Tag Archives: the beach boys

Acclaimed Albums – The Beach Boys Today! by The Beach Boys

Like I mentioned with the switch over to the Top 1000 list, there are a number of older albums that I listened to as part of a previous blog. This was back in 2009 … and I think my views on music have changed somewhat. Or maybe not, but hey it’s good to keep crossing these off so for these three weeks will be playing a game of catch-up.

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 310/1000
Title: The Beach Boys Today!
Artist: The Beach Boys
Year: 1965

This is a band who I have previously defended to the hilt in a random drunken argument in a Micklegate chip shop as one of the big influences to come out of the sixties, alongside The Beatles and (if this argument occurred now) The Rolling Stones. It was one of those standard arguments, the guy said that all this music was terrible, then I chimed in saying how Queen, his favourite band, wouldn’t have made the music that they made. This of course a bit of aggravation on his part but it’s a truism that I maintain to this day.

I will be the first to admit that for my third term in university I had a bit of a love affair with Pet Sounds and yet I never really gave any of their albums a proper go. Thus I commenced my listening to Today! with complete gusto and the pay-off was almost immediate as I leapt into the happy summer half of the album that sets your soul alight. What The Beach Boys knew how to do very well was how to use harmony for the ultimate emotional expression. It doesn’t matter whether it is upbeat or a ballad they still know how to use their collective voices to just inspire that immediate connection that a lot of artists somehow miss out on.

The highlight of the upbeat first half is ‘Help Me, Ronda’ and is a perfect example of when I say that Today! is the first album that makes me really feel like I am actually in the sixties. This is very apparent on the track ‘Don’t Hurt My Little Sister’ through the use of the lyrics “you know she digs you and thinks you’re a real groovy guy”. So sixties that it makes me want to watch re-runs of The Banana Splits, while obviously whizzing through the cartoons. Then there is the amazing ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ which is a complete throwback to their first hit single ‘Surfin’ USA’ and not in a bad way.

Only The Beach Boys could succeed here in making you not feel just happy but also feeling rather groovy. Then we have the second ballad filled half, a half that I usually dread, but somehow they pull it off. In all of these you can see the seeds that have been sown for the forthcoming ‘God Only Knows’, which will rear it’s head soon. It is also here that I heard a very clear influence here on the early works of Of Montreal. My favourite of the ballads is without-a-doubt She Knows Me Too Well, and not just because it reminds me of Of Montreal’s ‘Eros’ Entropic Tundra’.

This is a bit besides the point, sorry, but I do love trying to find the routes that musical evolution has taken. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t Pet Sounds but frankly what really is anything like Pet SoundsToday! serves as a brilliant introduction as to what The Beach Boys were, musical pioneers. The lush production that you see on here and on all their albums are unlike anything I have heard up till now on this list and these techniques will be used ad nausea for now it is seen as the norm. Brian Wilson is a genius and this album is a testament to that

1001 Songs – 1971: Part Two

Imagine – John Lennon

Starting off this post with, arguably, the most beloved song to come from 1971… as well as one that I actively cannot stand. Whilst I appreciate the idealism here of a multi-millionaire playing a song about having no possessions whilst he is sitting in a mansion, it still comes across to me as being something vague that a high school student might write and think that they’re being very deep.

I can also appreciate what Phil Spector was trying to do with the production here, but it just comes across as overwhelmingly sentimental when it could have stood to be a little subtler.

Laughing – David Crosby

Usually when I listen to a song for this list I tend to write some notes as I go along and then fluff them a bit out later. With ‘Laughing’ I found myself a bit bewitched at trying to work out all the individual parts of the song that I didn’t manage to get a single word written down.

It’s what tends to happen when I am presented with a song with this many layers and sections. My brain tries to work out everything rather than trying to feel. A second listen really helped. This song is beautifully layered and complex to the point that I still find myself swept up in it rather than finding a way to actually talk about it… so let’s move on.

When The Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin

Well, this is a real flashback to about two years ago where I last heard this track as part of its parent album. Back then I wasn’t too impressed with the album, to the point that I barely wrote anything about it and instead focused more on Led Zeppelin.

As with ‘Eleanor Rigby’, this is a song that I was better able to appreciate in isolation. I am still not the biggest fan of this type of heavy blues rock, but at least I can better appreciate the number of different things going on here. The weird sounding harmonica, for example, makes this track unique.

It’s just that, as with most things Zeppelin, I would not have minded a few minutes being shaven off.

Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys

Feels like forever since I last heard something by The Beach Boys. It’s been even longer since I listened to the Brian Wilson’s Smile, where this song finally found it’s proper home.

Songs like this are why I will always prefer the Beach Boys to the Beatles. The level of complexity present puts it on par with a lot of what prog rock was starting to do and continues to do so to this day. However, this is still very much planted in the chamber pop landscape. It’s a lovely song and it makes me want to listen to the album again.

Theme from Shaft – Isaac Hayes

This must be one of the most quoted and pastiched themes of all time. The Simpsons, Father Ted, Scrubs and even the video game LEGO City Undercover have all borrowed from it. Yet this is actually the first time I have heard the whole song.

How is it that such a famous film theme contains no lyrics until over halfway through? Well, maybe because Issac Hayes’ vocals are mixed right down to the point of being nearly completely drowned.

Interesting to see another song where funk and soul are beginning to morph into disco. I wonder how long it will be before that onslaught truly begins.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron

In the context of this list, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ feels a lot like a sequel to ‘When The Revolution Comes’ by the Last Poets. Both songs are spoken word poems referencing ‘the Revolution’ and are set to some sort of funk music.

The key difference is Gil Scott-Heron is able to better articulate his message. His choice of words is more careful, the music better supports his voice and he, at no point, has a random backing singer come onto the track.

Seeing how this sort of spoken-word funk has developed between these two songs, it’s only a matter of time before rap starts.

It’s Too Late – Carole King

Tapestry is an excellent album. It would have been easy to choose a large section of songs to be prospective entries on the list – so they went for one of the two that managed to snag a Grammy.

It isn’t just the Grammy win for Record of the Year that gave ‘It’s Too Late’ a place on this list. Carole King is one of those great workhorses of this era of American music with her penning hit songs for the likes of Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles.

With this song you see the RnB influence mixed with some soft rock to make a track about a break-up that is mature, honest and mutual.

Dum Maro Dum – Asha Bhosle

Okay, so we’re ending on a drastically different song here. I guess it’s only fair to have a song by Lata Mangeshkar‘s younger sister seeing how they are both Bollywood playback singer royalty.

You start a song from a Bollywood film with a certain preconception and ‘Dum Maro Dum’ walks in a shatters them. Sure, you have the backing singers singing so loud that they end up distorted (which is something I really cannot abide) as well as the almost lilting vocal delivery by the lead, but something is really different.

This is, basically, a Bollywood rock song that takes notes from what was happening in the West at the time. There are electric instruments like synthesisers and guitars that really drive this song. Looking back on the other Bollywood song for this list, ‘Dum Maro Dum’ must have felt like a huge shift in what could make for a successful Bollywood song.

It would be utterly brilliant if it wasn’t for that hideous distortion.

Progress: 337/1021

1001 Songs – 1966: Part Three

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys

This is it, the homestretch of 1966. We start off with one of those keystone tracks in the evolution of rock and pop music.

When you listen to this in the context of what else was around in 1966 (including ‘God Only Knows’) the complexity of the production becomes all the more spellbinding. There is just so much going on in this song. It’s only 3.5 minutes long and people have analysed it to the point where there are 6 identified unique sections.

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ eat your heart out. Seriously. Eat it. ‘Good Vibrations’ is so much better.

Dead End Street – The Kinks

After the musical melange of ‘Good Vibrations’, this song feels so simple in comparison.

It’s a bit of a maudlin pop-rock song about how life can be a bit crap (see: 2016 and how things never really change). It’s a song I can see The Beatles having come up with back in 1964. Apart from the salloon style piano in the background, which gives this song it’s own character.

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore) – The Walker Brothers

Oooh and the production values are back up again. There is a nice use of reverb and echo in this song that feels like a slightly pared down version of the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound”.

What really seems to be happening in 1966 is the rise of the studio and the producer as instruments in their own right. The production work of George Martin, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and the two producers on this song became far more integral in the making of songs.

The Kinks from the previous song are on the other side where you may polish and arrange, but you don’t completely intrude on what the raw sound it. It’s a split we have to this day (even moreso thanks to Autotune), but it’s interesting to see that it is around 1966 where this split began to feel distinct.

Season of the Witch – Donovan

Most people my age probably know about Donovan from that episode of Futurama where Fry falls in love with a mermaid from the lost city of Atlanta.

In actuality, Donovan was one of the earliest proponents of psychedelic rock. It feels that he did this to get away from the earlier pre-conceptions that he was the British Bob Dylan.

He sounds a bit like Dylan, but that’s about it. Honestly, this song thoroughly bored me. It runs for 5 minutes and would have been so much better if it had been edited down closer to 3 minutes as there are 3 minutes worth of ideas. Meh.

Friday on My Mind – The Easybeats

Oh thank God we have a song with a bit of life in it. Our first garage rock song of this section of 1966 and one of the first Australian acts to feature on this list.

It feels like a weird garage rock mash up of ‘Help’ by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’. Not an insult at all, it’s a fun rock song about a longing and excitement for the weekend during the drudgery of the week.

I think this is a song we can all relate to.

I’m a Believer – The Monkees

The Monkees are a weird one. A band created for a TV comedy series that were later able to become a successful band in their own right. Like S Club 7, but without the accusations of racism.

It’s another happy song, but this time one that has been manufactured based on the zeitgeist. It feels like the ultimate stereotype of what a late-1960’s pop rock song would sound like.

I am a bit sad that ‘Daydream Believer’ isn’t on this list though.

Dirty Water – The Standells

Another bit of garage rock/proto-punk here… just nowhere near as much fun as ‘Friday On My Mind’ by the Easybeats.

The dirty water in question is the polluted Charles River in Boston, a city that is namechecked many times during this song. We also have references made the women’s curfew in Boston at the time.

Weirdly, this song was written by the manager and not the LA-based band. So basically they are sneering about a harbour that they’ve never been to. Rock n Roll!

I Feel Free – Cream

Cream are one of the first examples of a supergroup (a term that is probably banded about a bit too much). The most famous member of this psychadelic rock band made up of blues musicians is Eric Clapton.

There is something otherworldly about the harmonies in this song. Like how a group of mind-control aliens might try to run a band (see: the Daft Punk animated film for more on that).

I love the idea that Cream was formed by blues musicians who wanted to rock. With this band it really worked with having their more relaxed blues sensibilites being sped up by the adrenaline of rock. Possibly why the vocals sound just that bit off (in a good way).

You Keep Me Hangin’ On – The Supremes

The only non-white, non-rock, non-male song in this section. I missed all of those things. Thank you The Supremes and Holland–Dozier–Holland for giving me this bit of respite.

Okay it has that rock guitar in the background, but this is very much it’s own animal. Rock was getting bigger and bigger so you can see how this was being incorporated into the Motown sound.

Not that this was the first time The Supremes had ventured into this territory – two years previously they had released a cover album titled ‘A Bit of Liverpool’ where they did a surprisingly good cover of ‘A Hard Days Night’.

Happenings Ten Years Time Ago – The Yardbirds

Okay so this kept making me think of the catatafish song from the Lemmiwinks episode of South Park. Hope that is not just me.

It did not suprise me to see that ‘The Yardbirds’ would eventually feed into Led Zeppelin. The guitar in this song sounded so much like what I would hear in their stuff.

Whilst this is psychedelic rock it feels like that leap forward into harder rock that would start to properly form in the next few years. Still… it sounds like the catatafish.

Tomorrow Never Knows – The Beatles

Okay so this feels like nothing else we have heard so far. The more I do this songs list the more and more respect I am having for the Beatles.

When I listened to Revolver song time ago I hadn’t even picked up on this song with the weird bird noises, dirge-like sitar and whatever some of those other loops are.

I am not sure if I have heard many songs quite like this. I think the Athens, Georgia band Of Montreal have attempted similar things (their song ‘The Past is a Grotesque Animal’ comes to mind), but at least they had this song as a context.

How would a person living in 1966 react to this? It’s astonishing that the Beatles were as recognised in their own time when you consider how unique their songs could be.

‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is remarkable. I wouldn’t rank it as a favourite song by any means, but I can really appreciate the scale of it.

Progress: 218/1021

Right, that’s it for 1966. It’s been an interesting year for music and, by the look of it, 1967 will be similarly varied with 3 more posts coming.

1001 Songs – 1966: Part One

Right so this year is so large that I’m splitting it into three parts of 10-11 songs apiece. Looking at the names that are going to be covered this year it is little wonder. It’s like all these titans of music just woke up and started going on a hit-making rampage.

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Et moi, et moi, et moi – Jacques Dutronc

French Bob Dylan? Is that you? Seriously though, how much does this sound like if Bob Dylan suddenly took it upon himself to sing in French. Not a criticism in anyway, but it’s just so interesting to see how quickly an artist can influence another. Similarly there are other acts you can hear here such as the Kinks.

This song itself is rather self centred (ergo the title), but that’s pretty much the point. It’s not like anything we’ve yet heard come out of France (or the European mainland), which makes this song particularly stand out.

Stay with Me – Lorraine Ellison

One of those songs that was the case of serendipity. A last-minute cancellation by Frank Sinatra meant there was an already paid for slot available at a recording studio (as well as an already hired orchestra) – and here is the song that came out of this.

The richness and bombast of the orchestral background to this song with the powerful voice of Lorraine Ellison make for a wonderful pairing – and might not have been something we’d have heard if not for the cancellation.

Al-atlal – Umm Kulthum

At over 10 minutes long ‘Al-atlal’ is one of the longest songs on this list. This is also considered to be one of the best Arab songs of the 20th century with the singer, Umm Kulthum, being the most celebrated Arab singer (possibly) ever.

It’s fairly hard to talk about a song like this because of our lack of exposure to this sort of music. Also, it is hard to talk about this song because it is heavily improvised. The version we found was 10 minutes 30 seconds, and that was only because it cuts out. Some performances of this song could stretch well over half an hour.

You’re Gonna Miss Me – The Thirteenth Floor Elevators

After that rather long Arabian musical interlude I need to get my head back into the world of what was going on in Western music.

Here we are with a furthering of the ‘garage rock’ that started to creep in during our last listen. It’s taking that garage rock and giving it just that bit of a psychedelic polish that was so popular at the time.

Apparently you can hear an electric jug being played in this. I think I missed it.

Substitute – The Who

You never really hear the tambourine in songs anymore. It’s one of those things that really makes this song scream 1960s.

It feels like The Who have really softened up since ‘My Generation’ and they have some ways to go until they reach the power pop of Tommy. This feels like a song that the Beatles could have written if their music had more of an edge to it (just listen to some of the lyrics, which betray that it started out as a riff on a Rolling Stones song).

Eight Miles High – The Byrds

Pure psychedelia here. As with songs by the Mamas and the Papas and The Beach Boys we have those California cool harmonies.

It’s also highly experimental (leading the term raga rock) with its guitar playing. We see similar things when the Beatles release St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I never think of The Byrds when I think of musical breakthroughs of the 1960s. Probably time to re-evaluate.

Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks

“Oh look how wealthy I am, pity about all the taxes I have to pay now.” That’s pretty much the takeaway I got from the first verse of this song. I get that it’s written to be mocking of the richer classes and the ennui they can feel.

I also get that, at the time, you would have to pay 95% tax for earnings over a certain amount. Still, rich people problems eh?

Paint It, Black – The Rolling Stones

One of only two songs on this list of ten where I have that immediate recognition from the title. It probably helps that I listened to it on Aftermath as part of my other musical blog project.

As with ‘Eight Miles High’ we have another example of raga rock. They don’t go into it as experimentally as the Byrds, but this is a fantastic song.

I know I didn’t like Aftermath as an album, but the more this song really grows on me. Even though, as a song, I don’t know if it actually has an end.

Summer in the City – The Lovin’ Spoonful

Oh my God it’s this song. You know that moment you know a song really well and you have no idea how? That’s how I feel with this song. Although, I don’t think I had previously heard the bits with the car horns and the pneumatic drill.

With the exception of the final song on this list, ‘Summer in the City’ is the most pop of anything in this blog entry. It’s something that I swear I have heard in various films and TV shows where they are trying to give that summery feel.

Also, here is another song that doesn’t end. Is this something I have only just noticed?

God Only Knows – The Beach Boys

‘God Only Knows’ ranked among my favourite songs of all time. It’s a song that I kept thinking about with my wedding (although apparently, since it was a civil ceremony and this song mentions God it was a bit sketchy… pathetic, right?) even though the first line is “I may not always love you”.

It’s one of the most beautifully and brutally honest songs about love that has ever been put on recorded. Doing the 1001 songs list helps me appreciate all of the musical threads that have come together to make this and the other songs on Pet Sounds.

The big and layered production. The rise of psychedelic rock through folk music. The close harmonies. Even that tambourine. The key changes. It’s all come together to make this wonderful song that, thanks to the beginning sequence of Big Love, makes me think of ice skating with someone I love.

Progress: 196/1021

Music Monday: Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 27/250pet_soundsTitle: Pet Sounds
Artist: The Beach Boys
Year: 1966
Position: #2

When it comes to music of the 1960s there is a clear divide between music lovers; The Beatles or The Beach Boys? If you look at the make-up of the Top 250 it is fairly easy to see that with The Beatles’ six entries versus this single one from The Beach Boys that there is no point to argue any more since we are now 40 years later and the critics have since spoken. Thing is, and this is personal opinion talking, The Beach Boys at their best blows The Beatles out of the water. Why? Pet Sounds gives you 13 reasons why.

I’ve listened to a lot of albums by The Beach Boys in my time (including  Sunflower, Surfin’ USA, The Smile Sessions and Wild Honey) and I see that some of their material is a bit too flippant to be taken seriously. But then, you get the likes of ‘Good Vibrations’ where you just sit up and listen to the production values (hopefully on a decent sound-system). In fact, I really get why Pet Sounds is the only one to make it into the Top 250… and at #2 that’s pretty damned impressive.

Where in most of their albums The Beach Boys would have songs talking about their surf boards, cars or other very California things Pet Sounds resonates so much since it deals with topics that everyone can relate to. Love, self-doubt, failure, self-actualisation. A remarkably deep album which is somehow able to pull off with simple and accessible lyrics.

As an album that has been written about until the cows come home I feel as everything I think or say about this album is a retread of thousands of people who have come before me. With my own wedding coming up next year I am seriously giving serious thought to having ‘God Only Knows’ on as the first dance. It is the most beautiful song about love that has ever been written and in a very short space of time has two very clear ‘goose-bump moments’ for me. The first happens the moment the bass starts right near the beginning of the song and the second around the time the vocal layering comes in. The only thing preventing me from using ‘God Only Knows’ is that thanks to the opening sequence to Big Love I can only imagine this occurring using roller-blades…which is not going to happen so don’t ask.

Then there are other tracks like ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ where the concept of young teenager running off and getting married at Gretna Green now suddenly makes sense to me. It’s a beautifully hopeful opener which is then immediately lyrically dashed by the next two songs which deal with failure. This pattern repeats with the hopefulness of youth coupled with songs about realizing that, as we grow up, dreams will be unfulfilled, but hey these might have not have been the right dreams to have the first place so oh well.

It’s a complex album, and for one of the best albums ever made it has one of the worst album covers out there. I know it’s a play on the title Pet Sounds but… what’s the deal with all the bloody goats.