Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Beatles and the Beach Boys

As evidenced by a number of posts (here, here and here), I've been on a major Beach Boys kick the past couple months. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's been an immense joy. Elevated by sublime vocal arrangements, brimming with warmth and innocence, and graced by a hypnotically escapist sense of place, their music is without parallel. Outside of The Beatles, the Beach Boys are probably my favorite band. If you share this inclination even somewhat, you'd be well advised to watch Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story. I've seen it three or four times, and - in my opinion - it's a model rock documentary: It's thorough, entertaining, insightful, unvarnished, and all about the music. Amazon reviewer Sam Sutherland writes, "For the Beach Boys fan, this will be an essential companion to their enduring music." True enough; but because this is a Beatles blog, I want to highlight where the Beach Boys and the Fabs intersect in the documentary.
- When The Beatles conquered America in 1964, it changed life for the Beach Boys. Mike Love compares the impact to a "tidal wave." Other reactions: "jealous," "humbling," "a challenge."
- Speaking about Rubber Soul, Brian Wilson uses his standard line that he was blown away by the unity and coherence of the songs. Pet Sounds followed in its wake.
- Recalling his 1968 trip to Rishikesh, India with The Beatles and others to study Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Mike Love describes how he helped Paul write "Back in the U.S.S.R." He suggested the bridge - "Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out..." - a Beach Boys-y touch that's obviously quite reminiscent of "California Girls." Returning the favor, The Beatles added some backing vocals that seem to pay tribute to Love and company.
- Included among the musicians and industry peers who share their thoughts on the Beach Boys is Sean Lennon, John's son with Yoko. His enthusiasm is noteworthy. He says that he listens to the Beach Boys' music everyday and couldn't possibly be down when doing so. He even refers to Smile as "the most amazing thing I've ever heard." Elsewhere, he recaps the familiar story of how Brian's experimentation on Pet Sounds inspired The Beatles to develop their sound.
Though not mentioned in the documentary, there's another famous moment when these two bands crossed paths (in a way), and it may have helped to alter the course of pop music history. Recounted here:
Pet Sounds spurred the Fabs to ever greater heights on Revolver. This arms race between the two titans of pop on either side of the Atlantic was not one that the Beach Boys leader was equipped to handle, however. He set to work on new material, but just as the pressure mounted to pull the project together in February 1967, he heard Strawberry Fields Forever on the radio. Wilson felt he couldn't compete, his mental state not helped by the marijuana that he had been smoking, and he abandoned the new record, provisionally titled Smile. The Beatles were in a new head space, and the carefree era of songs such as Surfin' USA was gone.
Wikipedia elaborates:
Another significant event, cited in the Beautiful Dreamer documentary, was Brian's first hearing of The Beatles' new single "Strawberry Fields Forever". He heard the song while driving his car, and was so struck by it that he had to pull over and listen; he then commented to Michael Vosse, his passenger, that The Beatles had "got there first". Although he apparently later laughed about that comment, the stunning new Beatles production had affected him deeply.
In other Beach Boys-related news, I finally spent some time with The Smile Sessions, which is Capitol Records' reconstruction of Brian's discarded opus. What a strange, fanciful, ambitious, wildly original, even kaleidoscopic set of songs. Co-written by Brian and Van Dyke Parks, Smile might best be described as psychedelic frontier folk-pop. It's a very American invention, steeped in stateside mythology stretching back to the colonial era and Manifest Destiny; bucolic imagery full of romantic innocence; and religious themes. It's pretty unorthodox and esoteric stuff - a significant departure from the Beach Boys' previous album Pet Sounds, which itself was a departure for the band. This explains why Capitol Records (and Mike Love, for that matter) gave Smile a cool reception in 1966. Though it's an untouchable record that contains a number of classics ("Heroes and Villains," "Surf's Up," "Good Vibrations," etc.), it was never destined to be a chart-topper. But at least it has finally seen the light of day. Brian’s vision - his “teenage symphony to God” - is now reality, and I think it sounds beautiful.
UPDATE: Another overlap between The Beatles and the Beach Boys occurred in 1966 when former (and future) Fabs press officer Derek Taylor was hired by the Beach Boys to promote Pet Sounds. As part of the campaign, Taylor touted Brian as a “genius,” in hopes that music critics would start taking the Beach Boys frontman more seriously. With a minor assist from Pet Sounds, it seems to have worked. (I came across this tidbit in the excellent documentary Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile. I should note that both George Martin and Paul make appearances in it. Martin has a funny moment when he mock-complains about the broad scope of Brian’s talents, deeming it unfair.)

1 comment:

Beach Boys tickets said...

The new Album comes out in a month and i think it will do so much better than their last effort, Summer in Paradise.They are on tour at the moment in the USA and tickets are cheap .. They sound really really good for a band where all the members are around 70 years old.