Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Although this three hour, double DVD set comes with the disclaimer "not authorised by Brian Wilson, his record company or management" it features contributions from significant players in the Brian Wilson/Beach Boys story during this crucial decade.
Here Bruce Johnston -- who replaced Brian in the touring band in '65 -- and BB David Marks offer telling insights, and the Wrecking Crew's Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine (the studio musicians Wilson used) deconstruct some of the most significant and a few often overlooked songs. As well there are producers Russ Titelman and Bill Halverson, various friends, biographers and others who offer pointed comment about the music.
Tracing the story from a band which codified the California lifestyle and sub-cultures (surfing, hot rods) in the years before the British Invasion, through Wilson's increasing musical sophistication, Pet Sounds and his subsequent breakdown, it draws on excellent archival footage, studio conversations (Wilson quite some taskmaster and driving musicians twice his age in search of perfection) and the original songs.
Matters such as the Wilson's difficult relationship with their father Murry and many of the internal schisms are (mostly, until they became chasms) overlooked in service of keeping the focus on the often sublime music that Wilson made after early '65.
And those around him chose not to question why Wilson had a sandbox in his house ("his house and his sandbox", says Blaine). Kaye says she was used to doing movie soundtracks where you would record in pieces and non-sequentially so Wilson's loose but disciplined working method wasn't that unusual. The deliberate fire in the studio does seem odd however.
But by allowing detailed analysis of the music -- by the end of the first disc we have only dealt with the surf/hotrod era which is fascinating in itself -- we get to see that the two albums prior to Pet Sounds (which only peaked at 32) contained material which was quietly remarkable in its own right.
Then of course there was the uncompleted Smile project (Capitol Records finally clicking that this experimental music could sell after Good Vibrations) and how Mike Love confronted lyricist Van Dyke Parks over what the lyrics actually meant. Parks quit, the pressure was on Wilson, there was a dispute with Capitol, Sgt Peppers arrived, and Brian was burned out. And more than slightly fried.
Johnston acts as apologist for Love and the band at this point.
Then things wind down through the albums Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, further disputes with Love, the political zeitgeist in '68 was darker and more violent, the Beach Boys' album Friends failed to connect with an audience now attuned to the Doors and Hendrix . . .
And this part of the Wilson story ends in '69.
There are extended interview among the extra features (their manager Fred Vail in tears when he recounts being told by a radio station guy in 1970 "the Beach Boys aren't hip anymore . . . but 40 years later we're still listening to Beach Boys music"), and Johnston tells of going to England and hanging out with Keith Moon who then brings Lennon and McCartney over to listen a mono preview of Pet Sounds.
But it is when the songs are analysed by various talking heads from varying perspectives (a dry as dust professor among them) that this doco is utterly engrossing. Of course the bassline in California Girls is lifted from the old country classic Tumblin' Tumbleweeds. It's obvious when Kaye plays it.
Brian doesn't appear -- but his spirit is kept firmly in the sights of this revealing three hours which fly by on the wings of great surf pop then gorgeous, experimental ballads and lightly psychedelic songs.