Maybe I should put different kinds of things on this blog. Maybe I will. But with our ongoing crisis — I don’t mean the virus, I mean You Know Who in the White House — it’s hard to feel like anything else is ever worth mentioning.
So I was killing time on YouTube this morning and their algorithm(s) suggested one of those “Listening to Something for the First Time” videos. The idea is that someone who has never heard a song that’s familiar to some of us, or most of us, hears that song for the first time and immediately gives their reaction. Often, it’s a song an older generation knows very well. Or it’s music the person in the video wouldn’t be expected to appreciate.
I’ve never watched one of these videos all the way through. But the one that popped up today was a young black man hearing the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry, Baby” for the first time. I was a little worried that he’d think it silly or old-fashioned (it’s from 1964) or that he’d view some of the lyrics as dumb. It is, after all, a combination love song/car song — the guy being in love with his girl, and worried about a drag race — that, in my opinion, is wonderful, even sublime.
The Fendertones are a group of singers and musicians who get together every so often to recreate recordings by the Beach Boys. Their performances not only sound great, they reveal how many voices and instruments Brian Wilson wove together when he was making classic records in the 60s.
First up, “Kiss Me Baby”, a beautiful song with an unfortunate title. It’s from The Beach Boys Today!, the group’s eighth studio album, released in March 1965. Wikipedia says “the album signaled a departure from their previous records with its orchestral approach, intimate subject matter, and abandonment of themes related to surfing, cars or superficial love”. It’s one of their best albums and “Kiss Me Baby” is one of their best songs. Here are the Fendertones doing it only forty-nine years after The Beach Boys Today! (I see I posted this video five years ago. I must like it a lot.)
Next is “Surf’s Up”. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks wrote this non-surfing song for the Smile album, which was supposed to be finished in 1967. The Fendertones recreate it with the help of two actual (aged) Beach Boys and some of the non-Beach Boys who helped Wilson finish Smile in 2004. That album, Brian Wilson Presents Smile, scratched a 37-year-old itch and was greeted with euphoric reviews.
I’ll quote a few blurbs from the back of the dust jacket and then add a few thoughts.
A widescreen, meticulously researched account of how Los Angeles — the seedbed of surf pop and folk rock — became the epicenter of American music in the 1960s. McKeen follows the thread from the Beach Boys’ sunny innocence to Manson’s noir horrors — via Phil Spector, Jim Morrison, and a supporting cast of hundreds — and brings the music of the City of Angeles brilliant to life. (Barney Hoskyns, author of Waiting for the Sun and Hotel California)
Everybody Had an Ocean offers a detailed snapshot of the creative fertility, debauchery and importance of a signal moment in pop music history. Highly recommended. (Charles Granata, author of Wouldn’t It Be Nice)
… a fascinating, hypnotic look at the underside of the California dream. With smooth prose and keen reporting, William McKeen peels back the facade of peace and love and thoroughly examines the dark heart behind a generation of music… (Michael Connelly)
… Once again, the Beach Boys reign supreme. (Douglas Brinkley)
As the title suggests, Everybody Had an Ocean concentrates on the Beach Boys, especially Brian and Dennis Wilson. But all kinds of musicians appear, including Bob Dylan and the Beatles. If you already know a lot about a particular musician or group, you probably won’t find much new here. The main thing I learned about the Beach Boys was that Dennis Wilson and Charles Manson spent even more time together than I realized. On the other hand, I learned quite a bit about Jan and Dean, the Mamas and the Papas, the Byrds and the Doors (as well as the Manson “family”).
The book’s prose is not “smooth”, however. The author often resorts to distracting clichés and slang expressions, especially when he’s discussing who was having sex with who. In general, it could have used a better editor. But if you’re interested in the music of that time and place, Everybody Had an Ocean is worth reading.
Brian Wilson has a website. On that site, there are music lovers who have been playing a game for the past nine years. It’s called “The Battle of the Bands”. Someone posts videos for four songs. Usually there is a theme that ties the songs together. People then rank the four songs. They also post their own videos. There is discussion. It’s almost always very polite. Each battle lasts one week. You have to register on the site in order to participate. It’s free and nobody will bother you with annoying advertisements or solicitations. The whole thing is kind of fun.
Oh, one of the four songs has to have a connection to Brian Wilson or the Beach Boys.
This week’s battle is called “It’s Over”. These are the four songs.
The Everly Brothers — “Crying inthe Rain” (1962). Co-written by Carole King.
The Miracles — “Ooo Baby Baby”(1965). Co-written, produced and sung by Smokey Robinson.
Neil Young — “Like a Hurricane”(1977). This is a live version from 1982. The studio version is equally long.
The Beach Boys — “I Just Wasn’tMade For These Times” (1966). Co-written with Tony Asher. It’sthe end of innocence? optimism? faith in one’s fellow human beings?
In case you’d like to visit and maybe even participate, please go here. The people who do participate are very nice and will thank you for showing up.
(Plus, we rarely discuss politics. Although it’s sometimes hard to resist, considering the present situation.)
Brian Wilson was the brilliant creative force behind the Beach Boys before his life went sideways. In recent years, he’s had a successful solo career, mainly because he found the right woman to marry and got the mental health treatment he needed.
This memoir is quite good, even better than I expected. Reading it feels like you’re seeing the world from Brian’s perspective, as his recurring thoughts and memories, good and bad, come and go. The book is divided into chapters that bring some organization and chronology to the story, but at times it’s like listening to his stream of consciousness.
Never having heard him speak for any length of time, because he is famously terse in interviews, I wondered if his “voice” was really coming through. I think it was. Brian and his co-writer should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. They’ve given us an informative look into the mind of this extremely talented man.