Let Her Dance

The Bobby Fuller Four was a Texas rock band in the 60s who had one big hit. “I Fought the Law” (and the law won!) made the Top Ten in 1965. It was never a favorite of mine but I wouldn’t change the station when it came on.

Earlier that year, they released “Let Her Dance”. It only reached #133 on the national chart, but it was a minor hit in Los Angeles (#23 on KRLA, #19 on KFWB). I turned 14 when it was on the radio in Southern California, but if I heard it, it made no lasting impression.

Bobby Fuller died under mysterious circumstances a few months after “I Fought the Law”. That was the end of the Bobby Fuller Four.

Wes Anderson used “Let Her Dance” in his Fantastic Mr. Fox animated movie in 2009. I saw the movie but took no notice of the song.

Then, five years ago, I heard “Let Her Dance” on Brian Wilson’s site. (I know it was five years ago because it’s on the internet.) It’s not much of a song — it’s repetitious to say the least — but it immediately became a favorite. I’m still playing it five years later. I’m even writing about it.

Why do some songs appeal to us so much? Why do some songs we love not appeal to other people at all? I have no idea. Just let her dance.

From The Guardian: “The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Bobby Fuller, Rock ‘n Roll King of Texas”.

Smiles from 1967, 2004, 2011 and even 2002

After releasing Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations” in 1966, Brian Wilson tried to keep it all going with Smile in 1967. Things didn’t work out, so Smile became rock music’s most famous, most well-regarded, unfinished, semi-existing album. Brian and the other Beach Boys went on to lesser things (as did Brian’s lyricist for the project, Van Dyke Parks), while the legend of Smile grew.

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I use the word “legend” because in this case it’s appropriate. The story was told again and again. Unreleased recordings were quietly shared. Speculation abounded among certain Beach Boys fans. Would the group ever finish Smile? What would it be like when we finally got to hear it? What would people have thought in 1967 if Smile had come out before Sergeant Pepper? The Beach Boys and Beatles were having a friendly competition in the mid-60s. We know how that came out.

Brian Wilson, having begun a solo career in the 80s, changed the Smile story in a big way in 2004. Overcoming considerable obstacles, he and his band debuted Smile at a February concert in London. From The Guardian:

So how good, finally, is Smile, the great lost song cycle that Brian Wilson kept the world waiting 37 years to hear? The only possible answer, after Friday night’s world premiere in London, is that it is better than anyone dared hope. Multiple spontaneous ovations were the reward for the former Beach Boy and his musicians, whose pristine performance breathed life into a 45-minute work previously known only through various shattered and dispersed fragments.

Seven months later, Brian Wilson presented us with Brian Wilson Presents Smile. Metacritic, a site that tries to synthesize critical opinion, has it down as the third-best reviewed album of the 21st century:

Well, better 37 years late than never. Originally intended to be the Beach Boys’ 1967 follow-up to their legendary ‘Pet Sounds,’ ‘Smile’ was finally recorded as originally intended in April 2004 by Wilson and his current band, including co-songwriter Van Dyke Parks.

“Originally intended” is a stretch, since nobody, including Mr. Wilson, really knows how he intended to put Smile‘s pieces together in 1967. (Not being able to put the pieces together was a very big part of the problem.)

In 2011, Capitol Records released a big set of Beach Boys recordings from the 60s, The Smile Sessions, also to great acclaim. And that was that.

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Except that while we were waiting those 37 years, a number of us (hundreds of us? thousands?) created our own versions of Smile, using whatever pieces were available (legally and otherwise). I did one in 2002, two years before Brian did. If only he’d asked me for help in 1967!

Mine differs from the typical unofficial arrangement, mainly in two ways. I started with something someone put together from mostly instrumental tracks and called “The Elements”. I think it’s an excellent prelude to what comes later. I also used a version of the song “Wonderful” from the Smiley Smile album (what the Beach Boys released in lieu of Smile), not the original “Wonderful” with a harpsichord that most fans seem to prefer. I like the later one a lot more.

Anyway, here’s my Smile from 2002 in two formats up in the Microsoft cloud (YouTube objected due to copyright):

Audio only (MP3, 55 mb)

Audio plus unsophisticated video that identifies the tracks (MP4, 52 mb)

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(By the way, whether or not you watched any of that ridiculous “debate”, please vote and send the maniac back to private life and almost certain criminal prosecution.)

Something Joyful for a Change

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.

Check out his reaction:

About the song.

Two Times the Fendertones Have Replicated the Beach Boys

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.

Everybody Had An Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles by William McKeen

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.