this was in part inspired by their homesickness for California while living in Holland, but also tied into the themes of the environment and of travel that suffuse the band’s music at this point.

California Saga is unusual in the Beach Boys’ work in that rather than celebrating Southern California, and in particular Los Angeles, as most of their California-centred work did, it instead focuses on Central and Northern California, especially the less-populated areas.

The first of the three songs is this, the first song released by the band to have Love as the sole credited writer, and a surprisingly pleasant song. Starting with the ascending/descending Cm arpeggios that make up the bulk of the next song, we then go into a pleasant country-folk waltz, mostly based on a single C major chord with a scalar bassline that goes up and down much as the arpeggios at the beginning.

The song only really contains four chords, and is the kind of thing that could be written by someone with rudimentary or non-existent instrumental skills, but it has a catchy enough melody, and shows that Love was at least a competent songwriter in his own right. The instrumentation is equally primitive, mostly acoustic guitar and harmonica, evoking a campfire singalong, along with piano, drums and steel guitar.

The whole track is surprisingly pleasant, for a first solo songwriting attempt, but it could have been better — the song was first recorded three years earlier, and that version (unreleased but widely bootlegged) is in 4/4 rather than waltz time. Once one has heard this earlier version, the version on Holland sounds slightly ungainly in comparison, with the stresses falling less gracefully than on the original.

California Saga: The Beaks Of Eagles

Songwriter: Al Jardine, Lynda Jardine and Robinson Jeffers

Lead vocalist: Al Jardine and Mike Love

The second part of the California Saga is unique in the Beach Boys’ catalogue, though it points the way stylistically towards some of Jardine’s later work.

It’s almost two separate songs in itself, in fact. In what, for want of a better term, we can call the verses, we have the ascending/descending C-minor piano arpeggios (with a descending bass) that started Big Sur, along with some Morricone-esque flute from Charles Lloyd. Over this, Love recites, in three sections, The Beaks Of Eagles, a poem by far-right-wing environmentalist poet Robinson Jeffers, about how in the lifetime of one eagle human civilisation could change utterly, and how yet ultimately humans are constrained by their natures just as much as the eagles are.

The choruses, meanwhile, are in C major, built around yet another ascending/descending bassline, and feature Jardine, singing new lyrics to a conventional melody, over a guitar/bass/piano/drums/flute backing.

The thing that most people listening to this will notice now is that it is the first time Jardine uses a style which he uses consistently in his later songs, of having someone speak or recite poetry over part or all of a song (see especially the Tidepool Interlude on his solo album A Postcard From California , but also California Energy Blues and Santa Ana Winds), and it’s interesting to see this as a step towards that style from Jardine, probably inspired by the artistic success he’d had using The Road Not Taken for All This Is That (Robert Frost, the author of The Road Not Taken, was a contemporary of Jeffers and wrote on similar themes).

But what’s more interesting is to compare the poem that inspired this piece, and which Love recites verbatim, with the interpolated material by the Jardines. Jeffers referred to himself as an ‘inhumanist’, and claimed that humanity was fundamentally unimportant to him, that he preferred nature to humanity. His poem, therefore, like much of his work, is an attempt to see things on an inhuman scale, to apply a perspective that one might call either realistic or misanthropic depending on one’s own sympathies.

The chorus material, though, is all on the human scale — about death, and rebirth coming from it. The lyricist here (either Al or Mary Ann Jardine) is also writing about natural cycles, as Jeffers is, but on a human scale, and based in human needs and concerns. And despite the rather hippyish conclusion, there’s a real sense here of how the need to acquire mineral wealth can destroy people’s lives (the image of the dead mariners, shipwrecked while transporting limestone ore, ties in nicely both with the first two songs, but also with The Trader).

Fundamentally, while Jardine may have been inspired by Jeffers’ poetry, their worldviews are incompatible. The writer of those chorus sections cares about human beings in a way that Jeffers doesn’t, and while one may argue that in the grand scheme of things Jeffers’ worldview is more correct, the worldview of the choruses is much more caring and decent.

California Saga: California

Songwriter: Al Jardine

Lead vocalist: Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine

The second single off Holland was this song, the last part of California Saga, and with good reason. Easily the most commercial thing Jardine has ever written on his own, this is an updating of California Girls for the 1970s country-rock era, keeping Love’s nasal voice and the Tumbling Tumbleweeds bass-line (here played on Moog), but using acoustic guitar, harmonica (apparently played by Brian Wilson) and banjo rather than a Wall Of Sound orchestra.

Musically, it’s a simple song, just using the chords C, F and G, but it communicates a feeling of relaxed joy in nature that really does seem like a more mature version of the youthful ecstasy of California Girls. Out of the larger context of the California Saga, this is an unpretentious and unambitious song, but all the better for it.

Despite its relative lack of commercial success (barely scraping the top 100 in the US, though reaching the lower reaches of the top forty in the UK), this has remained a fan favourite, and was the only solo Jardine composition (and, other than All This Is That, the only one for which he was primary songwriter) to appear on the career-spanning Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set. Jardine returned to the song on his 2010 solo album A Postcard From California, remaking it with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young providing harmony vocals, and the song also became a regular in the setlists of the Beach Boys’ 2012 reunion tour.

The Trader

Songwriter: Carl Wilson and Jack Rieley

Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson (with Justyn Wilson saying “Hi”)

The Trader is Carl Wilson’s primary songwriting contribution to the Holland album, and the last new song he would bring to the band until LA (Light Album) in 1979, so it’s a good job that it’s a good one.

The song breaks into two halves, with little connection between them, either musically or lyrically. The first half is possibly the most overtly political thing the Beach Boys ever recorded (albeit it is a condemnation of acts carried out by people who were long-dead). Over a piano-led rock background, Wilson sings about the colonisation of the Americas, the genocide of their native population, and the way the land had been ‘civilised’. It’s Rieley’s most straightforward lyric, and also his best. It also manages to tie in with the themes of sea travel, America, and nature in opposition to industrial civilisation that permeate the whole of the album.

But then, almost exactly half-way through the song, the key changes from G to C, the prominent piano drops out to be replaced by sighing backing vocals and tinkling Moog, and the lyric goes from concrete to utterly abstract, as the song turns into something closer to Carl Wilson’s songs from Surf’s Up. Instead of “Trader found the jeweled land was occupied before he came/By humans of a second look who couldn’t even write their names”, the lyrics suddenly become “Embracing together, like the merging streams, crying dreams”.

Frankly, it shouldn’t work — this song sounds exactly like something that’s been bolted together from two different ideas, with no real thought as to how the two sections actually interact. Yet it does work, mostly through sheer chutzpah, but also through an absolutely remarkable vocal performance from Carl Wilson, who goes from a strained, pained vocal near the top of his range in the rock section to a softer, gentler, reassuring vocal for the second, mellow section. Somehow, the result is actually better than the sum of the parts, though there’s no earthly reason why it should be. It works because Wilson and Rieley say it works, and because they both had enough talent at this point to do something as ambitious as this.

The song became a regular in the band’s setlist for much of the rest of the 1970s, even as the rest of the set became increasingly dominated by hits, and was a favourite with crowds, again thanks largely to Carl Wilson’s vocal performance.

Leaving This Town

Songwriter: Carl Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar and Mike Love

Lead vocalist:
Blondie Chaplin

A tedious song that unfortunately merges the worst aspects of both Carl Wilson’s and the Flame team’s writing, this plods along based on slow, steady piano chords in much the same style as Feel Flows, and has a simple chord sequence (alternating between I, V, i and v in two keys a tone apart) with little of interest about it. Then the melody over the top stays, like all the Chaplin/Fataar material, in a narrow range, and consists mostly of long, held notes.

Once the song gets to the two minute long Moog solo, it takes a great deal of effort for the listener to keep awake, and the lyrics are enough of a formless mess (a case of too many cooks, one suspects) that there is no emotional hook there to encourage one to listen for much longer. Easily the least interesting thing that Chaplin and Fataar had a hand in during their time with the Beach Boys, and the most pointless thing on the album (Beaks Of Eagles is worse, but it’s an ambitious failure, while this seems to have been made with no greater ambition than filling six minutes of vinyl).

Only With You

Songwriter: Dennis Wilson and Mike Love

Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson

In an unfortunate piece of sequencing, Leaving This Town is followed by another sedate, mellow song at a near-identical tempo, and the momentum of the album is killed stone dead. It’s a shame because, unlike the previous song, this one really is worthwhile.

While Love and Dennis Wilson had a legendarily fractious relationship, their few songwriting collaborations (of which this is the only one to end up on a Beach Boys album rather than a solo release) show a deeper mutual sympathy, and Love’s lyrics and Wilson’s music here complement each other perfectly.

Musically, this is one of the simplest things Dennis Wilson had composed to this point, possibly because it wasn’t written in collaboration with the more musically-sophisticated Daryl Dragon, and the only really interesting change is the one from Em/G to E7/G# (in a section that feels like it’s in G, but which is in fact in the same key of D as the rest of the song) under the phrase “love had always had its ups and downs”. However, the song’s simplicity is its key — a direct lyric combined with simple changes gives this song a formal grace that is very different from the primal howl of many of Dennis’ songs.

While Carl Wilson’s vocal on this track has been almost universally praised, it doesn’t quite work as well for me as for many others — while his vocal on the quieter verses is exemplary, he is a little mannered on the middle eight and tag (something that would become increasingly true of his vocals over later years). It’s a very good performance, yes, but one is left wishing that Dennis had sung his own song, with his less technically perfect but more expressive voice.A version of the song with Dennis Wilson on vocals was released in 2008, on the Pacific Ocean Blue CD reissue, and will be discussed in the chapter on that album.

While it’s not as perfect a song as Forever or God Only Knows, two songs it is clearly an attempt to emulate, it’s still extremely good, and one of the best things on the album, and it makes one wish that Love and Dennis Wilson had been able to work together more often.

Funky Pretty

Songwriter: Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Jack Rieley

Lead vocalist: Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin. Ricky Fataar and Mike Love

The only song, other than Sail On Sailor, contributed by Brian Wilson to the Holland project proper was this track on which he contributed nearly all the instruments (Carl Wilson added some guitar, and Fataar some percussion, but Brian played the drums as well as probably playing all the keyboard parts).

Musically, the song is not all that interesting as a song, but is fascinating as a pointer to Brian Wilson’s musical direction at the time and for the next few years. The entire track is based around Moog, with Moog parts in three ranges (a squelchy, fuzzy bass part, a mid-range part in the same range as the piano, and a high counter-melody), with only the most rudimentary drum part and no real connection to conventional rock music at all.

While the song’s title sums up the feel very well (the vocals have a great, soulful feel, while there’s an ethereal beauty to the Moog parts), the lyrics as a whole are fairly pointless, combining the worst of both Rieley (pointless prettiness without any sense) and Love (an obsession with astrology, a long list of place names, and a slightly lecherous tone). The vocals, though, are extraordinary. For those playing along at home, Carl Wilson takes the verses (and the verse backing vocals), Jardine takes over on “where’s my spark in the dark?”, Fataar “Glow glow glow come on glow”, Chaplin on “the funky pretty flame in my heart” and Love “me and my Pisces lady are apart.”

On the second chorus, Chaplin sings “Cos it’s a silent night in the sea”, Jardine “and if you’re cosmically conscious you’ll see”, Fataar “why she’s a princess imparted to me” and Love “daughter of Neptune, the ruler of the sea”. Carl Wilson takes the middle section with the listing of place names, and Chaplin takes the fade. The fade-out would be the perfect end for the album, but then we have…

Mt Vernon And Fairway (A Fairy Tale)

Songwriter: Brian Wilson (with Carl Wilson and Jack Rieley)

Lead vocalist: Jack Rieley (with Brian and Carl Wilson)

Possibly the most controversial thing the Beach Boys ever released, this is, depending on who you talk to, either one of Brian Wilson’s greatest masterpieces or a sad record of a once-great talent’s decline.

When the Holland album was being recorded, Brian Wilson was at a low ebb, mentally and creatively, and wanted little or nothing to do with the recording process. Instead, he found himself listening over and over to Sail Away by Randy Newman [FOOTNOTE:An absolutely wonderful album, which anyone who likes good songwriting should check out.].

He discovered that while he was listening to this, he was able to get into a creative mood, and wrote a fairytale, about a young prince who lived at Mount Vernon And Fairway (the address where Mike Love had grown up) and who, while alone in his bedroom, discovered a magic transistor radio, which normally played the music of Bach, but sometimes was possessed by “the Pied Piper from the faraway land of night”, whose music was unlike anything the prince had ever heard.

Unsurprisingly, when he presented this fairytale to the other band members and suggested it go on the album, their reaction was not hugely enthusiastic, and Brian was apparently so discouraged that he didn’t finish the story (Jack Rieley apparently supplied the rather abrupt ending, as a result). Nonetheless it was agreed to package the result as a 7 inch single with the album (it appears as a bonus track on CD releases), and the finished piece is one of the most interesting, ambitious, and beautiful things Wilson has ever created.

Rieley narrates the story, which is clearly the work of someone who is not especially articulate, but which makes up for in emotional honesty what it lacks in craft, while under it we have electronic sound effects, piano music, and snatches of vocal music, mostly repeated lines (“Pied Piper, I’d better get back in bed,” “I’m the Pied Piper in the radio”, “Dom dom King dom”). The effect is somewhere between Peter And The Wolf and Nilsson’s The Point, with tiny moments of beauty that are never developed into full songs, but drift away like someone tuning the radio to another station.

The music itself has had more appreciation since it was released, without the spoken narration and sound effects, as Fairy Tale Music on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set, but while the story is not the work of someone with any great skill in language, it’s still joyful and perfectly conveys the wonder of a lonely teenager, sat in his room listening to the radio, hit from out of the blue with music only he can hear, more wonderful and exciting even than Bach.

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