My Smile Sessions box set is in the post right now. It should be arriving tomorrow. If, like me, you are getting incredibly excited for this box set’s release tomorrow, here’s a dozen or so albums from 1966 through 1968 that go well with the feel of Smile, or in some cases contrast well with it. All can be listened to free on Spotify.
First up, the Beach Boys’ own releases of 1967, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.
These are often overlooked because they’re not Smile, but there are a number of incredible moments of beauty on them.
The Many Moods Of Murry Wilson, on the other hand, is much less good. But it’s interesting to note that while Brian couldn’t get his masterwork completed, his dad was able to release his own album the same year.
Song Cycle is what Van Dyke Parks did next after Smile, and is his most Smile-like material. Beautiful, baffling, utterly wonderful, this is unlike any other music Parks made later, and unlike anything anyone else did either.
Safe As Milk by Captain Beefheart may seem an odd choice, but at this time, when the boundary between pop music and countercultural rock was far more porous, and the unlikeliest people were having commercial success, Beefheart’s first album actually has a lot in common with the pop music of the time. There’s a definite L.A. *sound* at this time, and there’s a continuum from Zappa and Beefheart at the most extreme end to the Beach Boys and Monkees at the other end, with Love and the Doors somewhere in the middle.
How To Speak Hip by Del Close is a comedy album with which Brian Wilson was obsessed in 1966.
Odessa by the Bee Gees is actually from 1969, so outside this timeframe, but I include it because it’s another example of a resolutely ‘square’ vocal harmony group, with three brothers in, doing something utterly bizarre and uncommercial. Oddly, Black Sheep, Van Dyke Parks’ Smile parody written and recorded for the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, sounds far more like Odessa than it does Smile.
Present Tense by Sagittarius is one of several collaborations under various names by Curt Boettcher and Brian Wilson’s old songwriting partner Gary Usher. My World Fell Down, the main single from this, is sung by Glen Campbell (who had toured as a Beach Boy) and Bruce Johnston (of the Beach Boys) and is possibly the best attempt at a Smile-alike I’ve ever heard. The album also features comedy interludes in some songs, performed by the Firesign Theatre – again, very like Wilson’s idea of doing an album full of humour.
The Pentangle by Pentangle is a bit of an odd one. In the mid-late 60s there was actually almost no back-and-forth influence between the LA musicians and their British contemporaries, apart from the huge names like the Beatles. But I think there’s something of the same spirit that animated Smile about this, with its marrying of older, ‘outdated’ forms of music (traditional folk in the case of Pentangle, vaudeville and Americana for Smile) with attempts to move popular music as a whole forward.
And likewise Gorilla by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band mixes 1920s novelty songs, comedy bits, and up-to-the-moment progressive pop.
Da Capo by Love is half of the greatest album ever made (the side-long blues jam rather spoils it for me). Intense and paranoid, yet utterly beautiful, this has a lot of the childlike creepiness of Smile.
Feelin’ Groovy by Harper’s Bizarre combines harmonies that are, if anything, over-sweet, with songwriting by people like Paul Simon, Randy Newman, and Van Dyke Parks, the last of whom also arranged the album.
(Albums I would have included but which are not Spotifiable – Genuine Imitation Life Gazette by the Four Seasons, Absolutely Free by the Mothers Of Invention, Switched On Bach by Wendy Carlos, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings by Michael Nesmith, Carnival Of Sound by Jan & Dean, Place Vendôme by the Swingle Singers with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina by the Left Banke)
A quick post-election playlist for you…
Common People by Pulp is from Different Class, the best political album of the 90s. This is the live version from Glastonbury in 1995 – a gig I was lucky enough to be at, and still remember with awe fifteen years later.
Hard Times Of Old England Retold by The Imagined Village is a rewrite by Billy Bragg of the old folk song. With verses complaining about the banks, Tesco and post office closures, it only needs something about potholes and it’d be a Focus leaflet set to music.
No Matter Who You Vote For, The Government Always Gets In by The Bonzo Dog Band has been proven true again this week…
Power In The Darkness by The Tom Robinson Band is a good demonstration of the Liberal and Conservative ideas of freedom:
“Freedom to choose to do with your body/Freedom to believe what you like/Freedom for brothers to love one another/Freedom for black and white/Freedom from elitism, male domination/Freedom for the mother and wife/Freedom from Big Brother’s interrogation/Freedom to live your own life” versus
“Freedom from the Reds and the blacks and the criminals/Prostitutes, pansies and punks/Football hooligans, juvenile delinquents, lesbians and left-wing scum/Freedom from the niggers and the pakis and the unions/Freedom from the gypsies and the jews/Freedom from the long-haired layabouts and students, freedom from the likes of you”
Cunts Are Still Running The World by Jarvis Cocker. Yes, they are. But what about car loans for single mothers?
Taxes, Taxes by Hank Penny is also self-explanatory…
The Disappointed by XTC could almost be written about the Lib Dems at the moment – in this case ‘the ones who broke their hearts’ are the voters who deserted in the last hours.
The Trader by The Beach Boys is a song about the evils of imperialist capitalist exploitation, by a band who are thought of as the ultimate conservative whitebread Americans but at the time had two black South African members and a Puerto Rican keyboardist.
Things Are Changing (For The Better) by Diana Ross And The Supremes would be nice if it were true, wouldn’t it? This is instrumentally a Phil Spector production of a Brian Wilson song, but with the Supremes’ vocals replacing those of Darlene Love and the Blossoms (whose version isn’t on Spotify).
This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie is here because Spotify doesn’t have any versions of The Land, the Liberal Democrat party song, and this has a very similar message.- “There was a big high wall there, that tried to stop me/The side was painted, said ‘private property’/But on the back side, it didn’t say nothin’/This land was made for you and me”. One can also buy phen375.
And Tramp The Dirt Down by Elvis Costello is far, far kinder about Thatcher than I would be…
This playlist is rather different from my normal playlists. Normally, I try to mix up obscure tracks, new things I’ve only just discovered, and old classics. This time, however, this is (almost) on commission.
Talking by email with Plok earlier today, he said he knew a teenager who wanted to learn more about ‘sixties music’, naming a couple of tracks she liked. He told me a couple of other things about her (she’s bright and cheerful, very innocent, etc) and asked me for suggestions.
So I’ve tried to put together a playlist that covers *ALL* of ‘sixties music’, which is frankly impossible. To make it more difficult, I’ve tried to structure it like a mix tape (it’s 90 minutes to within a minute or so), and I’ve also used 8track.com , a site that allows you to create streaming playlists of MP3s, but no more than two tracks by each artist per playlist, because that (unlike Spotify) should be accessible in Canada. I wanted to *try* to get everything from folk-rock to freakbeat to Brit-Blues to psych to soul in there, but 90 minutes is not a long time… I also wanted to put in tracks that would be interesting pointers to other stuff.
I’ve tried to go for a mix of obvious hits and obscure but interesting, but with the emphasis on the former. The notes below should be taken as a guide for teenagers, rather than for people who already know this music, so apologies if it seems patronising to my normal readers. Spotify playlist here, 8track playlist here.
Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys opens what many consider the best album ever, Pet Sounds. While it seems like just a simple pop song, it has layers of instruments and vocals that reward repeated listening.
You’re No Good by The Swinging Blue Jeans is included not just because it’s a great little pop record, but also for historical value. The Beatles didn’t come out of nowhere – they were part of a scene, Merseybeat, that produced dozens of successful bands in the early 60s. The Swinging Blue Jeans were the best of the other Merseybeat bands, so this gives some idea of what the competition was like for the Beatles.
Time Of The Season by The Zombies is actually musically quite similar to You’re No Good, but is from the other end of the sixties. From another contender for ‘best album ever’, Odessey And Oracle (yes, it’s spelled that way), the Zombies had already split up by the time this charted.
The Door Into Summer by The Monkees shows just how fast music was changing in the 60s. A year before this, the Monkees had been a manufactured band for a TV show, but now they were busy inventing country-rock, and not just country-rock, but psychedelic country-rock based on a Robert Heinlein science fiction novel…
Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys is pretty much undoubtedly the best single ever released. You may think you know this one from commercials or whatever, but actually *listen* to it and you’ll be astonished.
Do You Believe In Magic? by The Lovin’ Spoonful is one of the most *fun* tracks of the decade.
Days by The Kinks may be the most beautiful song ever written. Nothing more to say about that.
How Does It Feel To Feel? by The Creation is one of the most influential records of the sixties, even though it was never a hit. Listen to this and you realise that Oasis were nothing more than a tribute act to The Creation, but with slightly less talent. Seriously, this is *every* Oasis record ever, but better, and it’s from 1965.
Summer In The City by The Lovin’ Spoonful is a song pretty much everyone already knows, but is here just in case.
Tin Soldier by The Small Faces is actually very like Summer In The City, structurally, but just listen to the dynamics of this record, the way it moves between sections. And that VOICE. Steve Marriot was a short, white lad from London, but his voice here could blow away any soul or rock singer ever.
Dark End Of The Street by James Carr is the best soul ballad ever, and another incredible voice.
You Don’t Have To Walk In The Rain by The Turtles is the single from Turtle Soup, their attempt at making an album like the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society – even getting Ray Davies of the Kinks to produce it. It’s a great pop single, and funny with it (“I look at your face/I love you anyway”)
Making Time by The Creation is a more typical 60s garage track than How Does It Feel, but powerful.
Shakin’ All Over by Johnny Kidd And The Pirates is the first great British rock record, from well before the Beatles ever recorded. Just listen to that great guitar riff, and the drum break….
While Seven And Seven Is by Love invented punk and heavy metal while most bands hadn’t even got round to the whole ‘flowers in your hair’ bit yet – this is, staggeringly, from 1966.
Even more amazingly, Alone Again Or by Love is the same band a year later.Hard to believe, isn’t it? From another of the general contenders for ‘best album ever’ – Forever Changes.
This Will Be Our Year by The Zombies is another track from Odessey And Oracle, and one of the best songs about being happy in love ever. Shame Rod Argent and Hugh Grundy can’t keep in time with each other…
Some Mother’s Son by The Kinks is one of the saddest anti-war songs ever. World War I was being reassessed in the 60s, and that time period had a huge influence on British music of the period, and you really need at least one song about it on a compilation like this.
Be My Baby by The Ronnettes bom, bom-bom BOM, bom, bom-bom BOM
Lies by The Knickerbockers isn’t by the Beatles. Honestly. It’s a group of jobbing musicians from New Jersey. HONESTLY…
Look Out, There’s A Monster Coming by The Bonzo Dog Band is hilarious.
We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place by The Animals is the greatest of all the British R&B singles, mostly for Eric Burdon’s astonishing vocal.
I’ve Been Good To You by The Miracles was one of John Lennon’s favourites – enough so that he stole a chunk of it for Sexy Sadie from the White Album.
Keep On Running by The Spencer Davis Group is included partly because it’s one of the best singles of the 60s, and partly because Jonathan Calder would look sternly at me if I didn’t include something with a Steve Winwood vocal.
The Old Laughing Lady by Neil Young from his first album is a pointer to a style that no-one really followed up on, not even Young himself, a sort of progressive-psych-folk-country but with orchestral arrangements. The nearest things I can think of to this track later on are Dennis Wilson or some of Gram Parsons’ music…
Sure ‘Nuff ‘n’ Yes I Do by Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band is about as commercial as the good Captain ever got, and has some great slide guitar by Ry Cooder.
Hold On, I’m Coming by Sam & Dave is one of the great soul tracks.
Walk Away Renee by The Four Tops is here to kill two birds with one stone – the original of this, by The Left Banke, is a classic of baroque pop, but the Four Tops manage to make it fit their Motown style perfectly.
I Say A Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin is an obvious choice, but sometimes obvious choices are obvious for a reason.
And The Intro And The Outro by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band sees us out…
Since summer appears to have started, alas, this week’s spotify playlist is a little more upbeat and summery than previous ones, though I’ve still included a couple of blues tracks, just because. You can play this one from here . It’s fifteen tracks.
Oh My Love The Wackers is a cover of the Lennon solo track by the classic Canadian pop band. As you might expect from their name, the Wackers were very Beatles-influenced, and this track was a deliberate attempt to do the song as it would have sounded had the Abbey Road-era Beatles recorded it. Gorgeous little track.
Product by Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers is from the new album Pandemonium Ensues, which is musically the strongest thing Tilbrook has ever done, drawing from a far broader palette than he ever did in Squeeze (though lyrically he still misses Difford enormously). This one actually worked better live, where it sounded very Jobim-esque – here the John Barryisms in the chorus sound a little cliched. But there’s still some very interesting stuff going on here, and bassist Lucy Shaw’s vocals are great.
Riot In Cell Block #9 by The Robins (the band who later became the Coasters) was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and is an obvious precursor to their later Jailhouse Rock, but this is by far the better song.
As it’s Easter Monday, I thought I’d add in the best religious song ever written, the lovely Country Boy by Jake Thackray. Over a melody which is strongly reminiscent of Heroes & Villains, Thackray sings about Jesus’ ministry in the down-to-earth Yorkshire Catholic way he had – referring to a prostitute as “living her life between the scandalised fist and the beckoning finger” and a thief being crucified as “clinging to life with hands that had always been empty”. It’s an expression of a very humanistic Christianity, and is in its own way as great a religious artwork as Bach’s St Mathew Passion or the Sistine Chapel – that sounds an exaggeration, but I truly think it’s the case.
Give Me A Pig’s Foot And A Bottle Of Beer by Bessie Smith is there for pillock, who asked about this one last week, but also because it’s a great early blues track.
Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys is one of the two greatest songs ever written. Both, according to most sources, were written by the same two men, Brian WIlson and Van Dyke Parks, on the same night (the other is Wonderful, Rufus Wainwright’s version of which I linked the other week). If this had been released in 1966, as part of Smile, as intended, rather than five years later, it would have been as important a record as A Day In The Life. But it’s still a better one.
You’re No Good by The Swinging Blue Jeans is one of the best Merseybeat singles ever. I always think it a shame that the Swinging Blue Jeans are ignored while even The Searchers get some respect now – You’re No Good and their version of Don’t Make Me Over are classic pop singles I could listen to all day.
Directly From My Heart To You by Little Richard is a song I first learned from Frank Zappa’s cover version. In both versions it’s a wonderful piece of greasy blues. Why Little Richard isn’t absolutely worshipped, I don’t know – the man was one of the greatest vocalists who ever lived.
Someday Man by Paul Williams is a version by Williams of a song he wrote with composer Roger Nichols for the Monkees. Williams and Nichols are possibly the least cool songwriting team ever, having written Rainy Days and Mondays and Rainbow Connection, but this song, Trust and To Put Up With You are as good as soft pop gets. This one reminds me of Neil Diamond, but less smug.
Candombe by Los Shakers is what you get when an Argentinian band that started out as a clone of moptop-era Beatles goes psychedelic.
Sport (The Odd Boy) by The Bonzo Dog Band is a rare full collaboration between Neil Innes and Viv Stanshall, and manages to be hilarious, an accurate attack on British schooling *and* parenting, and musically unusual, combining cod-Elizabethan woodwind, waltz-time harpsichord and mass chanting.
Three Hours Past Midnight by Johnny Guitar Watson is one of the greatest electric blues records ever made. In particular, the guitar playing on here is pretty much the template for all Frank Zappa’s playing throughout his career.
I Want A Pony by Candypants is my favourite stompy pop song of all time. “Mom, I wanna be the king of pop/buy me fans, hurry up/I just wanna be a millionaire/You’d die and leave me money if you really cared/…I want a pony, I want a pony, I want a pony, I want a pony now!” Lisa Jenio is my favourite songwriter of the last few years, and I wish she’d release some more albums of her own material.
Say You Don’t Mind is not, as Spotify thinks, by The Zombies, but is actually a solo single by lead singer Colin Blunstone, a cover of a Denny Laine song. Blunstone is a great vocalist (and I’m looking forward an unreasonable amount to the Zombies’ Manchester gig next week) but what really makes this for me is the fact that they’ve chosen to back him with *only* a small string section, playing in a chamber music style. It turns what would otherwise have been an average 70s pop-rock singer-songwriter track into something very different. And that last note just blows me away every time.
And finally, Cups And Cakes by Spinal Tap is a wonderful gentle pisstake of English pastoral psychedelia, while fitting the genre perfectly.