The Battle of the Bands

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’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.

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime: Maureen Dowd and Brian Wilson

NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd may have written her most embarrassing column yet. And she’s written more than her share of embarrassing columns.

The thing is: Dowd likes Donald Trump. They’ve had personal conversations. So it makes a bit of sense that she wants to give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, her latest column, “Trump in the Dumps”, is quite surprising. 

Trump jumped into the race with an eruption of bigotry, ranting about Mexican rapists and a Muslim ban. But privately, he assured people [apparently including Dowd] that these were merely opening bids in the negotiation; that he was really the same pragmatic New Yorker he had always been; that he would be a flexible, wheeling-and-dealing president, not a crazy nihilist like Ted Cruz or a mean racist like George Wallace. He yearned to be compared to Ronald Reagan, a former TV star who overcame a reputation for bellicosity and racial dog whistles to become the most beloved Republican president of modern times.

After cataloging what she sees as the pros and cons of his candidacy, she ends with a bang:

Now Trump’s own behavior is casting serious doubt on whether he’s qualified to be president.

Now? As in this week?

Could it be that Dowd likes Trump so much and dislikes the Clintons so much that she’s seriously considering Trump’s strengths and weaknesses? And she’s still on the fence a year after Trump began campaigning?

But then it occurred to me that maybe her conclusion was ironic, a bit of understated humor. I usually don’t read Dowd’s column these days, given the silly stuff she writes, but she can be funny in a nasty sort of way. Perhaps she was merely having fun at Trump’s expense? I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I really don’t know.

In other news, Pet Sounds turned 50 last month and Brian Wilson turned 74 today. In case you don’t know, he’s the tall one with the Beatles haircut on the album cover. So, in his honor, here’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” a few times.

First, the instrumental backing track:

Next, just the voices (right after the opening notes):

Finally, the finished product:

I said it was from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Love and Mercy Will Be Available June 5th

In the United States anyway. Love and Mercy is the new movie about Brian Wilson (not the baseball pitcher with the silly beard).

It’s also the name of a song from his first solo album. The performance below, by members of Libera and the Boys Choir of Harlem at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007, gets me every time.

The Fendertones Take Us Back to 1965

The Fendertones are an informal group of white guys from the Philadelphia area who have so far blessed the world with 17 YouTube videos and a Facebook page. They occasionally get together to reproduce the complex sound Brian Wilson created for the Beach Boys. It’s one more win for the Internet.

They posted four videos yesterday, including “Sloop John B” (a big hit for the Beach Boys in 1965) and “Kiss Me Baby” (a relatively unknown but brilliant album track from the same year):

While we’re at it, two performances from a 2004 charity concert: 1965’s “California Girls” and its flip side, one of my favorites, “Let Him Run Wild”:

Friday Night “Soul Music” Potpourri

There is an ongoing discussion at Brian Wilson’s website called “The Battle of the Bands”. Every week someone selects four songs from YouTube that have something in common (say, songs about food or songs with great bass lines). At least one of the songs has to be related to Brian Wilson or the Beach Boys. Then the 20 or so regular participants rank the four songs (gold, silver, bronze and tin).

Opinions are offered, other videos are posted, stories are told and at the end of the week, the votes are tabulated. It’s an enjoyable pastime, since the participants are into music and extremely well-mannered (although they tend to be a little long in the tooth, like a certain blogger).

This week’s theme is Soul Music. The artists represented are Etta James, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke (singing the Beach Boys song “Sail On, Sailor”),  and Barbara Mason (doing her big hit “Yes, I’m Ready”).

I voted a couple days ago, giving gold to Otis Redding. This afternoon, one thing led to another (I believe that’s the definition of “the Internet”) and I ended up listening to and sharing several YouTube videos more or less associated with “soul music”. You might find some of them of interest. 

First, some related philosophical observations:

“There is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.” – L. Armstrong 

“You blows who you is.” – L. Armstrong

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – F. Nietzsche

Whether it’s gospel-influenced, doo wop, R&B, soul or whatever, this one is pretty damn amazing. The Chantels, featuring lead singer Arlene Smith, from 1957/58:

James Brown sings it’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” in Paris. He launches into a bit of a medley around 6:40 or so:

Which doesn’t really lead to Bill Medley talking about Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, Carole King or Eric Burdon, or “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” or some famous songs he had the chance to record but didn’t:

The #1 “blue-eyed soul” record that he and Bobby Hatfield did right after they split from Phil Spector:

Which leads in a way (“she’s been my inspiration”) to an extended version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Her”, including instrumental intro and outro:

I really disliked that song when it was on the radio in 1967, and was very surprised when the Beach Boys put it on their terrific “Wild Honey” album later that year. But sometimes we progress. This is the late Carl Wilson doing the lead vocal:

The Beach Boys covered Stevie Wonder, and in 1980 the Los Angeles punk rock band X covered the Doors (whose “Soul Kitchen” referred to a soul food restaurant in Venice, California):

Which doesn’t lead at all to Jimmy Cliff, but this is real good and clearly soulful (although rhyming “over” and “White Cliffs of Dover” is geographically suspicious in a song called “Many Rivers to Cross”. Those cliffs aren’t known for their waterfalls.):

Too bad there’s no money in propagating this Internet stuff.