Art for Art’s Sake takes up where it left off before the Gerald-Ford-and-theremin album dropped. Still on Side One of Breakaway.
Ah yes, Bruce Johnston. He wrote the songs.
His recent years as the perma-grinning “other Beach Boy” in Mike Love’s touring lineup have perhaps obscured his rightful historical status:
When the Beach Boys wanted to replace Brian Wilson — first onstage; then, increasingly, in the studio — they hired Bruce Johnston, and by all evidence were satisfied with what they got. (Johnston’s temporary departure in the Seventies, from all the stories I’ve heard, was Johnston’s initiative, not the band’s.)
In later years, Johnston took part in some truly disappointing Beach Boys albums as a producer and performer.
But his contributions to his first batch of Beach Boys records in the late ’60s and early ’70s establish him as a solid adult-pop musician, singer, writer and arranger — perhaps the Doug DeCinces to Brian’s Brooks Robinson.
Brian, for instance, would have been proud of (and I believe has spoken highly of) Johnston’s Pet Sounds-ish instrumental “The Nearest Faraway Place,” released on the 1969 album 20/20:
And then there’s the pretty, nostalgic “Disney Girls (1957),” first released on 1971’s Surf’s Up and covered four years later by Art Garfunkel. (Bet you were wondering when I’d work my way back to him.)
Garfunkel strips the song of its parenthetical subtitle and Johnston’s balky original phrasing (“Dis-uh-ney girls…”) and beefs up the Beach Boys’ arrangement with a few extra touches.
Beyond that, he doesn’t change Johnston’s blueprint much, nor does he need to. This waltz about lost and lingering romantic dreams fits Art to a T, and he does a lovely job with it.
For a few nice moments around 3:45, somebody — a choir of Garfunkels? — gets to do their best Beach Boys impression before giving way to a whistler. I would have liked just to hear the vocal beds.
The reference to “summer days / on old Cape Cod” gives me a moment’s pause. Based on some Googling, it seems an open question whether young Art and the Garfunkel family would have been rented to on Fifties Cape Cod. The image Johnston presents as an idyllic memory could have a bitter aftertaste to some listeners (and performers).
Art, of course, is a pro, and if he had any such feeling, it’s not audible; he navigates the line without hesitation.
“Disney Girls” wound up as the B-side to the “Break Away” single, and to my mind, could just as easily have been on the A-side.
The deciding factor might have been originality. According to Wiki, Art got the first cut on “Break Away,” whereas “Disney Girls” had already been recorded by a couple of other artists before Art took it on.
Looking at the Breakaway cover art as it displays in the YouTube embed below, I imagine “Disney Girls” playing in Art’s head; he looks like a man who wants to chuck in the hassle around him and go find the small-town girl who won his heart when he was 16.
Of course it’s never that easy … and Our Narrator’s relationship with his youth is more complicated than that. But we’ll get there in another entry or two.