Joy in the streets of London, joy in the streets of Birmingham

May 23rd, 2016

I had the privilege to attend two of the recent Brian Wilson shows in England- the Birmingham show which was the first after the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, and the last London show at the Palladium. I have been lucky enough to see Brian solo a few times around the world, as well as at the Beach Boys 50 shows, and again it was very special to see the shows marking the 50th anniversary of the most acclaimed album of the world.

It is true that this is not the Brian even from the 2012 reunion shows , let alone from 1966. But to judge the shows purely on the charisma of the lead performer is always missing the point – this is the creator of some of the greatest music of all time, and he is still willing to share it all with us. Even if he is restricted to more lower parts, it is still his show, supported wonderfully by the whole band, including Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, who were both an integral part of the evenings.

These may be the last Brian shows I go to. They were also the first shows I went to with my partner, and it was very special to share this great music. Brian is still here and still able to make musical dreams come true.

Setlist

 

Part 1

Our Prayer

Heroes And Villains

California Girls

Dance Dance Dance

I Get Around

Shut Down

Little Deuce Coupe

Little Honda

Please Let Me Wonder (London only)

In My Room

Surfer Girl

Don’t Worry Baby

Wake The World

Then I Kissed Her (Birmingham only)

Add Some Music

Cottonfields USA (London only)

Do It Again

One Kind Of Love

Wild Honey

Funky Pretty

Sail On Sailor

 

Part 2

Pet Sounds album

(Encore)

Good Vibrations

All Summer Long

Help Me Rhonda

Barbara Ann

Surfin’ USA

Fun Fun Fun

Love And Mercy

The Big 50th For Pet Sounds

May 16th, 2016

In the greater scheme of the universe, 50 years is the blinking of an eye; but for most people on the planet in 2016, 50 years is another world away. We can certainly idealize the world of 1966, but in many respects it was also a divided, sometimes fearful place then…Vietnam, the Cold War, apartheid, fears of nuclear war.  It wasn’t necessarily a better place, just a different place. Certainly, the arrival of a new Beach Boys album wouldn’t have been greeted with tweets and Facebook posts, and be instantly dissected online on fan forums.

But no doubt, the arrival of a new album by one of the top groups in the UK and USA would have been discussed by fans. No doubt some may have found it surprisingly downbeat from a group that was churning out “surf and turf” hits two years ago. A few may have noted some continuity from the production values from the Today album, a year before that. No doubt, they would have heard some sounds that they wouldn’t expect on a rock-and-roll record. Some may have listened to the lyrics, and felt an immediate connection with their own lives.

It didn’t burn up the charts -at least in the USA. But gradually, it would appear that the critical consensus was that Brian Wilson’s genius was an even more indisputable fact, and that the Beach Boys were leading the production race against the Beatles. Pet Sounds was reputation was born, and grew over the 50 years, to the extent that it has become statistically the most acclaimed album of all time.

And what is the reason for all the acclaim? Maybe it comes down to what the NME stated in 1993 “proof that swooning emotions, pearling harmonies and lines about missing your girl are still valid.” It certainly runs the gamut of emotions from joy to despair, doing that through music that is innovative, melodic, harmonic and simply beautiful. There is surely not a life on earth who cannot identify with the hope of Wouldn’t It Be Nice, the romantic ideal of Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) and the disappointment of Caroline, No. 2016 has certainly provided the world with plenty of disappointments, and some hopes. No doubt 1966 was the same for those around on the day Pet Sounds was released. Over the 50 years, it has been the soundtrack for many people to give a voice to their hopes, and to share and sometimes even heal those painful moments.

So happy big 50th birthday Pet Sounds. You’re not getting older, just more relevant. And you were made for these times.

 

Pet Sounds 40

May 8th, 2016

For Pet Sounds 40th anniversary, I provided 40 reasons why it is the greatest album ever

  1. It’s all about the need for love and acceptance, two of the most basic human needs
  2. It inspired the Beatles to greater heights, especially Here, There And Everywhere
  3. It has beautiful melodic bass-lines
  4. It covers a wide range of  real emotions from pure joy to utter disappointment
  5. It wasn’t made for these times…or those times…but for all times
  6. It usually makes at least the Top 10 of best album polls in well-known music magazines
  7. George Martin likes it
  8. Because quiet is the new loud
  9. It has cool animals on the cover
  10. ….and dog noises
  11. God Only Knows may the most beautiful song ever
  12. and Caroline No may have the loveliest backing track of every song
  13. It inspired great harmonic music from Jimmy Webb, the Association, Curt Boetcher and many other late 60s artists
  14. Brian wanted to spread spiritual love to the world
  15. It blurred the boundaries between rock, jazz and classical music
  16. It had the best musicians in Los Angeles playing on it
  17. Brian’s melodies ascend to a very special place…whether it’s musical or spiritual
  18. The title is a pun
  19. No-one was worried that 13 tracks would be bad luck
  20. If you haven’t lived at least some of the songs….you probably haven’t lived
  21. Brian spent almost 40 years trying to top it with SMiLE
  22. Carl Wilson sings like an angel on God Only Knows
  23. Dennis Wilson is on the album….somewhere
  24. Alice Cooper likes it
  25. Chuck Norris likes it…and if he doesn’t it, fans of the album would be prepared to persuade him!
  26. It has theremin
  27. …and train noises
  28. As NME said in 1993, it’s “proof that swooning emotions, pearling harmonies and lines about missing your girl are still valid.”
  29. And as NME said further, it’s proof that we’re all “soft lads and lasses at heart.”
  30. There is weird studio chatter all over Here Today
  31. It still inspires groups today to make great music
  32. It has two instrumentals that say everything through the music
  33. It has bicycle bells
  34. Tony Asher is a great lyricist
  35. It’s the new alternative….melodic, harmonic and meaningful
  36. Despite not being promoted properly by the record company, it has still gone platinum
  37. It has a traditional folk song
  38. It changed music forever
  39. If you don’t get it, takes Brian’s advice on the album….”listen…listen..listen.”
  40. 40 years after its release, it is more appreciated than ever

Pet Sounds 30

May 3rd, 2016

It’s already Pet Sounds anniversary month, so here is what I wrote almost twenty years ago, for the 30th anniversary

Happy 30th Birthday, Pet Sounds! You’re just over eighteen months older than me, and I’ve only known you for about six years, but you’ve been an important part of my life ever since then.

You do not talk about politics or religion, nor do you claim to have the solutions to the problems of the world. You don’t discuss the evils of society or tackle the dishonesty of the “establishment.” Instead, you tackle the issues closest to every person’s heart: love, the need for acceptance, self-doubt and the passing of time. You talk to every person; some choose not to listen but that’s their loss…

You do not announce yourself in an orgy of guitar noise or the metallic thudding of drums. Instead you come across gently in sensitive musical arrangements that transcend any artificial categories of rock or classical or whatever, and in vocal arrangements so heavenly that you forget the cares of this world.

You begin with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” an ideal of romantic love but also a longing for things that cannot be. Then there is “You Still Believe In Me,” a homage to trust but also an acknowledgment of human imperfection. Yet those vocals surging back at the end have to be divine. Then “That’s Not Me,” a person stuck in the rat race realising that love and acceptance is worth more than money and fame and a tune that will stay in your mind forever.

“Don’t’ Talk,” just listen. The most personal, heartfelt love song ever made. A moment of perfection caught forever. “I’m Waiting For The Day,” the astonishing changes of time, the achingly beautiful vocals, the anguish of expectation. “Let’s Go Away For Awhile,” the music says it all, maybe it says different things to different people, but for me it’s the contrast between dreams and reality and the hope that the two may some day become one.

“Sloop John B,” maybe it doesn’t belong on you, but on a day like this who’s quibbling? The a capella break is another moment of pure bliss. “God Only Knows,” acknowledging, maybe even calling on a Higher Power and sung in such tones that you almost have to believe on this evidence alone that there is more to man than a random collection of atoms. “I Know There’s An Answer,” bringing us back to earth and acknowledging mental isolation and the frailties of human relationships.

Love is “Here Today” and gone tomorrow. Again, doubt and disillusionment. “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.” No, Brian, you were not made for a cynical and cheap world, you were just too far ahead. The ghostly wail of the theremin, the ominous percussive effects, a sign that the road ahead for the creator of this music was not going to be easy. “Pet Sounds”, another wordless picture, maybe another escape from reality into the trance of this intoxicating rhthym.

And then you end with “Caroline, No.” A simple word picture, a tune that goes beyond a simple melody into uncharted waters. The loss of innocence, ostensibly of a girl, but surely also of a world that still hasn’t fully accepted the masterpiece that you are. And finally, the train going off into the distance, going on to a place unknown because the world has changed forever, while the witless dogs bark because they don’t really understand what is happening and they don’t know any better.

Thank you, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston, for your heavenly singing. Thank you to all the musicians who played with so much commitment on this album, not always knowing how things would end up. Thank you to the Beatles for being no doubt an inspiration to the creation of this album and for inspiring me personally to listen to it. An important thank you to Tony Asher for expressing the feelings of all of us so eloquently.

But the big thank you goes to Brian Wilson, the creator of the music and whose life must have been an inspiration of the mood of the album. Your generosity in sharing so much of your life with us, when it hasn’t always been easy, is something I cannot express in words. You have created what will be one of the defining artifacts of human art and creativity. I wish you tranquillity and joy on this special day.

Happy 30th birthday, Pet Sounds! I know you’ll have many, many more!

 

23 Songs For Today

April 30th, 2016

1. You Still Believe In Me  -The Beach Boys
2. Don’t Worry Baby -The Beach Boys
3. Kiss Me Baby -The Beach Boys
4. I’ve Just Seen a Face – The Beatles
5. Got To Get You Into My Life -The Beatles
6. Nights On Broadway -Bee Gees
7. Shelter From The Storm -Bob Dylan
8. Love Minus Zero/No Limit -Bob Dylan
9. Life On Mars -David Bowie
10. Modern Love -David Bowie
11. Quietly -Explorers Club
12. Birds -Neil Young
13. On the Beach- Neil Young
14. Through My Sails -Neil Young
15. We Let The Stars Go -Prefab Sprout
16. One Of The Broken -Prefab Sprout
17. Where The Heart Is -Prefab Sprout
18. Ruby Tuesday -The Rolling Stones
19. Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? -The Rolling Stones
20. It’s Over -Roy Orbison
21. Crying -Roy Orbison
22. My Way Home -Scott Walker
23. ’Til The Band Comes In- Scott Walker

Pet Sounds Track-by-track XIII: Caroline No

April 24th, 2016

God Only Knows may be the perfect song, but the end song of Pet Sounds may just trump it for me in terms of musical and emotional resonance.  If pushed , I  would oftenl come back to the song as possibly my favorite by any artist at any time. And that’s not just because it has trains on it. It is still a song that can bring me to tears, and remind one that for every shattered dream, every heartbreaking disappointment, there are still things of incredible beauty around.   I remember getting goosebumps hearing Brian perform it in his 2006 Pet Sounds show at the Adelphi in London last November, especially hitting that last plaintive note at the end of this song.

Caroline No is on the surface a song about a woman who the singer loved who then changed her appearance and other things that the singer found less attractive. At this level, it’s a song that has annoyed at least a few women who will feel that they have the right to change and grow, and their men should move along. And this is a fair point, but one should also look at the song in the light of Brian’s life and the rest of Pet Sounds- here is a man looking for idealised love and acceptance by the world -just think about the emotion of God Only Knows and Wouldn’t It Be Nice- and suddenly the world around him changes and the women who was so beautiful and loving to him has changed, and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. And so Pet Sounds ends, with the singer shattered by the idealised love around him falling apart, reflected in percussive flurry around that last plaintive “Caroline No!”

Of course, there is deeper context here, which may have been conscious or unconscious, but is impossible to ignore given the history of Brian after Pet Sounds. Pet Sounds saw Brian’s own world start to change in a way that would eventually be very telling -for the first time, some of his own band questioned his musical path, and the record company didn’t show full support. We would soon see the ascension to the peak of Good Vibrations, the flame-out of SMiLE, and the gradual retreat thereafter. The train at the end seems to show a movement on to a different -and very uncertain place -and we’re not sure whether Brian wanted to go for the ride. Banana and Louie bark…and then the record ends.

In a way, Caroline No, that short plaintive song at the end of Pet Sounds may just be the pivotal song of Brian’s whole career (and in a strangely appropriate way also his first solo single). It is a song that I think many people (men and women) have lived and felt in their own lives. And it would certainly be one of the first songs I would be grabbing if I knew I was stranded on that mythical desert island.

So Tired Of Saying Goodbye

April 22nd, 2016

Prince in 2009 The first four months of 2016 have seen so many losses that one can’t  now explain it actuarially or any other way that seems to be rational. While I can’t claim to be a Prince fan, he was an undeniable talent, taken at a tragically early age. Not only did he play the role of musician, producer, writer and singer, but his music cut across a number of styles , and broke many stereotypes.

Pet Sounds Track-by-track XII: Pet Sounds

April 19th, 2016

If Pet Sounds, the track, is Brian’s mind set to music (and remember, this is Brian’s pet sound), then the one word that comes to mind is restlessness. The album’s other instrumental, Let’s Go Away For Awhile evokes an escape into a peaceful paradise, this track seems to be a restless run away from something or somebody. This is probably due to the piece’s origin as a James Bond type theme (even called Run James Run) but it also fits very well into sense of confusion, reflection and loss that marks the rather down end part of Pet Sounds.

Musically, it s notable for the innovative percussion that really drives the track- and the piece really came alive when Brian performed this song -well, Brian’s band did, with Brian able to sit back and enjoy his creation really take wings.

Everyday I Write The Book

April 16th, 2016

Centered red circle on a white rectangle

The Pet Sounds 50 tour finished in Japan , with apparent full houses and great audience reactions, but against the dramatic and scary background of Japan’s earthquakes.   I certainly share in Brian’s wishes for love and mercy for all involved. Meanwhile, we have a release date for the new Brian Wilson autobiography I Am Brian Wilson, which is due on October 11 and will supersede the Landy-influenced previous attempt, Wouldn’t It Be Nice.

Pet Sounds Track-by-track XI: I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times

April 14th, 2016

It may be a sugar-coated pill, drenched in harmony and melody, but the eerie theremin is an indicator that this is one of Brian’s most angst-ridden songs. I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times can be seen as a summary, not only of Brian’s life, but of anyone who feels they operate on the outside of what seems to be currently hip and acceptable. In a way, it is symbolic of Pet Sounds less than stellar chart performance and these sense that the group should have stuck to cars and surfing.

The crux of the song comes in the sense of alienation and betrayal when the singer notes “where can I turn when my fair weather friends cop out.” The deepest pain is in the knowledge that this is a battle that needs to be fought alone, and we have moved along way from the spiritual togetherness of God Only Knows.

Of course, Brian was ahead of his times and the belated critical and even commercial success of Pet Sounds is testament to this. Aside from the first use of theremin in rock music, the multi-layered harmonies and mournful melody make this an important part of Brian’s overall canon, and indeed, gave the title to the 1995 documentary on his life. It became one of the highlights of the 2012 Beach Boys reunion as Brian lamented that he wasn’t made for our current era or even the era that Pet Sounds was made. But for the many of us who relate to this song, we know that this is a song for all- time and one of the greatest of all time.