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Archive for November, 2012

What if Pet Sounds was rock history’s ‘great lost album’?

What if Mike Love’s historical objections to Hang On To Your Ego (one of the first Pet Sounds sessions) were followed by a determined dismissal of the whole project as ‘Brian’s ego music’, thus forcing its abandonment?

What if Good Vibrations was never completed, after many hours of studio sessions, and never released?

What if Pet Sounds sessions (or Remember The Zoo, or whatever its final title would have been) leaked out on bootlegs over the years, partially completed, but unsequenced?

What if most of it was heard on bootlegs like this?

What if it was all an unsequenced mixture of fragments, seemingly complete instrumentals – plus long studio rehearsals, where The Beach Boys struggle to get any useable group vocal takes? Barking dog sessions, tapes of trains, even talk about about maybe bringing a horse into the studio – and long looping vocal rounds of Row Row Row Your Boat…? Where would all this have fitted on the album?

What if a seemingly-infinite bunch of sessions and permutations of Good Good Good Vibrations appeared on the collector’s scene, but with no completed sequence to make sense of it all?

What if Brian Wilson became a subsidiary member of The Beach Boys, on call for composition and production chores, but no longer a principle composer, instead subservient to Mike Love, the Leader of The Beach Boys?

What if there was never a Smile – because Brian Wilson’s troublesome and potentially non-commercial ideas for the band’s ‘new direction’ were shouted down before Pet Sounds was even completed?

Without Pet Sounds, what would The Beach Boys have meant in 1966?

And what divergent path would their career have then followed?

The Beau Brummels are mostly a footnote in psych-folk-rock/San Francisco Scene histories. They had some pop success – and a prestigious TV appearance in 1965:

(Thousands of years ago, The Beau Brummelstones
performed Laugh Laugh on Shinrock)

(The Beau Brummels Volume 2, back cover, 1965)

Starting out as an Anglophile Beatles/Byrds ‘folk-rock’ copyists band, they went on to make two excellent, but commercially unsuccessful albums for Warner Brothers in 1968 and ’69.

Triangle (1968) is something of a genuine ‘lost psych classic’ – but kind of lost in plain sight; its followup Bradley’s Barn (1969) was a ‘country rock’ continuation of Triangle, but without the mawk or hee-haw redneckery that was in vogue with Los Angeles’ wannabe cowboys at the time.

Ron Elliott, the Beau Brummels guitarist and songwriter, also contributed songs and arrangements to Roots, The Everly Brothers’ own reclamation of their place as an ‘America institution’. Roots can be heard as part a handful of albums that capture exactly why Warner Brothers were becoming a pretty hip label – it slots in nicely alongside Triangle, Bradley’s Barn, Song Cycle, and the debut albums by Randy Newman, Ry Cooder and Little Feat.

But Triangle‘s predecessor, and The Beau Brummels’  first album for Warner Brothers, was Beau Brummels ’66.

Look at the tracklist:

The Beau Brummels lost an enormous amount of ground in 1966, and not just because of the Warner Brothers album [Beau Brummels ’66]. San Francisco rock was rising from a rumble to an earthquake, as the Jefferson Airplane started to record and groups such as the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service cultivated local followings that would soon lead to national exposure and major label recording contracts…The Beau Brummels, however, were considered comparative lightweights in the counterculture, partly because they had already had big hits, and also because they weren’t able to play much in the city anyway, owing to their frenzied touring schedule.

(From Two-Shot Wonders, in Richie Unterberger’s Urban Spacemen And Warfaring Strangers, 2000)

What if Brian Wilson accepted his new role as underling in The Beach Boys, but refused to write any more songs for them? After mostly-finishing ‘the greatest album ever made’ only to have it all rejected by the band, and with Capitol Records in need of a new album quickly, what would replace the scheduled Pet Sounds album?

A Brian Wilson solo single, Caroline No (the only track released from the aborted Pet Sounds project) was only a moderate hit, proof positive that Brian’s ‘ego music’ was not what a Beach Boys audiences wanted.

After the success of Barbara Ann (US #2, UK number 3) and Sloop John B (US #3, UK number 2), a Beach Boys ’66 pop covers album could have expanded upon the impromptu singalongs of its predecessor Beach Boys Party. Imagine the hits of the day – but orchestrated in the new and unique style heard on Sloop John B

After the failure of Beach Boys ’66, it’s conceivable that The Beach Boys’ career would have carried on. Hard to imagine I know, but…

With The Beach Boys lack of involvement in the cultural ferment of 1966 and 67, as captured in David Oppenheim’s Inside Pop news broadcast (some commentary here), any attempt to ‘get hip’ would be treated with disdain, by the hipsters and the hippies.

Donald Clarke’s (somewhat bizarre) 1989 Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (online here) dismisses Triangle as ‘voguily progressive’ – and the album does have some of the trappings of the time, but it’s also

a substantial departure from their earlier work,  trading the instantaneous hooks and spooky vocal harmonies for greater lyrical sophistication and more expansive arrangements, with some strings, harpsichord, and accordion. Some of this is early country-rock, including a superb cover of Merle  Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer.” lt’s more memorable, however, for the wispy and  wistful tunes, like “Magic Hollow” and “The Wolf of Velvet F0rtune,” which are like mood music for deep forest walks.

(Richie Unterberger)

Magic Hollow has Van Dyke Parks on harpsichord, and the album shares the same production team as Song Cycle; there is also the first recording of Randy Newman’s Old Kentucky Home.

Sal Valentino, the voice of The Beau Brummels, has two later solo tracks included on Van Dyke Parks’ Arrangements Vol.1. It would be worth buying the album for one track alone, were the rest of Arrangements not the collection of lost marvels it is.

Friends And Lovers  is indescribably wonderful. I’m not going to describe it; I’m not a music journalist. But it has an absolutely transparent Van Dyke Parks arrangement. Nothing ‘voguily progressive’ here – this is transcendent music. And it’s all over in 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Frustratingly.

(Alas, it’s not the Friends and Lovers Carl Wilson sings with Days Of Our Lives‘ Gloria Loren on Waikiki Beach in ’87 [go back here]. That’s from another Beach Boys universe)

(from The 1969 Warner/Reprise Songbook sampler)

Sal Valentino’s later band Stoneground performed Alligator Man at a groovy party in Hammer’s Dracula A.D. 72, and Stoneground are by far the hippest people there (pics and text from here):

Guitarist John Blakeley was in Surf band “The Sandals” and wrote the music for the surf classic, “The Endless Summer.”

Of the female singers Annie Sampson, Lynne Hughes, Deirdre La Porte and Lydia Moreno, seems like only Annie and Lynne kept performing to any degree.

Lead singer Sal Valentino was in the legendary 60’s band the Beau Brummels, who had performed in “Village Of The Giants” and also has the notoriety of being animated on “The Flintstones!”

(“the surf classic The Endless Summer“? But didn’t Mike Love dream up that title in 1974?)

By 1967’s musical standards, what is Smiley Smile if not a voguily progressive attempt to ‘get hip’? But it’s hip done wrong: because it’s The Beach Boys, and it’s their followup to Party! and Beach Boys ’66, it’s a new, weird, stripped-down ‘acid casualty doowop’.  It sounds dumb, but it’s actually clever stuff: Mike Love’s She’s Goin’ Bald sneeringly parodies contemporary drug culture, its hipspeak (“she’d been on a trip, really flipped her wig, i blew my mind, i blew my cool, ain’t nothin’ upside your head – what about it, dude?”), and its music. And it’s over in 2 minutes and 17 seconds. Mercifully.

Of Triangle,

The beat group arrangements…were gone, replaced by more arty orchestrations and subtle songs with a gauzily introspective aura. The exponentially high “haunt count” of the early Beau Brummels records was replaced by a growing interest in country and western music, especially audible in Ron Elliott’s masterful acoustic guitar work. For the first time, Elliott and Valentino collaborated on much of the songwriting, though Ron wrote some of the tunes with his occasional co-composer Bob Durand. Elliott calls the album “sort of a mood swing into the world that was around us at the time. It was sort of dissolving into this drug culture. So the music became very ethereal, mystic, and mysterious.”

The album also allowed Valentino’s always exceptional voice to reach new levels of expression, especially when he worked the lower notes and delivered hazy yet evocative lyrics, as on “The Wolf of Velvet Fortune,” “Only Dreaming Now,” and “Magic Hollow.”

(Richie Unterberger again)

Triangle is the way better album.

Without Pet Sounds or Good Vibrations, there would thus never have been any Heroes and Villains.

Wild Honey, as Smiley Smile‘s followup, had some critical support from Paul Williams and David Anderle at the time, as part of a rock ‘back to basics’ vogue; but the record buying public mostly fail to notice.

With the hits drying up, and the band’s record contract coming to an end, a series of contractual obligation albums are produced: an album recorded live in Hawaii; another mostly-inconsequential studio album in ’68. The band try out a few different flavours of hip on 1969’s 20/20 album. That one of these belongs to Charles Manson is unfortunate…

(The Beach Boys, 1969 – dig those hip threads!)

It’s all too little, and too late. And their fall from favour with a changing audience is in no ways unique – ‘the rock revolution’ eradicated forever the old pop world that The Beach Boys came from.

Their last album for Capitol is a new kind of party record – now you can sing and play along with The Beach Boys themselves! Get Stack-O-Tracks!

Where next for The Beach Boys? A contract with hip LA record corporation Warner Brothers?

Without a Van Dyke Parks to convince Mo Ostin at Warners that the band were ‘an American institution’, and worthy of the label’s attention, there would be no new contract. Van Dyke may have suggested the cello triplets for Good Vibrations, as included on the bootlegged sessions – but, after an abortive writing collaboration with Brian Wilson, dismissed by Mike Love as ‘airy-fairy’ and ‘acid illiteration’ – and thus ‘inappropriate for The Beach Boys’ – this projected collaboration never went anywhere. And that would be the end of Van Dyke Parks’ involvement with the band.

So no contract with hip LA record corporation Warner Brothers.

Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations mean more now than they ever did in 1969. Back then, this music was old – and it got old real quick.

It would be stretching the bounds of credulity to continue this divergent timeline – but even if The Beach Boys somehow wangled another record contract, what would they produce that could appeal to a more knowing rock audience?

They could, of course, revive unused Pet Sounds tracks, eke them out across a span of albums – and a finished Good Vibrations might be a chart success in 1972, but its time was 1966. It was designed for 1966. And pop and rock markets changed radically after 1967.

Maybe if the band finished off Pet Sounds for release, maybe even as a giveaway alongside their latest album…but the musical ennui of the latter could only be overshadowed by the former, even as a 1972 band rerecord of the entire projected Pet Sounds album.

And where is Brian Wilson in all this? Or Dennis Wilson? Maybe they both left the band, tired of this Beach Boys’ mediocrity, and the dictatorial limitations of their leader’s musical vision…

What if Endless Summer, 1974’s nostalgic Best Of, failed to resonate with the American record-buying public?

What if America didn’t ‘adopt’ The Beach Boys as America’s Band?

If their career survived long enough to celebrate a 25th Anniversary, would it look much different from our own timeline’s quarter-century celebration, on Waikiki Beach in 1987?

This is Mike Love:

These are Beach Boys:

And these are The Beach Boys’ fans:

It was Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations that changed an audience’s perception of the band as a more than an outmoded American Anachronism. But it was the promise of Smile, and, for any attentive American that cared, the Inside Pop 1966 performance of Brian singing Surf’s Up solo, that kept record listeners interested.

With or without Pet Sounds, their career trajectory would probably have taken the same decline. They wouldn’t have been ‘left behind’ after not playing Monterey, because they would never have been on the bill in the first place. ‘The rock revolution’, post-Monterey, would have passed them by – only the momentum of Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations (and the promise of their followup) kept anybody caring much about The Beach Boys. Without these two releases, without that perceived progression, what function would a post-Monterey Beach Boys serve?

To use Mike Love’s own mid-90s designation of The Beach Boys’ place in any perceived pantheon:

the Beach Boys have always been lovingly irrelevant

(Mojo interview, August 1995)

They can only be ‘lovingly’ irrelevant if they’re loved – otherwise they’re just irrelevant.

What if Smile had been released in 1967? Would The Beach Boys have followed the same seemingly-inexorable decline into audience indifference, and creative mediocrity? And, given the choice, with 45 years’ hindsight and some time-manipulation technology, which alternate timeline would Beach Boys Corp. select?

But this is idle speculation. Fantasy.

‘imagination!’

Let us return to our current, shared timeframe.

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Today is November 1, and the first anniversary of the release of this:

which was promoted as

Buy The Smile Sessions here.

In Beach Boys Band World, the aftermath of a seemingly-unrelated anniversary continues to prompt debate within Beach Boys Fan Universe: did Mike Love ‘sack’ Brian Wilson from the band? It’s unclear – to audiences, to the press reporting this…even ‘the real Beach Boys’ themselves aren’t sure.

But it’s still ripe fodder for a soap opera, with story lines that can unfold across a season, or even years…how much longer can this saga sustain itself? The tension of an unresolved plot twist remains only for as long as there is an audience tuning in.

Now might be a good time for a repromotion of The Smile Sessions, after a successful Beach Boys concert tour – but next to nothing from The Smile Sessions got an airing on the 50 Big Ones tour. Recent audiences could easily be oblivious that Smile is now officially available – or even happened in the first place.

Instead it’s yet another Best Of, and yet more reissues. Their reunion album, That’s Why God Made The Radio, has Brian Wilson’s Summer’s Gone ‘suite’ (which may or may not be about the end of The Beach Boys) – but there’s also Mike Love’s Spring Vacation:

spring vacation
good vibration
summer weather
we’re back together.

here’s ya money
they’re not buying
it’s not up to ya,
better, aleluiah!

So their ‘celebrated’ 2012 reunion is actually just another Beach Boys album – neither one thing nor the other. Maybe their next album will be better. Oh wait…

‘America’s Band’ marches onwards into the past. ‘It’s 1965 all over again’ says Mike Love.

So what is ‘America’s Band’?

I’m in the UK – Americans might suppose that The Beatles are ‘Britain’s Band’, but you would be hard pressed to find anybody here who would make that claim.

Being in England, I may not be the best person to interrogate the self-made conceit that is America’s Band™ – one contributor to a Fan World messageboard said (about this blog) a few months ago

He’s also in England – proof positive that he’s not to be taken seriously in a debate about America’s Band.

So, rather than run the risk of ‘not being taken seriously’, I solicited an American Perspective:

Growing up as an American, it’s somewhat impossible to avoid America’s Band.  You may not even know their name, or at least be able to connect it with anything other than “Kokomo” or “Good Vibrations”.  You might even think that “California Girls” was written by Dave Lee Roth.  However it may be, it is unavoidable to have a familiarity from a very young age with the Beach Boys.

I am a 36 year old white, American, male.  I have two kids aged 6 and 10, a mother who is 68, and a father who just turned 69.  Represented by these 3 distinct generation are 3 very different American perspectives on The Beach Boys.  My father was a “greaser” growing up mostly in the 50s.  He along with my mother were a little too old to really get on board with the hippie movement and were adults by the time “Surfin” was released.  My father’s biggest memory of the Beach Boys would be the car songs and specifically “Fun, Fun, Fun.”  My mother on the other hand was a bit too cool for the Beach Boys and by the time their music made it all the way over to Pennsylvania, she had already lived in France for year.  Recently, she said to me, “You know…the Beach Boys weren’t exactly considered hip.”

I suppose it is my doing that my family has been forced to think so much about the Beach Boys here in 2012.  It is rather a strange thing, a 36 year old man, deeply and passionately in love with the music of Brian Wilson.  Maybe not as strange as it was 15 years ago when my obsession (as many have described it) began.  Before any of this began, I remember hearing the Beach Boys on the radio during one of many cross-country trips that my family took together.  I can’t say which song it was that I heard, but I like to think it was “Good Vibrations” – and it’s as likely as anything else to have been on the radio.  On these road trips, my parents would lay flat the back seats of their wood-paneled station wagon and place a twin mattress for my brother and I to sleep, wrestle, kick and punch, and otherwise be normal American boys.  My Dad preferred to drive at night as he never needed more than 2 hours sleep a day but the excitement of the road would be too much for me to sleep and the loneliness of the night sky would often haunt me.  With my head lay close to the rear speaker, I would stare out the car window and listen to the music.  On one such occasion, the Beach Boys came across the radio and the warmth of the sound put my mind at ease.

At 21 years old, I rediscovered the Beach Boys who I am told is also known as America’s Band – though I should be clear in indicating that I was fully unaware of this title for the better part of my 15 year fixation.  At 21 years old, I didn’t listen to much of any vocal music.  If pushed to describe my favorite music or the type of music I played (I started playing guitar in bands and writing at 15) I would invariably default to “experimental.”  When asked which bands I liked, I would have to awkwardly lead the person asking to the conclusion “none you’ve ever heard of.”  Which reminds me of joke.  “What’s an indie rockers favorite band?  Pffft…you’ve never heard of them…”  In reality, there was no pride to be found in this because I often felt isolated by my musical tastes.  When I was 20, my girlfriend, who was trying her best to listen to an album of music that I made (and I was desperate for her to see its value), said, hesitantly, “Maybe you are hearing things in this that others can’t.”  But what she might have meant was “maybe you are hearing things that aren’t there…like a song.”

A lot had happened since that night in the back of the wood-paneled station wagon.  And there’s “Kokomo” – a song that literally everyone in this country has heard and one that will guarantee moans and groans from ANY group of aesthetically conscious individuals no matter what their taste, creed, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, religion, or otherwise.  At the same time, if you ask a random stranger on the street to name a Beach Boys’ song they will invariably say “Kokomo” and perhaps “Good Vibrations”.  In this same way, when I heard that the Beach Boys might actually be “hip” it caused a reevaluation of “Good Vibrations” which had been, in my mind, trivialized by the very ideas that “Kokomo” represents.  If these songs are the backdrops of our trips the grocery store, our trips to the Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, etc. it is hard to hear a song like “Good Vibrations” as a masterpiece when it is paired with “Kokomo”.  It requires a relistening, a restart; it requires a beginner’s mind.

Jumping ahead to the present day, my children wake up to “Our Prayer” every morning before school.  For now, the Beach Boys are the hippest band in the world as far as they are concerned – although already my 10 year old realizes “other kids my age don’t listen to this kind of music.”  Every time the Beach Boys come up around my parents I have to justify why I love Brian’s music and over time I may have to do the same with my kids.  To my parents, America’s Band represents a Disney-like fabrication of an innocence they believe never existed in this country.  To my kids, America’s Band represents a deep and happy connection with their father.  To me, America’s Band represents a connection to the eternal and something that is so far outside of any notion of nationality, race, creed, gender, or any other polarity.  Through music, Brian’s heart is revealed and as it turns out, it’s the same heart that is in all of us – this is why I believe he is so deeply loved by so many people around the world including myself.

Where to begin with this ‘beginner’s mind’? If you care about music one iota, and you ‘moan and groan’ at Kokomo, and then you hear Cabinessence

And is this ‘wood-paneled station wagon’ actually a woodie?

So how does America’s musical history perceive America’s Band?

This is an interesting book:

(“a superb, all-encompassing survey of music in America”)

From its back cover blurbs:

The definitive history of music in the United States is sure to delight music aficionados and history buffs alike, and is a must for anyone interested in what music has meant to America and what America has meant to music (says Publishers Weekly)

and

Crawford’s superb book presents the whole sweep of US cultivated and traditional music – from 16th-century native American music through late-20th century hip-hop culture (says Choice)

This book was cited in an earlier post (here):

While Dylan and Janis Joplin are pictured on the front cover collage, popular music, as perceived by post-1967 consumers, begins on page 714, with rock and roll; rock music starts on page 799. Who are all these other people? Well it’s obvious who some of them are, and that’s Leonard Bernstein at bottom left. But, these days, of what relevance are pages 1 to 713? Didn’t this all get swept away by The Beatles, Sgt Pepper, and The Rock Revolution?

Page 799 onwards is Chapter 38: From Accessibility to Transcendence. A chronology precedes the following excerpts: 

These events outline a fairly clear path: immediate public acceptance on a grand scale; a retreat from public life; a new trajectory of artistic growth; a continuing appeal to record buyers; and the growing pressures of wealth and fame…from an artistic standpoint, the 1966 entry marks a basic shift in the life of the group. The audience had grown so enormous that touring and live performance lost their appeal. Therefore the group concentrated on the recording studio. The new musical ideas they explored, especially in the years 1965-67, lead them away from their early stage-band sound; they experimented with new textures and forms, with a breadth of view that came to include avant-garde techniques from the classical sphere…with each new album in these years, the group broke new musical ground…

It goes on for 9 pages.

Chapter 38’s full title? From Accessibility to Transcendence: The Beatles, Rock and Popular Music.

In this ‘all-encompassing survey of music in America’, America’s Band get mentioned how many times? From its index:

Beach, Amy (Mrs. H.H.A), 352, 353, 354, 356, 363-71, 369, 403, 496
compositions of, 367-69
Beach, Dr. Henry H.A., 364
Beardslee, Bethany, 705
The Beatles, xviii, 799-809, 811-12

This ‘definitive history of music in the United States’ fails to acknowledge America’s Band; they’re not even a footnote in ‘what music has meant to America and what America has meant to music’. ‘

‘Britain’s Band’ matter more to America in America’s Musical Life.

So what is The Beach Boys’ place in modern America’s cultural life?

Is it in ‘a soap opera, with story lines that can unfold across a season, or years’? Is it in ‘the tug of an audience that loves drama, villains, heroes, and talk’?

All of the above are excerpted from an article published October 31 2012, Is the UFC entering the Talk Era?

It’s about pro wrestling, and martial arts as entertainment.

Would the release of Smile in 1967 have shifted Richard Crawford’s focus in Chapter 38 away from the UK, and back to the US? It would be hard to argue otherwise. Look at David Oppenheim’s Inside Pop documentary.

Could the release of The Smile Sessions a year ago have done something to rectify this historical omission?

Maybe. But only if Beach Boys™ (as the corporate controllers of America’s Band) had actually acknowledged its release.

(thanks to Darin Hughes for permission to use correspondence)

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