Tag Archives: Smile

Happy Birthday, Brian Wilson

What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

I can add what a friend of mine said, because he succinctly captured the essence of wonder in a couple of short sentences.

For his son’s 20th birthday, Gary Frenay bought him tickets to see Brian Wilson on Brian’s 69th birthday, a concert in Ottawa, Canada. The band opened the show by having the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to Brian. Per Gary, “what followed was nearly three hours of music by an incredibly talented band, who lovingly supported their aging, but still – at times – quite youthful-sounding, leader. As in all of Brian’s shows over the last 9 years, the show is split into two parts. The first is a greatest hits set, with many rarities and album tracks throw in for the ever-faithful. Then after a break, the second set is his latest album in its entirety. In recent years, these have included Pet Sounds, Smile and That Lucky Old Sun

This tour, the album is Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. While that isn’t my favorite of his recent releases, it really shone as a concert piece, especially with the addition of the string section throughout. Also, Brian was noticeably in better voice for the Gershwin set. Not sure if that’s a matter of warming up, or of the material being in a better range for him. Really sounded strong in the second set.”

You must understand that Gary is a huge fan of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney; his own songs have honed that perfect intersection of their two majestic bands – arguably the best Britain and America had to offer in the 60s. But as we all watch our musical heroes and icons age, we must stop and realize just how incredible it is to see what we’re seeing forty years after the magic. Especially when at some point we all hoped we’d die before we got old.
 
So in the midst of wonderment – let alone the priceless experience of sharing something like that with your child – Gary stopped to smell the roses.
 
Not sure if I’ll get the chance again to see him perform, but really, how amazing is it that he’s still out there, doing dates all over the world, at his age, and with his well-publicized troubled past?”
 
How true. Savor the moments, rock fans. Get off your ass and don’t take anything for granted. Get thee to a club or theatre and live the music.
 
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”
 

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Brian Wilson, Almost

We continue this weekend’s tribute to the yeoman work done by Angelo and crew at Power Pop Criminals with a tip of the cap to Pocket Symphonies To God, the Brian Wilsonesque collection of tunes that feature a whiff of Pet Sounds and/or Smile in their sound.

Once again we’re talking about the influence of Brian Wilson’s music in original songs from artists who obviously have a little sand in their music. One of the best examples of this concept I have ever heard is Pet Soul by Splitsville, a perfect marriage of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney. In real life those two giants were trying to one-up each other, and the Beatles and Beach Boys albums of that period served and volleyed. As you can tell by the name, Splitsville’s hybrid musical opus blended Pet Sounds and Rubber Soul; their brilliant “The Love Song of B. Douglas Wilson” is one of the tracks included here.

(Note: Pet Soul was a free four-track EP first distributed at Poptopia in the late 90’s; you can purchase The Complete Pet Soul and I highly recommend that you do!)

Your Wilsonesque journey will feature appearances by such wonderful artists as Dave Edmunds, Ken Stringfellow, The Wondermints, Jeffrey Foskett, The Paley Brothers, The Nines, Pugwash and The Squires of The Subterrain, household names to most powerpop fans. The music, like the artists, is eclectic and wonderful, and hopefully you will find a new favorite artist or two and support them by buying their music.

So just click here and you’re on your way to Wilsonesque magic!

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Blast From The Past – The Beach Boys

The Sun Is Up...

The Sun Is Up...

Almost a decade ago, Capitol Records started reissuing the Beach Boys titles in two-fer packages, and it was a great opportunity to remember what an incredible run this band had. Like most of the acts that were huge in the 60’s, it was all about pumping out the next hit single ninety days after the last one, so your hits would pass each other on the Top 40 charts and keep up that pulse of dominance.

But like most of those 60’s acts, their zenith came in a short period of time, and as they kept pounding the boards the hits slowed down or dried up, and the albums stopped charting as high – if they charted at all. The live shows, for those who could still muster them, revolved around the legacy of oldies rather than a current, vital presence. And for those who were able to keep the engine running, creativity transformed into sustenance and the compromises that it brings to art.

Sure, The Rolling Stones are still around, but look at their studio output of the past twenty years and you’ll find four albums, only one released in the last twelve years. Even my beloved Kinks haven’t release an album in sixteen years, but at least the band isn’t out there milking it.  With Dennis and Carl sadly gone, The Beach Boys are now splintered, with Brian Wilson trying to patch the holes in his legacy, Al trying to make a living, and Mike doing what he does best – being an assclown. But this release was all about then, not now.

I loved all the releases, but this set held a special place in my heart, because I believe these two were a critical turning point in the band’s history and possibly the reason for their survival. Having grown up on their classic singles, I remember delving into Surf’s Up as a DJ and fielding calls from fans, some of whom were distraught at the direction the band was taking, some (like me) watching a band progress… like an adolescent grows into adulthood.

I wrote the following review for PopMatters in 1990…

Brother Records logo

Two of the more overlooked records in the Beach Boys canon (well, at least to those who swear by either Pet Sounds or the surf/car singles) get their due as part of the reissue of the Brother Records catalogue. Sunflower and Surf’s Up mark the point in time where Brian Wilson’s influence started to shift aside and the other band members began to assert themselves in the studio. Not that Brian is mis-represented; he’s credited on 10 of the 22 tracks, and his “This Whole World” and “Til I Die” might be the best track on each album, respectively (although I’d make a strong case for “Long Promised Road”).

Dennis Wilson is well represented on Sunflower, earning the leadoff track with the rocking “Slip on Through”. “Got to Know the Woman” takes a Jerry Lee Lewis template and slows it to a shuffle, adding doo-wop harmonies, and of course it’s about Dennis’ favorite sport. But “Forever” is simply beautiful, and probably surprised even his brothers. “Our Sweet Love” is a great showcase for Carl’svoice, and the sunny feeling of “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “At My Window” is irresistible. “Cool Cool Water” might be the strongest tie to Pet Sounds or Smile; ending the record with a reminder of just how much Brian has left in the well.

Bruce Johnston’ssongs have always sounded out of place to me—they’re pleasant but always seem to stick out thematically; Sunflower’s “Tears in the Morning” probably more so than “Disney Girls” from Surf’s Up. The ironic placement of “Disney Girls” beside Mike Love’s “Student Demonstration Time” (a lyrical adaptation of “Riot in Cell Block #9”) mirrored the emotions of the band as well as the rapidly-changing American culture as well. Johnston’s ode to the sweetly innocent neighborhood lifestyle of the post-war era was wistful remembrance; Love’s biting lyrics about getting your head cracked open was a bucket of ice water splashing across your face. (Although the band rocks, Brian Wilson stated that he never liked this song; Love probably enjoyed this moment as much as any other.) Al Jardine’s contributions are both child-like and psychedelic. “A Day in the Life of a Tree” still sounds like a funeral march, which in a way, it is. But Carl’s sweet “Feel Flows” and Brian’s introspective “Til I Die” dominate the second half of the record, capped off by the eloquent title track.

The packaging and liner notes are superb—lots of great photos, an informative essay by Timothy White, and faithful reproduction of the original cover art. Why Capitol decided to use the horrible green and purple logo for the CD instead of the superior Brother Records logo (or even the famous Capitol swirl!) is beyond me, but considering how much time this CD will spend inside my player, I guess it really doesn’t matter.

...And So Is The Surf

...And So Is The Surf

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Blast From The Past: The Jayhawks

And so will you when you listen to this album

And so will you when you listen to this album

With the surprising (but exciting!) announcement of The Jayhawks reunion and the release of their new anthology, I’m reminded of how much I love Smile, a work of sheer beauty that is aptly named because it always brings one to my face. Here’s my original review of this classic from May 2000 in Consumable Online…

jayhawks band

Brian Wilson fans, fear not. Despite the record’s title (and a track titled “Mr. Wilson”), The Jayhawks are not trying to usurp your leader or ride his coattails. And for god sakes, naming a record Smile is not blasphemous, although it may have taken balls to do so. Allow me to prescribe this simple task. Listen to the title track – the opening cut on this record – and get swept up in its irresistible, anthemic chorus. Smile? Try not to.

“I love what we used to be, but I’m interested in where else we can go”, Gary Louris is quoted in the band’s bio. And in fifteen years, the band has bent and turned and changed, but never so dramatically as when Mark Olson left the band and Louris’ vision led to the Big Star leanings of 1997’s Sound Of Lies. That baby step is now a confident gait, and if the last record warmed your heart, Smile is Chapter Two of the new direction.

You might be surprised to see Bob Ezrin listed as producer, as his reputation was built on bands like KISS and Alice Cooper. But Ezrin takes no job lightly, and his response to a tape of fifty possible tracks was a three page letter analyzing what each one needed. (Indeed, in an interview last year, Alice Cooper referred to Ezrin as the “sixth member of the band”). The result is a more rhythm-oriented disc, layered with guitars and drums and vocals, but still the essence of the band. “Somewhere In Ohio” starts out like a soft Spring breeze drifting through the window, but then the guitars slam in, and now we’re nose-to-nose with Wilco.

“What Led Me To This Town” and “A Break In The Clouds” find Louris and new keyboardist Jen Gunderman in a vocal duet that would make Gram and Emmylou fans…errr…smile. But “Life Goes By” has Ezrin steering them (and us) into psych-pop territory, more aggressively raucous; wah-wah guitars and percussion driving the song like the Gas Giants or Gin Blossoms might do. Then the brakes are slammed, “Broken Harpoon” centered on the acoustic guitar and the seamless harmony of four vocals fronted by Louris’ lilting lead.

“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is probably the first single, a hybrid of Ronnie Lane and latter-day Fleetwood Mac that might just leapfrog the boyband stranglehold on the airwaves. And if it doesn’t, that’s radio’s loss, not yours. Because ten tracks in, after the rocking “Pretty Thing”, The Jayhawks seal the deal with four killer tracks. “Mr. Wilson” is as lyrically thoughtful as it is musically stimulating, “In My Wildest Dreams” dabbles in folk psychedelia with great success, “Better Days” beautifully brings the spirit of The Band into the year 2000, and “Baby Baby Baby” forges energetic rock, great vocals and a harrowing story into an unforgettable brew that will have you arguing over the replay button and playing the whole damned thing through again start to finish.

Even if you fell on the other side of the fence after the Louris/Olson split, you have to admire this work on its own terms. Olson will no doubt continue to make good music. But The Jayhawks have just hit back-to-back home runs.

The Jayhawks page on Wikipedia

An interesting video for a live version of “Smile”

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Blast From The Past: The Wondermints

Fortunately for us, the profile and accessibility of The Wondermints has increased in leaps and bounds over the past decade. Their association with Brian Wilson has not only paid great dividends for them individually and collectively, but they’re done the impossible by getting Brian out of the sandbox and back onto the stage, and later the recording studio. Wilson and Beach Boy fans should have an altar with Wondermints items on it.

Here’s my original review of their self-titled album issued on (the sorely missed) Big Deal Records.

Tasty Treats!

Tasty Treats!

Years ago, a struggling guitarist named Jimi Hendrix had to break in England before his own homeland would recognize and support his talents. Thirty years later, a Los Angeles band is making ends meet by recording for a Japanese label. Fortunately, Big Deal, a New York label, has licensed the debut record and made it available and affordable for American audiences.

Anyone who has the Hollies tribute Sing Hollies In Reverse (eggBert Records, and if you don’t, stop reading and go buy it now. I’ll wait!) was no doubt enthralled with the version of “You Need Love” – picture perfect pop, the kind that allows you to plunk for a full CD without a moment’s hesitation. I did, and although this is not a pop album with “hit singles” busting out of it, most of it is jaw-dropping great. (Okay, maybe there’s a single – the Posies meet Rubinoos sound of “In A Haze” just kills me.)

“Shine”‘s shuffling beat, bongos and psychedelic guitar will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the deeper side of 60’s records, the meat behind the hit singles (indeed, one could sing Joe South’s “Hush” over this melody and not be far off). “Fleur-de-lis” has all that 1980’s Britpop bounce that will make even cynical heads spin (the piano is straight out of “Oliver’s Army”), but in place of the gruff vocal of an Elvis or Nick there’s the candy-sweet harmonies fans of this band have come to love. Yet it’s not all retrospective – slip “Thought Back” onto Jason Falkner‘s recent release and no one would know the difference – and that’s a compliment!

Brian Wilson supposedly claimed that if he had the Wondermints back in 1967, he “would have taken Smile out on the road”. While post-sandbox Brian has to be taken with a grain of salt (he recently called “Grumpier Old Men” one of the three best movies ever made), one listen to the stunning “Tracy Hide” will confirm that this was said on a day when all the sand grains aligned properly. Hypnotic and haunting, “Tracy Hide” blends the effortless falsetto choruses, harpsichord rhythms, kettle drums and other studio nuances that instantly transport the listener to The Golden Age Of Brian. If this had been the flip side of “Good Vibrations”, no one would have complained.

Besides this record, the band has a couple of (now out of print) singles, and “Carnival Of Souls”, here as the record’s closer, is featured on Yellow Pills #2. The band has also released a CD of cover songs, which – you guessed it – is only available as a Japanese import. Some things never change.

The Wondermints on MySpace

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