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.
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)
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.
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.
Let us return to our current, shared timeframe.