With The Beach Boys’ Celebration of 50 Big Ones now done with, and with news reports of rifts, splits and sackings within the band/brand, it will, of course, be back to Beach Boys Business As Usual.
What this 2012 Beach Boys leaves behind is a public profile raised substantially by the publicity for this tour, and a ‘new’ studio album, That’s Why God Made The Radio. This album has been moderately successful, both commercially and critically. In comparison with anything the band said, did or released since, oh, 1988 (and with fucking Kokomo), relatively speaking, this ‘moderate success’ is a huge success.
This will be a huge boost for the next phase in The Beach Boys’ touring career – their triumphant return to the loyal fairground audiences. Victorious.
It should thus be apparent, to any reader following all of this, that I have had little interest in hearing the ‘reunited’ Beach Boys’ album That’s Why God Made The Radio – and absolutely no interest in seeing ‘the band’ go through the motions of reproducing (a highly-selective segment of) their half-century history onstage. These Beach Boys are, after all
a gathering of five musicians who had never before played as a group
(as Mr. Michael Leddy observes, here)
It should therefore also be apparent, to any reader following all of this, exactly why many people like myself, who genuinely care about the music of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, are
happy to have missed the Beach Boys’ (so-called) reunion
However, if you’re of a different opinion of this Celebration, and you’ve just gotten here: hello! This is Part 54 in a series of posts about Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, and Smile.
Why write so much? Well…firstly, and bizarrely, there still seems there is a lot to say about Smile.
Also, as discussed in a previous post, while the Smile Sessions release from November last year has to be ‘definitive’, the texts that accompany it are far from it. My own personal preoccupation with Smile has, over time, raised a few personal questions; I’m not sure that there are answers, but, in some cases, maybe some of these questions have still yet to be asked.
I suspect that there is no one who can now answer definitively, so long after the fact.
There are Smile ‘myths and legends’ – but where details in mythic sagas can change over time, the core truth of a ‘legend’ stays essentially intact.
Unfinished and unreleased in 1966 and 67, the Smile album has fluctuated in significance, taking greater and lesser importance over the past four decades in how the Beach Boys’ brand has been defined and utilised by Beach Boys Corp.
It was, at one time, a given that Mike Love prevented the completion and thus the release of Smile – ‘don’t fuck with the formula’ has become the mantra of that version of the ‘legend’.
The Smile Sessions‘ book and notes, as well as pre-release interviews, counter these misconceptions – Mike actually loved The Smile music, but not the lyricist’s ‘acid illiteration’ (nice neologism there). So the idea that Brian Wilson’s greatest work was not completed because it would have jeopardised the security that the Beach Boys Brand gave to its least talented member has always been a nonsense. Who knew?
And finally, it was something of a Big Deal when The Smile Sessions was announced as a November 2011 release, and just in time for the band’s 50th Anniversary. But a bigger, better, more appropriate anniversary followed quite quickly after Smile, and I don’t see it as any part of the band’s half-century celebration.
In the year where Mojo Magazine’s 50 Greatest Beach Boys Songs has
but, in searching setlist.fm,
is it my search criteria that is at fault (I tried variations), or have the 2012 Beach Boys really not performed one of their most critically acclaimed songs?
Setlist.fm are up to date, with The Beach Boys at Wembley Arena, London, England from 28th September, as well as Later With Jools Holland at BBC Television Centre, London, England listing…so I’m happy to stand corrected on this. However, 2011’s Smile, it would seem, was returned to the past very very quickly in 2012.
But, of Kokomo?
(‘I didn’t think they were going to do it – but then BAM!’)
The fact that it has been Mike Love himself that has mediated a public perception of what Smile might have been has not often been questioned. He has been unrelenting in his dismissals of Smile – but often also wildly inconsistent.
I’ve tried to follow that argument with all of this here. The volume of posts have been, in part, the evidence to interrogate these changes in perspective. My own argument’s support is the Bibliography that will be the end of it all.
Once done, I’ll just leave all this here, and it can be read or it can be ignored. But, better yet, maybe it could be critiqued – it is all open to question, and to debate.
Comments along the lines of ‘you’re wrong’, or even ‘you’re a dick’ will, however, only be considered ‘critique’ where supported by evidence of either wrongness or dickishness. ‘Insider information’ from ‘people who should know’ is, alas, only hearsay.
Currently however, if this is the level of debate that The Beach Boys attracts, better to have said too much than nothing at all:
He’s also in England – proof positive that he’s not to be taken seriously in a debate about America’s Band.
(from a recent discussion within the Beach Boys fan community about some of what I’ve written)
Fair enough. I mean, we’re so fucking isolated here on our little island – what do we know? We just don’t have that broader view that the average American has about the rest of the world…
There’s been a British fascination with The Beach Boys since 1966 – Pet Sounds received its initial critical recognition from British audiences and the UK press. And of course there was this:
Brian Wilson’s solo performances of both Pet Sounds and Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE were premiered in London, before touring the US. And to adulatory audiences, and a universal critical acclaim.
But, despite this country’s shitty weather, I cannot imagine that the British fascination and love of The Beach Boys’ music is driven solely by an envy of the milieu that Beach Boys™ celebrates: summer, sun, girls, fun…there appears to be something far deeper to Brian Wilson’s music, something approaching an almost universal appeal.
And any musical form that, apart from its exceptions (Brian Wilson’s work 65 to 67), seems to cycle back, again and again, to fun in the California sun, should not really hold any appeal whatsoever to my own stark, miserable and cold European mind. But it does.
Maybe Americans themselves feel otherwise about this universality – the band are, as my commentator above so correctly points out, also ‘America’s Band’. Maybe some people believe that The Beach Boys belong exclusively to America…
Also, as a personal digression, I have to say: I fucking hate the summer. English weather is infamously erratic, but the British summer heat can be stifling enough – ‘sunny California’ is, to me, a vision of Hell.
But it’s October now, and summer’s gone. It never came really – in the UK we had unprecedented rain and flash-flooding. In June, the town I live in had a months rain in a day, and its three roads and single rail line were closed Saturday, preventing me from getting even as far as Manchester – never mind to London, to see Van Dyke Parks at the Barbican…I had a ticket, the train fare, and a place to sleep for the night. Ah well.
So I kinda can’t win either way. There’s no pleasing me. No sweltering summer, but no VDP. Etc. And I was lucky enough not to get flooded; many people, here and elsewhere, have been far less lucky. And, as I write it’s been pissing down again, with yet more flood risks…
America’s Band™ have, in various incarnations of self-parody (piled upon self-parody), endlessly reiterated their endless Endless Summer™. Summer, sun, girls, fun. And, looking at the tracklist of That’s Why God Made The Radio, it seems that, even as pensioners, there’s no getting away from sun and fun on the California coastline: titles like Spring Vacation, Daybreak Over The Ocean, Beaches In Mind…ugh.
But, away from the small world of pop music, in a few years’ time, there may not be much left of that coastline but memories – and maybe The Beach Boys, and the nostalgia their summery sound evokes, may take on a far greater currency, and a far greater poignancy…in a news story from April last year, consequences of the Japan 9.0 earthquake/tsunami/quadruple nuclear meltdown were considered:
American readers will obviously be well aware of what is to come – this was being widely reported isn’t it?
A vast field of debris, swept out to sea following the Japan earthquake and tsunami, is floating towards the U.S. West Coast, it has emerged.
More than 200,000 buildings were washed out by the enormous waves that followed the 9.0 quake on March 11.
There have been reports of cars, tractor-trailers, capsized ships and even whole houses bobbing around in open water.
But even more grisly are the predictions of U.S. oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who is expecting human feet, still in their shoes, to wash up on the West Coast within three years.
‘I’m expecting parts of houses, whole boats and feet in sneakers to wash up,’ Mr Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer who has spent decades tracking flotsam, told MailOnline.
Several thousand bodies were washed out to sea following the disaster and while most of the limbs will come apart and break down in the water, feet encased in shoes will float, Mr Ebbesmeyer said.
‘I’m expecting the unexpected,’ he added.
Members of the U.S. Navy’s 7th fleet, who spotted the extraordinary floating rubbish, say they have never seen anything like it and are warning the debris now poses a threat to shipping traffic.
There are some helpful graphics
Journey: This graphic depicts the predicted location of the Japan debris field as it swirls towards the U.S. West Coast. Scientists predict the first bits of rubbish will wash up in a year’s time
In three years’ time the debris field will have reached the U.S. West Coast and will then turn toward Hawaii and back again toward Asia, circulating in what is known as the North Pacific gyre
The same UK news source had an update a year later:
Maybe it will all head to Canada, avoid the west Coast completely…? Who can say.
Despite thematic or topical digressions (such as the one above), this series of posts, while presented in a manner that has feigned the veneer of being haphazard and indeterminate, has actually had a predetermined structure right from the start. There was a starting point, and, after the release of The Smile Sessions in November 2011, an end; the bulk of it has just been filling in the gaps.
The Beach Boys reunion did somewhat scupper the self-contained ‘thesis’ in mind – as did certain aspects of the presentation of The Smile Sessions. Yeah the Smile release is momentous, historic, meticulously constructed, researched, annotated – but…
But it was their Celebration of longevity – and That’s Why God Made The Radio – that seemed of much greater import than Smile ever could be.
And many people seem to have gotten quite excited by the release of their new album. Whether this excitement would hold water without a huge promotional budget to support it is, maybe, a moot point – but, in the US at least, it seems like it’s difficult to get away from The Beach Boys (Michael Leddy observes that ‘every time I step into my friendly neighborhood multinational retailer, the Beach Boys are playing’).
And, upon its release, a global gestalt of archetypal fanboys (predominantly middle-aged, white, male, and in possession of facial hair) would have been collectively tearing open their Amazon packages and posing for their wives’ cameras – bit like this fucking idiot:
He: ‘I cannot believe this is real!’ She: ‘Yes dear…’
I’d imagined a similar gestalt in November 2011 when my Smile Sessions parcel arrived; but maybe That’s Why God Made The Radio speaks so much more directly to the Morlock mind…
So, with all that in mind, someone like me is not gonna be exactly jumping for joy at a new Beach Boys album. I’m gonna need a fucking good reason to hear it.
I was given a fucking good reason to hear it in a recent email, with a well-argued championing of a possible conceptual raison d’etre.
I was pointed back towards Andrew Romano’s The Beach Boys’ Crazy Summer article from Newsweek. Romano has posted the entire transcription of his interview with Joe Thomas, the album’s producer, and Brian Wilson’s 2011/12 co-writer, (here, and on Brian’s rather mediocre Imagination album from 1998). It is, of course, fascinating reading.
A few comments stand out, specifically about the album’s last track Summer’s Gone:
…basically what Brian always wanted to do was make that the last song on the last Beach Boys record. He changed his mind since then. He wanted the original title of the album to be Summer’s Gone. But he had so much fun with Mike and the guys that he scratched that about halfway through the recording process and insisted on changing the title to That’s Why God Made the Radio, because he really didn’t in a lot of ways want this to be the last Beach Boys record. Or he didn’t want that stigma that it had to be. So that was a big step.
So there was a change from the ‘concept’ as originally conceived. But, as originally conceived, Summer’s Gone was to be ‘the last song on the last Beach Boys record’.
Thomas goes on to to say that, with Brian’s own change of mind about the end of The Beach Boys,
it’s not really over.” “Summer’s Gone” was never really about being over. It was about being in a chronological version of a year, you’re not a kid anymore, it’s not spring. Maybe you’re best days of summer are over. But it doesn’t mean it’s all over. It just means summer’s over.
So it is perception and context that have given Summer’s Gone its meaning – once Brian decided not to close the door on The Beach Boys, the song stopped being ‘the last song on the last Beach Boys record’, and instead, ‘it just means summer’s over’. Far as I can tell from all of this though, the song itself, as originally conceived, didn’t change – but what it was meant to signify did.
And in the light of recent developments within Beach Boys Corp, Summer’s Gone may yet be the band’s epitaph.
My correspondent observes that
the sterile MOR production is, to me at least, stifling. But some of it is beautiful; and you suddenly get a glimpse of a career-bookending “third age” Pet Sounds redux along the lines Brian has stated for the early stages of the album’s conception: “Summer’s Gone”, a wistful but decisive farewell to the Beach Boys that could only be sung by its surviving members…Using media and dollars to seduce Mike Love into singing a public goodbye to his breadticket – and, even better, using a repurposed version of his own hackneyed surf’n’sun terminology (shades of “Surf’s Up”) to do so… it’s tempting and not entirely implausible to think [Mike Love’s] erstwhile collaborator didn’t have a certain satirical and not entirely cousin-ly sentiment at heart when formulating that conceptual framework for a record.
This really made me want to hear the album – or at least its last 4 tracks (Strange World, From There To Back Again, Pacific Coast Highway, and Summer’s Gone itself). Lyrics by Jon Bon Jovi – yikes! He’s obviously no Van Dyke – and Bon Jovi’s platitudinous rock balladry has always depend on cliche piled upon cliche…but then so has all of Mike Love’s lyrics since 1972 – and from a far more limited list of platitudes than By Jovi’s rock thesaurus: summer, sun, girls, fun. Have I forgotten anything? Don’t think so. Oh yeah – America.
Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds work with Tony Asher as lyricist has been covered widely – and in some substantial detail in The Making Of Pet Sounds book (from the 1997 Pet Sounds Sessions box), Charles L. Granata’s 2003 book I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times – Brian Wilson and the Making of Pet Sounds, and in many interviews that Asher has done since ’66. Asher has described Brian (in an uncomplimentary moment) as ‘a nice guy, but something of a Hawthorne hick, who found it next to impossible to express himself verbally‘ (quoted here).
Roger Christian, Tony Asher, Van Dyke Parks, Mike Love, Joe Thomas, Jon Bon Jovi…one has to assume they all worked to Brian’s own methodology: he defines a song’s ‘concept’, they make it into a coherent lyric.
And Brian himself seems nowhere near as ‘non verbal’ as Asher suggests – there are many sole Brian lyrics that might be verbally simplistic, but are nonetheless expressive. Of something.
And, against the odds, this small Summer’s Gone ‘suite’ is kind of lovely – another Brian Wilson ‘miniature’; an entire album in microcosm. And while there is that ‘sterile MOR production’, the fact that this is Brian Wilson Music transcends its production.
Brian’s post-Smile music, when it has been permitted to work as designed, has never been limited by either instrumentation or production – listen to the Spring album, or Mount Vernon and Fairway, or The Beach Boys Love You, or Brian Wilson, for illustrations of how little either an arrangement or production needs to ‘sound like Brian’.
Mike Love’s role on these songs is his best: subordinate to Brian Wilson.
Strange World [3:03]
Taken in isolation, this is a kind of perfunctory Brian song; as the first song is this ‘suite’, it becomes its thematic introduction:
we find a man actively attempting to engage with the world around him while coming to terms with how much of his life is now past. I mean, “Strange World” is more-or-less literally a description of that world…So yes, Brian’s songs are often autobiographical in a strange but extremely profound way
and the lyric has ‘a glimpse of the setting sun’, whereas, in the Beach Boys’ Endless Summer, the sun always shines…
From There To Back Again [3:23]
you’ve been thinking ’bout some things we used to do
thinking ’bout when life was still in front of you
back where you belong, our favorite song
won’t you listen
don’t you understand the words
are singing in the wind
i wish that we could get from there to back again
This is a beautiful song, with a gorgeous lead vocal from Al Jardine. Brian then sings
through our compromise, paradise
is just another place up on the wall
through the common sense of it all
we had a lot to live, we gave it all
through the consequence of the wine
another place in time
Pacific Coast Highway [1:47]
and this, as a wordless vocal and instrumental interlude, acts as a bridge to the suite’s final statement,
Summer’s Gone [4:41]
summer’s gone away
old friends have gone
they’ve gone their separate ways
our dreams hold on
for those who still have more to say
gone like yesterday
the nights grow cold
it’s time to go
i’m thinking maybe I’ll just stay
another summer gone
it’s finally sinking in
one day begins
i live them all and back again
i’m gonna sit and watch the waves
we laugh, we cry
we live then die
and dream about our yesterday
Notice that the state of reverie is preceded by (artistic?) death; looking back (even with love) in this lyric is an activity reserved for the no longer living.
Summer’s Gone is (deliberately?) reminiscent of Caroline No, in its pace and its instrumental sounds – and, where that song ended Pet Sounds, followed by the train and dogs montage, here, as the flutes fade, the ocean’s waves break on the the Pacific Coast. It could be night time. Tim Buckley’s Love from Room 109 at the Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway) could seamlessly follow (try it – start this as Summer’s Gone hits 4:21…).
In reality, for 1966 record buyers, Caroline No‘s sound effects were actually the end of Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys. After one more single, their next release was Smiley Smile, ‘Produced by The Beach Boys’.
That whole “Summer’s Gone” concept and framework (which let’s remember he specified could only be recorded as a Beach Boys Record tm) is most plausibly a rather barbed comment on something or someone
On the track Spring Break, earlier on the album, Mike Love writes and sings, presumably autobiographically:
driving around, living the dream
i’m cruising the town, i’m digging the scene
i’m not gonna stress, not gonna worry
doing my best, no need to hurry.
looking ahead, with anticipation
making each day a new celebration.
seems like it could go on forever
moments we all stick together.
years together now, get up and get up
all the hot spots in town.
we’re back together.
here’s ya money
they’re not buying
it’s not up to ya,
It’s his own celebration of his own Eternal Now.
Is the lyrical evidence there to support all of this? My correspondent says that
I know the what and whom I believe is most likely.
Mike is ‘looking ahead, with anticipation’, and, being Mike Love, he’s ‘making each day a new celebration’. Seems like it could go on forever.
That’s Why God Made The Radio‘s last four songs are substantially more contemplative: introspective; retrospective. Summer’s gone.
It is, indisputably, Brian Wilson that made The Beach Boys. The excitement about their reunion was, in part, the idea of their unique vocal blend together again. His family’s voices were his instrument – but not their instrument; in The Beach Boys – An American Band documentary (from1984, but using many interviews and clips sourced from a 1977 TV special), Brian himself summarises:
Brian: I’ve been called a genius by a number of people, I think basically because I had an ability to put harmonics together in rock and roll
No one has ever really heard this ability extensively tested with vocalists other than The Beach Boys – and, without Brian himself arranging and orchestrating his brothers (and cousin’s) vocal blend, they would probably never have discovered what went on to define their lives.
But it’s also his songwriting ability. His own daughters, as adults, make some observations in Don Was’ 1995 I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times film:
Carnie Wilson: I remember one day he (LAUGHS) he wrote a song about a cigarette! He said ‘I’m gonna go write a song about a cigarette!’ and I said ‘OK..’. And literally, 3 minutes later I walked into the room, the song was done, he was playing on the piano, something about how he was going to flush the butt in the toilet.
Wendy Wilson: Where other people might take a run to release some stress, he would go to the piano and write a 5 minute song.
It would seem that songwriting became Brian’s primary mode of expression. And this suggests a number of different possibilities – and could open up some particular songs to possible interpretations that might otherwise go unnoticed.
If Summer’s Gone could be about either the end of summer or an end to The Beach Boys, while still remaining the same song, might there be some other, similarly-personal examples of this in Brian Wilson’s back catalogue?
Let The Wind Blow 
(Wilson/Love – recorded Fall 1967; from Wild Honey, released December 1967)
This song seems, somehow, to be considered more Love than Wilson. I know this ‘fact’ somehow, and cannot lay my hands on its source, and, I imagine, this information comes from the kinds of ‘insider info’ that is supplied to the fan community.
In soliciting expert opinion, in order to confirm or deny this received idea, I got some personal detective work:
My guess (and it *is* a guess) is that Love came up with the “Let the wind blow, let the grass grow, but don’t let her go” part, and that Brian added the “don’t take her out of my life” sections, the chords and the vocal arrangement (the backing vocal line just *is* a Brian line — no question at all of that in my mind). The main reason I think the split went that way is that Love, when writing on his own, always writes stuff that’s comfortable for him to sing, and I have almost exactly the same vocal strengths and weaknesses, and range, as Love (nasal and pitching problems in the tenor range, relatively decent soft baritone in a very limited range, and then sounding good but very weak in the bass range) and can sing those first few lines comfortably, before the song goes somewhere I can’t even begin to cope with.
If so, Brian Wilson’s contribution would be pleading
don’t take her out of my life
know she’ll be a part of my life
but then begging
don’t take her out of my life
what would i do without her tell me now
However, I was offered another compositional perspective on Let The Wind Blows, with reference to the above:
This song and in particular the “Let the Wind Blow” segment are signature Brian Wilson. The chromatic bass run is what he was doing in almost every song around that time (including Wonderful). The song is very similar to Been Way Too Long, Wind Chimes, and countless other pieces from the era.
If I had to guess, I would say Mike contributed some lyrics but there is no way he wrote the music.
Can you imagine Love coming up with this piano part?
and, heard in isolation, and demonstrated in the above clip so perfectly, this could only be a Brian Wilson composition.
The Beach Boys – An American Family television psychodrama (produced by John Stamos, a longtime Beach Boys™ shill) uses this particular song at a crucial dramatic moment:
Wild Honey‘s Let The Wind Blow plays on the soundtrack.
The backing track builds up with echoes.
Brian sits at the piano. As Smile sleeves and mastertapes burn behind him, he starts to sing:
know she’ll be a part of my life
no she’ll be a part of my life
let the bees make honey let the poor find money
take away their sorrows give them sunshine tomorrow
but don’t take her out of my life don’t take her out of my life.
The plot (or the ‘the truth’ it purports to reflect) suggests that Brian wants his wife Marilyn to come home; she moved out after Brian freaked taking acid:
Brian: Marilyn help me! Get this spider off my face! (freaks out, looks in mirror). It’s gone (laughs).
Marilyn has tired of the hangers-on:
Nik Venet: (of Capitol Records) Wow! Are these people here every day?
Marilyn Wilson: Yeah, I call them The Drainers, they just hang around here, feeding off of Brian.
Nik: We haven’t had any new material in 4 months, so people are getting nervous…
Marilyn: You’ll get your songs Nik, you always do.
She eventually comes back; and Let The Wind Blow, somehow, illustrates Brian’s love for her, and his loss when she’s gone. And so he sings
don’t take her out of my life don’t take her out of my life
as Smile burns in the background.
Can’t Wait Too Long/Been Way Too Long [1967-68]
(Recorded Sept-Nov 1967, July 1968, unfinished; unreleased until 1990 & 1993, in two variations)
I’ve read a few comments online from people who think this track is ‘nothing extraordinary’ – which I find extraordinary. CWTL/BWTL is extraordinary music. And who knows what Brian Wilson’s original conception for this might have been, when there are only fragments, reconstructed after the fact?
What has been reconstructed are two Mark Linett edits sourced from the same session recordings; the first was a bonus track on the Smiley Smile 1990 CD reissue (re-reissued in 2001; re-re-reissued this year – but without CWTL/BWTL), the variation on the Good Vibrations – 30 Years of The Beach Boys box set from 1993.
There are shared lyrics and variants across the two official re-edits:
i miss you darling
i miss you so hard
come back baby and
don’t break my heart
but other lyrics, as spoken guide vocals, appear in the 1993 version:
and now I’m alone lying down
looking up at the stars
relivin’ the times we shared
when the moon the stars and the music was all
before both versions continue with
baby you know that i
can’t wait forever
awoke in the night again
we were together
windows of darkness are
all I can see through
searching the shadows i
can’t wait forever hoping to see you
Brian Wilson misses someone (or something); searches for someone (or something) – but what kind of person might be hidden in the shadows? And how is this all somehow linked to ‘the times we shared, when the moon the stars and the music was all’?
Brian enters the studio through some kind of Batman-style swivelling bookcase.
Tape Machine: the world could come together as one
if everybody under the sun
add some music to your day
Mike: (to Brian) What do you think about this song?
Brian: Oh! It’s – mmmm – it’s good. I got some new ‘feels’ for you guys.
Brian plays something not dissimilar to Been Way Too Long/Can’t Wait Too Long, repeating the theme again and again.
The guys (this is Carl and Mike) are unimpressed.
But I was impressed that their researcher had gone to the trouble to reproduce Can’t Wait Too Long‘s theme in this scene, yet needed to commission some stupid-sounding fake-ass Smile-type music earlier on in this soap opera (and, as an aside, this Brian Wilson seems unfamiliar with Add Some Music To Your Day – a song that champions music as essential to one’s mental well-being).
An American Family‘s fabricators see Brian’s new ‘feels’ for the guys as indicative of his ‘madness’, especially measured against their own hard work, adding music to their day – but The Beach Boys still concocted (or at least approved) a 50 second ‘acapella mix’ of CWTL/BWTL on a Beach Boys Corp. faked ‘rarities’ collection (Hawthorne, CA) in 2001. Being a vocal-only snippet, it excises completely the beguiling instrumental backing.
The track was finally reclaimed as Brian’s own when a re-recorded excerpt was incorporated into That Lucky Old Sun in 2008.
(embedded youtube clip ‘contains content from EMI’, who have blocked it in my country ‘on copyright grounds’. Sorry about that – it worked yesterday…)
Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale) 
(Brian Wilson/Carl Wilson/Jack Rieley – released as a 7″ EP [‘side three’] with Holland, 1973)
The original sleevenotes for the Holland album describe this as being
in reality a post-Sartre essay on the nothingness of being
but this is, obviously, complete bollocks. And as the 16 page booklet Holland: The Making of an Album was not available with subsequent repressings, few listeners were ever aware of what it, ‘in reality’, Mount Vernon and Fairway was meant to be. Describing it as a ‘post-Smile essay on being nothing’ might have been more appropriate…
Mike Love has said of Mount Vernon And Fairway
I can remember that around 1957 or ’58, Brian had an old Rambler, and he used to come over to my house a lot to hang out and sing. I was living at the corner of Mt. Vernon and Fairway in the View Park/ Baldwin Hills section of Los Angeles at the time. You know that line in Brian`s fairy tale about ‘distant lights’? Well that was from my bedroom upstairs, which had a fantastic view. We used to sleep in the bunks, and I’d have a transistor radio on under the covers so we could listen to the late night R&B on KGFJ and KDAY. You remember that part in the fairy tale about the ‘prince’s magic transistor radio’?
So, as the owner of a transistor radio ‘around 1957 or ’58’, does Mike see himself as ‘the prince’? And is this how Brian sees Mike?
Peter Ames Carlin, in Catch A Wave, offers his own plot summary:
Brian crafted a story that was both fantastical and entirely personal, centering on a young prince whose life is transformed by the music that comes to him, along with a wizardly Pied Piper, through his magic transistor radio. Named Mt. Vernon and Fairway,” for the streets that met outside Mike Love’s childhood home, and where the cousins spent many evenings singing along with the radio in the front seat of Brian’s car, the piece became a parable about the role music played in Brian’s life. It was all there, from the magical way the music descends upon the prince, to the spell it allows him to cast over his brothers and sisters, to the capricious way his mother (in a bit of role reversal) snatches the radio away and hides it where she thinks he’ll never be able to find it. And yet the music and the magical spell it weaves never quite vanish. At the end of the story, and his brothers and sisters can hear the joyous music playing in the wind that blows past their window.
This seems have been phrased quite carefully – cautiously even…
If one tries to read any part of Mount Vernon And Fairway as autobiography, by 1972, there was only one person in Brian Wilson’s life who had notoriously ‘snatched’ something from him – and it wasn’t his mother. But it would be foolish to look for ‘meaning’ in Mount Vernon and Fairway and then claim to have found it – this ‘fairy tale’ is by nature an allegory.
Not hunting for meaning, however, would be to take it all on face value, and, on face value, it is an odd thing indeed – 12 minutes of child-like weirdness, baffling to the non-Beach Boys mind, maybe more suitable for children…but what parent, in 1972 or in 2012, would expose their kids to the loony ramblings of someone like Brian Wilson?!?
It’s the recurrent symbols throughout the fairy tale that elicit interpretation: a transistor radio that plays Bach, but
after a while it began to sound distant
as the young prince gazed at this radio on his knee
the music was floating away from his hearing
and then it becomes a magic transistor radio
floating in the mid-air
two feet off the ground
as the prince laughed
it suddenly turned around
and it was light green phosphorous in color
he could hear the sound coming out
like nothing he had ever heard before
as some weird distant clanky circular music plays in the background…
The next day, The Prince has forgotten about the radio,
but when night time came once again
his thoughts somehow found their way back
to remembering the fascinating episode of the night before
The Prince, with the help of ‘two brothers’, then rediscovers the lost magic music of the ‘light green phosphorous’ transistor radio –
but the transistor was playing too loud
and their mother heard it
“what are you doing there? what is that you’re listening too?
give me that radio at once” she said
a few days later the king and queen of the castle were invited to a ball
as they were leaving that evening the queen said to the young prince
who was the eldest of the children
“take care of the other ones tonight
and don’t try to find that radio
we have it hidden away”
And the princes never see the radio again:
they couldn’t find it they couldn’t find it
they looked upstairs and downstairs
all through the castle and finally
they think they hear it:
all of a sudden they heard a sound
what is that sound is it possible
could it be the pied piper himself
coming out of the magic transistor radio
or was it just the wind whistling by the castle window
but no one knows if the mysterious Pied Piper of Night was the one who came back to visit the princes and princesses again. You, as listener, might hear it again:
if you have a transistor radio and the lights are all out some night
don’t be very surprised if it turns to light green
and the whirling magic sound of the pied piper comes to visit you
but it’s not clear whether it was ‘just the wind whistling by the castle window’ which The Prince himself may have mistaken for the whirling magic sound of the Pied Piper.
Radio appears in a few other post-Smile Brian Wilson songs and productions; similarly to the Magic Transistor Radio, there is a tinny radio effect on Gee, as one of the opening tracks on Brian Wilson Presents Smile in 2004 (at 1:20 here), and this point is considered as a key to The Smile Riddle (discussed here).
Maybe the phosphene glow of the Magic Transistor Radio survives, however dimly, in the title of the 2012 Beach Boys album…
In 1976, via Brian’s Back, Mike’s bizarre song ‘tribute’ to his cousin, Brian is the celebrated
sitting in a rambler
listening to the radio
And, in Mike’s ‘autobiographical’ ballad narrative, Mike was always there:
i still remember you sounding sweet and tender
singing danny boy on grandma’s lap
and those harmony highs
could bring tears to my eyes
i guess i’m just a sentimental sap
I guess. One could almost read Brian’s Back (written some years after Mount Vernon And Fairway) as an alternate reading of ‘the facts’ within Brian’s allegory. And this would certainly preclude any more searching interpretation of the ‘whirling magic sound of the Pied Piper’…
It’s Over Now/Still I Dream Of It [both 1976]
Both of these songs are sole Brian Wilson compositions. Both were intended for the unreleased Adult Child album from 1977, and both were officially released on disc 4 of the Good Vibrations – 30 Years of The Beach Boys box set in 1993.
Both songs were long-bootlegged before the 1993 release, often together; they run sequentially on Disc 4. They have always seemed somehow interconnected.
Both songs are heartbreakingly sad, musically and lyrically – one doesn’t need to know or care when or why they were recorded to not notice this:
the flame of love we had has finally died
can’t take this emptiness it left inside
it’s over now
and though i played the role i lost my soul
it’s still within your heart
it’s over now
it’s over now
shades of blue and purple haunt me
the noise outside my window carries on
like distant bugles love is very gone
it’s over now
it took a part of me, the heart of me
to watch it fade away
it’s over now
it’s over now
shades of blue and purple haunt me
heaven is far away
angels no longer play
i need to take this fear and force it down
and just pretend that you are not around
it’s over now
i’ll put a Frank Sinatra album on
and cry my blues away
it’s over now
it’s over now
shades of blue and purple haunt me
Both were recorded with a full arrangement (and as released on Good Vibrations), but youtube only has the solo demos – which both seem in many ways sadder.
Whatever ‘it‘ was, ‘it took a part of me, the heart of me to watch it fade away’. And now it’s gone.
Still I Dream Of It is a kind of strange title. What is ‘it‘? It is
that happy day
when i can say i’ve fallen in love
and it haunts me so
like a dream that’s
somehow linked to all the stars above
While both of these songs can he heard and read as songs of love lost, Brian is ‘haunted’ in both: by ‘shades of blue and purple’, ‘like a dream that’s somehow linked to all the stars above’.
The only specific recording dates for It’s Over Now and Still I Dream Of It, in both Brad Elliott’s Surf’s Up and the later Definitive Diary, is ‘early 77’ – and this is presumably for the studio versions; the demos appear to be late ’76.
With the 15 Big Ones/Brian’s Back campaign of 1976 as the band’s sole reason for existence (their persistence, and against the odds), Brian Wilson cannot have been unconscious of another upcoming, unacknowledged anniversary while demoing these two songs…
The Still I Dream Of It demo was first heard in 1995, in I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times :
Brian: I dropped out somewhere in the mid-70s. And the chief reason why I dropped out was I had experimented with too many drugs, and the drugs, that I took, REALLY messed my brain up, really FOULED my mind up – my thinking process was somewhere else.
That and the fact that I had a lot of depression with The Beach Boys – I couldn’t talk to The Beach Boys, nobody would relate to me. So this went on for quite a while, but on and off I’d go and record. But basically, on and off for 10 years I did ‘bedroom scenes’ – under my sheets, watching television…
This is prefaced by Brian Wilson’s daughters discussing their childhood:
Carnie Wilson: I knew from 5 years’ old that he wasn’t a normal father, we didn’t live in a normal household…my memories of him are him wandering from room to room…THINKING about SOMETHING – I always wanted to know what he was thinking, you know? Who knows what he was thinking in his head –
and Carnie goes on to tell the tale of her father, his cigarette, and the song he wrote…
If Brian Wilson felt the need to contain, within ‘a 5 minute song’, something that your average guy might just express through an expletive (“fucking cigarettes!”), how might he express the feeling of loss he felt in 1967 – or the lingering presence of that loss, over a 10 year period?
Who can know, after Smile was abandoned, what he was thinking in his head?
(many thanks to William Muirhead and Darin Hughes for invaluable comments, input, and permission to quote correspondence)