Tag Archives: The Beach Boys

Classic Albums Revisited: REVOLVER

REVOLVER, The Beatles seventh studio album, just celebrated an impressive 50th anniversary earlier this month. Last night I sat down with my son and listened to in its entirety for the first time in many years. Growing up, REVOLVER was my very first Beatles album. It was one of two CD’s my parents owned for many years which means this is The Beatles album I am most familiar with. Because it was the first time my son Warren had heard an entire Beatles album, I decided to try my best to listen with new ears, not an easy task for an old Beatle-fan like myself.

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For starters, I was surprised at how clean and modern REVOLVER sounds. Sure, this type of rock music isn’t what’s in vogue today, the album could still have easily been released today. I know that this isn’t a new revelation, and is, in fact, the chief aspect that makes The Beatles and their work still so relevant. But I was still nonetheless impressed with how well REVOLVER holds up. I also noted, maybe for the first time, what a fantastic bridge album REVOLVER is between the early “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” Beatles and the drugged out later period. The band is still trading on their moptop image/sound but there is a clear effort to craft songs that are both sonically diverse and that cover meaningful topics outside of merely wanting to hold a girl’s hand and/or being in love. There are, history tells us, several factors that contributed heavily to this evolution in the band’s sound. The first is, of course, the band’s exposure to Bob Dylan, which began a sea change in the band’s writing on RUBBER SOUL released the year before. Lennon, in particular, was increasingly trying to say more with his music thanks to Dylan’s influence. Drugs, specifically LSD, and the psychedelic counter-culture movement also played a tremendous influence on the band and REVOLVER. Lastly, I’d also say that George Harrison meeting Ravi Shankar, how expanded upon and improved Harrison’s sitar playing during the summer of 1966 also heavily influenced REVOLVER.

REVOLVER might also best be described as Harrison’s coming out party. Though his best Beatles-era songs are arguably on ABBEY ROAD, I would argue that it is REVOLVER where it becomes apparent that Harrison is just as good a songwriter as Lennon-McCartney. It’s worth noting that this is the first (and only) time that a Harrison-penned song opens a Beatles album. And what an interesting choice “Taxman” is when you consider the song’s subject matter. This is the first time The Beatles get political and it’s not about war but rather their pocketbooks! I’m not sure I would be aware of the tax situation in the UK during this period of history were in not for this song and The Rolling Stones eventual decision to be tax exiles during the recording of EXILE ON MAIN ST. Interestingly enough, unlike many protest/political songs of the era, “Taxman” is probably the closest song to remain topical even to listeners today.

Though largely considered to be the pop Beatle, the one with the keenest commercial sensibilities, even Paul McCartney gets serious on REVOLVER. True, McCartney (like Lennon) had been maturing in his songwriting with each successive album, REVOLVER features one of his darkest songs ever, “Eleanor Rigby.” Though the song was written in conjunction with Lennon, who often gets credit for being the more artistically-serious Beatle, McCartney came up with the impetus for the song. Listening to “Eleanor Rigby” with fresh ears, I was struck at how hopeless the song’s characters are. That McCartney, a wealthy young rock star, would write such a sensitive song about ordinary, lonely people is still surprising to me. Though the similarly melancholy ballad “Yesterday” gets the lion’s share of accolades, I think “Eleanor Rigby” is the better song. The arrangement is more complicated and the lyrics are more evocative. Without devolving into a simplistic story-song, “Eleanor Rigby” manages to paint the listener a few sad vignettes that cut to the very heart of loneliness and the plight of people society at large has forgotten about. Sure, the song is a bit dramatic, perhaps even a bit melodramatic, but I still get chills listening to the track’s mournful strings.

The Beatles dipped their toes into psychedelic music with “I’m Only Sleeping.” A John Lennon song about the joys of staying in bed, the song features reversed or “backward” guitar tracks, a touchstone of psychedelic music, and has an overall druggy feel to it. The song is one of the few Beatles songs that feature an explicit outsider perspective (“I’m a Loser” might be considered a proto-outsider song, “The Fool on the Hill” is a notable example, as is “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”). Was the world judging Lennon because all he wanted to do was sleep or is the song really about drugs (like most things)? It’s difficult to say. During this period Lennon did reportedly enjoy getting high and staying in bed, but I’ve also read that McCartney had to frequently rouse his writing partner from bed before working on their songs. Also worth noting, the interview Lennon gave around this time in which he famously declared The Beatles “bigger than Jesus” was part of an article that contains a quote from a friend of Lennon’s who declared him the “laziest man in England.” So perhaps “I’m Only Sleeping” really is just about napping in bed. Either way, the song’s inventive use of studio trickery was foreshadowing to surreal sounds the band would capture later on REVOLVER (and in their subsequent albums).

“Love You To” is Harrison’s best song on REVOLVER and one of the most daring songs the band ever produced. Though he’d used the sitar on RUBBER SOUL, to great effect on “Norwegian Wood,” it was this track where Harrison truly brought Indian music to the band’s sound. Using a sitar, a tabla (hand drum), tanpura (a special rhythm instrument), and Harrison created a sound that no doubt sounded otherworldly to the majority of Western listeners of the time. Besides launching a whole new phase of the band’s creative life, “Love You To” single-handedly popularized the genre of World Music. A mix of philosophical noodling and romantic love, the track was the undoubtedly the most sexual song the band had recorded up to that point. Harrison repeatedly states “I’ll make love to you/if you want me to” in the chorus of the song.

Another key influence on The Beatles was Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who’s ghost is all over McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere.” The most obvious Wilson-trademark found in the song are the ethereal backing vocals. But the core of the song, being in love and having that love make you a better person is almost a reflection of the themes found in Wilson’s own “God Only Knows.” Though the songs were written and recorded around the same time, this can’t be accidental, can it? A more nuanced and mature love song, “Here, There and Everywhere” takes a larger view of the impact of romantic love beyond the early pleasures of love’s first blush (like most early Beatles love songs). The track is less about how love makes one feel and more about the impact love has on one’s outlook. I think that this song is probably a better example of The Beatles doing a Beach Boys-esque song than “Back in the USSR,” which is just straight parody. The song is nothing but further proof that the band didn’t exist in a vacuum and took cues from the work their peers (besides Dylan).

I can’t tell you how crushed I was when I first learned that “Yellow Submarine” wasn’t actually written by Ringo. The rule for 99.999% of Beatles songs is that whoever is singing lead wrote the track. Sadly, Ringo only wrote two songs during his time with The Beatles, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden.” The song is a fanciful kiddie track that began life as McCartney trying to write both a song for Ringo to sing and a Donovan-esque number. To McCartney’s credit, even though the song is pretty much nonsense, it works wonderfully with Ringo at the helm (pun intended). That this song would later go on to inspire a super-trippy animated film is just icing on the cake. I’d like to hear McCartney sing this one, though I have a hard time imagining what that would be like. It’s odd that two of Ringo’s best known Beatles songs involve the ocean, but then again England is an island and Liverpool is a port city so I suppose it’s not so odd that the boys would have a healthy interest in the sea. I love the song’s goofy little extras, like the crashing wave sound and the ringing bell. Ringo play-acting as a sailor in between verses is also a really nice touch that adds to the song’s theatrical, almost pop-up book-like quality. The Beatles dabbled in so many genres that I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that they ventured into kids music.

“She Said She Said” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” are both ostensibly a dialogue taking place between a man (Lennon) and a woman. “She Said She Said” has a real druggy (acid?) feel to it in which neither party can properly connect or articulate a feeling that they are having. Though the “I know what it’s like to be dead” is definitely the proclamation of chemically altered mind, “I know what it is to be sad” is very real thought/feeling. The juxtaposition between the two has always fascinated me. Is the communication breakdown between the two parties the result of drugs or gender? Who can say? Further complicating matters are the fact that the song was inspired by Henry Fonda, who famously told Lennon at a party “I know what it’s like to be dead.” The song pairs nicely with “And Your Bird Can Sing” which is an indictment against materialism over a personal connection. Both songs share an awesome, iconic opening guitar riff (though “And Your Bird Can Sing” edges out “She Said She Said” in this department). In his book All We Are Saying, author David Sheff quotes Lennon as being dismissive of the song, essentially calling it all style and no substance. I disagree and think Lennon was doing what Lennon often did and disparaged his older work in favor of whatever thing he was doing at the time. The I’ve always really enjoyed the line “You say you’ve seen Seven Wonders/and your bird is green.” That image always stuck with me and I picked up on that line again when I re-listened to the record.

Similarly, “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Into My Life” are very similar McCartney tracks that feel almost like throwbacks to a quainter, simpler time. “Good Day Sunshine” has a very old-timey feel to it, both in its simplicity and with it’s twinkling piano and optimism. In fact, the track wouldn’t be entirely out of place on The Kinks magnum opus VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY. The shining horns on “Got to Get You Into My Life” has a similar effect, though “Got to Get You Into My Life” features a much rougher-sounding vocal performance from McCartney. It’s almost an R&B song and was famously covered by Earth, Wind, & Fire in 1978, so apparently I’m not the only one to pick up on this fact. Paul McCartney has gone on the record to state that “Got to Get You Into My Life” is about marijuana, which I find both perplexing and oddly satisfying. Both tracks share a youthful optimism and exuberance that an older version of the band probably couldn’t pull off. McCartney would later revisit this type of old-fashioned/throwback on The White Album (“Martha My Dear” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”) with diminished results.

“For No One” is one of the band’s most poignant and bare-bones songs. Detailing the end of a relationship, Paul McCartney’s song perfectly captures the sadness one feels when you realize the love is gone. Tastefully understated, the song is memorable for its achingly sad french horn solo near the end. The line “a love that should have lasted years” sounds less accusatory the older I get, which I get is an outside quality that I am bringing to the song. And yet, part of me can’t help but think that McCartney’s choice of words aid this phenomenon by being just a touch vague enough to avoid implying fault on either party. Even Lennon, who could be McCartney’s toughest critic, was a fan of “For No One.” Again, this is another track that lives in the shadow of “Yesterday,” even though I think it does essentially the same thing but better.

Much like “Got to Get You Into My Life,” the song “Dr. Robert” was about drugs. Though the latter was more obviously about drugs than the former, it’s still a bit of a secret drug song. A bit cornball in comparison to many of the band’s other drug songs, “Dr. Robert” is important because it’s ostensibly about the doctor that supplied the band with their first acid trip (a dentist who laced the band’s coffee with the drug after dinner one evening). This track is most notable (in my opinion) for the almost hypnotic quality applied to the lyrics”well, well well you’re feeling fine.” Despite not being as colorful as the band’s later substance songs, this one key feature of the song puts above most other songs of a similar theme recorded by other artists at the time.

The last Harrison-penned song on REVOLVER, “I Want To Tell You” is almost a rallying cry for his creativity. While not exactly stifled, Harrison also didn’t receive the full support of McCartney and Lennon when it came to his songs. “I Want To Tell You” is all about having a tremendous torrent of things to say and the struggle with which Harrison (and really all of us) have trying to express ourselves. There’s a dash of mysticism running through the song, no doubt an influence from his intense studying of all things Eastern. “I Want To Tell You” is a great song because even though it covers a very heady, intellectual topic, the song is still very humble in its presentation (almost low-key in many respects). While not Harrison’s best song, I’d say it was the most emblematic of who he was as an artist and as an individual: highly intellectual with a down-to-earth quality, mystical with an aura of practicality.

The final track on the album is also the best. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a tour de force and easily in my top 5 of all-time Beatles songs. Everything about this song is crafted perfectly, from the odd effect place on Lennon’s vocals to the Indian-influenced drum pattern that Ringo uses. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is probably the first truly great studio track from a band that would soon go on to do nothing but fantastic studio-driven tracks. Using looping tape, The Beatles create an otherworldly soundscape that must have scared the crap out of all the kids tripping on acid the first time they put REVOLVER on. That this is the track to close the album makes the songs feel like an odd, beautiful sunset. The strange, mystical poetry of Lennon’s lyrics are as just a good as anything the man ever wrote. I’m sure this song is highly regarded, but I feel like his later works like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more lauded. And I find that sad in a way, because “Tomorrow Never Knows” is easily the equal of both of those tracks.

Perhaps I don’t run in the right crowds, but I feel like REVOLVER is almost a forgotten masterpiece by The Beatles. RUBBER SOUL is usually the transitional Beatles record that gets the most attention, which is a shame because I think REVOLVER is the superior album. Straddling the line perfectly between both periods of the band’s creative life, REVOLVER has everything one thinks of when they think of The Beatles.

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GOOD TIMES! by The Monkees

Can somebody please tell me when it was that nostalgia became such a huge commodity? I don’t remember there being so much reverence for the past when I was a wee lad. Sometime in the 1990’s when they started adapting shows like The Brady Bunch and Lost in Space into feature films is when I became aware of nostalgia for the first time. I used to think it was kinda sad/lame, but now that I’m turning into an old fart I’m beginning to see the appeal. Anyway, I bring all this up because when I first heard that The Monkees were going to put out a new album in 2016, I was pretty much nonplussed but I could smell the nostalgia in the air. These long lost reunions never yield anything close to good, so I wrote the whole concept of a new Monkees album off.

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The Monkees were never really my thing. Besides being too young to watch their television show, I was born in an era where they were considered a joke. A sad, pale corporate imitation of The Beatles. Growing up I was a Beatle-fan and had no time for The Monkees and their less-than serious 60’s shtick. It wasn’t until I got much older that I learned that while The Monkees weren’t exactly serious musicians, they had a ton of real talent backing them up. People like Carole King and Harry Nilsson were penning songs for the imaginary TV-band. It was around the time that Gorillaz came out that my attitude towards The Monkees started to change. Perhaps I’d judged them too harshly. Less of a band and more of a cultural happening, The Monkees occupy a very strange (very meta) part of 1960’s culture.

So what about this new 2016 album, GOOD TIMES? Well, I got interested in it a bit once I found out that Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne was going to produce the record. Then I found out The Monkees were tapping Andy Partridge of XTC and Rivers Cuomo of Weezer to write songs. Then I heard the album would feature new covers of Harry Nilsson and Carole King songs–and the deal was sealed for me: I had to hear this record. It’s a strange thing to log into your Spotify account and boot up a new album from The Monkees. But that’s the world that we live in now, so that’s what I did a few weeks ago when the album was released. To my shock, GOOD TIMES! is a fantastic pop album that’s a ton of fun to listen to. Is this groundbreaking, earth-shattering music? No. Is GOOD TIMES! a soul-lifting, life-inspiring album that reaffirmed my love of music? Not quite. Is it the best Monkees album of all time? Yeah, it is.

I realize that statement, “best Monkees album of all time,” might seem like faint praise…because it is…but remember this is band that put out “Last Train to Clarksville.” While not the greatest song of all time, “Last Train To Clarksville” is a one of the better bubblegum pop songs from any decade, not just the decade when Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney were at their pop zenith.

GOOD TIMES! opens with Nilsson’s “Good Time,” a soulful, sweaty party song. Lead singer Davy Jones has sadly left us, so Micky Dolenz does most of the singing (though Jones does appear posthumously on one track, the Neil Diamond-penned “Love to Love”).

“You Bring the Summer” is a lovely, charming pop ditty that recalls the quaint, innocent teenybopper party songs of the early 1960’s (read: before the drugs really hit). Written by Andy Partridge, the track sounds like it’d belong on the gentler-side of one of his Dukes of Stratosphere recordings. There are a couple of odd British phrases (i.e. “sun cream” rather than “sun screen”) that add a glaze of weirdness to an otherwise basic (albeit very proficient) pop song. Rivers Cuomo’s song “She Makes Me Laugh” is easily the best song on the album, a sunny song of love and devotion. The track artfully blends Beatle-esque rock with Beach Boys-like backing vocals. This is the sort of song you hear and when you get to the end you hit “repeat” so you can go again. The only part of “She Makes Me Laugh” that bums me out is the fact that Rivers isn’t able to conjure up a song like this for Weezer. Whatever happened to Mr. Cuomo and Co. can’t be blamed on a lack of talent–Cuomo can still write a really great song. I guess there’s always the next Weezer album, but I digress…

Another really great track is “Me & Magdalena,” a soft ballad written by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. The song has a dreamy, twilight feel that’s very comforting…it took me a few listens before I picked up on the fact that the song is ostensibly about death/dying. It’s not the buzzkill that you’d think and is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the material on the album (i.e. it’s more than just a fun pop song). This song is so good, in fact, it’s got me thinking I need to revisit Death Cab (a band that I never really gave a fair shake to if I’m being honest).

“Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” the strangest track on the record, has the most interesting pedigree. Written by Oasis founder Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller of The Jam, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” is weird. There are weird vocal effects and the song yo-yos between faux-psychedelia and campfire sing-a-long. The first time I heard it I was convince that it was the worst song on the record. Then I saw that it was written by two to of the best British songwriters of the last 30 years, so I gave the track another chance. Then I gave it another chance. And another. Eventually the song wove it’s magic on me and it’s one of my favorites on the record. But like “Me & Magdalena” it doesn’t feel like a Monkees track, it’s a bit of an outlier. But that’s a good thing.

“Wasn’t Born To Follow”is a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song that was most famously covered by The Byrds. The song has a pastoral, Kinks-like quality that I really dig. Like the Harry Nilsson track that opens the album, this older song is less bubblegum than those written by the youngbloods. It would have been interesting to hear an album of just these type of songs. I found the tonal shifting with these more meaningful songs and the new bubblegum was a bit dizzying. GOOD TIMES! is front-loaded with new, sugary songs and ends on decidedly more adult fare.

Overall, GOOD TIMES! is…well…a really good time! A handful of these songs will probably haunt my playlists for years to come. I wouldn’t call this an all-timer by any means, but for a 2016 Monkees album, GOOD TIMES! is pretty outstanding. Worth noting, there a bunch of non-album tracks that one can hear depending on the venue by which they consume the record. On Spotify/digital streaming services, the bonus tracks are “Terrifying” written by Zach Rogue of Rouge Wave and an electric uptempo version of “Me & Magdalena.” I’m not a fan of the latter, but “Terrifying” is damn good and probably should have been included on the album proper. I’m half tempted to seek out the other bonus tracks just to see what other fantastic nuggets were omitted.

Put aside your preconceived notions and give GOOD TIMES! a shot if you’re a fan of any of the songwriters mentioned above and/or if you’re a fan of old-fashioned pop music.

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Everybody Drowns Sad And Lonely: I *Heart* Beulah

Other than Nirvana, I can’t think of another band besides Beulah that makes being depressed sound like so much fun. The sunny, wistful sound Beulah made in their very short life as a band still haunts me to this day. I discovered Beulah back in early 2002 while on a lunch break. The band had released their album THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR in September 2001 (yes, it came out on 9/11) and the music magazine I was reading had the album prominently placed on several of the staff’s best of the year lists.

At the time, I was really into The Apples In Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel, bands who had formed this weird collective called The Elephant 6 Recording Company. This collective was really just a group of music nerds that revered pop music of the 1960s, specifically The Beach Boys. The whole thing was out of Denver, Colorado, which I find a bit amusing, as this is where I now live.

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Anyway, The Elephant 6 Recording Company had a lot of mystical sway with my early 20-something mind. When I saw Beulah’s album THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR show up on a bunch of “Best of 2001” lists I was mildly curious. When a more than one review mentioned the Beatles/Beach Boys-like quality to their songs, I was intrigued. But when I found out that they were part of the Elephant 6 I knew I had no choice but to get their album.

It wasn’t just me that took notice of the band, THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR is/was the band’s biggest album. This is thanks to the album’s slicker, more refined production and an abnormal (for modern indie pop) use of horns. Ah, the horns. The horns add an extra layer of sweet icing to songs laced with bile and bitterness.

Beulah, at first blush, lulls the listener with golden harmonies and the sunny melodies. But all that sweet sound belies the dark, murky complexity of singer-songwriter Mike Kurosky’s lyrics. Rife with Brian Wilsonian-angst and anxiety, Kuroksy always seems to be on the verge of cutting the poetic bullshit and telling us how he really feels. But he never really does. Instead, we get gorgeous hook-filled pop gems. Gorgeous pop gems that raise an eyebrow and give the listener pause as they wonder: is this song really about…that? Holy shit, that’s kinda fucked up. The best part is that these bright, shining songs with such dark undertones also stick inside your head for weeks upon end.

When I get to California  Gonna write my name in the sand  I'm gonna lay this body down  And watch the waves roll in

When I get to California
Gonna write my name in the sand
I’m gonna lay this body down
And watch the waves roll in

Of course THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR’S most well known song is the most straightforward: “Popular Mechanics for Lovers.” You’ve heard it, even if you’re not aware that you’ve heard it. About a year after THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR was released the song was ubiquitous, appearing on the soundtracks of many sappy TV shows and in at least one car commercial. I often wonder how many of those ad/TV executives took the time to really listen to the lyrics. There is a lot of dark shit in “Popular Mechanics for Lovers.”

Such as:

 “Just because he loves you too

He would never take a bullet for you

Don’t believe a word he says

He would never cut his heart out for you”

 THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR can only be described as a sublime musical experience. I still get goose bumps when listening to “What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?” The song compares a slide into inevitable depression to the end of summer vacation. All the drugs, all the women, all the smiles don’t mean anything once the darkness comes. Kurosky is telling this to someone but the uncomfortable reality is that he’s telling this to himself. He’s telling this to us:

“Will you be alright when you’re in the shade?

Tell me tell me you’ll be alright

When you start to fade

Have you heard?

The days are getting shorter

And what will you do when your suntan is fading and the summer’s gone?

Do you feel afraid?”

My favorite track on the album is the staggeringly awesome “Gene Autry.” An epic, rambling song, “Gene Autry” is both about the legendary singing cowboy and also about the ugly beauty and promise that is California. A land of milk and honey, but also one full of loneliness and hopelessness. The chorus of this song is: “That the city spreads out, just like a cut vein, everybody drowns, sad and lonely.” Every time I hear “Gene Autry” the song punches me in the guts. I’m amazed that something so unbearably sad can make me feel so exhilaratingly happy.

I like to think that my feelings of despair are driven away by the fact that I recognize a lot of my own personal hang-ups and sorrow in Beulah’s music. The band doesn’t sing about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band they are Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band! But the more likely source of my euphoria is really just the result of the band’s upbeat delivery and extreme musical craftsmanship. Oppressive sadness extends into Beulah’s other albums, but it’s never quite as bright and shiny as it is on THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR. And while it’s not my favorite album of theirs (that would be YOKO, the 2003 album that broke them up), THE COAST IS NEVER CLEAR is my favorite Beulah album to be sad with.

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ROCK ‘N READ: THE WRECKING CREW

Kent Hartman’s book The Wrecking Crew is one of those books I’d heard a lot about and had been meaning to read for a long time.  Well, I finally got off my duff and read it, and I’m glad I did.  The book is about the dirty little secret of 1960’s music industry wherein a group of ultra-talent studio musicians secretly played on a great majority of rock ‘n roll records.  This group, known as The Wrecking Crew, was not credited on the liner notes of the records they played. Thus, the public was none the wiser that it wasn’t their favorite band playing on their records.

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The Monkees are a well-known example of a band that used The Wrecking Crew.  People perhaps unfairly give The Monkees a hard time because they weren’t playing their own instruments.  Well it turns out, there was a lot of that going around in the 1960’s.   Bands you might not expect, like The Byrds, used The Wrecking Crew.  Record labels had two motivations for using The Wrecking Crew over the actual bands, although really both reasons just come down to money.

The first reason a separate band was used due to simple logistics.  Bands out on tour would have to stop touring in order to venture back into the studio and record.  The Wrecking Crew acted as the recording band, while the band the band’s public face remained on the road.  Secondly, The Wrecking Crew, and musicians like them, were used because a majority of rockers couldn’t play their instruments very well.  At the time, record companies looked down on rock music, and didn’t understand it.  They treated rock recordings like they did jazz or classical music and thought the recordings should be perfect.  Hence, The Wrecking Crew was brought in.

Hartman’s book focuses on a handful of Wrecking Crew musicians, chiefly the more famous members like drummer Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Leon Russell, and Glen Campbell.  I was really surprised to find out that Glen “Rhinestone Cowboy” Campbell was a highly respected guitarist prior to hitting it big with his solo career.  I knew he’d essentially joined The Beach Boys touring band, but I had no idea he played on most of the top hits for the 1960’s.  The Wrecking Crew were all over the radio, playing on hits by diverse acts such as The Mamas & The Papas, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Dean Martin, Sonny & Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Byrds.

It’s unnerving how the Wrecking Crew, while highly paid, weren’t credited for playing on the records they worked on.  Had I been writing about music at the time (as a fan), I would have foolishly thought The Monkees were playing their own instruments.  As I read the book, I kept waiting for the public to find out and become outraged, but that never happened.  Instead, what ended up happening was that as rock evolved a more authentic, rough sound was prized making the technically superior Wrecking Crew unneeded.   The Beatles also had something to do with the demise of the practice of studio musicians subbing for the actual band.  After the Fab Four hit it big, most bands wanted to write and play your own instruments.

The Wrecking Crew is an interesting read but I found the structure of the book somewhat clumsy. Rather use a straight chronological framework Hartman jumps back and forth through time.  The chapters themselves follow a chronology, but within each one Hartman tends of pick a player and give us his back story, which often gives us information we either already know or will be told again in another chapter.  It’s a little nit-pick, but I guess I would have preferred one chapter where we just got everyone’s backstory out-of-the-way, then moved on with the various recordings.  Also, the Wrecking Crew was a pretty large group of people, but the book really only focuses on a few, which was a little disappointing.  I realize not everyone is going to be as interested in the Wrecking Crew’s trumpet players than say, their drummers, but I would have liked a little more diversity in the band members as the book is mainly about guitarists and drummers.

I found it interesting how collaborative the recording process was as time and again members of the Wrecking Crew wound up actually contributing to the writing of songs as well as playing.  I was really surprised when this happened in the chapter devoted to the recording of Simon & Garfunkel’s BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER album.  I still can’t believe that such talented, famous artists would allow regular working-musicians to tinker with their albums.  But time and again Hartman shows us that The Wrecking Crew were more than just musicians, they were the best hired guns in the business.

The book recounts some really interesting nuggets of rock trivia, and is chock-full of juicy insider tidbits.  Most of the really interesting chapters revolve around producer Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, two titans of the studio who really used The Wrecking Crew to their full potential.  The Wrecking Crew is brimming with really interesting anecdotes.  Some of my favorite from the book are:

  • Leon Russell getting pulled over in his new Cadillac by the LAPD and being told to get a “real” job (he was making way more than the cop).
  • Phil Spector’s bodyguards using hand signals to let an angry musician know that Phil had a gun in the studio.                                                                    
  • Unsure how to end “Layla” Eric Clapton overheard drummer Jim Gordon noodling on the piano and decided to use the drummer’s mini-composition to close out the song.  Gordon later when nuts and murdered his mom—that’s write, the guy playing piano at the end of “Layla” stabbed his mother to death.

I highly recommend The Wrecking Crew to anyone with even a passing interest in early rock music and the music business of the 1960’s. The book’s a nice, quick read and would make a great gift for any music fan.

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Aping The Beach Boys

 

Last month, Ben Folds Five released their first new studio album since 1999.   After reading a few favorable-to-glowing reviews, I decided to check out the new album despite being a casual fan of the group.  To my great joy, THE SOUND OF THE LIFE OF THE MIND is a really fantastic album that’s chock full of really good pop songs, I encourage you to seek it out.

The opposite of “Rire and Rain” but not PET SOUNDS.

One song, though, really stood out to me: the second track “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later.”  The song, which begins with drums and very familiar-sounding vocal harmonies instantly made me think of Jellyfish.  Particularly their second album SPILT MILK which my mom got me into durin the 1990’s.  Hypnotized, I found myself listening to the song over and over.

Then, around the 30th listen or so, I had a realization: The Beach Boys.  In this modern age, where artists are paying homage to other artists who were paying tribute to other artists, it can be tricky to trace the musical genealogy of a group or song .  Now that I’ve thought abou it, it’s obvious to me that on “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later”  the band is clearly doing something that goes back to the 1960’s: they’re aping The Beach Boys.

The Beach Boys, as I’m fond of reminding you all, were pioneers in rock music and highly influential.  The band has a stuffy/boring reputation among many young people today, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve written before about my deep love of PET SOUNDS, but beyond that monumental album, the band’s influence can be felt today.  Being such a cultural-touchstone, other bands have been making sly (and sometimes not so sly) references to The Beach Boys in their work.  That this has been going on literally since they achieved their initial popularity in the 1960’s only serves to underscore just how damn important they were/are as a band.

We don’t know how lucky we are, boys.

The first time I can remember thinking “this band is making fun/referencing The Beach Boys” was when I heard The Beatles self-titled double album THE BEATLES (also known as the “White Album”).  The first song of the first album is “Back in the USS,” which is a direct parody of “California Girls.”  The Beach Boy-esque backing vocals are a perfect copy of The Beach Boys, but more than that The Beatles also poke fun at the band’s Apple-Pie/Baseball American-ness with their song’s Soviet Union-theme.  The Beatles were not the first, and they were not the last to ape The Beach Boys however.

Growing up, another band that I was exposed via my parents was REM.  I remember to practically wearing out their cassette of OUT OF TIME when it came out in 1991.  I had no idea what any of the songs were about, but I really liked them all, in particular the fourth track “Near Wild Heaven.”  The song, co-written and sung by bassist Mike Mills, is pretty much a spot-on WILD HONEY-era Beach Boys song.  And like “Back in the USSR,” it’s not the just vocal arrangement that’s referential to the Beach Boys, the lyrics and chords are also reminiscent of the band.  Looking back on it now, I think it’s weird that one of my all-time favorite REM songs is really just them riffing ironically on The Beach Boys. 

Not near enough…

English rockers XTC recorded a series of albums as their alter-egos The Dukes of Stratosphear and recorded “Pale and Precious,” a song that channels Wilson’s PET SOUNDS and SMILE-era lush production so well it borderlines on plagiarism. I feel weird mentioning the song because The Dukes were sort of a jokey-novelty, but “Pale and Precious” is too good to ignore.  Many people think these over-the-top homages are cheap, easy ripoffs but the amount of detail and knowledge required to create what essentially amounts to a “lost” Beach Boys song is incredible.  Anyone who willing to disregard the artistic merits of “Pale and Precious” can should try their hand at writing such a loving tribute–I have a feeling it’s harder than Andy Partridge makes it look.

Alt-rockers Everclear started their third album, SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW, with a massive Beach Boys nod on the album’s title track “So Much For The Afterglow.”  The song has an opening so Beach Boy-esque that when it comes on when I shuffle my iTunes I always mistake it for an actual Beach Boys song.  Jellyfish likewise opened their second album, the before-mentioned SPILT MILK, with “Hush” a lovely lullaby that exists thanks to The Beach Boys.

Sounds like The Beach Boys drunk on everclear.

Much like there are for The Beatles, there are a large contingent of modern bands who’s primary influence is The Beach Boys.  I vividly recall when California rockers Rooney broke onto the scene and were hailed by (the then-still somewhat musical) MTV as the “modern Beach Boys.”  The comparison wasn’t completely off-base, though I don’t think Rooney is as strongly connected to The Beach Boys as say,  South Carolina rockers The Explorers Club.   The Explorer’s Club have managed to cultivate a small, but growing fanbase with their supremely Beach Boys-like pop sound.  I  particularly enjoy their song “Run Run Run” of their most recent album GRAND HOTEL, which sounds like an eerily like an early 1970’s Beach Boy number.

This is a fantastic album, you should check it out.

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then Brian Wilson & Company must feel very flattered indeed.  It’s one thing to write a good song, it’s another thing to invent a unique style that others copy and build upon.  Below is a Spotify-playlist I’ve started for this interesting sub-sub-sub-genre of music, if you are a Spotify user please feel free to add songs you think fit into the category of Aping The Beach Boys. I’d be interested to see how massive the list can get.

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“God Only Knows” What I’d Be Without This Coaster

Check out this sweet drink coaster I bought from Vintage Vinyl (which is only the sweetest St. Louis record store):

This, children, is called “recycling.”

That’s the center of a beach boys LP glued to a piece of cork.  They’re selling a bunch of these, all made from various (and I assumed unplayable) records.

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Your Next Favorite Band: Jellyfish

They say that stars that burn twice as bright burn half as long.  I want to introduce you to a really amazing power-pop band from the 1990’s, but before I do I must warn you: they only put out two records.  If you’re the kind of person that obsesses over really awesome shit that never got its proper due, maybe you should sit this one out.  Jellyfish was a band that I grew up with and to this day I still love them and smile whenever I hear one of their songs.  I’ve met precious few people who’ve even heard of them (or can remember them) and that’s a real shame because they put out two damn near perfect records.

A word about “power-pop.”  I really feel stupid using that term and not just because it sounds like a super-caffeinated soft drink.  In general, I really dislike the concept of “genre.” But I must admit that it does serve as a nice bit of short-hand when you’re trying to talk to people so I’m going to use the term “power-pop.”  Power-pop is basically rock music that features strong lyrical hooks and big guitar riffs.  Melodies and harmonies are also really important in power-pop.  A lot of the British invasion-era rock could be considered power-pop, but for the most part the term is applied to bands that came after/were influenced by those bands.  So The Beatles are not considered power-pop but Badfinger (who came later and are basically the same band) are power-pop.

BELLYBUTTON-era Jellyfish. Awesome musicians with terrible fashion sense.

Jellyfish was formed in 1989 in San Francisco, California. The band had several members over the years but the foundation of the band was two super-talented, multi-instrumentalists: Andy Sturmer and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.*  Andy was primarily the drummer and Roger played keyboards.   For their first album, Roger and Andy were joined by bassist Chris Manning a duty that was also shared by Steven Shane McDonald (of Redd Kross-fame, another great power-pop band from this era) and guitarist Jason Falkner.  To say that these  lads had talent is the worst kind of understatement–there really were four geniuses in the band. And while that helped make the first Jellyfish album, BELLYBUTTON, an instant-classic…it also lead to a lot of tension.

BELLYBUTTON came out in 1990 and was met with moderate success.  The album spawned three singles, “The King Is Half-Undressed,” “That Is Why,” and “Baby’s Coming Back.”   Some quirky music videos and a funky day-glo image helped get people’s attention, though the band was never a true household name.  BELLYBUTTON’s sound is one of lush harmonies and catchy-as-hell choruses.  The Beatles and Beach Boys are all over this record (they even mention The Beatles by name in  “All I Want Is Everything”). And while the band doesn’t ever quite go full-on psychedelic, they get close.  It’s a bit difficult to say “this is what Jellyfish sounds like” because like late-period Beatles (and super-druggy Brian Wilson), Jellyfish experiment with different sounds and instruments.

Among the kaleidoscope of 1960’s-ish sounds there are are two really nice ballads, “I Wanna Stay Home” and “Calling Sarah.”  “I Wanna Stay Home” in particular almost sounds like it belongs on a totally different record.  It’s a very sincere song that’s about having to go even though you just want to say home.  The very next song “She Still Loves Him” is a haunting tale about an abusive relationship, it’s a great song, with some really sharp lyrics and an awesome guitar solo…but it also feels very odd after “I Wanna Stay Home.”  BELLYBUTTON, while a fantastic record, is not a unified work of art.  Instead it’s more of an awesome Frankenstein’s Monster of a record, with a bunch of really awesome bits sown together.   There are a ton of really nice little details that really don’t appreciate on the first few listens.  Some of my favorites include: the nice trumpet part at the beginning of “Bedspring Kiss”, the faux-live effect/crowd sound on the Cheap Trick-like “All I Want Is Everything”**, and the dreamy piano noodling that plays before “She Still Loves Him.”

In 1993 the band put out their second album SPILT MILK.  This album sadly did not feature most of the band from the first record–gone was everyone but Sturmer and Manning Jr.  A new bassist, Tim Smith, was added to the mix along with a few session guitarists.  Despite the change in personnel, I actually prefer SPILT MILK and think it’s the stronger of the two records.  SPILT MILK is interesting because Jellyfish takes the 1960’s British-Pop aesthetics of BELLYBUTTON and apply a thick coating of Glam Rock.  What you get is something that sounds like Queen-by-way-of-The Beatles.  Oddly enough, despite losing their guitarists, SPILT MILK also has way better guitar parts/solos, though Roger Manning’s keyboards do wind up taking a more prominent role.  SPILT MILK is full of such dualities: it’s a keyboard album with awesome guitars, dark and angry but has a playful song about masturbation (“He’s My Best Friend”).

The album opens with the quiet, lullaby-like “Hush” which ironically leads into the explosive “Joining A Fanclub.” I can’t say enough about how awesome “Joining A Fanclub” is.  Ostensibly about the dangers of stardom and hero worship, the songs is a really headbangger.  It’s the kind of song you hear while driving and it causes you to get a speeding ticket.  Every time I hear it I think about Robert Downey Jr. (who at the time this song was written was constantly getting into trouble with the law).  I also really love “New Mistake” with it’s twisty-lyrics about an “oops” pregnancy–the best part? At the end the baby grows up and marries a pop singer (because it’s time for her to make her “first mistake.”).  This is the kind of song that keep me up at night it’s so awesome.  I almost don’t believe it was crafted by mere mortals.  I also can’t help but marvel at “The Ghost Of Number One” which seems to poke fun at the fact that the band knew that they weren’t going to reach the level of success that they deserved.

Like BELLYBUTTON, Jellyfish’s second record also features some interesting experimentation. I’m confident that I’d never been exposed to Klezmer music*** before I heard “Bye Bye Bye.”  That song alone is worth the purchase price of the album, it’s simply a stunningly awesome song, and was definitely not something you heard on the radio in 1993 (or hell today for that matter).  The album ends with the magnificent, circus-themed “Brighter Day.” The song is a fantastic way to close the record and unfortunately the recording career of Jellyfish.  And when it ends all you want to do is start the whole thing over again. 

So what happened? Well a lack of success and bruised egos led Jellyfish to die an unglamorous death, alone and relatively unmourned.  Jason Falkner and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. both have had relatively successful solo-careers (Falkner in particular has recorded some amazing records).  Lead-singer Andy Sturmer gave up being in bands and is how a producer.  Over the years the band has developed a somewhat cult-following online.  I wrote my one and only Wikipedia entry in 2006 when a greatest-hits compilation called BEST! was released.  It’s not a very long article, more like an album stub but for some reason I felt compelled to write it.  Jellyfish is one of those bands I simply can’t imagine living without and it bums me out that so few people are aware of them.  I highly, highly recommend Jellyfish. 

 

ENDNOTES:

*Fun fact, the “Jr.” had to be added to Roger’s professional name because it turned out there already WAS a semi-not-really famous musician named Roger Joseph Manning.  What are the chances of such a thing?  Now go win that super-obscure power-pop bar-trivia.

 

**It sounds like LIVE AT BUDOKAN, get it?

 

***Jewish Eastern European music. It’s as awesome as it sounds. 

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THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO

Upon first hearing that the newly re-formed Beach Boys were recording a new album all I could do was smirk. Not in the playful, nice way but in the jaded slightly/evil manner. I didn’t want them to fail in their latest creative endeavor, I was just highly skeptical. The notion of 60+ year-old men still calling themselves The Beach Boys is pretty stupid if you think about it. These aren’t boys, not by a long shot. They’re not even just The Beach Men at this juncture–they’re The Old Beach Men. There’s been a lot of classic-rock bands reuniting (Black Sabbath, Van Hale, et. al) and thus far the results have been predictably mixed. Making matter’s worse is the fact that The Beach Boys have always had a checkered discography, and that’s being kind.

They did it! Those crazy son-of-a-bitches did it.

But before I get to The Beach Boys latest record, THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO (and my reaction to it), I’d like to take a moment to analyze why a band as historic and venerable as The Beach Boys would feel the need to lay it all on the line and record new material. I mean, at this point they can only lose, right? At a certain point our heros are only capable of failure, aren’t they? Brian Wilson could have ate/snorted himself to death after PET SOUNDS came out in the late 1960’s and I’d still think he was a genius. He didn’t need to come out of reunite to prove anything*. And if the album is bad, if THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO turned out to be a festering pile of shit his stock would plummet. PET SOUNDS would still remain but now I’d have this nasty (much fresher) taste in my mouth. As a true fan, I can forgive and ignore my heroes latter-day misses…but the greater music-listening public is much more fickle. And far less forgiving. Stumbling at this point in the career of The Beach Boys might not take away all the shine, but it could seriously tarnish their legacy. I guess the reason why these so-called dinosaurs of rock try to knock one last homerun out of the park is simple: it’s because they can. Sure, money and ballooning mortgage payments are probably a factor. And I suppose a bunch of snot-nosed, spoiled to-the-core-grandkids probably play a part, too. But in the end, Brian Wilson and Mike Love are writing and recording new material because they can. Think about how awesome that must feel–all you have to do is pick up the phone and tell an agent/record executive, “We want to do a new album” and the keys to kingdom are instantly yours, no questions asked. I would say that 99.999% of the artists living in the world today do not have that kind of clout, but would KILL to have that kind of capability. On a certain level I think it’s disrespectful when artists in this position chose to not use this freedom.

So while I’m sure ego and finances have some part in why I now get to write a review of brand-new Beach Boys record, I don’t think that’s the whole story. I think The Beach Boys like being The Beach Boys. And somehow they were able to put aside the bullshit and do what they should have been doing for years; what they were born to do which is write and record pop music. Now that said, before we envy them too terribly much, I think it’s worth pointing out that being The Beach Boys is probably the only thing these old men are really good at doing. From what I’ve read of Brian Wilson’s personal life, being a Beach Boy is pretty much the only truly great thing he ever did. His life, at least until recently (give or take a decade) has been a great shambling train-wreck (I’m looking at you Wilson-Phillips). His music, even as a solo artist has been pretty spotty; being a Beach Boy is his saving grace and ultimately his legacy. I don’t feel that any of us should worship or feel sorry for him (or any of them). Just like I am right-handed and bad at math, Brian Wilson can write fucking amazing melodies and compose beautiful arrangements. It’s not something he chose it’s just how he was made/what he is.

Okay, so I don’t think The Beach Boys set out to merely cash-in on their name (and it’s glorious bag of nostalgia). And I recognize they had more to lose than gain with releasing THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO…that’s all well and good but what do I think about the album? Well for starters, after I got over my bemusement over the fact that they’re still called “The Beach Boys,” the next thing that happened when I heard about this album was that I cringed. I cringed at that awful title. “That’s Why God Made The Radio”? What the hell does that mean? Are The Beach Boys saying that they’re the reason God, THE LORD ALMIGHTY made the RADIO!? I was really nervous as it seemed I they band might have finally gone off their rockers. The hubris I read into the title was thankfully misinterpreted. The title referes to the song by the same name that extolls the bliss of driving around and listening to the radio. “That’s Why God Made The Radio” is a song about a joy that few people of my generation can even comprehend. I won’t say that I forgot about how nice it is to drive around and enjoy the radio, but I hadn’t done it for awhile. Listening to this song made me put the FM back on in my car (that’s a good thing). The song is a basic ode to rock ‘n roll as well. It actually reminded me (a bit) of Argent’s “God Gave Rock ‘n Roll To You” which is another song about thanking the cosmic creator for musical bliss. “That’ s Why God Made The Radio” is a good song and when I heard it my hopes instantly rose for the rest of the album.

In fact, to my surprise, this album turned out pretty damn well. It doesn’t really add or subtract to the legacy of The Beach Boys, but we do get a couple of really good songs (and two fantastic ones). The first fantastic song on THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO is the third song on the album, “Isn’t It Time.” Mercifully credited to the ENTIRE band (The Beach Boys have a nasty history of not giving credit where credit is due) this song is worth the price of the album. On one level it’s a typical (stereotypical?) old-man rock song about how great things used to be and how they can still be great again. I guess on that level it’s an okay song, but as I listen to it, I can’t help but hear The Beach Boys responding to my initial question of “Why did The Beach Boys record a new album?” The answer comes in the lyrics of the third verse:

“The good times never have to end

And now’s the time to let them happen again

And we can have ourselves a blast

The good times they aren’t only in the past”

The sentiment is pure and even though it might be bullshit, I believe it: today can be just as good as yesterday (or whatever day was the best time of your life). To hear older people proclaim this is terribly comforting, especially to this eternal pessimist. This is what great art does, it acts as a buoy for our spirits.

The next track “Spring Vacation” also attempts to explain more concretely how the band reconciled and got back together (all those decades apart were just a super-long winter, I suppose). Maybe I’d dig this song more if it didn’t immediately follow “Isn’t It Time.” “Spring Vacation” doesn’t make my eyes well-up with emotion like “Isn’t It time,” but it’s a decent song I suppose.

The second fantastic song on THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO? This difficult for me to write, as I feel so damn conflicted about it. You see, I’m the sort of Beach Boy fan that likes PET SOUNDS and hates “Kokomo.” If you’re reading this and you like “Kokomo” you’re a terrible person. “Kokomo” is a horribly shitty song. It comes from a dark, dark period in Beach Boys history. The period where Brian was cast off and that bastard Mike Love was running the show, trying to cash-in with a quick-hit. Somehow he lucked out (scum always does float to the top, doesn’t it?) and “Kokomo” got slapped into a movie and it took the world by storm (a shit storm). Anyway I want you to understand that I don’t like Mike Love on a personal level. Everything I’ve read about him paints a picture of a spineless, manipulative, little Napoleon who took advantage of a fragile/abused person (B. Wilson) in order to profit.** So what has Mike Love done on THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO? He’s essentially reworked “Kokomo” as a new track, “Daybreak Over The Ocean.” I knew it from the very first second I heard it. I thought “Holy shit, he’s trying to recapture that hit…he’s trying to do another Kokomo.”

That dick.

And then I listened to it again. And again. And again. Shit, it’s a damn good song. I want to hate this song, but “Daybreak Over The Ocean” makes me love it despite myself. The production isn’t as crappy as the 80’s “Kokomo” and the emotion seems (a bit) more genuine…but it’s essentially “Kokomo.” The way-less-shitty version of “Kokomo.” And even though I don’t like Mike Love, and I detest “Kokomo” I think “Daybreak Over The Ocean” is THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO’s other truly amazing song.

The rest of the album is fair, with only two borderline embarrassing songs (which is actually really good for a Beach Boys record). The first dismal track is “The Private Life of Bill and Sue” which is comically-late attack on reality TV. The song smacks of trying to way too hard at be relevant/. The only way it could have been worse would be if they had rapped the song. Maybe they’re saving that for the next album. The other cringe-inducing moment is “Beaches In Mind” which is not only super-vanilla but littered with the word “fun.” I don’t know about you, but hearing the word “fun” is not the same as having fun. It doesn’t really tell me anything, it’s like “nice.” What the hell is nice? “Beaches In Mind” feels like filler which makes it the more noxious of the two songs–but make no mistake about it, both these songs are pretty bad and I cant’ see myself listening to them again, except maybe by mistake.

I had pretty high expectations for the last track “Summer’s Gone,” mostly because of Wilson’s haunting final track “Caroline No.” I was hoping for something equally memorable, and while it’s not terrible, “Summer’s Gone”*** is no “Caroline No.” It’s got pleasant chimes and a twinkling piano, and at the end we hear the sound of a rain storm come and washes away the album. All in all, it’s a fine song and fitting end to the album, I just was hoping for something a bit…more. And I guess overall that’s the worst thing I can say about THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO: it’s good but I was hoping for a bit more. It’s like I said earlier, our heros at a certain point can only fail. I guess that’s a pretty good problem to have. The Beach Boys might not have hit a homerun with this album, but they certainly didn’t strike out.

“The Really Old Beach Men” didn’t have the same ring to it…

FOOTNOTES:

* And yes, I have a few of his solo-records but it’s not the same thing. Not even his remaining of SMILE is the same as a new “Beach Boys” record.

**Love famously “didn’t get” (i.e. hated) PET SOUNDS and if he’d had his way it probably wouldn’t have been recorded.

*** I would be remiss not to point out that this song is (inexplicably) co-written by Jon Bon Jovi. How or why he was involved with this record is anybody’s guess.

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Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll: All-Time Best Song of Summer

Sometimes there are questions too big for one man. Sometimes, in the search for ultimate truth, we must seek the guidance of others. And then there are times when one wants to increase traffic to one’s blog by actively seeking participation of one’s small readership by stoking the fires of eternal debate…

Yes friends, it’s time to review the lastest statistical disaster I like to call my HIGHLY-UNSCIENTIFIC ROCK POLL!  With the temperatures rising and the days lasting longer, I found myself in a summer mood.  I have a lot of fond memories of sitting by an inflatable kiddie pool listening to the radio.  I also spent an inordinate amount of time driving around the suburbs listening to an assortment of shitty pop stations.  Anyway, summer means many things to many people, which meant choosing an all-time best song of summer wasn’t going to be easy–luckily I had some help this week.

9, 8, 7 and 6 (no votes) “Let’s Go Surfin” and “California Girls”  by The Beach Boys, “Summertimes Blues” by Eddie Cochran, “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, and “Summer Mood” by Best Coast: So I guess I should start off by saying that this poll is full of meddling.  Even though about the same number of people participated in the poll as usual, meddling was up 300% from my last two rock polls.  Initially I only had one Beach Boys song on the list, but one of my relatives on Facebook (where these scientific polls are conducted) asked me to add “Let’s Go Surfin,” which is fine but after I added it–she didn’t vote.  So technically “Let’s Go Surfin” should have one vote, but I’m a stickler for the rules and just commenting on a poll does not equal an actual vote. I’m a Beach Boys fan, as cheesy as 99.999% of their songs are–you have to give them one thing: they own the summer.  They have so many songs about the beach, summer, waves, surfing, riding around in cars, etc. that to exclude them from your summer music mix would be a crime.  “Summer Mood” by Best Coast was my attempt to add something a bit newer (less classic rock-ish) to the poll, though I can see why they got no votes.  I absolutely love Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.”  That song really takes me back to high school and all the things I should have done, could have done…it’s a very bittersweet song and whenever I hear it I think about those high school summers. I’m a bit surprised it didn’t get a vote (I couldn’t vote for it because it makes me a bit sniffly).

“Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran, are you fucking kidding me? No votes? Clearly this poll is unscientific because we all know that song kicks-ass–there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues!!!!

3. “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry: Alright, more meddling, but this was meddling of the welcomed variety.  One of my poll-takers added Mungo Jerry’s laid-back classic to the list, how I forgot this tune I’ll never know.  I heard it again on the radio and it pretty much sums up the summer experience.  I don’t know a thing about Mungo Jerry, and I bet you don’t either, but we’ve all heard the song.  If I could have had two votes I definitely would have voted for this song.  I also love how creepy/fucked up it is towards women.  It’s such a happy-song and then bam! The singer give you advice about how to treat the daughter’s of rich and poor men (“if her daddies rich, take her out for a meal/if her daddies poor, then do what you feel”).  I always like a little creepy in my summer.

2. “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls: Sigh, this was more meddling on the part of my poll-takers.  I guess this is what I get for allowing people to add their own options.  DEMOCRACY: IT JUST DOESN’T WORK.

1. TIE: “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper and “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful: I voted for “Summer in the City” because it’s catchy and a little scary sounding.  That keyboard riff is iconic, you hear it and you instantly know what song your hearing.  Mungo Jerry’s song perfectly captures the easy-going nature of the country in summer  and The Lovin’ Spoonful do the same thing for the city.  Except the city is not easy-going.  The song rhymes “city” with “pity” so  you know dark shit is going on.  Whenever I hear this song I think about that dirty mixture of smog and sweat.

Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” is a fantastic choice for #1 as well.  We’ve all been there–counting down the days until school was out for the summer.  Remember cleaning out your locker? I used to gleefully throw everything away. School is out for the SUMMER!  It’s been a few years since I was “out for summer” so this song has lost a little of it’s appeal, which is kind of sad now that I think about it.  Like “Summer in the City,” “School’s Out” has a dark edge to it as well (what with all the talk about school being blown up and the chuggy-guitar riff). When I think of summer, I don’t think of “dark” or “gritty” so why did these songs end up getting the most votes? I suppose it’s the highly-unscientific nature of the poll, but I also think that as a species we’re attracted to the macabre…even in the middle of summer.

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Best Coast & Wavves: An Indie Rock Love Story

A few weekends ago I saw Tony Scott’s TRUE ROMANCE for the first time (not sure why it took me so long to finally see it). Have you seen this movie? It’s pretty good, if you haven’t you need to check it out. Anyway, in a nutshell it’s about these two completely looney/borderline-psychotic people who fall in love…and into a whole world of trouble. It reminded me of Bethany Cosentino and Nathan Williams. These two kids just belong together, even though it would probably better for them both if they weren’t a couple… I can’t believe how invested I am in their romance. Anyway, Bethany is a band called Best Coast and Nathan fronts a punk-pop-noise band called Wavves. Both hail from California and are full of a kind of youthful vigor and passion that makes me both incredibly happy and sad at the same time.

She and him together (with a photographer).

Let’s go back to 2010. I can’t remember where exactly I was when I first heard Wavves, but somehow I heard them and they blew me away. Wavves is everything I love about rock and punk all rolled up into with a generous sprinkling of killer stoner-riffs and shit-tons of attitude. And not to draw too many comparisons to another famous California band (i.e. The Beach Boys), the lead singer the leader of Wavves (Nathan Williams) wrote about the beach and the ocean–even though he doesn’t swim. I guess that appeals to me because I don’t know how to swim either. The mysticism/idea of the American beach-scene is so appealing to me, even though I’d never take my shirt off in public. Because it’s not about taking your shirt off or swimming. Hell, it’s not even about surfing. It’s about the freedom; the foot-loose-and-fancy-free attitude. It’s also about the notion that all of life can be distilled into a “way of life”, a way of life revolving around beach fires and surfing–that shit appeals to me.

It wasn’t soo after I started listening to Wavves excellent album KING OF THE BEACH that I found out the mysterious Nathan Williams was head-over-heels in love with a cool stoner chick named Bethany Cosentino–who it just so happened, fronted a band of her own called Best Coast. Best Coast and Wavves, could their names be a more perfect match? And their music compliments each other as well. Where he is sour, she is sweet. It’s a bittersweetness, but a sweetness nonetheless. I got her band’s album BEST COAST and found myself liking it just as much as KING OF THE BEACH (though in a different way) . Listening to both albums and knowing that the two are connected is like watching a film in 3-D, it’s not necessary to enjoy the proceedings but it does add an extra dimension to proceedings, and yes…it does make you feel like you are “there.”

Their unwieldy, moody young love is laid bare in both of their records, almost to an embarrassing extent. That these two people, a stoner-skater boi and a cool-ass artist chick, would need each other so much is as startling as it is pedestrian. In a way they’re like an indie version of Romeo and Juliet. Whereas his music is brash and defiant, her’s is wistful and seductive, but even on his KING OF THE BEACH record, there are moments of genuine affection I can’t help assume is directed at Bethany. By themselves Bethany and Nathan are good, but with the help of their love, what they create is amazing. His KING OF THE BEACH album and her BEST COAST album are perfect bookend/yin-and-yangs. They complement each other in ways that only a man and woman in love could. But they are young, famous, and artistic–and their love, while perfect in it’s imperfection, can only last so long. I hope I’m wrong. In fact, even though I’m not religious, I pray that I’m wrong. Having them break-up would be more devastating than if my own parents broke up.

The BEST COAST album is nothing but a giant love letter to Nathan: he doesn’t love her as much as she loves him, she needs him, but he just wants to be friends. He’s a typical young jerk, not willing to give himself completely to her. It’s just how he is. The Wavves album, KING OF THE BEACH is playful, and at times angry and defiant, he’s just having fun and getting stoned…on her weed we find out from listening to the Best Coast album(!). The Wavves album is balls-to-the-walls FUN, whereas the Best Coast album is tortured and a little sad (why won’t he just love her the way she loves him?). In a way, it’s a bit like inhabiting the bodies of two people witnessing the same car accident–both are seeing the same thing but a few key details seem to be fundamentally different based on their individual biases.

there are moments on the Wavves album where we see that Nathan can’t espace Bethany and his feelings for her (like on “Green Eyes”). Watching them fall in love–or rather listening to them–is magical and akin to seeing a younger brother or sister experience love for the first time. I don’t want either of them to get hurt because I like them both, but I know that’s not possible. And yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because that’s just what young people do–they fall in love and get hurt. It’ll make them better people in the end, and probably give us at least three or four awesome Wavves/Best Coast albums worth of material.

The third person of this love triangle–SNACKS the CAT!!!

Best Coast has a new album coming out on Tuesday, and I’m a little worried. The first Best Coast record, BEST COAST, is full of beautifully tortured unrequited love songs…all about Nathan. Now that the two rockers are living in rock-bliss, what kind of record will we get? I mean, I want these kids to be happy, but I also want their records to be badass…and happiness and badass rock are not always the best of friends. But I’m going to reserver judgement until I’ve heard the full record. Perhaps the bliss of young love will surprise me and provide fertile rock material (but I doubt it). It’s a bit of a double-edged sword: I want them to be happy but at the same time I want awesome records that only emotional discontent will provide.

Wavves put out an excellent EP last year (LIFE SUX) but a forthcoming album has me worried. What will Nathan do now that he’s happy? Why does an artist have to be unsatisfied to produce worthwhile art? I don’t make the rules kids, I just live by them. Either way, these two bands have done more than just mythologize the great state of California, they’ve provided me a window back into the tortured world of young love. If you have a heart and love rock and want to relive young (stupid, incredibly destructive) love, then I strongly urge you to check out the stoner-rock-punk shenanigans of Waaves and the echo-y, lovelorn sounds of Best Coast.

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