SMiLE (Random Thoughts Part 2)

18 01 2012

A month or more ago, I took disc 1 of The SMiLE Sessions and SmileySmile, mixed the SmileySmile songs in where they seemed to fit with SMiLE, and made a SMiLE-SmileySmile CD.  Where the songs were on both albums, I used only the SMiLE versions (as they are superior, for the most part.) That’s what I’ve been listening to (instead of those other albums separately.)

Ironically, when Brian was in what some believe to be one of the worst periods in his life emotionally and physically, he was fixated on health.  “Vega-tables” was intended for SMiLE and a weaker version made SmileySmile.  It calls for the listener to brush his teeth, walk and get lots of exercise.  Then there’s the happy snippet “I’m In Great Shape.”  “Gettin’ Hungry” is about longing for a woman (and obviously sex), but I can’t help but think Brian was inspired by food.

I wonder where the food and health-themed songs fit in the symphonic tale Brian and Van Dyke Parks were trying to tell.  Maybe — and I’m stabbing in the dark a bit — the food thing goes with the idea that SMiLE’s Americana thing.  After all, Brian would have grown up with the birth of fast food chains and drive-in burger joints.  By the late 60’s, people began thinking of food from a health-conscious point of view.  That food and physical fitness were on the Beach Boys’ minds just as Mike Love was about ready to dive head-first into Transcendental Meditation seems to make sense.

That Paul McCartney is known to have chomped on vegetables during the recording of “Vega-Tables” is perfect considering his later conversion to vegetarianism and (mild) animal activism.

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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.

 





Heroes and Villains: the video

2 11 2011

Coinciding with the release of the maybe the most famous lost album ever, SMiLE — technically the release is The SMiLE Sessions — the Beach Boys have put out an animated video for “Heroes and Villains.”  It’s got a bit of a Yellow Submarine vibe. Considering the album would have been released within a year of the Beatles’ movie, it seems fitting (time, place.)

heroes-and-villains–223420574





Brian Wilson on Smile

7 10 2011

After 44 years, the Beach Boys are set to release the most famous (and infamous) unreleased album of all time, Smile.  Brian has been talking to the press lately about Smile, both its past and where it stands at present.  Here are some bits from one of his most recent interviews:

When you listen to “Smile” now, what words come to mind?

Childhood. Freedom. A rejection of adult rules and adult conformity. Our message was, “Adults keep out. This is about the spirit of youth.”

What’s the best way to describe the album?

A teenage symphony to God. That’s how Van Dyke, my collaborator, described it. It’s a teen’s expression of joy and amazement. It’s unrestrained. We thought of ourselves as teens then, even though we were in our 20s.

Was “Smile” an American response to English rock?

Not at all. We weren’t in competition with anyone on “Smile.” I was on heavy drugs—LSD and marijuana. We had no idea what people would expect. There was a lot going on.

What was the “Smile” concept?

Van Dyke and I wanted “Smile” to be a musical tour of America through the eyes of kids—from Plymouth Rock to Diamond Head. We wanted to show people how American music had evolved over the years.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204524604576609000066845070.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Marc Myers: What was your obsession with youth on Smile?
Brian Wilson: We lose our childhood spirit as we grow older. When you hear this music, it takes you back to your childhood. That’s one of the reasons why we released all the tapes now. We want people to get a taste of what we were into. We want them to flash back to their youth.

MM: Smile was originally going to be called Dumb Angel?
BW: Yes. I was stoned one night sitting in my office in my home in Beverly Hills. I said to myself, “Dumb Angel. Hmmm, hey that’s going to be the name of the album.” I told [lyricist] Van Dyke Parks. He said, “No way. We’re going to call it Smile. I said, “Alright you win.” He said, “Alright, I win.”

MM: You didn’t put up a fight?
BW: Nah. Smile was better. More happier. No one would have understood Dumb Angel anyway.

MM: Do you hear Smile on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s?

MM: You don’t hear Surf’s Up in Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane?
BW: No, no way.*

http://www.jazzwax.com/2011/10/interview-brian-wilson.html

*It’s hard to imagine that “Surf’s Up” could have been an influence on “Strawberry Fields Forever” considering that recording for both songs began in November 1966.  SFF was completed by the beginning of 1967 and “Surf’s Up” was shelved about the same time, not to see the light of day for several more years.  This seems like a very odd question to have asked in light of that.





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.





A John Lennon reference in “Surf’s Up”?

13 02 2009

Until 1966, the Beatles and the Beach Boys were the two biggest bands in the United States and perhaps the world.  Although there was little in common between the two groups on the surface, there was a lot of overlap between them.  That is a topic for another time.

Whether or not they had anything in common, it is widely known that the Beatles and the Beach Boys were major influences on one another in the mid-60s.  Brian Wilson is said to have been amazed by the American version of Rubber Soul, which inspired him to create Pet Sounds.  That album, in turn, was a big influence on both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, though the influence on McCartney is more often stated.  Before beginning work on what was to become Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Paul wrote “Penny Lane” and crafted it with what he called a “clean sound,” or “Beach Boys-y” kind of stuff.

If nothing else, they paid attention to each other, even tried to one up the other.  Arguably this “rivalry” was more important to the two bands than the supposed “rivalry” with the Rolling Stones.

Fast forward to late 1966.  In America, the Beatles released Yesterday and Today.  By November of that year, Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks completed one of the best Beach Boys songs ever, “Surf’s Up.”

Having established that, I would wildly speculate that “Surf’s Up” pays homage to the Beatles, particularly John Lennon.  One line says:

Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping, Brother John?

Just months before it was completed, Yesterday and Today was released with John’s song “I’m Only Sleeping (on Revolver in the UK.)  That album, as all the Beatles’ albums at the time, was released by Capitol Records in America, also the Beach Boys’ record company.

I think “Brother John” is John Lennon.  He was, indeed, “sleeping” because he had told us that in song.

I know, I know. That bit is from the nursery song “Freres Jacques.”  Interestingly, though, the Beatles had just borrowed from that same song.  In “Paperback Writer,” George and John sing “Frere Jacques” in the background behind the verses.

It all fits, doesnt it?





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.