Brian’s Hidden Beauties CXII: Pacific Coast Highway

April 20th, 2014

On this Easter Sunday, with Rubin Carter passing and much to reflect, my thoughts turn to this masterpiece from the latest Beach Boys album. Here is what I wrote about it some 20 months ago.

Pacific Coast Highway proves that length doesn’t matter – in somewhat less than two minutes and barely fifty words, we get a pocket symphony that mirrors the very depth of the ocean in the title.

It reminds me of Scott Walker’s On Your Own Again, another astonishing, short song of loss. Of course, another invocation is right back at the other end of the Beach Boys’ canon – Lonely Sea.

It has been mentioned that this song has been inspired by the passing of Dennis Wilson, whose life and death was so connected with the Pacific. But overall, the song continues the contrast between beauty and loss, as the singer is inspired by the beauty of a sunset drive on the Pacific Coast Highway, while reflecting on life and losing someone. The realization that “I’m better off alone” is somewhat chilling, but at the same time, maybe you can sense that Brian realizes he needs to find strength in himself, rather than being used by others, after the passing of his close family.

The overall tone of the song is melancholy, but as with the previous song, there is hope, nay joy in the beauty of the track. The end is just about the perfect marriage of musical and lyrical imagery; the sunset on the coast, the stunning melody line, the closing harmony.

It’s a stunning song -following From There To Back Again, the best one-two punch on a Beach Boys record since ‘Til I Die and Surf’s Up. And the knockout blow is still to come….

Brian’s Hidden Beauties CXI: Sacramento

April 17th, 2014

Sacramento Skyline (cropped).jpg

I’m not quite sure why I had this song in mind for the next entry in the “hidden beauties” series ; maybe it was my recent USA trip, but I was a long way from Sacramento. Possibly being in the deep south reminded me of the country-ish touches of the song, maybe it was riding around on American trains.

Regardless of the reasons, Sacramento deserves to be in the list of hidden beauties, both as an example of Brian Wilson doing something a bit different, and just being a great song. Sacramento sees Gary Usher and Brian seemingly trying to write a great classic American song, far removed from the surf, car and Phil Spector sound.  While it was no hit, it certainly succeeds as a minor classic, with a nice melody, arrangement and sentiment in the lyric.  Sacramento may be some distance from Southern California, but it’s worthy detour in Brian Wilson’s oeuvre.

Two Interesting Reads

April 12th, 2014

Endless Summer Quarterly Spring 2014 Edition I’m back from my USA trip (explaining the lack of blogging here), but on my long flight home, I read two interesting magazines -firstly, the regular Endless Summer Quarterly magazine which focused on the 50th anniversary of the mostly brilliant Shut Down Volume 2, as well as some good insights into the recent The Big Beat 1963 digital release.

The other magazine was a Smithsonian collector’s edition covering the Beatles in America – all very appropriate as I was in Washington D.C. for most of my trip. Indeed, the magazine includes the picture of Lennon’s handwritten first USA setlist. A lot of the Beatles ups and downs are associated with America, including Lennon’s assassination, which are all covered here. Despite some incorrect information (Something was not George Harrison’s first song!!) , it’s a good read for anyone interested in the Beatles, and certainly helped a long flight pass quicker.

A Bit Of Beatles History

March 30th, 2014

I am in the USA for conferences, and a short holiday, hence a bit of radio silence on this blog. But I’ve been exposed to a bit of Beatles history at the hotel where my first conference is taking place- the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington D.C. was where the Beatles stayed before their first show in America and there is some memorabilia from this occasion , including John Lennon’s scrawled set list. It’s another nice reminder of these historic musical times from just over 50 years ago.

Brian’s Hidden Beauties CX: Strange World

March 20th, 2014

Here is what I wrote about Strange World, shortly after the song was first released -so this is basically a repost (correcting a few typos)

Strange World is a bridge between the fun-in-the-sun of Beaches In Mind and the emotional-laden and wonderful trio of songs that ends the That’s Why God Made The Radio album – a “John The Baptist” song in a way.

We’re might still be at the beach, but instead of the good times, we see the “uninvited who’ve lost their way.” The track invokes an unsettled world, where people are looking for love and security in a place where things aren’t always what they seem.

The protagonist finds some security in his/her love, which seems to help make some sense of the strangeness out there, but there is still a sense of unease, and a world that will never make sense.

Musically, it’s a solid tune and production, with the lovely touch of a bicycle bell that hearkens back, whether consciously or not, to You Still Believe In Me. Overall, it’s a lovely, quirky Brian Wilson tour, with the additional layer of lovely Beach Boys harmony, and a prophetic entrance to the even greater glories of the next three cuts.

Brian’s Hidden Beauties CIX: Think About The Days

March 14th, 2014

From a hardcore fan’s perspective, the biggest interest in That’s Why God Made The Radio was in the suite of reflective songs at the end of the album. In this respect, it may be quite easy to forget about the rather brilliant, short and sweet piece at the start of the album. Here’s what I wrote just after the album was released about this song

The passing of time, and the cycles of life are a recurring theme of this album, and it is reflected in the title and mood, of the track opener, even although there are no lyrics. It’s a throwback to the genesis, family standing around the piano, harmonizing together.

Of course, a lot of time has passed since those early days, and a veritable flood has passed under that bridge. But the simple beauty of those voices in harmony, the piano and the aching French horn of Probyn Gregory at the end give this album just about the best start possible, and a reminder that Brian and the Beach Boys are more than back, they are here to reclaim their crown as one of the greatest musical acts ever.

With the brilliant juxtaposition of past and present, it’s a good time to induct this piece into Brian’s Hidden Beauties.

Brian’s Hidden Beauties CVIII: Let Him Run Wild

March 7th, 2014

Our “hidden beauties” are still going strong, even although we are well past the 100 mark, and the strength of Brian’s “lesser” catalogue is exhibited well by Let Him Run Wild from the Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) album. This brilliant track may be best known originally as the B-side to California Girls, but has become a fan favorite and created some waves when left off the 1993 box set. Ostensibly, this was because Brian didn’t like his vocal, but there were also hints that the lyrics were very personal in terms of Brian’s own family situation.

Regardless of that, the track was revived by Brian on his Imagination album, and later on the 50th anniversary tour, as well as being restored to box set prominence on Made In California. There may be a bit of Bacharach-esque influence, but there is also a dynamic Brian production and aching tune. One can speculate on how personal the lyrics, but it also speaks to the very universal pain of seeing the girl of your dreams with the “wrong” guy, and this adds to the brilliance of the song.

Only A Minor Classic

March 2nd, 2014

It’s been a few short months since I posted on the previous 50th anniversary Beach Boys release , which was less than a month after the Surfer Girl was released. This was an extremely productive period , and the number of classics on this album indicate that Brian was close to his best, but one does sometime wish that Shut Down Volume 2,  the first Beach Boys album released in the midst of Beatlemania had a bit more quality control.

Any album with Fun Fun Fun, Don’t Worry Baby and utterly magnificent The Warmth Of The Sun would be a classic even if it was filled out with the sound of snoring. And tracks like In The Parkin’ Lot, Keep An Eye On Summer and the cover of Why Do Fools Fall In Love make a pretty good second tier of high quality music.

It’s only when one gets to the cover of Louie Louie, the drum solo of Denny’s Drums and the not-so-funny-after-50-years “Cassius” Love Versus “Sonny” Wilson that one wishes that Brian Wilson had taken the album form as seriously as the Beatles seemed to be.  Imagine if the album included I Do, After The Game and Pamela Jean, three tracks from this era than Brian had “given away.” We would have had an album possibly superior to the Beatles one. Instead, we still have a classic, but an inconsistent one.

Brian’s Hidden Beauties CVII: You Brought It All On Yourself

February 26th, 2014

We’re digging into the obscure end of our hidden beauties today, with a song that is amongst the least known of Brian’s compositions, although also one that has recently got a bit more limelight. You Brought It All On Yourself was first released on the 1983 Honeys album, Ecstasy, with no involvement from Brian. But late last year on The Big Beat 1963, a version from more than 50 years ago was released, with Brian producing the Honeys and fully reclaiming this song.

It’s a punchy, fully-realised production that is a lot stronger than some of the Beach Boys work from that era and indicates that Brian’s studio progression and songwriting were progressing very fast in that era. It may be a very hidden gem, but it’s worth digging out (and not that hard now).

The SMiLE we all needed

February 21st, 2014

1o years ago and a day ago, I experienced history and one of the greatest days of my life. I was privileged to watch the first performance of SMiLE and the evening that Brian Wilson conquered his biggest demon. Indeed, having grabbed tickets just about the instant I heard about the historic performance, I stood meters away as the mystery became reality.

When the SMiLE tour was announced, the reality of Brian performing his great lost work seemed almost too good be true. And when things are too good be true, sometimes they aren’t true. So there was skepticism, combined with excitement as the day came closer. I remember the evening before the show having recurring, vivid dreams about Brian pulling out of the show at the last minute. And as the SMiLE DVD revealed, the rehearsal process for SMiLE was not smooth sailing, with the hurt of the previous failures of SMiLE no doubt haunting him.

The first half of the show went smoothly, with And Your Dream Comes True being a perfect opener. We started to believe the dream was coming true. But at half time, we knew the real game was still ahead, and there was a nervous muted energy. Then the first harmonies of Our Prayer started. It was happening

About 45 minutes later, SMiLE had been completed. And then what must still be the greatest standard ovation in musical history. Tears of joy. And acknowledgement to the co-creator Van Dyke Parks.  Some things are too good to be true.