Tag Archives: The Beach Boys

Album of the Week: “Pet Sounds” – The Beach Boys {Happy 70th Birthday Brian Wilson}

Pet Sounds is one of those albums that deserves every single accolade it receives, and perhaps more. Brian Wilson is one of rock’s certifiable geniuses, and it doesn’t sound that far fetched to suggest he is the closest thing that rock and roll has to a Beethoven or Mozart. Even if Pet Sounds was the only album the Beach Boys ever created, their place in rock and roll history and influence on popular culture would be cemented.

When you think of Pet Sounds, the first thing that comes to mind is the production and melodies. And certainly most of its reputation is staked on that, and with good reason. Even 46 years later, the sonic production that Wilson built is staggering and mind-blowing, especially when you consider the limited technology that was available back in 1966. Each sound is built upon the other, and every single note throughout the album feels perfect. With every listen, Pet Sounds sounds familiar and comforting, but each subsequent listen reveals something more.  I’ve probably listened to the album about 200 hundred times, and each experience has been different and I’ve found myself discovering a vocal part or sound I hadn’t heard before.

Aside from the production and melodies, Wilson was also interested in maturing the Beach Boys’ themes. Gone are the suntanned girls, surfboards and lazy days at the beach. The women are still present, but Wilson ponders his what he would do without love (“God Only Knows”), or what happens when love fades (“Caroline No”).  Even on the opener, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” Wilson looks forward to growing old.  Elsewhere on “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”, Wilson contemplates his own life and place in it.  On Pet Sounds, it seems as if Wilson was purposely covering his emotions and questions in a sonic blanket.

With Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys raised the stakes of what an album could be and what it could sound like. Rock and roll was no longer being confined to just three chords and a bunch of guys banging away in the studio. Even the Beatles (Wilson’s biggest rivals) realized that they had to change things up a bit – which they did when they released Sgt. Pepper the following spring.  It’s still an album thats influence can be heard across genres today – whether they know it or not, any electronic dance musician or rapper who uses samples is taking a page out of Wilson’s book.

 

 

23: The Age of Rock Genius?

I recently turned 30. Somebody asked me if I felt any different, or expected to have a crisis of age.  I don’t feel any different, yet.  If somebody had asked me the same question when I turned 23, I might have answered differently.

Music has always defined much of my life – whether its through albums obsess over, songs I know by heart, or random bits of music trivia.  Because of this, turning 23 was a turning point. 23 was the age when many of my idols made albums that not only defined them, but in some cases rock and roll altogether.

Some of these artists already had established careers, and reached a turning point.  Bob Dylan recorded Bringing it All Back Home at the age of 23 – an album which is a watershed moment in not only his career, but was pivotal in folk and rock. Dylan himself has said that he caught lightning in a bottle during that period, and even now wouldn’t be able to write a song like “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” if he tried.  Similarly, Van Morrison coming off of the success of Them, recorded his immortal and beautiful Astral Weeks, an album that unfolds with each subsequent listen.  Paul McCartney was also 23 when The Beatles recorded Revolver, and much of Sergeant Pepper. 23 was also the age when Brian Wilson created The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which might arguably be the best straight-up pop album ever made.  And who can forget Phil Spector’s beloved Christmas album A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, which released a month shy of his 24th birthday?

For others, 23 was the beginning of a long illustrious career.  Elvis Costello’s debut My Aim Is True, was released in 1977 the year he turned 23.  Though Costello would make better records later on, none of them match the immediacy of that album which combined punk rock with a spirited lyricism.  In 1983, the then 23-year-old Michael Stipe sang and mumbled his way through R.E.M.’s Murmur, which would become a watershed in alternative and college rock.

Though I probably shouldn’t judge myself by what others have done at certain ages, it’s interesting to see how ages can affect people.  23 isn’t quite as romantic as 16 or 17, but in the case of the artists mentioned above it perhaps represents a “make it or break it” moment.  Technically, by the age of 23 you are an adult, but there’s still the fire of youth which is represented in these songs and albums.

 

 

2011: The Year of the Massive Album Re-issue Boxed Set

Though artists have been re-issuing many of their classic albums for years, 2011 seems to be a tipping point for the lavish boxed set.  Many of these sets are price well over a hundred dollars, and some even well above that.  The Beach Boys’ Complete Smile Sessions runs at $140, The Who’s Quadrophenia Director’s Cut Set costs $127, U2 has a “super deluxe” version that is set at $440, and Nirvana’s Nevermind re-issue is a cool $150.  All of these sets are absurdly priced (though I have to admit I do really want the Super Deluxe version of Achtung Baby which is $300 less than the “uber deluxe” and contains much of the same music). But by far the worst offender in this area is Pink Floyd.  Their “immersion” sets of their classic albums costs are listed as $119, and then you can also get the Discovery Boxed Set which contains all of their studio albums remastered.

To diehard collectors and music obsessives many of these sets might be worth every penny. In the case of Quadrophenia and Achtung Baby the music that is contained within the sets offers demos and working versions of the songs found on the original albums.   On the surface,unreleased material by your favorite artist sounds great especially if said artist has broken up, or dead in the case of Nirvana. It might offer a different perspective on an album you’ve been listening to for a long time.  But listening to some of these songs is more like scholarly work. It’s interesting to go back and listening to classic songs in their archaic versions. But for me, alternate versions are something I usually go back to – the exception being Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, but that’s a whole other issue which I could devote numerous posts to.  For the most part, there’s a reason why the albums and songs were release the way they were.  Case in point – I listened to the original mix of Nevermind on Spotify, and the album as we know it, is far superior.

At what point did the artists say to themselves, “Wow some of this shit isn’t so bad after all?” On the other hand, the lister might also say, “you know what?  Some of this shit isn’t so good after all!  No wonder they kept it to themselves for all these years.”

That being said, I am interested in hear Smile, but I think I’ll stick to the double CD version.

Great Songs By Terrible Artists: “The Way” – Fastball

By all rights “The Way” shouldn’t work – there’s too many classic rock influences all jammed into one song.  But it’s so catchy, and so good. The theme of the song is pure Springsteen – traveling and driving to get away, without ever really knowing your destination.  Jesus, it even unfolds like a story just like “The River”.   The organ that plays in the beginning of the song is early 60’s garage rock, and the band clearly have that in mind with their nicely fitted suits, and well groomed side-burns as seen in the video.  And when the guitars finally kick in – it’s The Edge’s delay pedal they’ve found.  This song is destined for a higher calling, and the chorus haven’t even arrived yet!  The harmonies, well try as Fastball may, they’re certainly not the Beach Boys.  But does it matter at this point?

As the drummer bops his head just like Ringo as he plays, you’re smiling too.  And as if you think Fastball has gone too far cramming the entire history of rock into one singular song – they release not one, but TWO rockabilly style solos so perfect that they made Brian Setzer all but disappear!

For all of these reasons, “The Way” earns a spot for one for one of the best single of the 90s.