It’s my birthday today and its kind of funny that this cheesy (genius) Beach Boys song has been in my head for weeks. This song accomplishes an incredible goal, merging the corny Mike Love teenage introspection with Brian Wilson’s soaring human introspection. Its a beautiful tune with wonderful harmonies and creeping mature Beatle arrangement methods. I just want to thank all my friends and family who have made this a delightful day. All the best.
“Good Vibrations” was never my favorite Beach Boys song. Its taken me years of casual indifference before I really warmed up to it, and it was only when I found the song’s proverbial sunny side. For years I was turned off by the songs aggressive psychedelic atmosphere. I was always slightly afraid of the dark and foreboding atmosphere going on, but one day I caught the song somewhere, and it just hit me. This is just a gentle song about falling in love, like practically every Beach Boys song. Brian Wilson’s innocent teenage heart, his best songwriting weapon, is in full effect here through a myriad of electro-theremins. “Good Vibrations” was set to be the dynamic first single of Smile, Brian Wilson’s answer to Sgt. Pepper. Unfortunately it would take Brian 40 years or so to finish Smile, a reflection of the intense pressure Brian subjected himself to in the 60s. Luckily Brian successfully over came his demons, came out of his shell, and received all the love he was deserved when his legacy got resurrected in the late 90s. Anyway, I think this is a good point to cap my two week odyssey into the sounds of Southern California, and begin the slow sad goodbye to the summer of love.
After accidentally realizing that he was a musical genius, Brian Wilson stepped up his efforts by the mid 60s. Looking for a more serious direction, he began collaborating with lyricist Tony Asher, who helped interpret Brian’s musical ideas into focused lyrical concepts. The increased level of lyrical and musical sophistication also stretched the limits of what was acceptable in pop music in 1966. There weren’t practically any pop songs from that era with “God” in the title, and putting that word in the title was the source of great anguish to Brian as he was convinced it would ruin the chances of the song being a hit. It was a hit in Europe, but only a minor success in America. The song was an even bigger hit with Wilson’s contemporaries. Paul McCartney has consistently rated “God Only Knows” as his favorite song ever, and it clearly influenced him to keep ramping up his sophisticated brand of mid 60s pop. The song’s success with McCartney might have actually ended up being a negative for Brian’s psyche. McCartney was already busy with Revolver, a masterpiece that would equal, if not surpass Pet Sounds, and nary a year later Paul and the Fabs came out with Sgt. Pepper. There was no way Brian could compete with that level of production, and the pressure to match the Beatles led to his famous nervous breakdown. It’s really too bad because when Brian wasn’t losing his mind, he was one of the greatest songwriters in American history. One last fun fact, its actually Carl Wilson singing the lead vocal on the track. Brian gave his brother the vocal because he liked Carl’s natural delivery on the song. Nice guy that Brian Wilson.
It’s hard to imagine that summer is almost over. I’m actually on my third summer in a row. Just when summer ended in 2011, I jetted for Sydney, and spent 5 months there just as Australia’s summer dawned, fully missing America’s cold months. I returned home in March 2012, just in time for Spring, hence my endless summer. I can’t think of a better way to mourn the loss of summer then with one of the saddest and my most beautiful Beach Boys songs ever, “Surfer Girl.” It’s almost hard to believe that “Surfer Girl” was the first song Brian Wilson wrote. He was 19 years old and the song drifted into his brain on a summer breeze as he drove his car around southern California. “Surfer Girl,” a romantic pop masterpiece, is no slouchy way to begin a career of legendary pop music. The song features all the greatest Beach Boy trademarks; a stunningly nostalgic melody, perfectly constructed harmonies, and wonderful lyrics mixing surfing and love. One last note. I love the emerging trend in these live performances of the shy Brian taking the lead vocal in a band where the hammy Mike Love, who has nothing to do but sing, is sidelined for his much more talented cousin. It’s a fantastic live performance all around, so before you head to the beach, give “Surfer Girl” a spin to remember why you are alive and doing such activities in the first place.
Followers of this site know I have about one billion tributes, breakdowns, and videos of my favorite group ever, the Beatles. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think I am some sort of pasty, Union Jack waving, North Englander filled with way too much national pride. The reality is, that while I am pasty, I’m actually an American from Brooklyn, New York, and you couldn’t get more Brooklyn then honoring the Beach Boys, local lads direct from Coney Island! Just kidding, they are from sunny Hawthorne California, a suburb of Los Angeles. The Beach Boys crested into the hearts of America on harmonies that no one thought possible from 5 young men with rock and roll addictions. Songs like “In My Room,” seem as wholesome as songs can get. The Beach Boys look and sound like a gang of elitist preppy choir boys, which to me, makes the band, and their leader, Brian Wilson, all the more subversive. The Beach Boys projected an image of friendly prettiness, but the beauty of Brian Wilson’s songwriting, which in reality was painstakingly tortured, hinted at something darker and more intimate. Much like his contemporaries John and Paul, Brian accidentally began to realize that just because you write pop music, you can’t really hide your artistic pain behind the veneer of a two minute song written for teenagers. Brian’s discovery allowed him to tap further depths of soul that would inform his later masterpieces. Those masterpieces will be explored later this week as we delve deeper into the wonderful world of Beach Boys music. Stay tuned.
The best discoveries are the ones you make by accident. Just yesterday, my roommate keyed me into letmewatchthis.ch, one of those movie streaming websites of dubious legality. It’s a pretty cool site with a lot of variety of stuff, but new and old. On a lark, I typed in “Beatles” in the search box, and I found something I’ve NEVER seen before. It was a BBC documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band produced in 1992, on the 25th anniversary of its historic 1967 release. This documentary, presented below in 6 parts, excited the hell out of me because it featured insights and interviews, I’ve NEVER seen before, and as an obsessive Beatle fan, I’ve seen nearly EVERYTHING. You’ll see incredible interviews with Paul, George, Ringo, George Martin, and even Brian Wilson, which is interesting because this was the record that caused him to have a mental break down. This is fantastic, and well, worth diving into on your July 4th holiday. Enjoy.
Part 1 – The Beatles had conquered the world, said they were bigger than Jesus, and quit playing live. You get to see the shameful Beatle record burnings, the riot in the Philippines, and the murky underside of Beatlemania. Fun fact I NEVER knew, when George went to India after the Beatles quit touring, Paul actually went to Kenya! Not too many African influences on Sgt. Pepper though…Oh, you also learn how Paul forced the other Beatles to go to work on the new record which gave the other guys a lot of anxiety.
Part 2 – George Martin breaks down the complex insanely awesome production it took to make Strawberry Fields Forever. Plus you get to see the proper Englishman who played the French Horn solo on Penny Lane! Also, Paul gives insight into how he was burned by John when he suggested calling their songwriting team McCartney/Lennon. Hah!
Part 3 – The album concept emerges, the making of the Sgt. Pepper song, and the making of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. This documentary is awesome because its punctuated with George Martin and Paul McCartney in the studio playing keyboards and breaking down the music theory behind the songs. Genius stuff. Oh, and John accidentally takes LSD in the studio and nearly jumps off the roof of Abbey Road studios.
Part 4 – We get insight in the fierce yet productive songwriting competition between John and Paul. George Martin incorrectly gives Paul all the credit for “With A Little Help From My Friends,” while Ringo saves himself from getting pelted by tomatoes. Lastly, you get immortally indispensable insight into the creation of “Within You Without You.”
Part 5 – Paul McCartney admits that Pet Sounds is the biggest influence on Sgt. Pepper. Plus we see poor Brian Wilson admit to how Sgt. Pepper blew him away so much that it made him insane. Phil Collins stops by and talks about another room. Also, we get to see the mythic Cork Flakes commercial that inspired John Lennon’s “Good Morning.”
Part 6- We meet Peter Blake, the designer of the cover, we learn how “A Day in the Life” was constructed, and we see George Martin nearly break down observing its gorgeousness. Ringo attributes his great drumming to be surrounded by 3 frustrated drummers who could only play one style really well. Paul gets the last word talking about how critics predicted the demise of the Beatles, secretly knowing that he was sitting on the masterpiece that was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Part 95 is a double dose of glorious rock and roll. I’ve got the Beach Boys and the Ramones rocking the Bobby Freeman classic, “Do You Wanna Dance?.” In the Beach Boys version, drummer Dennis Wilson takes the lead vocals, and man is he good. Dennis was the only Beach Boy that actually surfed, and like his brothers and cousins, was a fantastic singer. I love the Beach Boys version for their gorgeous harmonies and almost indie rock slacker like take on the song. This video is also hilarious to see Mike Love just dance off on the side not contributing nothing to the song but Beach Boys vibe and attitude. The Ramones version is just as good, if not better. Recorded for Rocket to Russia, the Ramones are shown ripping their version of the song through the halls of Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, the 1979 Roger Corman cult classic. The Beach Boys were always a favorite of the Ramones, and they bring all the high octane distorted punk joy they can to this number, making it one of the greatest covers of all time in my opinion. So, in conclusion, the answer to the question is, yes, I wanna dance…RIGHT NOW!