for a couple of days, my album a day was the beach boys. i took the classic route of listening to the masterpieces smile and pet sounds.
everybody knows the classic beach boys songs. they serve as a background song to our lives in many ways, from movies and commercials to endless radio play, even today on certain stations. we all think we know them.
but i had never sat down and listened to a whole beach boys album before this. what i found there was interesting.
brian wilson is always called a genius. don was made a documentary about him in the early 90s that i sort of remember seeing. i always got the impression that people who make music have a special admiration for brian wilson and what he did, and have always meant to find out for myself why this was.
i assumed it was just because he wrote so many hits. turns out that this is not the whole of why is he so admired.
these albums are pure poetry. there are a few hits on them, like sloop john b, good vibrations, god only knows and wouldn’t it be nice.
wouldn’t it be nice is especially poignant to me, largely because of it’s ironic use in michael moore’s first documentary, roger and me. in that film, an out of work auto worker is talking about driving down the street, on the edge of losing his shit because of all he’s lost, and that song came on the radio. and he’s driving, and singing along and crying like a baby. i saw this film when it came out and i still cannot hear that wonderful, harmonic song without thinking about that auto worker.
the albums are filled with a harmonic lingering that is beautiful and haunting. it’s almost like wilson was collecting musical building blocks, with which he would then assemble the hits. most of the songs are like a soup of harmony, and you can almost hear brian wilson stirring the pot, sweetening it, then having it burst into a catchy melody or at other times, a quiet refrain on the keyboard before it all starts up again.
i’ve heard the song good virbrations a hundred times in my life, but don’t think i appreciated it until i listened to these albums from beginning to end, actually several times over. it’s like a kitchen sink example of everything he experiments with on the album distilled down to one cut. it’s catchy. it’s fun. it’s masterful. it’s a great song.
that’s what brian wilson did. a lot has been made about brian wilson’s mental illness, the cruelty he suffered at the hands of his father and his drug abuse. there was a weird period where he lived with a therapist and was rarely seen. but in every interview i can find with him he just seems like a sweet, lovable ball of talent.
below is one of the harmonic and sweet musical investigations from smile. it’s called wonderful.
the video below has a tremendous story that goes along with it:
january 8, 1965: the beach boys enter the studio to record what will become their second number one hit, help me rhonda. into the session, a drunken murry wilson (brian, carl and dennis’ dad) arrives and proceeds to commandeer the session with psychodrama, scat singing and weepy, abusive melodrama.
the session tape captured it all, and versions of these tapes have been floating around bootlegs for years. the fact that the tapes survived is itself surprising – you can hear brian and murry fighting over the tape recorder controls at the 35:30 mark, murry wanting to stop the recording, with brian ultimately keeping the tape rolling. it’s a good thing that brian won out, because this audio verifies many of the murry wilson horror stories described in the steven gaines book, heroes and villains: the true story of the beach boys.
below is a nice video i found on youtube called the genius of brian wilson.