SMiLE (Random Thoughts Part 1)

10 11 2011

I’ve been wanting to talk about SMiLE, or more accurately, The SMiLE Sessions, released last week.  Honestly, though, I’ve not known where to start with it.  I wanted to tackle the whole thing in a big long tome-like post, but people wouldn’t read it, and I’m too lazy to spend hours and hours at a time digesting and regurgitating it all at once.   So I’m going to handle it in small bites.  It’s hard to tell if anyone besides hardcore Beach Boys fans even care at this point.  I can’t ignore it because it’s a pretty significant release.

  • With little exception, The SMiLE Sessions (at least the double disc set) reveals little that is new.  The majority of the songs that were intended for SMiLE originally, ended up on its shoddy replacement, Smiley Smile, or later albums like 20/20, Surf’s Up, and Sunflower.  Granted, some of these songs were released in different form.  Brian’s masterpiece, Surf’s Up, was sung by Carl Wilson for release on the album of the same name.  What didn’t end up on later studio albums came out in later official Beach Boys releases like Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys, the band’s anthology (for all intents and purposes.)
  • One of my first experiences with online music was when I stumbled upon a website dedicated solely to the SMiLE album (that never was.)  It was the late 90’s and MP3’s were starting to come into heavy use — it made sense for internet-based music sharing.  This site — sadly it has been gone for years — had essentially the full SMiLE album, with links to the songs in their entirety.  The site ordered the songs in pretty close to the same order as The SMiLE Sessions; eerily close! All that said, I was not surprised by much.
  • What I have found striking is that SMiLE was…. ahem would have been… ahead of its time, though maybe not in some of the ways fans have imagined over the years.  The “what could have been” scenario that people have probably fantasized over these 40 years typically goes something like this: “If Brian had been able to get the album out, it would have been the soundtrack for the (so-called) Summer of Love, and would have been what Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has been all these years.  It would have been the it record of the 60’s.”  I don’t think there is enough to demonstrate it would have been universally loved in that way.  I would guess it probably would not have been understood and would have even been flaky or “far out” to stoners, acid heads, hippies and, of course, old school Beach Boys fans.   More than Sgt. Pepper’s, SMiLE  would have prefigured Abbey Road.
  • Why Abbey Road?  Right off the bat, understand that I’m not claiming it had anything like the grit of Abbey Road.  But, it has the feel, flow and almost free association style of Abbey Road’s famous medley.  Half the songs on Abbey Road were fragments or sort of half songs, strung together to make a strong, somewhat unified side.  “You Never Give Me Your Money” recurs on the big medley, ties bits and pieces of it together.  Likewise, “Heroes and Villains” is the unifying musical piece that ties SMiLE together.  The album’s fragmentation is hardly an accident.  Brian Wilson recently said in an interview that Van Dyke Parks suggest the album be built around song fragments just as “Good Vibrations” had been assembled as a mini-rock orchestra-like piece from bits and pieces patched together over months in 1966.
  • More than the earlier albums, SMiLE is driven by vocals.  The most important instruments are the voices.  That doesn’t say much when you’re talking about the Beach Boys.  Vocal harmonies were their bread and butter.  But, the vocal work is so complex and strong, that most of the album could have been a cappella.  John Lennon’s beautiful “Because” on Abbey Road hints, in one song, at what SMiLE would have felt like had it been finished.

 

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Pet Sounds. Today. 1966.

16 05 2011

On this day in 1966, Pet Sounds was released.  It’s not, by any stretch, a true “rock and roll” album.  But where else would you put it?  In what we might otherwise call “popular music,” you’d have to rank this one of the best albums ever.   “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is a personal favorite.





My year in music

31 12 2009

The year started out with a bang.  I had just seen Oasis in mid December and was quite interested in the current British music scene.  Before January was up, I got my hands on both Fratellis’ albums, two from the Kooks and Arctic Monkeys’ Favourite Worst Nightmare.  Credit for these finds goes to magazines like Mojo and Q, which I was reading heavily at the time.  I did my level best to get my hands on Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album from the local library, but that took until Spring.

Luckily, Dennis Wilson’s revived classic Pacific Ocean Blue got a lot of love late 2008, early 2009, particularly from the Brit mags.  That has been one of the best albums I’ve bought in years.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

February was also quite interesting because the Beatles’ Take 20 of “Revolution” surfaced, and exploded across the ‘net.  EMI and/or Apple Corps made sure, within a day or so, that it vanished from some of the more notorious sites like youtube.  I wasn’t immediately convinced it was an authentic Beatles track – seemed possibly to be a mash-up of some kind – but “Beatles historians” roundly came out with opinions that it was the real deal.  That it was squashed within 48 hours of hitting the world wide web seemed to be good evidence that it was the real thing.  It’s a very cool track.  It’s basically “Revolution No. 1″ from the White Album, with loops and audio bits that ended up on “Revolution No. 9.”  As a big Beatles fan, I’m not one for second guessing them, but I think, in retrospect, “Revolution Take 20″ (let’s just call it that) would have fit better on the album than having two separate Revolutions.  No. 9 is just too long and goes nowhere.

The Beach Boys are frequently in my playing rotation (though not at the moment.)  Last Spring, I really wanted to go back and full up my collection from their post-Smile late 60’s, early 70’s catalog, but never quite got around to it.  I did dig out my copy of Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys, and played discs 2 and 3 quite a bit for a few weeks.  I came to love Dennis Wilson’s “Little Bird” from the album Friends.

Speaking of Beach Boys and Wilson brothers, Brian Wilson’s performance of Smile from a few years was an amazing surprise.  I’ve had the bootleg tracks (and songs from the box set) for years, but his performance of the aborted album from start to finish is something special.

Virtually out of nowhere, I felt this draw toward bass guitar.  My six string had been in the case for years; I played it a bit and decided I wanted to be a bassist.  In March I picked up my Dean EABG and jumped right into it.  I got Bass Guitar for Dummies and started playing (or learning) quite diligently.  In April I bought a 1997 Epiphone Accu-Bass and a Kustom 80 watt bass amp from a pawn shop in Detroit.  I have not played the electric much, but it’s there if I need it.

Late spring and early summer came.  I still played quite a bit of bass, taking my acoustic with me on family trips and weekends out of town.  I didn’t quite finish Bass Guitar for Dummies, but I’m planning a return to the book.  Because of my love for bass, anything with excellent bass found its way into my rotation.  I picked up What It Is! Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977), an absolutely fantastic 4 disc set put out by Rhino.

Midsummer my MP3 player completely crapped out.  I couldn’t replace the battery for it, either.  We traveled a lot on weekends so my daughter had frequent requests for the Beatles or the Beach Boys, so that’s most of what I heard.

Christmas came early, on 09/09/09 in fact.  Apple Corps released the Beatles’ entire catalog, remastered, in stereo and mono (at least up through 1968.)  I got the Beatles in Mono box set before the stereo set.  I burned the CDs and put ‘em back in the packaging immediately.  I never even looked at the booklets, liner notes etc.  I got the stereo set a few days later, but still have not opened it.  September and October were Beatles-filled months.  Even now, at year’s end, I’m listening to bits of Abbey Road quite a bit, mostly because I’ve picked up the bass again and am trying to learn some of the licks.

Noel Gallagher “quit” Oasis but, surprisingly, this didn’t bother me a bit.  I’d love to see them make music forever; but if it ends it ends.  Noel’s the heart and soul of the band and he could go on making great music without his pesky little brother.  Here’s to a solo career that he will hopefully launch…and soon.

They never made sense to me in 38 years on this planet, but I finally gave in and got a few Pink Floyd albums, The Wall and The Dark Side of the Moon.  I would never have bought them at the store, but they’re at our public library, so I’ve given them a whirl.  I have to admit that I quite like both of those albums.  I’m not quite convinced that I like PF enough to start buying up their other albums, but I certainly am at least open to considering a bit more exploring.

The burden of sick loved ones and the “death” that comes in late Autumn probably put me in something of a slight funk.  I found solace in U2’s song “40.”  I think God wanted me to hear that when I did.

I’ve kind of fallen in love with music again in the last week or so.  I recently replaced my MP3 player and loaded it with really great stuff.  Of course it’s got all the Beatles stuff.  But I really love that I’ve got a few Miles Davis albums, Elvis in Memphis, a great two-disc set from his 1969 work, Little Richard and Ray Charles compilations/anthologies, Johnny Cash’s Personal File and a bunch of his compilation discs, and the new Black Crowes double album, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.  I almost can’t take my headphones off these days.  I’ve already used up all 8 gig on this player and I like everything on it.

It’s hard to say what next year will bring.  If I’m going to resolve to do anything, one of those things will be to play more bass.  Perhaps instead of listening to and writing about other people’s music, I’ll make more of my own in 2010.





15 Songs

27 07 2009

There’s a fun little game going around on Facebook called “15 Songs.”  At least among my friends there it starting to make the rounds.  It’s very simple.  You just set your MP3 player to shuffle and see which songs take the first 15 slots of your playlist.  Here’s what my work PC came up with this morning.

1. Frosty the Snowman — Beach Boys. Oh Lord. How did that get on here?

2. Jeremiah Surrender — The Black Crowes. This one must be a b-side or demo.

3. The Song Remains the Same — Led Zeppelin

4. I’m Waiting For the Day — Brian Wilson, from Pet Sounds Live

5. Moonshine — Dennis Wilson, from Pacific Ocean Blue

6. I Can’t Get Next to You — Mongo Santamaria, from the What It Is funk/groove collection

7. I’m So Tired — Beatles studio rehearsal bit sung by Paul McCartney, not John Lennon. Rare bootleg.

8. Imagine — John Lennon

9. Video — Ben Folds Five

10. You Could Have it So Much Better — Franz Ferdinand, from Franz Ferdinand

11. Soul Stew — Moby Grape, from Moby Grape ’69

12. I Paid My Money — Fear of Pop (Ben Folds’ late 90’s solo side project)

13. Spanish Castle Magic — Jimi Hendrix, from Axis Bold as Love

14. Mull of Kintyre — Paul McCartney

15. Secret Friend — Paul McCartney, from McCartney II





I’m a genius too

19 02 2009

Murry Wilson’s meddling in the lives of his sons, and his recorded intrusion during the “Help Me Rhonda” sessions, are legendary.  Anyone that has followed the Beach Boys knows what a control freak Murry was.

I’ve heard this recording a number of times, but putting it with a puppet show is a stroke of brilliance.  Enjoy.





A beautiful love song (for those of you that like that kinda stuff)

16 02 2009

I’ve been on a Beach Boys kick of late.  I hadn’t been listening to them much for the last few years and I never paid much attention to their stuff after Smiley Smile.  Lately, though, I’ve been exploring some of their material after 1968, and kind of re-discovered “Forever,” a beautifully sung ballad by Dennis Wilson.  If you like love songs, this one’s pretty damned good.





Brian Wilson Presents Smile — Brilliant!

25 01 2009

brianwilson-smileSmile might be the greatest album never released.  Or, more accurately, it may be the best album to take 38 years to be released.  Even Axl Rose doesn’t sit on projects that long.

I got my hands on MP3s of Smile maybe 12 years ago.  I also got the Beach Boys box set that had some Smile stuff in it.  Someday I’ll write about the album (as a Beach Boys release) but suffice it to say, it is amazing.  It’s quirky, odd, almost avant garde.  It’s definitely trippy and might have been a huge flop had it seen the light of day in 1967.  There again, it could’ve given Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band a run for its money.  We’ll never know.  [If you really want to know more about Smile, just google it.  There are dozens of websites about it.]

It’s really hard to get me to pay much attention to old bands retreading their old material (e.g. The Who doing a Quadraphenia tour or the annual Stones tour on the strength of 35 year old songs.)  So, when Brian Wilson Presents Smile was released a few years back, I completely ignored it.  One, I assumed Brian could no longer sing.  Two, it wasn’t a Beach Boys release.  Three, I figured that I already had Smile as it should have been released.  I was happy with my bootlegs.  But I saw this disk at the library the other day and it called to me.

The most simple way to sum up my feelings about this album is that it is brilliant!  Throw whatever positive adjectives you want at it, they all work; great, fantastic, stupendous, tremendous, awesome, amazing, etc.  If you like the Beach Boys (or just quirky music) run to the store and get it.

Many of the songs on Smile were sung by Carl Wilson, probably the best singer of the Wilson brothers.  Carl, sadly, passed away years ago, thus, Brian had to be the vocalist.  Even deaf in one ear, he nailed the songs.  Unlike some of his contemporaries, his voice is still in tact, and it seems natural to hear the songs sung by him.

His back-up band is dynamite.  They do everything vocally the Beach Boys did on the original Smile.  Musically Brian Wilson Presents Smile is nearly identical to Smile as it can be found in bootleg form. [EDIT — I CHANGED THE FOLLOWING TO REFLECT THE FACTS I’VE LEARNED AND SOMETHING OF A CHANGE OF HEART] The most glaring change was to the choruses of “Good Vibrations.”  Brian brought back the original Tony Asher-penned lyrics to the song, replacing his cousin, Mike Love’s re-writes.  I personally don’t like the changes, but I like them better than when I originally wrote this.  I also don’t like Mike Love, so anything that sticks it to him is fine by me.

If you’re still reading this post, stop and go over to amazon.com or wherever you like to buy music and pick up this one.  Tell ’em I sent ya.