Brian Wilson’s Elements

Brian Wilson probably never studied ancient Greek philosophy, but he knew that, once upon a time, smart people thought the world was composed of four fundamental elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. (That’s the list Empedocles came up with in the 5th century BCE.) So when Brian was working on Smile, the famous Beach Boys’ album that didn’t get finished in 1967, he was going to include something called “The Elements”. One of his close friends, David Anderle, remembered it this way:

We were aware, he made us aware, of what fire was going to be, and what water was going to be; we had some idea of air. That was where it stopped. None of us had any ideas as to how it was going to tie together, except that it appeared to us to be an opera. And the story of the fire part I guess is pretty well known by now [Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!, p. 230].

As the years went by, tapes from the Smile sessions, as well as completed tracks, showed up here and there. This led to many fans creating their own Smile albums, trying to figure out how Brian would have put the pieces together, or simply wanting an album’s worth of music to listen to.

I acquired several unofficial versions of Smile along the way, but didn’t get around to making my own Smile until 2002. That was 35 years after Brian stopped working on the original and two years before he released his finished version, Brian Wilson Presents Smile (which Metacritic determined to be the best-reviewed album of 2004).

A few days ago, a question from another fan got me to look for my homemade Smile CD. When I played it, I couldn’t remember why I’d picked these particular thirteen tracks or why I’d put them in the sequence I did. I couldn’t even remember where some of the tracks came from. Some were obviously from official Beach Boys albums, but others were from sources unknown.  

This brings me back to “The Elements”. The first track on my Smile is a nine-minute, almost all-instrumental with that title. It’s made up of five tracks from the Smile sessions. Two of them are the tracks everyone agrees were intended to represent Fire and Water. The other three are well-known to serious fans, but don’t clearly fit the Elements concept. I’ve reached out to the Brian Wilson/Beach Boys online community (of course, there is such a thing – it’s the Internet), but so far nobody has answered the question: Where did this version of “The Elements” come from?

If someone eventually answers that question, and I’m able to identify the source of a few more tracks, I might put my Smile CD playlist on YouTube. Meanwhile, here’s “The Elements” or “An Elements Suite” or “Selected Smile Instrumentals”, hot off the computer. 

I like it as the beginning to my Smile because it kind of lays the groundwork for the rest of the album. Plus, the first part, “Look”, could represent Air (that’s what we look through); the second part, “Holidays”, could represent Earth (that’s where we take vacations); and it’s clear what “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (Fire)” and “I Love To Say Da Da (Water)” represent. It all ends with “I Wanna Be Around / Workshop”, which features the guys banging around in the studio, i.e. putting the musical elements of Smile together.

The Beach Boys Ponder the American Experiment on This Fourth of July

From the YouTube description:
Dennis Wilson composed “4th of July” in the early 70s during the Vietnam War (his co-writer was Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley). Carl Wilson sang the song. It was supposed to be included on the Surf’s Up album, but was withdrawn after a disagreement among the band members. Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983. “4th of July” was finally released as part of the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys box set ten years later. Carl Wilson died in 1998.

Note: Unlike most Beach Boys songs, this one was officially released only one time, in 1993 on the “Good Vibrations” box set, which is no longer sold by Capitol Records. The song was not included on the Made in California box set released in 2013.

Conan O’Brien offered additional commentary this afternoon:

Today, we Americans celebrate our independence from Britain while planning our escape to Canada.

King Donnie the Deplorable Puts On a Show

Mao Zedong, formerly known to most of us as Mao Tse-Tung, was known to the Chinese people as Chairman Mao, but also as the Great Leader, the Great Teacher and the Great Helmsman, among other appellations. Next to Mao, North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il seems rather modest. Hitler was officially known as Führer und Reichskanzler (“Leader and Chancellor of the Reich”). Mussolini was informally known as il Duce (the Leader). 

In the New York City tabloids, the Orange Menace used to be known as The Donald. Perhaps he’s satisfied now with simply being the President, the Commander-in-Chief  and (with due sarcasm) the Leader of the Free World. But if today’s meeting of the cabinet offers a clue, there’s at least a Blessed Leader or Master of All He Surveys in his (and our) future.

According to White House reporter John Harwood of CNBC, the President opened the proceedings just how you’d expect:

He began with an opening statement laced with the sort of wild, self-congratulatory boasts that are his trademark. 

“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions … who has passed more legislation, done more things,” Trump declared, even though Congress, which is controlled by his party, hasn’t passed any major legislation.

He hailed his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history,” even though he hasn’t proposed a plan and Congress hasn’t acted on one. He said “no one would have believed” his election could have created so many new jobs over the past seven months (1.1 million), even though more jobs (1.3 million) were created in the previous seven months.

Typically, a president’s initial comments mark the end of on-camera coverage of White House Cabinet meetings, with administration aides then escorting members of the small press “pool” out of the room. But Trump invited reporters to remain as he called on his senior-most advisers to “go around, name your position” and say a few words about the administration’s work.

Later, on Twitter, Harwood wrote: “In covering [the White House] over 4 decades, I’ve never seen a [President of the US] elicit flattery from aides like Trump today”.

According to The Washington Post:

… White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke up to thank Trump “for the opportunity and blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Priebus said he was offering words on behalf of everyone in the room. But one by one, pretty much everyone else seated around the table took the opportunity to lavish their leader with praise, too, as the media looked on.

“It’s an honor to be able to serve you,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I am privileged to be here,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “Deeply honored.”

“What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership,” Tom Price, secretary of that department, added when it was his turn to speak. “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

Brian Beutler of The New Republic described it a more subjectively:

[He] assembled his entire cabinet at the White House on Monday, and, in a display of dominance and humiliation like none I’ve seen in an advanced democracy, invited everyone in attendance to go around the table praising Dear Leader before the press corps. The whole creepy-bordering-on-obscene spectacle lasted about 11 minutes.

[A video of the entire 11 minutes is provided]

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao looks like she’s been taken hostage, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (the only one who didn’t essentially swear loyalty to Trump) is clearly pissed, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sounds desperate to keep his job (reportedly, he is). 

It’s been clear for years that everyone who agrees to work for Trump eventually abases themselves, but it usually isn’t as plain as it is here, with multiple supplicants surrounding him, essentially being ordered to humiliate themselves.

Remember how King Lear begins? The old guy meets his daughters and asks “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Goneril goes first:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare…

Cordelia doesn’t have much to say, but Regan does:

I profess myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.

Of course, Lear proceeds to lose his mind and eventually drops dead from all the stress he’s endured. If only life in Washington was that simple.

The Death of Maggie Roche

Oh, hell. Maggie Roche of the folk rock vocal group, the Roches, died of cancer on January 21, 2017. She was 65.

I didn’t see that before. Maybe there was too much other news that day. Actually, there was. It was the day of the big Women’s March and the day after a certain presidential inauguration.

The New York Times printed a nice obituary, which includes remarks from her sister: 

She was … too sensitive and shy for this world, but brimming with life, love, and talent…. She was smart, wickedly funny, and authentic — not a false bone in her body — a brilliant songwriter, with a distinct unique perspective, all heart and soul.

“Speak” is one of her songs. She wrote the words and music:

The time has come for me to speak
Uh oh the time has come
And while the silence picks on me
I pray to not be dumb

So I am hunting for the words
Just wait til I find some
I need some syllables do you
Know where to get them from

When I am in my house alone
My speeches take a week
But from my lips when you are near
A sound will seldom leak.

There’s that feeling when someone younger than you dies and you think, well, after all, she was X years old.

Death is the ultimate form of escapism. The internet has nothing on death.

Something Musical, Not Political

Maybe you know what song this is.

It plays over the closing credits of a recent French movie called Things To Come (L’avenir). Hearing the song a couple days ago, I thought it was so good that I wondered who recorded it. It sounded very contemporary, so I was quite surprised to see it was recorded in 1959. It was an album track by a group called the Fleetwoods, from Olympia, Washington. Their two #1 hits, “Come Softly To Me” and “Mr. Blue”, came out that same year. 

Researching the song, I came across a site called World’s Music Charts. I don’t know anything about the site, or how they calculate their results, but based on their collection of music charts from various countries, they have this song listed as the world’s 4th most popular song. Not the 4th most popular recording, but the 4th most popular song.

From its Wikipedia article:

It has since become a standard and one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, most notably by the Righteous Brothers. According to the song’s publishing administrator, over 1,500 recordings of [it] have been made by more than 670 artists in multiple languages.

In 1955, three versions of the song charted in the Billboard Top 10 in the United States, and four versions appeared in the Top 20 in the United Kingdom simultaneously, an unbeaten record for any song. The song and “Do They Know It’s Christmas” are the only songs to reach number one in four different recordings in the UK. [The Righteous Brothers] version achieved a second round of great popularity when it was featured in the 1990 film Ghost.

The song was written for a little-known prison movie by two songwriters, Alex North and Hy Zaret, who never became famous. 

Here it is as performed by the Righteous Brothers in 1965. It was originally intended as an album track, not a single, and although Phil Spector took credit for the production (that’s the kind of guy he was), it was apparently one of the Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley, who produced it. You’ll recognize it when you hear it.

www.youtube.com

And here is the Fleetwoods version from their album Mr. Blue. This doesn’t sound like six years earlier to me. I hope you enjoy it, which you might even if you don’t like the famous version. This one is very different.

www.youtube.com

 

PS: Want to do something about what happened in Washington today? This might help.

In Memoriam

From Saturday Night Live, April 1978:

believe… next week’s Time cover… will be about the recent communication from outer space. 

Well, what — you mean a foreign planet will actually send a message next week? 

No! A foreign planet actually SENT us a message last week. Next week, the government will reveal the message to the public. 

You see, it all started on August 20th, 1977, when NASA put up a recording of the sounds of Earth on Voyager I. A two-hour long tape included, uh, natural sounds of animals, … a passage from the Koran in Arabic, messages from President Carter, United Nations Secretary Kurt Waldheim, music — everything from classical to Chuck Berry. 

Uh — and you’re saying that the, uh — another civilization has found the tape? 

Yes. They’ve sent us a message that actually proves it. It may be just four simple words, but it is the FIRST positive proof that other intelligent beings inhabit the universe. 

Uh — what are the four words? 

The four words that came to us from outer space — the FOUR words that will appear on the cover of Time Magazine next week — are:

tumblr_l9dsffJANT1qc8eueo1_500

 

Chuck Berry,  1926 – 2017

Hail, hail, rock and roll

Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news

Maybe some day your name will be in lights, saying “Johnny B. Goode Tonight”

 

 

Apple Core! Baltimore!

Finishing my apple this morning, I remembered what used to come next. If you were with a few of your friends, someone would yell “Apple core!” Somebody would respond with “Baltimore!” Next there’d be a question: “Who’s your friend?” At which point, one of us would name somebody else in the group, for example, “Mike!” Then the person holding the apple core would throw it at Mike. This was funny stuff.

I assume this was a fairly common experience for young people in Southern California fifty or sixty years ago. Or maybe my friends and I were the only idiots who did it. I’m wondering now because a brief survey of people who grew up on the East Coast didn’t find anyone who remembered it. (It’s not the kind of thing a person would tend to forget, even after fifty or sixty years.) Presumably, if nobody did it on the East Coast back then, nobody is doing it here now. 

I can’t remember which person in the group called out the opening “Apple core!” or who responded with “Baltimore!”. Nor do I remember who had the honor of naming his “friend”, i.e. the target. But I’m pretty sure it didn’t work the way Donald Duck and either Chip or Dale did it here:

Assuming this was a widespread practice on the West Coast, but not the East Coast, it’s yet more confirmation that the West Coast is the Best Coast. (I’m leaving out the Gulf Coast for obvious reasons.)

For the sake of completeness, here’s the full 1952 Disney cartoon. It’s called “Donald Duck Applecore” and includes Donald’s jazzy theme song under the opening credits.

Finally, for completeness, I should point out that the “Apple core, Baltimore” rhyme appeared in an earlier, feature-length Disney movie called “Melody Time”. It was part of a dance number in the Johnny Appleseed segment. But it apparently took years for the Disney people to invent the best part (throwing the apple core at someone like Mike).

PS: The other Donald still sucks.