This post was originally part of an email conversation. Read here for more details.
From: Chris Stoneman
Sent: 17 July 2008 14:27
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Maple, Nicholas; John Klein; Bradbeer, Alexander; Jonathan Odom
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : The Beach Boys
It had to be done at some point, I’m gonna sporadically dive into this whenever I get the chance, and write until my fingers bleed without a second of thought, probably a sentence at a time as the mean people here allow me the odd second to myself. The link. Steve Merrit had a nose. So does Brian Wilson. They also both love melody. Apparently.
Some facts. The Beach Boys are the brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, cousin Mike Love, and schoolfriend Al Jardine. This email will probably end up L O N G. Brian Wilson is a genius. He’s also deaf in one ear because his dad punched him, hence all the music The Beach Boys produced is in mono. If he or any of his brothers were naughty, their father would take off his eye patch, hold their face in front of his gaping eye socket (which had never really healed well), and make them stare into it for a full minute. TRUE. OK, that’s enough facts.
There’s very few bands where this is the case, but with The Beach Boys the best place to start is the greatest hits. You’ll know them all already, but listen to them properly and you’ll fall in love with them for ever. ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is the answer to ‘The Ronettes’ hit ‘Be My Baby’, Brian Wilson’s favourite song of all time. ‘California Girls’ has the most intricate first 20 seconds ever (which most people NEVER notice) and makes up for the songs appalling lyrics (penned by Mike Love of course). ‘Surfer Girl’ shows off Brians amazing falsetto voice, which he was criticized for at the time because it was ‘girly.’ ‘God Only Knows’ is often billed as the greatest song ever (I’m not sure about that, but Carl’s vocal is certainly incredible). And ‘Good Vibrations’ took a year to make, and is officially the most amount of music possible to squeeze onto a record at the time, as shortly afterwards they were forced to invent a new type of vinyl. And is incredible. OK.
The story is long, fascinating, and well worth knowing. Wikipedia it or something, because I really haven’t got time to do it justice, and the facts are amazing enough so it doesn’t have to be told in any imaginative way, hence wiki will suffice. Here’s it in brief sentences though, as I’ve previously written part of this before and it needs to be included.
Beach Boys get popular. Tour world. Make amazing pop. Brian begins to copy producer Phil Spector. Brian explores more interesting paths. Brian takes drugs. Brian quits touring to take more drugs, do more interesting things, and listen to more Phil Spector records. The result is Side 2 of the album ‘Today’. It becomes evident that Mike Love is a c*nt. The Beatles make Rubber Soul in answer to it, and then Revolver. Brian gets jealous ’cause they’re amazing. Brian makes ‘Pet Sounds’. Pet Sounds was/is one of the defining moments in moment pop music, and (obviously) sold poorly. Brian got upset.
Beatles got jealous at Pet Sounds. Beatles copied Brian and quit touring to live in the studio, and made Sgt Pepper. Sgt Pepper was also rather good. Brian starts work on ‘Smile’, a musical journey across America, encompassing it’s soul and spirit in 45 minutes of pop music. Brian continued on Smile. And continued. It is still evident that Mike Love is a c*nt. Leonard Bernstein, famous for his weekly documentaries on classical music and hatred of popular music, visits the world of pop for the first and last time ever, by showing Brian doing this (no visuals for the first few seconds) on national TV. Brian makes an orchestra wear fire helmets while recording music for a song designed to capture ‘fire’ in musical form (to be in the elements suite of the record). Next day a library burns down killing several. Brian blames himself. Brian builds a sandcastle in his house and sits in it for comfort. Brian is now mad. Mike Love is still a c*nt. During this period the other Beach Boys had all successfully managed to grow a beard. Each. Brian stays mad while the Beach Boys tour without him, playing retirement homes on a UK tour in ’73 as they’re popularity wanes. Dennis Wilson get involved with Charles Mansun and is a genius for a short time, but nobody notices.
Then they release a greatest hits. Then they become popular again. Dennis sleeps with Mike Love’s daughter ‘just to annoy him’. This is OK because Mike Love is STILL a c*nt. Early 80’s, Brian is wheeled out as a fat bloater who hasn’t got out of bed for a decade for a reunion show. But then goes back to bed. Then Dennis gets drunk, goes swimming, and dies. Late 80’s, Beach Boys play Baywatch with Mitch Bucannon. Beach Boys release Kokomo, one of the worst songs ever, but one of their biggest hits. Early 90’s, Carl gets cancer and dies. Mike Love tours with lots of session musicians as ‘The Beach Boys’. Throughout this he continues to be a c*nt.
Mid 90’s, ‘The Wondermints’ form as a band of random individuals who until now are not important. They start to play Beach Boys songs. Brian is told he must see them play. He does. He loves it. He starts to play with them lots, not in a sexual way. Late 90’s, Brian plays Pet Sounds in its entirety for the first time at Royal Festival Hall, London, in one of the most anticipated shows of all time. Grown men weep. They tour, lots. Early 2000’s, The Wondermints convince Brian to start doing Smile stuff. He’s goes a little mad again. Then is OK. Then goes mad. Then is OK. 2003, They finish it and return to Festival Hall to perform it live for the first time. Moments before the show Brian has a minor breakdown and is on the verge of pulling the whole gig. Then Paul McCartney hears of this, goes backstage, tells him it’ll all be OK, and ushers Brian to the stage. Grown men weep. Again. 4 nights later Chris Stoneman sees them play in Bristol. He is a bit of a mess, and weeps. They tour the world. They play Glastonbury. It’s amazing.
They still tour but don’t do Smile in its entirety as Brian is still a little mad. 2008, people notice that Dennis Wilson was also a genius and they re-release his only album. It’s not the end, though I doubt much else of note will happen …….. Mike Love will always be a c*nt though, and will probably die one day.
Music to listen to:
Greatest Hits up until 1976, see above.
Today – listen to the change in mood on Side 2 as the happy pop changes to studio strangeness.
Pet Sounds – listen to how much is CRAMMED (skip to 3 mins on this if you HAVE to, after that if you stop watching you’re a loon) into every song. Carl’s vocal on God Only Knows. Brians touching vocal on ‘Don’t Cry’ and the sad sad admission in ‘I Just wasn’t Made For These Times’, with some amazing lyrics (rare for Brian who couldn’t right the best words, bless him). It took me a long time to fully appreciate this album, just in case it doesn’t hit you straight away.
Smile – its actually worth trawling through the demos from the time, which are on my PC but I probably didn’t give you. The album made recently is still great, though it’s a recording of an incredible idea, rather than the recording of some incredible music, which is a shame.
Sunflower – ‘Tears in the Morning’, ‘All I Wanna Do’, ‘Deidre’ and several others are great (if cheesy), but the real reason to visit this is one of the first Dennis songs called ‘Forever’. With the opening lyric of ‘If every word I said, could make you laugh, I’d talk, Forever’. I saw Brian do this song once in Oxford ’cause it was Dennis’ birthday, and it was amazing.
Surf’s Up – The song not the album. Van Dyke Parks (Brian’s collaborator on Smile, here’s a pic of him and his mates) lyrics at their best. The Brian demo (in the youtube clip) is special, but the Carl vocal done in the early 70’s is also good, though less affecting. The song ‘Disney Girls’ on the album, though actually written by Bruce Johnston (Brian’s replacement), is incredible and will probably play as I walk down the aisle, though of course I’m not enough of a girl to have actually thought about this. Honest.
Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson – stuff like ‘Thoughts of You’ are so heartbreaking, and vocals on stuff like ‘Time’ sound like a dying Johnny Cash.
Kokomo – the song, just for a laugh. To confirm its greatness, it’s the centrepiece for the soundtrack for ‘Cocktail’ that Tom Cruise film. Wow.
I really enjoyed writing this email. It’s a lot to read. Maybe its tube reading rather that work reading. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of short sentences. Ever.