The Beach Boys (in watercolor…)
Listen – The Beach Boys – Wake the World – MP3
Listen – The Beach Boys – Passing By – MP3
Greetings all, and welcome to another week of fun and games here at Iron Leg.
The tunes I bring you today is the example of digging a little deeper into a subject that I had unjustly neglected and discovering something revelatory (at least for me).
I’ve discussed my rediscovery and growing appreciation for the music of Brian Wilson in this space a couple of times over the years
Though I always dug the Beach Boys – having worn down a copy of ‘Endless Summer’ as an adolescent, when I got older, and started to collect and study records in earnest, I began to run into a particular species of collector/aficionado, i.e. the Brian Wilson fanatic. These were the people who considered Wilson THE genius of 1960s music, placed up and above the Beatles, which to me was an unforgivable sin. Despite years of reconsideration, it still is, but I’ve come a lot closer to understanding their point of view.
Last summer, in effort to learn a little bit more about Wilson’s work during the Beach Boys era, especially ‘Pet Sounds’ and beyond I picked up ‘Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson’ by Peter Ames Carlin. The book was enlightening, especially in regard to the ever-widening gap between Brian Wilson, the rest of the Beach Boys, and the creative contributions to the band’s sound from both sides of that particular coin. ‘Catch a Wave…’ did nothing to dispel my already low opinion of Mike Love, but it did flesh out my understanding of Brian’s creative life, especially in contrast to his growing psychological problems.
Perhaps the most important effect the book had on my Beach Boys fandom was the introduction (to my ears) of the group’s post-Smile recordings, specifically the ‘Friends’ LP. When I started to read about the record, I headed over to iTunes and picked up the two-fer of ‘Friends’ and 1969’s ‘20/20’. From almost the first note it was obvious to me that I had been missing out on something special, and a few more notes down the line I became aware that a couple of later bands that I dig a lot had spent a lot of time listening to it as well.
‘Friends’ came along at a time when Wilson was becoming untethered, due to both psychological deterioration and the reaction, critical and popular, to what he (and henceforth many others) considered his greatest work. One need only listen to the re-creation of ‘Smile’ to understand how devastating it must have been to have the project fall apart. By the time the band started recording ‘Friends’ in 1968, Mike Love had hopped on the transcendental meditation bandwagon – it shows up in a couple of ‘Friends’ songs, specifically ‘Transcendental Meditation’ (duh..) – and as Brian began to lose hold (of both himself and the band’s music), his fellow Beach Boys started to take more responsibility. Brian only sings lead on four of the album’s twelve songs, with brothers Carl and Dennis, as well as Al Jardine and Mike Love covering the rest. Though Brian is credited with co-writing all but one song on ‘Friends’, the composer credits seem to get longer and longer with every song, including all the other members of the band, and in some instances a number of outsiders.
I was tempted to post a number of songs from the album today, but I figured if you like what you hear you should get yourself a copy of ‘Friends’, since it’s quite literally a lost classic. It’s not well known outside of hardcore Beach Boys fans and didn’t produce a single hit. This isn’t surprising, since there aren’t many songs on it that don’t reflect the band’s descent into SoCal hippiedom. It’s a kinder, gentler Beach Boys you hear on ‘Friends’, with Brian’s Spectorian bombast mostly gone, replaced by the sweet sound of inner reflection. The album is filled with beautiful melodies, and in one instance an amazing, unlikely detour into dissonance (oddly enough on ‘Transcendental Meditation’).
The tunes I bring you today are my favorites on the album, for a number of reasons, first and foremost that they pulled back the curtain on the influence this particular album had on a couple of my favorite modern pop bands, the Sneetches (a group I consider to be the finest pop band of the 80s and 90s) and Jellyfish.
In much the same way my Georgie Fame fandom was forever altered the first time I heard Mose Allison – or in any similar case – when I heard ‘Wake the World’ and ‘Passing By’ for the first time, it was immediately obvious that the Beach Boys had provided bits and pieces of sonic vocabulary employed by both of the aforementioned bands. This is not to suggest that either of those groups had cribbed anything of substance from either ‘Friends’ in general or these two songs specifically, but rather that it was obvious that they had probably heard both and come away from them affected as deeply (or moreso) than I had.
‘Wake the World’ is the second shortest song on ‘Friends’ (‘Meant for You’ is only 40 seconds long), clocking it at just over a minute and a half, but it’s a sweet bit of pop perfection. It features Brian and Carl sharing the lead vocal over a bed of piano, organ and strings, eventually joined in the chorus by a jolly tuba. ‘Friends’ is a very short album, the whole affair running just about 25 minutes, but it’s a great example of economy, packed to the rafters with great hooks and performances, featuring lots of perfectly honed songs. It’s relatively ambitious, but on a much smaller scale than an album like ‘Pet Sounds’. ‘Passing By’ is largely instrumental, though it does feature wordless vocalization by Brian and Al Jardine.
Like I said, if you haven’t heard ‘Friends’ in its entirety, do yourself a favor and grab yourself a copy asap.
PS In case you were wondering, my vinyl copy is a weird ‘record club’ edition (another ‘two-fer’) and I have no idea how ‘Friends’, which was released on Capitol, ended up on Reprise