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.

Another Reunion

April 9th, 2016

Please join us as we celebrate 20 years of the Cabin website and chat room. If you don’t have access to the chatroom and would like to join, please message here on the blog.

Pet Sounds Track-by-track X: Here Today

April 5th, 2016

The descent after the idealism and spiritual love of God Only Knows into reality and heartbreak continues with Here Today, a song that sets out in pretty clear terms the reality of love after the sunshine and flowers phase, and that for every new love, there is usually at least one broken heart somewhere. The Beach Boys are known for their “noises” on the early songs- studio chatter and noises that can be heard on the final mix on the song, and this song has some of the most obvious of them, especially during the instrumental break. The resulting effect makes the song sound more “realistic” rather than sloppily recorded.

The other main feature of this song is the highlighting of one of Brian’s key techniques during this “genius” phase -the tempo changes and use of distinct sections of the song. This also fits in very well with the “mixed” feelings that this record evokes.

Pet Sounds Track-by-track IX: I Know There’s An Answer

April 3rd, 2016

The most controversial track on the album- many people know it by the original and alternative title on Hang On To Your Ego, and it was even covered by Frank Black of the Pixies under that name. Apparently certain band members didn’t like the ego loss theme and possible implicit drug use associated with it.

In it’s released form as I Know There’s An Answer, the track works on a number of levels. First of all, it’s a great pop song with an additictive melody. Secondly, it showcases the lead vocal talents of all of Al, Mike and Brian, with the trademark changing of lead vocal that the listener hardly even notices which is a featute of the band. And at a lyrical level, it highlights the loneliness and alientation of the writer – he wants to connect to others around him, but those people have their own problems and insecurities. There is a simple truth in the song – we can’t rely on others to find our own answers, but this song also foreshadows the descent into loss and loneliness that marks the last part of Pet Sounds. It’s a comedown after the bliss of God Only Knows, but maybe it is also reality creeping in.

Pet Sounds Track-by-track VIII: God Only Knows

April 1st, 2016

It was during one of the September 2007 That Lucky Old Sun shows that I realised one of Brian’s fundamental problems. He had just performed God Only Knows to a standing ovation and it made me think – Brian had written the perfect song at age 23 -surely everything else after that would be a let down whatever happened?

Of course, we know that Brian did a lot after God Only Knows, and his achievements since 2000 must rate as a truly great comeback. But God Only Knows has an undefinable quality that must make it surely one of the greatest composing achievements from the human race. It transcends rock, pop, classical and any other genre and invokes the deepest part of all of us – deep, unconditional love for another person and possibly an even deeper spirituality. The arrangement, with the french horn and the “clip clop” sound is completely removed from the rock and roll archetype.

All the elements work perfectly together -Carl’s aching vocal is one of key parts of the song, as is Tony Asher’s lyric and those harmonies from heaven. It may have been brave for Brian to incorporate “God” into the title of the song, but there is real sense of an inspiration from Someone above.

Brian may have not topped this song -and nobody probably has in the subsequent 50years, nor will anyone probably in the next 50 years. Maybe it’s a glimpse of heaven; maybe it’s the sum of all our hopes and fears, but it is a simply brilliant song, and that isn’t opinion. It’s a fact.

Back Through The Opera Glass You See

March 31st, 2016

The Sydney Opera House at dusk.jpgThe Pet Sounds tour has been playing at one of the most iconic venues in the world -the Sydney Opera House. Reviews have been pretty good as well, as one can see here and here. There does seem to be an appreciation, that even if the concerts are not the most technically brilliant, they are major events historically and emotionally.