Blog Archives

Happy Birthday, Brian Wilson!

Guest Blogger: Ian Rusten is the co-author of The Beach Boys in Concert (along with Jon Stebbins). 

The Beach Boys’ leader, Brian Wilson, turns 71 today.  For many people that knew him in the darkest period of his life (the late 1970s and early 1980s), the sheer fact that Brian is still alive is something to be celebrated.  But, what is more astounding is that Brian has overcome the demons and depression that drove him into years of drug and alcohol addiction and taken back the musical legacy that he created as leader of the Beach Boys in the 1960s.  Brian completed a highly successful 50th Anniversary Tour with the surviving Beach Boys last year and recently announced the impending release of his eleventh solo album (the first was in 1988).

In honor of Brian’s birthday, enjoy this excerpt from The Beach Boys In Concert: The Ultimate History of America’s Band On Tour and Onstage by Ian Rusten and Jon Stebbins.  The book chronicles in great detail the long stage career of the band Brian created with his brothers, a cousin and a high school friend in 1961.  As the excerpt shows, by 1963, Brian, at the ridiculously young age of 21, was already developing into one of the most important composers and producers in the Los Angeles music scene:

“It was soon after their (first) Midwest tour that the group began recording their third album, Surfer Girl.   The album was the first on which Brian had complete control with no interference and was listed as producer on the album’s cover.  The move to Western (Studios) allowed Brian to keep working on a song until he was satisfied.  Late nights in the studio became the norm.  According to (Capitol Records Executive) Nick Venet, Brian “was the first guy to do it until it was right.  He damned everyone till it was right and then he gave them the record; he took his chances.  A lot of us would get chicken after four hours, and say, ‘we’d better get off the tune.’  Brian would hang in there for nine hours, no matter what the cost.  I used to think he was crazy, but he was right.”  As a result of his growing perfectionism, the Surfer Girl LP also marked the first album on which Brian used outside musicians on several of the tracks.  Al Jardine, still not an “official” Beach Boy again, played bass on a few tracks, freeing Brian to play piano.  More importantly, Brian had session musician Hal Blaine come in to add drums to “Our Car Club.”

Blaine was a member of the famous “Wrecking Crew” that “Boy-Genius” Phil Spector used to create his famous “Wall of Sound.”  If the Four Freshmen were the biggest influence on the development of The Beach Boys vocal style, Phil Spector was the most important influence on Brian as a producer.  Spector developed his “Wall of Sound” by combining large numbers of instruments all playing together to create a dense, layered sound.  Just as Brian double tracked vocals, Phil would often double or triple a bass part or electric guitar line.  As a result, he created an enormous, thunderous sound that overwhelmed the listener.  Songs like the Crystals, “There’s No Other like My Baby” and “He’s a Rebel,” were productions, as writer Timothy White described “with an almost preternatural sensory impact…”.  Spector’s productions fascinated Brian.  When he met Hal Blaine, he pumped him for information about the reclusive “Tycoon of Teen.”  Soon, Brian was attending Spector sessions, soaking up how he achieved the dynamic sound on his records.  As Brian recalled, “I was unable to really think as a producer up until the time where I really got familiar with Phil Spector’s work…then I started to see the point of making records…You design the experience to be a record rather than just a song…It’s the overall sound, what they’re going to hear and experience in two and a half minutes that counts.”  When Spector released the Ronettes “Be My Baby” that summer, Brian became obsessed with the song, playing it over and over again on his turntable, until he knew how every inch of sound on it was made.  Brian applied the Spector influence to his own productions, but with a one of a kind Wilson twist, and in the process produced something uniquely his own.

The improvements in production and arrangement were quite noticeable on the Surfer Girl LP.  If the (Beach Boys 2nd LP) Surfin’ USA suggested that the Beach Boys might have a future as a surf garage band, the Surfer Girl LP gave notice that the Beach Boys were a fantastic vocal group.  The title track contained an incredibly lush aural appeal, soon becoming an evergreen classic.  “Catch a Wave,” a new composition written by Brian and Mike, spotlighted Brian’s swooping falsetto, the group’s dynamic harmonies, and Dennis’ thumping drums.  As writer Philip Lambert stated, Brian was finally confidant enough to place “total faith in the sound and force of the vocal presentation.”  It was clear that Brian’s time listening to the sophisticated jazzy vocals of the Four Freshmen had not been wasted.  (Brian’s brother) Carl believed that an important element of their vocal style was the fact that, “Vocals were voiced like horn parts, the way those R&B records made background vocals sound like a sax section.  They’re all within the same octave; that’s really the secret to it.  We didn’t just duplicate parts; we used a lot of counterpoint, a lot of layered sound.”  The Beach Boys vocal style blended especially beautifully on the melancholy “In My Room,” one of Brian’s last collaborations with Gary Usher.  The song was one of the first to highlight Brian’s amazing ability to express his deepest feelings within a pop song. With lines like “Now it’s dark and I’m alone, but I won’t be afraid” the song expressed a naked vulnerability that was rare in pop music.  Brian’s aching voice seemed tailor made to express such sentiments and his introspective ballads were often the creative highlight of Beach Boys albums.”

The Beach Boys in Concert is an exhilarating day-by-day journey through the triumphs and tribulations of one of rock’s most legendary acts. More than ten years of exhaustive research has produced an unprecedented window into the Beach Boys’ thrilling successes, personal tragedies, inter-band dramas, and globe-trotting, rock-and-roll adventures from 1961 to 2012.

The Beach Boys in Concert is a solidly factual and highly entertaining ride from their humble beginnings of driving to local gigs in their mom’s station wagon to touring the world in private jets with a massive entourage in tow, from nervously playing to a dozen unimpressed Southern California surfers to performing for a half-million worshipping fans on the National Mall. The evolution and growth of an entertainment phenomenon is captured here in a far more detailed way than ever before.

The Beach Boys in Concert is the ultimate document for fans when it comes to the group’s career as concert performers; no other publication comes close to this tome in scope, detail, and definitive quality. Adding to the feast is an extensive collection of unpublished photos and rare memorabilia images that bring fans deeper into the context of any given era covered in the book. This detailed, illustrated 50-year Surfin’ Safari will blow your mind!

Advertisements

Ringo Starr’s Birthday

Robert Rodriguez is the author of Revolver. Since it is Ringo’s birthday we would like to celebrate with this recent interview that was conducted by Rock Cellar Magazine.

ROCK CELLAR MAGAZINE: There are lots of books about the Beatles, and even a couple of recent ones about this album, Revolver.  What makes yours different?

Robert Rodriguez:  With this book, I tried to bring people into the world in which this music was produced.  I made the effort to place readers into 1965-66-67, showing what was going on in the Beatles’ world, as well as in pop/rock generally. I think it’s pretty crucial to understanding this album’s greatness to know who was listening to whom. What sort of developments were affecting what.

RCM:  So you’re talking about artists of the time that had an influence on the Beatles, and vice-versa.  Like Dylan, or…?

RR:  For one.  The Beatles were fans of Dylan’s going back at least as far as Freewheelin.’ In 1964, the Beatles and Dylan occupied entirely separate worlds, yet they each saw in each other elements that they could sort of…repurpose to their own ends.  Dylan saw past the bubble-gum elements of the Beatles’ music – and the screaming fans – and recognized that something sophisticated was going on.  To his credit.

Meanwhile the Beatles saw that something deeper and more satisfying could be heard in Dylan’s lyrics than they were accustomed to putting into their own.  So, say, by the end of 1964 you can see his influence beginning to manifest itself in their music.  I think John and George began to see Beatle music as more of a means of self-expression…less as a purely commercial vehicle.

ROCK CELLAR MAGAZINE: There are lots of books about the Beatles, and even a couple of recent ones about this album, Revolver.  What makes yours different ?

Robert Rodriguez:  With this book, I tried to bring people into the world in which this music was produced.  I made the effort to place readers into 1965-66-67, showing what was going on in the Beatles’ world, as well as in pop/rock generally. I think it’s pretty crucial to understanding this album’s greatness to know who was listening to whom. What sort of developments were affecting what.

RCM:  So you’re talking about artists of the time that had an influence on the Beatles, and vice-versaLike Dylan, or…?

RR:  For one.  The Beatles were fans of Dylan’s going back at least as far as Freewheelin.’ In 1964, the Beatles and Dylan occupied entirely separate worlds, yet they each saw in each other elements that they could sort of…repurpose to their own ends.  Dylan saw past the bubble-gum elements of the Beatles’ music – and the screaming fans – and recognized that something sophisticated was going on.  To his credit.

Meanwhile the Beatles saw that something deeper and more satisfying could be heard in Dylan’s lyrics than they were accustomed to putting into their own.  So, say, by the end of 1964 you can see his influence beginning to manifest itself in their music.  I think John and George began to see Beatle music as more of a means of self-expression…less as a purely commercial vehicle.

RCM:  Who else at the time do you think was important.  Or influential?

RR:  Well of course, Brian Wilson.  He’d had his breakdown, retired from the road in 1964, and in his quest to chase Phil Spector…he began crafting these ornate backings to Beach Boys music – this was due his being allowed to take his time, and not compromise his vision.

And the Beatles were paying close attention to this – what could be achieved by using the studio fully, augmenting their sound – beyond what you were expected to pull off live.  Both sides were following each other’s artistic development.

For more please visit Rock Cellar Magazine.

Revolver

The making of Revolver – hunkered down in Abbey Road with George Martin – is in itself a great Beatles story, but would be nothing if the results weren’t so impactful. More than even Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds, Revolver fed directly into the rock ‘n’ roll zeitgeist, and its influence could be heard everywhere: from the psychedelic San Francisco sound (Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead); to the first wave of post-blues hard rock (Sabbath, Zeppelin); through movie soundtracks and pretty much everything that followed it – including every generation of guitar-based pop music and even heavy metal. More than any record before or after, Revolver was the game-changer, and this is, finally, the detailed telling of its storied recording and enormous impact.

Brian Wilson’s Birthday: The Celebration of a Legend

Happy number 70, Brian Wilson!

 

As it is Brian Wilson’s birthday, we would like to share an interview with Jon Stebbins from Examiner.com about Stebbins’ book The Beach Boys FAQ.

How did you become a Beach Boys fan? 

I became a Beach Boys fan very early in life. I grew up in the East San Francisco Bay Area in a town called Livermore. My sisters were teenagers in the ’60s, and although I was only five years old in 1963, I distinctly remember hearing the Beach Boys on the AM radio (“Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin USA”) and being really excited when my older sister brought home the brand new “Surfin U.S.A.” LP.

That album became a daily ritual in our home, and I felt a strong connection to the faces on the back cover. The Beach Boys were the coolest thing around, yet things changed after we saw The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” the following year. We fell into intense Beatlemania in my home and got a bunch of Beatles’ records, and other British Invasion albums, too.

Nevertheless, the Beach Boys remained in our household mix. My family purchased “All Summer Long” and the “Beach Boys Concert” LPs [both 1964] and played them to death. I was in love with the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Animals, etc…but the Beach Boys always seemed like the home team to me.

They were singing about my California culture as opposed to something exotic and foreign. “All Summer Long” is still my favorite Beach Boys LP. Although my devotion as a fan has ebbed and flowed [I doubt there is another band who had so many highs and lows over such a long period], I’ve been a Beach Boys fan at my core from age five.

Why is “All Summer Long” still your favorite Beach Boys’ album?

“All Summer Long” evokes the feeling of a summer in California in a way that lets you access it again and again every time you put the record on. For 1964 it was a masterpiece of progression (e.g. “I Get Around”, “Little Honda” and Girls on the Beach”) tinged with nostalgia (e.g. “All Summer Long” and “Do You Remember?”). There is a joyous vibe that is tempered with melancholy.

The Beach Boys were still a garage band playing most of the instruments, but the production and vocal arrangements were getting more sophisticated. Tracks like “Hushabye” and “We’ll Run Away” feature some of Brian and the group’s best vocals.

The album represents Brian on the cusp of greatness, with all of the potential for greater things still ahead of him. “All Summer Long” is a golden moment, and the quintessential Beach Boys album in my opinion.

How did the myth get started that the Beach Boys didn’t play on the majority of their classic recordings?

I think the myth came about when writers like David Leaf wanted to give Brian major credit for creating things like “Pet Sounds” independently of the Beach Boys. Somehow that was conflated into a perception that the Beach Boys barely played instruments on any of their classic records, and especially that Dennis Wilson was replaced by ace session drummer Hal Blaine on nearly everything.

The truth is the Beach Boys, including Dennis, played the instruments on the majority of their albums and singles, far more than the Wrecking Crew. That said, the Wrecking Crew did play on many Beach Boys classics (e.g. “Help Me Rhonda”, “California Girls”, and “Good Vibrations”).

However, “Pet Sounds” is really the only Beach Boys album that is nearly 100% Wrecking Crew with little Beach Boys participation on the instruments. Prior to that, the Beach Boys played a major musical role in the studio on every album.

On projects like “All Summer Long” and “Shut Down Volume 2” [1964], it’s still mostly all them, with a few selections either augmented or played by the Wrecking Crew. Before that it’s 99% Beach Boys.

Keep reading on examiner.com…

The Beach Boys FAQ

As the 1970s dawned, the endless summer of nostalgia designated the Beach Boys as its favorite sons. They recorded a critically lauded string of albums even while coping with the knowledge that their creative leader, Brian Wilson, had become a semipermanent recluse and a casualty of his own excess. Still, the Beach Boys continued through controversy, conflict, and death, rising again and again to find more popularity and more commercial peaks into the 1980s and beyond. As the new millennium unfolds, the Beach Boys are still here and continue to be a popular concert attraction and one of rock’s most compelling and important stories. In The Beach Boys FAQ, Jon Stebbins explains how the band impacted music and pop culture. This entertaining, fast-moving tome is accompanied by dozens of rare images, making this volume a must-have for fans.