Tag Archives: The Beach Boys

Love and Mercy

“Love & Mercy” – Mostly Good Vibrations: A Film Review.

love-and-mercy-banner

If you remember the 1960’s classic album Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, there is a good chance you will enjoy the movie “Love & Mercy.”

In a highly innovative flashback structure in which Paul Dano plays twenty-something Brian Wilson and John Cusack plays his fifty-something 1980’s version, we see the backstory of a creative musical genius whose abusive childhood and teen life results in destructive adult behavior. Based on a biography of Brian Wilson, “Love & Mercy” tells the horrific tale of a pioneering musician and the wounds which never seemed to heal.

But a tragic childhood can have moments of redemption and hope. This film has both, with the introduction of Melinda Ledbetter (played beautifully by Elizabeth Banks, earlier seen in the film “Invincible”).

Brian (Dano): “I would listen to those harmonies. I would teach them to my brothers and we’d all sing… How about you, Melinda? Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

Melindal Ledbetter (Banks): “He broke my heart.”

Brian: “He shouldn’t have done that.”

Melinda: “I shouldn’t have let him.

And that dialogue foreshadows one of the major motifs in “Love & Mercy”. Those closest to Brian let Eugene Landy, a tyrannical therapist use and abuse him, just as Brian’s father had. Paul Giamatti delivers a gripping performance as Landy reminding this viewer of JK Simmons in “Whiplash.”

And the music! It is absolutely essential to evoking and understanding the time period and the genius that is Brian Wilson. For those who do not know music theory well, “Love and Mercy” provides a hint as to why Wilson is considered to be one of the greats in music. He develops bold new orchestrations and arrangements, new sound textures in an analog era that, to those listening today, are taken for granted as marking the standard for the sixties and the seventies. His choral harmony, falsetto voice, and instrumentations were the most innovative of his time. Even the Beatles borrowed from him.

Beach Boys Concert poster

Understanding Wilson’s revolutionary compositions and inventiveness in his recordings (for example, by separating vocal tracks from instrumentals) is to appreciate when Brian’s mind was most stable, when he was most himself. His unbounded enthusiasm, however, was also indistinguishable, at times, from desperation.

“Love and Mercy” has some glaring flaws, especially if the viewer is aware of the details of Wilson’s life. In portraying the two lives of Wilson (pre-fame and post-fame), the movie sometimes loses momentum, with incomplete scenes suggesting a bigger story. This viewer was left with questions: Why didn’t Wilson’s family intervene when Landy was blatantly abusing him? What happened to the courageous maid Gloria who risked deportation? Who finally bought the legal challenge that ended Landy’s guardianship of Brian? Since Wilson’s father Murry is featured in several abusive encounters, one is left to wonder how he was treated by his mother Audree.

Brian with She & Him No Pier Pressure

Still, “Love and Mercy” deserves to become a classic not just for music lovers but for movie and biography aficionados. The single “Good Vibrations” was a signal to the world of Brian Wilson’s unique musical genius. “Love & Mercy” is a paean to the ongoing glory of Brian Wilson.

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

You can read more from writer-author, artist and instructor Diana Y. Paul by visiting her blog, Unhealed Wound, at:

http://unhealedwound.com/

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

1965

1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 352 pages)

1965 could have been a direct, engaging and entertaining account of that year’s music. Instead, this nonfiction story begins with Acknowledgements, a Selected Time Line, an Introduction, and a Prologue before it actually starts. The ending is, naturally, followed by an Epilogue. And instead of simply discussing the music of the 12-month period, Andrew Grant Jackson proceeds to attempt to cover all of the political and social developments of the time, with far too much attention paid to psychedelic drugs. (Boring, “oft-covered” territory.)

One or two factual errors might be excusable, as Jackson was not alive when these events occurred. But there are far too many in 1965. Jackson writes that the Beatles tried to out-jingle-jangle the Byrds with the song “Nowhere Man.” No, it was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone.” He lists the Beatles’ “Think For Yourself” as a song about politics and free expression. No, it was a break-up song. He writes that the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” was a remake of “Baby Love” by the Supremes. Not even close. And he cites “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys as a drug song. It was a remake of a West Indies traditional folk song earlier recorded by the rather benign, innocent Kingston Trio.

There are other statements that are questionable. Jackson writes, for example, that the Rolling Stones based their single “Paint It Black” on “My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes. Maybe, maybe not. One of the highly doubtful statements made by Jackson is that Brian Wilson based his classic song “God Only Knows” on the lightweight song “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” by the Spoonful. C’mon, now.

1965 is also plagued with no small amount of repetition. Jackson often makes the claim that specific rock song introductions were based on Bach’s classical music. In a couple of instances, he is likely right, but he goes on to state that this is the case for a large number of songs. Again, this is questionable.

beatles-1965-granger

Every now and then Jackson does uncover something of interest. He may have discovered the song that Paul McCartney heard as a very young boy in the early 50s, which subconsciously inspired him to write “Yesterday.” Well, maybe.

aftermath-usa

The book’s subtitle claims that 1965 was the most revolutionary year in rock music. Really? Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde and Aftermath were released in 1966, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band followed in 1967. I’d argue that these were the most significant, revolutionary years in rock music.

One final point is that Jackson often attempts to connect one type of music to everything else, musically and otherwise. You can love the music that Frank Sinatra recorded in the 60s without tying it to what the Beatles, Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones were doing at the time. There are different types of music, and some music is created without reference to the political struggles or happenings of the time.

1965 is a book that had a lot of potential. Due to its strangely formal structure and its errors, the potential was largely wasted.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on February 3, 2015.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Best Of All Possible Worlds

Music Review: ‘Pop/Art’ by Adrian Bourgeois (Disc Two)

Pop Art

Californian Adrian Bourgeois apparently knows where he comes from.

Adrian B 2

The second disc of Bourgeois’ 2014 release Pop/Art contains twelve songs that run 53 or so minutes. There’s much to like, and much that is reminiscent of a late ’60s/early ’70s pop sound and sensibility that puts today’s popular music to shame. And, a great deal of this features a unique and refined combination of The Byrds (especially the second track, “Better”) and the Beach Boys (especially the fourth track, “The Howling Wind”) with a Phil Spector-produced type of backdrop (especially the fifth track, “The Lost and the Free”). In terms of modern comparisons, it is like Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), with a higher voice and a tad less edge – though don’t let the voice fool you (if you look more closely at the lyrics you’ll find plenty of edge).

Take this from the seventh selection on Disc Two’s “Picture Frames”: “Now there’s poison in the wishing well/Poison in the wishing well/So you failed to say/And I’ve been drinking it all day/But it’s so nice to see you anyway/You and your picture frame.” Damn fine.

And there appear to be some Beatles influence at work as well, particularly in the sixth track “Parachutes”, in which the hooks and transitions are so smooth and cleverly constructed that Sir Paul McCartney comes to mind.

This CD is eminently listenable. This “album”, if you can still call it that, works as background music for a party or resonates at a much deeper, personal, level (should the listener choose to consider it in that manner). Many of these tracks could be included in a soundtrack for the right film.

Heavier on piano than guitar and, as stated earlier, produced on the borderline of being over-produced, the songs begin to run together by the end. One wonders if a double CD release was prudent or if some of these songs should have been saved for a follow-up release. That being said, they do hang together thematically.

The brass at the end of “Celebrate the News” (same title but different lyrics from the Beach Boys song), the blusier aforementioned “The Lost and the Free”, another change up in “Picture Frame”, and a solo-acoustic “Rainy Day Parade” help. However, by the third and second-to-last tracks on Disc Two (“Still Life” and “Sunflower”) the sound meanders a bit with the word “redundant” coming to mind. Although solid lyrics do save it from redundancy if one is willing to listen closely.

AB

Pop/Art should appeal to a broad audience. Several of these songs could be played on WXRT in Chicago, which those of you from that area know is the only station for music lovers. It almost goes without saying – although I will say it, that Pop/Art is a very solid work of “Pop/Art”.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Mr. Moyer is a public school administrator, a drummer who has never played with the Rolling Stones, The Who or the Beach Boys, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel. He was provided with a review copy of Pop/Art.

Pop/Art can be purchased here: http://adrianbourgeois.bandcamp.com/

You can read a review of Pop/Art, Disc One here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/everybody-knows-it-was-me/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Everybody Knows It Was Me

Music Review: ‘Pop/Art’ by Adrian Bourgeois (Disc One)

Los Angeles-based musician Adrian Bourgeois has released a double-album containing 24 songs. Here we take a look at the first twelve songs on Pop/Art, to be followed shortly by another reviewer’s look at the remaining twelve songs.

Pop Art 2

Pop/Art is nothing if not ambitious, and it makes for a sometimes sprawling introduction to Adrian Bourgeois, who now lives in the greater Los Angeles area but earlier lived and performed in Sacramento and Elk Grove.

Adrian_Bourgeois_309114017_std

Pop/Art opens with “New December” which feels like a Paul McCartney song from the Beatles White Album melded with a track from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album. This is a nice opening and it segues into “Time Can’t Fly A Plane”, a song that has an America-style (“Ventura Highway”) rhythm and feel. One of my two favorite tracks follows, “Everybody Knows It Was Me”, which hits the ears like a song that was inadvertently left off of Todd Rundgren’s 1972 opus Something/Anything?

“Pictures of Incense” made me think of both the Traveling Wilburys and of A. C. (Allan Carl) Newman, whose Get Guilty album was pure genius. “Jonah” comes off as Bob Dylan mixed with the stinging electric guitar work most often heard on a Matthew Sweet album. “Have It Your Way” is a ’80s pop-rock confection. It’s a treat, especially as it’s not too hard to imagine a band called Bourgeois Tagg playing this song back in the day.

When I listen to “Hanging Day”, I think of McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon”, Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and Sting’s “Heavy Cloud No Rain.” It’s a haunting, yet fun, track that grows on the listener. “Aquarium” is my other favorite track on Pop/Art; it’s beautifully sonorous and sounds as if it was produced by both Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. The lyrics are also life affirming: “If you can’t be touched, you can’t be healed.”

It’s not too hard to see the line between Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Adrian’s “Too Much Time.” Think of a speeded-up rocking and rollicking variation on the classic “From a Buick 6.” As Sir Paul would say, “Oh, yes!”

I tend to like songs on which I can hear and observe a musician’s influences, which is why I have focused on these particular tracks. However, I suspect that some will most enjoy the songs that demonstrate Bourgeois’ originality – the sui generis “Waterfalls”, “Don’t Look Away”, and the regretful heartbreak song, “My Sweet Enemy.”

These songs were created while Adrian Bourgeois lived in Northern California. It will be interesting to see the changes in life’s attitude brought about by a change in physical latitude – the move to Southern California. (More sunshine and less rain?) No doubt this will be apparent on his next offering. Until then, this aspiring work should satisfy more than a few discriminating music lovers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Pop/Art was purchased by the reviewer.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Music Review: The Olms

Is the debut album from The Olms a hit, a miss or something in between?

The Olms (300)

If you missed the rock music era that ran from the mid-60s through to the end of the 70s, you can catch up to some extent by listening to this eclectic collection of 10 retro songs from the Los Angeles-based group The Olms. The Olms are Pete Yorn, who gives off something of an Owen Wilson-crossed-with-Ray-Davies vibe, and J. D. King, a combination of George Harrison and Michael Clarke (the late Byrds drummer) in appearance. It’s perhaps no accident that you’ll hear echoes of The Kinks and The Byrds in their music.

This debut album runs a couple of seconds less than a half-hour in length, and it was recorded on analog tape. Listening to the CD sounds like you’re hearing a cassette version. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the listener, but it adds a period touch to the release.

Here’s a quick look at the tracks.

“On the Line” is like The Traveling Wilburys (“End of the Line”) mixed with the Kinks. The megaphone vocal is by King, while Yorn contributes Davies-style background vocals. “Someone Else’s Girl” could have been a track from Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. There’s also a touch of The Beatles’ “Things We Said Today” in the song. The music sounds like a weekend drive through Los Angeles. Blissful.

“Twice As Nice,” the first-ever Yorn/King composition is an uplifting song that calls to mind The Beach Boys and America. “Walking down Record Street at night….” Clever. “Wanna Feel It” is the single, which has a nice rhythm but ultimately goes nowhere. All promise and no delivery, which is perhaps why it ends abruptly two-thirds of the way through and segues into “A Bottle of Wine, etc.” This sounds like a late-period Byrds song that might have been included on either Sweetheart of the Rodeo or Dr. Byrd & Mr. Hyde. It melds beautiful lyrics with unique and playful instrumentation. “It’s a lonely world without the one you want.” Sweetly melancholic.

“Another Daydream” is a Pet Sounds-style song with a beautiful melody and the strangest lyrics since “A Horse With No Name”: “Koolaid sheik wandering the desert/Stranded in time feeling alone/Cold sweat drying in the garden/Cactus flower saying hello.” What?

“Rise and Shine” is by far the weakest song on the album. And it’s meaningless. “I check the kitchen but there’s no one there/I start the engine yet go nowhere.” This might have served as a throwaway track on an album by The Monkees.

“What Can I Do?” is Yorn’s full-on Ray Davies act. “You know it’s useless baby we can’t say goodbye/We’re going to be together till one of us dies!” “She Said No” is King’s gruesome yet entertaining song. It’s his serio-comic version of Neil Young’s “Down By the River.” “Only One Way” might have been the last track on a Byrds album. The lyrics say, “We’ll see you next time.” Yorn channels Davies again while King’s guitar work combines George Harrison and Roger McGuinn.

The Olms

All in all, The Olms is a mixed effort. The album has some high highs, but they’re counterbalanced by some very low lows. Although Yorn is quite a good drummer, the energy level is off compared to their live performances (Google the olms kcrw). When they played these songs in a live session at Apogee Studio for the KCRW audience in Los Angeles, there was a spark, a sense of joyfulness (Yorn played the opening chords to The Kinks’ “Lola” and sang a fine cover of “Love Is All Around” by The Troggs), and a love of life and playing that’s absent in the flat-by-comparison album versions. The songs were also played at a faster pace when played live.

It’s a shame that the excellent KCRW concert was not taped and released as the debut effort by this group. Still, The Olms serves as a heartfelt tribute to days gone by.

Joseph Arellano

A review CD was provided by a publicist. (Photo: Justin Wise/KCRW)

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics website:

Music Review: The Olms – ‘The Olms’

The review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-The-Olms-The-Olms-4849307.php

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

Music Review: Volume 3 by She & Him.

SheAndHimVolume3

The 14 songs on this latest compilation by She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) go by in just 42 minutes and 36 seconds, which means the album would have fit perfectly on one side of a C-90 cassette. This is just one of the retro aspects of this release. Deschanel’s focus appears to be on the past, as if she’s piloting a musical time machine. Unfortunately, the machine may be broken as it seems to move all over the place without much rhyme or reason.

“I’ve Got Your Number, Son” is the awkwardly-titled track one and it starts off like a Beach Boys song melded with Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun.” Nice production but Zooey’s vocal is weak and muddled here, as if she had not yet downed a first cup of coffee. The drumming is overly busy and it comes off as a bit too Glee-fully cute for its own good.

“Never Wanted Your Love” is a bit disorienting as Zooey delivers a Nancy Sinatra vocal over an instrumental arrangement that screams out Wham. Wake me up before you go go. The song could have used more lyrics but the repetition is very ’60s/’70s/’80s. The good news is that Zooey delivers some energy here.

“Baby” is what a ’50s love song would sound like if recorded by Fleetwood Mac. The guitars are dead-on Lindsey Buckingham, and Ms. Nicks might think about covering this Deschanel composition.

“I Could Have Been Your Girl” is a good song. But Zooey seems to be straining (a rarity) in the wrong key. The lyrics, “I’d send you the pillow that I cried on…” suggest a song that might have fit on an album by Lesley Gore or Shelley Fabares. This track could have used additional takes before becoming a finished product.

“Turn to White” is Brazilian-style pop and Zooey finally sounds confident. This is her “I’m Still Standing” song: “You’re a distraction from everything I fear…”. Love has beaten her up and knocked her down but she’s not fading away. This is the best produced song on Volume 3 (presumably M. Ward’s on the bass); it could be a film soundtrack song, played during the closing credits.

“Somebody Sweet to Talk To” is also set to a catchy Fleetwood Mac rhythm, it’s kind of like “Everywhere.” The song is about love without obligations: “I’m just asking you to stay for a couple of hours…”. Zooey sounds like a different person here, which is nice, but the song is over in less than 3 minutes.

“Something’s Haunting You” is Zooey’s “Martha My Dear.” There’s a touch of Peggy Lee in the vocal (although some would argue that Lee was never this upbeat) and it would make for a great music video with Zooey dressed as a ’40s chanteuse.

“Together” is a lightweight ’80s pop track. It’s a throwaway song and the nadir of the collection.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” is a cover that lacks the heart, feeling and soul of Mel Carter’s recording. This should have been a home run (like Gloria Estefan’s version), instead it comes off as a failed bunt. Zooey’s cover only lasts for 2:40 but, trust me, it feels much longer.

“Snow Queen” is ’50s style. I get that, but I don’t get it.

“Sunday Girl” is another cover, this time of Blondie’s Los Angeles surf-rock love song. Zooey’s vocal comes off as weak compared to Deborah Harry’s and it raises the question as to whether this ’78 song needed to be recorded again. (Probably not.)

“London” is simply Zooey singing over a piano. If the entire album were like this, it might have been near brilliant.

The title of track 13, “Shadow of Love,” looks like it might have come off an Eagles album and the song sounds like a mixture of Roy Orbison, The Eagles, and Jimmy Buffett. This is Zooey’s “Tequila Sunrise” and features the best lyrics on Volume 3: “We built a shadow of love in our hearts where the future should be… There’s no tomorrow to set us free.”

“Reprise (I Could Have Been Your Girl)” is a short vocal exercise by Zooey without lyrics which is interesting, if a bit illogical coming after “Shadow of Love.”

According to the record company, “(Volume 3) features some of the most dynamic, complex songs Deschanel has ever written.” Well, not really. There are so many varieties of style in this collection that one wonders what She & Him have become. Like Los Lobos, their display of musical diversity robs them of a clear, consistent identity. It may be eclecticism for its own sake.

Volume 3 may sell in bunches for She & Him but, overall, it comes off as a missed opportunity. Sometimes less is less, and this album is much less than it could have been.

Joseph Arellano

Note: I remain a big fan of She & Him, but I’d like to see Zooey and M. Ward push themselves to deliver a classic album; one about which people could say, “That was their Rumours, Rubber Soul or Pet Sounds.” I think they have it in them if they treat music as more than just a hobby.

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-she-him-volume-3/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Midnight Confessions

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret by Kent Hartman (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 292 pages)

Carol Kaye is the female bass player/musician who came up with and played the opening notes on “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny and Cher), “These Boots Were Made for Walkin'” (Nancy Sinatra) and “Midnight Confessions” (The Grass Roots).   She also came up with the opening notes for Glen Campbell’s first hit, “Wichita Lineman.”   These are the kinds of unique, Behind the Music-style, facts cited in The Wrecking Crew, a book whose second subtitle is, “The unknown studio musicians who recorded the soundtrack of a generation.”

Kent Hartman writes about most of the hit songs recorded between 1962 and 1975, starting with “The Lonely Bull” (Herb Alpert) and ending with “Love Will Keep Us Together” (Captain and Tennille).   Special attention is paid to 19 specific songs, and if one or more of these happens to be a favorite of yours, you’ll want to read Hartman’s account to find out how the song(s) were written and recorded.   Here’s the list (I’m eliminating the quote marks here for the purpose of clarity):  California Dreamin’; Limbo Rock; He’s a Rebel; The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena); What’d I Say; I Got You, Babe; Mr. Tambourine Man; River Deep, Mountain High; Eve of Destruction; Strangers in the Night; Good Vibrations; Let’s Live for Today; Up, Up and Away; Classical Gas; Wichita Lineman; MacArthur Park; Bridge Over Troubled Water; (They Long to Be) Close to You; and Love Will Keep Us Together.

Back in the day when these songs were first released, not too many radio listeners and record buyers realized that the Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, The Grass Roots, The Monkees and others were not playing the instruments on their songs.   A group of select musicians, informally known as The Wrecking Crew, recorded the music in Los Angeles studios while the “performers” played the songs on stage when they toured.   It was generally a “win-win” situation for both the high-paid touring musicians and the highly paid studio musicians, and it allowed Brian Wilson to create and record on his own while the official members of the band that he created were off touring.

To his credit, Hartman does cover the occasional conflicts that arose, especially among the musicians – such as Creed Bratton of The Grass Roots and Mike Clarke of The Byrds – who felt insulted by not being permitted to play on their band’s “own” recordings.   Most of the musicians who couldn’t handle the public fame but private shame were shown the door; one exception being the four members of The Monkees, who eventually gained enough power to overrule their managers and record their own songs.The Wrecking Crew (nook book)

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark, all the sweet green icing flowing down…  Someone left the cake out in the rain, and I don’t think that I can take it, ’cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.   (J. Webb)

The stories of how some of these songs came to be written are perhaps even more engaging and intriguing than the tales of how they were recorded.   And likely the most interesting of all the composition stories is that behind the song “MacArthur Park” and the song suite by Jimmy Webb that eventually became the best-selling album A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris.   It turns out that Webb was quite gun-shy about offering the suite to anyone after it was soundly rejected by the soft-rock group, The Association.   The story of how Harris came to hear what he was to sing as “MacArthur’s Park” is almost worth the price of admission itself.

MacArthur Park

One caveat about The Wrecking Crew is that Carol Kaye has some personal objections to the book which she has expressed on Amazon.   (I won’t attempt to summarize her concerns here.)   Still, this is a worthwhile read for music fans, musicians and future composers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Wrecking Crew is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition e-book, and as an unabridged audiobook.

Note:  The personal story of the musician Glen Campbell (pictured on the cover of The Wrecking Crew) is covered in some detail in this book.   Campbell was a member of The Wrecking Crew for several years, as well as a member of The Beach Boys touring band.   Interestingly, he went on to record a relatively successful cover version of “MacArthur Park.”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized