Reality, it’s not for me and it makes me laugh.

April 24, 2009

It’s merely been a week, but I’m nearing completion of the Brian Wilson biography I picked up last week. Good reading — it’s been nice to get deeper insight on what the hell was going on in the group in the 1970s and 1980s when Brian was seriously on an island and the rest of the group was trying to pull things in various different directions.

Of course it casts the Wilson brothers as fractured beings, thanks to their dad and his tough upbringing and heavy-handed managerial style in the band’s formative years. But while Carl managed to maintain the most sanity, even he was prone to flights of addiction and compulsive desires for complete control. 

I don’t think anyone’s ever going to doubt or second guess Brian Wilson’s genius — this is the man who gave us Pet Sounds and SMiLE, after all, but any well-versed Beach Boys audiophile that a good majority of the stuff he was writing after 1968 devolved into some questionable territory. Not to say it was all bad, of course, but… how’s about that fairy tale vignette on Holland? Even in the recent pushes to try to reclaim The Beach Boys Love You as some kind of lost triumph, take a serious listen to that album and then make your case that it really deserves that kind of praise.

Now with Brian on decades-long mental sabbatical, the rest of the band took up songwriting duties, and both Dennis and Carl built solid individual foundations on their respective output. Mike Love and Al Jardine weren’t entirely worth writing off, but their creations weren’t exactly outright amazing, either. Take a gander at the video for the environmental statement “Don’t Go Near the Water” from 1971’s Surf’s Up album for proof:

In that video you can see Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar (or perhaps better known as Stig O’Hara of the Rutles), who were drafted into the Beach Boys by Carl to flesh out the band’s live shows and also bring a bit of R&B feel to the outfit.

Blondie’s most well known contribution is singing lead on “Sail On, Sailor” — arguably the Beach Boys’ best song of the 1970s, but he and Fataar co-wrote and shared vocal duties on the HUGELY underrated “Here She Comes” from 1972’s So Tough, oddly credited to Carl and the Passions, a pseudonym the Beach Boys used in their formative years. Listen to this song and just try to tell me the Beach Boys wouldn’t have been more commercially formidable in the 1970s if they’d let Blondie and Ricky have a bit more sway with songwriting. This is fantastic stuff.

The Beach Boys – Here She Comes

Bruce Johnston was also an important commodity in the 1970s (that is, before they fired him). Although he’d been in the Beach Boys’ ranks since the mid-1960s when Brian had his “I can’t tour anymore” meltdown and reverted to the studio, and can also clearly be heard on the gorgeous fadeout of “God Only Knows,” Bruce didn’t really start getting his songwriting due with the band until 1970’s Sunflower. He offered up the sentimental ballad “Disney Girls (1957)” for Surf’s Up, which very nearly verges into cheesy territory (you know, the kind he’d plow headfirst into years later in writing “I Write the Songs”), but maintains enough whimsy for it to be enjoyable.

The Beach Boys – Disney Girls (1957)

It’s not to say that the other guys were writing crap, but I think these two songs make a strong case for not letting personal egos take too much space in rounding out an album. Did we need “Student Demonstration Time”? “TM Song”? “California Saga”? I dunno, man. I could’ve done with a few more “Here She Comes.” 


One comment

  1. I was, and am still, a big Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fan, especially after I heard Pet Sounds for the first time. However, there have been a few bumps on the road, especially when others would try to fill in the gaps when Brian decided to lower his profile following the abortive Smile period. There are gems to be sure. But, I remember as a college student in France and a radio station played “Honkin’ Down The Highway” from Love You (…honkin’ down the gosh darn highway) and I said to a guy I was playing cards with, “What the heck is that?” He said the Beach Boys, and I was a bit unsettled, to say the least.

    I remember not too long ago purchasing Brian’s Live at The Roxy when it was released and believing it might be ok, but not expecting anything special. Well, that changed when they launched into the first few notes of “She’s Not The Little Girl I Once Knew” and realized there was something special here. Brian’s voice can be a bit raw at times, but who among us is going to sound as good at 60 when they did at 20 or 30 or 40? His band does a tremendous job in reproducing the heart and soul that is Brian Wilson.

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