photo & text by nacrowe
being from SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, i feel predisposed to idol worship bordering on the HYPERBOLIC regarding BRIAN WILSON and his SINGULAR achievement in conceiving and producing THE BEACH BOYS' REVOLUTIONARY PET SOUNDS (CAPITOL, 1966) album. tracks like "WOULDN'T IT BE NICE," "GOD ONLY KNOWS," "I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES," "HANG ON TO YOUR EGO" and THE KINGSTON TRIO cover "SLOOP JOHN B" are not just the sound of my formative years in CALIFORNIA, but also ive imagined a link to a HALCYON era of musical culture and EXPANDED consciousness that happened in that state long before i arrived.
and i know the reality was not that case. previous to PET SOUNDS, WILSON had had suffered a mental breakdown on tour and effectively became a hermit / homebody back home. while the rest of the band stayed on tour, he spent that time writing and constructing the new record by exploring the STUDIO AS AN INSTRUMENT in very much the same vein of PIONEERING WALL OF SOUND producer / engineer PHIL SPECTOR. in fact, he employed similar production techniques and even the same seasoned team of studio musicians, THE WRECKING CREW, to quickly make sense of his EXPANDED orchestrations and to help manifest what he had imagined into reality. this ALCHEMY of PRODUCTION, SONGWRITING and CHEMISTRY is what makes PET SOUNDS such a CREATIVE experience and arguably as RELEVANT as ever.
much has been made about the mutual admiration society that was THE BEATLES and BRIAN WILSON, but just that sentence alone showcases that WILSON alone for a moment was on par with arguably the most SIGNIFICANT songwriting partnership of the twentieth century. the example of PET SOUNDS spurred a creative spark in JOHN LENNON and PAUL MCCARTNEY, along with producer GEORGE MARTIN, to dive deeper into EXPERIMENTAL territory with INNOVATIVE sonic studio manipulations to create what is arguably their magnum opus SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (PARLOPHONE, 1967). rarified air indeed.
makes you wonder what WILSON could have done with proper support system or writing partner on his level. or maybe not. WILSON seems to be a world in of himself. most people dont know this, but much of the lyrical content of PET SOUNDS was cowritten with an advertising copywriter named TONY ASHER, who previously had been writing television jingles for MATTEL. cant make this up. the EXPANSIVE composed harmonies and LUSH studio orchestrations are held down with SUCCINCT observations on the nature of love and relationships in ICONIC songs like "WOULDN'T IT BE NICE," "CAROLINE, NO" and "GOD ONLY KNOWS" as well as perceived social alienation in "I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES." that push-and-pull interplay between the lyrically direct and the musically opaque is absolutely MAGICAL. in fact, some would even argue SPIRITUAL. ive long had a hard time accepting outright RELIGIOSITY in music, as many times it comes off heavy-handed or self-lionizing in practice, but there are exceptions (PRINCE, BOB MARLEY, KENDRICK LAMAR, THE BYRDS, U2, STEVIE WONDER, A$AP ROCKY, LEONARD COHEN) and PET SOUNDS is one. the music is just so transcendently EXUBERANT, JOYOUS and SOUL-AFFIRMING that even without lyrics it could be argued that such is SPIRITUAL in nature on its own.
i know people that say PET SOUNDS is OVERHYPED. they're wrong. this record is well worth checking out with repeat listens throughout your life. a SINGULAR achievement by a SINGULAR artist.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO focused on the legendary collective of studio musicians known as THE WRECKING CREW.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
photo manipulation by nacrowe
ECHO IN THE CANYON (MIRROR FILMS, 2019) is a documentary about the mid 1960s LAUREL CANYON scene located just outside the SUNSET STRIP in the hills above LOS ANGELES that served as a sanctuary to FOLK-inspired ROCK AND ROLL musicians. musician JAKOB DYLAN of THE WALLFLOWERS conducts the interviews with luminaries such as BRIAN WILSON, ROGER MCQUINN, DAVID CROSBY, RINGO STARR, ERIC CLAPTON, GRAHAM NASH, STEPHEN STILLS, TOM PETTY, JOHN SEBASTIAN, MICHELLE PHILLIPS, LOU ADLER, JACKSON BROWNE and most compellingly, reinterprets the songs himself of BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, THE BEACH BOYS, THE BYRDS and THE ASSOCIATION with a roster of modern musicians including FIONA APPLE, CAT POWER, BECK, JADE CASTRINOS and NORAH JONES. as i will discuss shortly, this continuing of the cycle of interpretation and experimentation is a genius stroke as that passing of ideas is at the core of how the scene developed and was nurtured by artists back in the day. very cool stuff indeed.
what i found most interesting about this period of music history was the atmosphere of experimentation that defined it with songwriters cross-pollination and contextualizing the sounds of peers in new concoctions, moving everyone forward together.
prime example: THE BEATLES inspired THE BYRDS to take FOLK chord progressions and play them in a ROCK AND ROLL setting, which found them reinterpreting PETE SEEGER in a cover of his "THE BELLES OF RHYMNEY" which, in turn, influenced GEORGE HARRISON to interpolate that chord progression and 12-string RICKENBACKER sound in "IF I NEEDED SOMEBODY." just a cycle of ideas being ping-ponged back in forth across the pond by like-minded artists.
and for me that is the crux of any healthy scene, irrespective of outside distractions like business, fashion and aesthetics. at its core this scene nurtured artists to spread their wings and take chances. as BECK points out in the film, this may be why most of these bands have multiple singers and songwriters. they are in fact supergroups in a sense channeling the best of what they have to contribute. just take the songwriters in two of the most prominent groups: BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD (NEIL YOUNG, STEPHEN STILLS), THE BYRDS (ROGER MCQUINN, DAVID CROSBY). its pretty amazing they stuck together as long as they did.
its a complete 180 now in terms of the media landscape where artists are afraid of being explicit about their influences for fear of being sued in the aftermath of the 2013 PHARRELL/ROBIN THICKE case concerning an interpolation of a MARVIN GAYE song. or maybe im wrong in that, maybe with the internet there is a bevy of experimentation going on beneath the surface, producers trading files with musicians and rappers, songs being remixed, ideas being shared in the same way those house parties in LAURAL CANYON helped spark such a rich tapestry of music from 1965-1967 at the outset of that scene (including others not interviewed like FRANK ZAPPA, JONI MITCHELL and JIM MORRISON) which obviously blossomed in the 1970s with acts such as CAROLE KING, JACKSON BROWNE and FLEETWOOD MAC among othes. something to consider. great film.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
spending my early formative years in southern california, i have a soft spot for SURF MUSIC or really anything that reminds me of summertime at the beach in general. what makes this los angeles-by-way-of-seattle indie rock band LA LUZ so compelling is that they managed to provide a really cool spin on that sound by relocating it emotionally to a place of vulnerability rather than celebration.
now i recognize that composer BRIAN WILSON from what I read in the excellent biography CATCH A WAVE (RODALE BOOKS, 2007) reconfigured the music of his youth, namely vocal quartets, by utilizing rich harmonies and PHIL SPECTOR-esque "wall of sound" production techniques as a means by which to give expression to his intense feelings of alienation and social anxiety. in this manner the music of THE BEACH BOYS is actually quite tragic in that it relates a fantasy that is almost a carnival-esque inversion of his actual mindset. culturally however the music he championed and ingeniously constructed is the soundtrack to simple idyllic fantasies of long weekends, sunshine and bikinis.
perhaps LA LUZ recognized the potential to use SURF MUSIC as a means of transmitting alienation since they play off expectations associated with the sound of reverb-drenched, staccato single-note run embellished with the full-throated sound of a Hammond organ. vocal melodies, often as a chorus, are delivered deadpan almost inviting you to listen even closer to the lyrics despite the lushness of the sound carrying on around you.
this band is an excellent example of bending a sound to your own will and make it your own. i deeply enjoy their music and recommend it highly. please check them out.