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Let’s go away for awhile.

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Tweet of the day:

petsounds

Paul McCartney’s favorite LP marked its 50th anniversary today, and while the music is holding up OK, the mythos is starting to fray a little around the edges.

Pet Sounds and the band that created it have been so heavily analyzed, so frequently chronicled, that the backstory just isn’t that interesting any more. A “little-known fact about Pet Sounds” is kinda like an “underrated Beatles tune”: No matter what it is, that song’s been sung.

So, in the interest of freshening up (or outright pissing in) the Pet Sounds pool, here’s a never-before-seen list of things you didn’t know about the album.

Feel free to share. Your friends will marvel at your pop-god knowledge. And who knows? Maybe a few of these tidbits will end up joining the gospel.

If my children’s children’s children believe even one of these, my time on social media will have been worth it:

Eight Things I Know About Pet Sounds You Didn’t Know Until Now

  1. Carl Wilson, struggling with a debilitating addiction to milkshakes, took no part in the Pet Sounds sessions; his only contributions to the record are the amazingly lifelike dog howls at the very end.
  2. Studio records and DNA testing indicate that the water that had been in the jug used for percussion on “Caroline, No” was consumed by Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Tony Asher, Terry Melcher, Bruce Johnston, and Al Jardine’s brother.
  3. The voices that can be overheard talking in the bridge of “Here Today” belong to Billy Preston and Murray the K — two men, coincidentally, who are often cited by fans as being the “sixth Beach Boy.”
  4. Mike Love is an American hero.
  5. The bicycle horn and bell on “You Still Believe In Me” are left over from the shell of an earlier track called “Bitchin’ BMX Derby.” (During Brian’s later absence from production, the Beach Boys would revive “Bitchin’ BMX Derby” with a new vocal track, achieving a No. 38 pop hit in 1979.)
  6. In keeping with the “animal” theme of the album (its working title was The Beach Boys Love Ewe), Brian Wilson composed most of the songs in the barn of a goat farm in the hills outside Los Angeles, having a Steinway piano and a theremin installed there at great personal expense.
  7. Side One’s original running order of “Pigs On The Wing,” “Dogs” and “Sheep” was rejected by the record company.
  8. Brian Wilson was inspired to create a lush, orchestrated suite of themed songs after repeated listens to Ferrante & Teicher’s album Concert for Lovers. (“That album really blew me away.”)

 

Behind.

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The Internet remains a wonderful tool for solving all of those little mysteries I’ve been carrying around for years. God only knows what I’d be without it.

Speaking of which, the ‘webs tonight have cleared up something I’ve wondered about for close to 30 years … a rock n’ roll mystery, and thus fair game for discussion on this blog.

photo

Years ago, somebody (possibly a Beach Boys-loving cousin) gave my dad a copy of the band’s 1973 live album The Beach Boys In Concert. He’s never been a BBs fan, but I took a shine to some of their music, and as a kid, I remember hearing the album several times.

In Concert, while surely improved by studio sweetening, is an excellent document of the band’s live show before it completely toppled over into nostalgia. Plain and simple, the record rocks. Compare the studio version of “Marcella” with the onstage version and tell me you disagree:

Not only was the music good, but Ed Caraeff’s cover photography provided evocative images of the live experience for a kid who hadn’t been to a concert yet. In particular, there’s one shot of Carl Wilson at the mic, spotlights bouncing off his hollowbody Epiphone Sheraton, that nails the touring-troubadour vibe as well as any live photo I’ve seen. He looks simultaneously like he’s working magic, and like he’s just another guy doing his daily job.

(Remarkably, it doesn’t seem to be on the ‘Net. Maybe it doesn’t speak to anyone else the way it spoke to me. Go buy the record and you’ll see it. — Edit: Actually, you can see it front and center in the video for the live version of “Marcella.” It appears at about 1:45 in.)

Caraeff’s gatefold photography also offered a curious glimpse at the petty bitchiness of the rock n’ roll life, in a clue the average listener could only guess at.

One of his backstage pictures shows early-’70s Beach Boys drummer Ricky Fataar slumped down in a chair in some interchangeable sports-arena dressing room, accompanied by an unidentifiable man in a football jersey.

I say “unidentifiable” because — in a crude bit of pre-Photoshop photo manipulation — the other guy’s face is blocked by the random and somewhat jarring image of an eight-ball.

Of course I knew the meaning of the term “behind the eight-ball” as a kid. I could only wonder what sort of backstage backstabbing could lead to such treatment. I assumed that the person pictured must have been well and truly on the outs with the BBs organization.

eightballI wasn’t the only person who wondered about it. A Google search turned up all manner of online speculation among Beach Boys fans. Among the leading candidates:

– Jack Rieley, the band’s short-tenured manager around that time. (Nope, the Internet chorused; Rieley is bulkier of build than the guy behind the eight-ball.)

– Brian Wilson, then making only occasional live appearances — and, by some tellings, only occasional contact with reality. (Nope again. ’72 Brian was also larger than the man in the picture, and at any rate, the Beach Boys didn’t have any clear reason to punk him that way.)

– Dennis Wilson, who — bereft of drumming duties — was kind of a man without a country in the ’72-’73 Boys’ live act. (Very likely nope. Dennis appears unaltered on the front and back covers, and in at least one gatefold shot.)

– Ed Carter, Beach Boys road guitarist. (I forget what the nope here was, but it wasn’t him either.)

It turns out that the guy behind the eight-ball wasn’t persona non grata after all. In fact, he would continue to be part of the band’s live show for the better part of the next decade.

According to multiple sources, the censored dude next to Fataar was keyboardist Carli Muñoz, who toured as the band’s keyboardist from 1970 to 1981. (Muñoz is one of several sidemen credited in the liner notes to In Concert, though his name is misspelled “Carly.”)

I’d heard of Muñoz before — most recently in the liner notes for Dennis Wilson’s reissued Pacific Ocean Blue album. Muñoz worked extensively with Wilson on Bambu, the never-released follow-up to Pacific Ocean Blue, until Wilson’s self-destructiveness drove him away. Five songs written or co-written by Muñoz appear on the bonus disc of Bambu recordings issued with the Pacific Ocean Blue re-release.

As is so often the case with sidemen and support players, Muñoz’s story is deeper and more interesting than that.

A native of Puerto Rico, he played in an early band with Jorge Calderon, who went on to become Warren Zevon’s longtime sideman and co-writer.

Muñoz also played with a wide-ranging variety of acts in addition to the Beach Boys — among them Wilson Pickett, Peter Cetera, the Association, and jazz drummer Chico Hamilton.

Today, he plays and records jazz and owns his own restaurant and nightclub in San Juan, where he often performs. (The site hasn’t been updated in a little while, so perhaps this is not the latest information.)

I cannot find a circulating explanation of Muñoz’s treatment on the In Concert cover. But he has confirmed to Beach Boys fans that it was him behind the eight-ball, and has even been known to autograph the picture, which is pretty cool of him.

Now that I’ve cleared this up, maybe I’ll spin the vinyl this weekend. Usually my ears gravitate to the vocals, but this time I’ll listen for the piano and organ parts, now that I know who’s playing them.

Even if I don’t know what he looked like.

You had to be there, Part Deux.

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Maybe a week or so ago, I wrote about the central role a Beach Boys-Chicago concert played in the life of a high school graduating class in Massachusetts.

While I wait for dinner to digest so I can go running, I’m gonna toss out a couple other tidbits related to that particular concert.

– The set lists for the show are posted online. It looks like the crowd got 12 songs by the Beach Boys; seven songs by Chicago; and six songs with the groups performing together.

The absolute final song of the night? “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I wonder who sang lead on that one; Terry Kath was about the only guy in either band I could imagine doing it justice.

I’ve always been surprised at the number of artists who covered “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” within a decade of its release — Johnny Winter, Peter Frampton, Leon Russell and a young Billy Joel, to name a couple more.

It’s not one of those Joe South or Jimmy Webb songwriter-for-hire songs that people can easily put their own stamp on. It’s pretty heavily freighted with the tone and attitude of the guys who wrote it, not to mention the increasing social and political tensions of its time.

In short, I have trouble imagining it sounded convincing being played by two soft-pop bands on a school’s-out night in Foxboro in ’75.

But, the kids of Norwood High would probably disagree with me.

– The Beach Boys-Chicago collaborations of the ’70s were made possible, in part, through donations from viewers like you. (I’m sorry; once I started to write that sentence I couldn’t steer it away from the obvious ending.)

They were made possible, in part, because both groups were briefly under the wing of manager-producer James William Guercio.

Guercio was a former professional musician himself, with a stint in Frank Zappa’s early Mothers of Invention on his resume.

And on the big summer tour of ’75, he got into the act, serving as the Beach Boys’ onstage bass player. (The Boys’ nominal bass player was hors de combat that summer, and his once and future replacement, Bruce Johnston, was on several years’ leave.)

I don’t know what that experience was really like; it could be Guercio had two separate headaches every day.

From afar, it seems like a rare simultaneous triumph on the business and artistic sides of music. By day, Guercio was a doer of million-dollar deals; by night, he was sweating under the footlights in front of tens of thousands of fans.

I can’t imagine too many people doing that. Jay-Z, maybe, but not most of your well-known ’70s and ’80s rock types.

You had to be there.

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Another tease for the previous post before we begin this one. You like anal-retentive quizzes about the kinds of details you can only learn by staring for hours at album covers? Well, we have just the thing for you, Bunky. Go check it out.

I get hung up on music trivia sometimes — like a certain lick on a record, or a cryptic liner note. The post mentioned above will attest to my flights into detail.

But what really gets me going about pop music is the role it plays in people’s lives … the way it sets a backdrop for personal events, and sometimes even seems to comment on them.

By and large, it’s more interesting to imagine the real-life interactions that took place to the tune of “#9 Dream” than it is to imagine Klaus Voorman in the studio laying down the bass track.

(I spent some time on that very exploration once; the results can be found here.)

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I spent some time surfing a scanned-in high school yearbook from the 1970s — specifically, the Norwood (Mass.) High School Tiot, 1976 edition (incorrectly labeled as 1978 online.)

To answer two questions that will inevitably arise: I lived in Norwood about 20 years ago, and a random Google search for my old address led me to the yearbook. And no, I don’t know what a Tiot is.

Anyway, the members of the Class of ’76 were allotted a few lines of commentary along with their senior portraits.

And damned if it didn’t seem like one out of every six seniors had been to the Beach Boys-Chicago concert at the old Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro on June 29, 1975.

References to the show came up time and time again, even from people who left only one or two other notes behind.

It must have been the social event, not just of that year, but of the full four-year enlistment of the Class of ’76. I read the entire senior section of that yearbook, and no other inside joke, reference or event had the shared staying power of the Beach Boys-Chicago concert.

A concert at the end of June would have been a marvelous beginning, not just to the summer, but also to the senior year of the Class of ’76. It must have seemed like a party set up just for them.

Chicago and the Beach Boys were both very successful and in good fighting trim in the summer of ’75, too. So the actual performance was probably pretty solid as well.

As I read the yearbook, my imagination was populated by the kids of Norwood High meeting, greeting, getting together, hanging out, breaking up, hooking up, snogging, arguing, pondering philosophy, scoring mood-enhancers and drinking beers — all set against the backdrop of a summer night’s musical party with 55,000 other people.

And of course, my mind also ran to the unfortunates — those seniors who couldn’t get tickets, or who were otherwise occupied that night.

In particular, I’m imagining some sad-sack senior committed to work that night at a pizza place, putting in time to pay for his gas and grass … and at 11:30, about a dozen of his classmates come waltzing in, ripped to the gunwales, telling him about everything he missed.

I might be over-romanticizing things, but this concert reminds me of one I went to myself, 13 years later.

It was June 10, 1989, and the Steve Miller Band was playing the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, N.Y.

The venue’s management had apparently expected a middling crowd of aged hippies, since Miller hadn’t had a chart hit in six or seven years. But Miller’s ’70s greatest hits album was hugely popular among teens in those days, and the hill of the amphitheater was crawling with kids, like a pre-graduation party for dozens of high schools.

You could probably open a 1990 yearbook from any high school in a five-county range and find at least one or two senior wills with references to the Steve Miller Band at Canandaigua.

The Beach Boys-Chicago show sounds like it was one of Those Shows, only even bigger and more epic.

I wonder if there are members of the Norwood High Class of ’76 who can still close their eyes and go back there … smell the smoke, see their friends and hear the horn section.

I imagine so.

Five For The Record: The Beach Boys, “Steamboat.”

A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Album track from the Beach Boys’ 1973 album Holland (Side 1, Track 2, immediately following the similarly nautical “Sail On Sailor.”) Music composed by Dennis Wilson; lyrics by band manager Jack Rieley. Never released as a single or B-side in the United States.

And here’s why I like it:

1. The shout-0ut to Robert Fulton. I have no idea what led a bunch of South Californian (and South African) post-hippies, recording in Holland, to draw inspiration from the developer of the steamboat.

I find the line “Don’t worry, Mr. Fulton / We’ll get your steamboat goin'” especially charming, though. The Beach Boys appear to be casting themselves as defenders and preservers of the unfashionable past, sorta like the Kinks did on Village Green Preservation Society.

(You thought Bruce Johnston’s “Disney Girls (1957)” — from the band’s preceding LP, Surf’s Up — was nostalgic? We’re going back another 150 years here. Wax your mustachio and come aboard for the trip.)

2. Some of the other lines work OK. Ex-manager Rieley was known for pushing the Beach Boys toward relevant and/or “deep” lyrics, some of which he wrote himself, and some of which have aged about as well as leisure suits and Chevrolet Vegas.

To his credit, some of his images here work very nicely. I have always liked the impressionistic “The river’s a dream in a waltz time / Banks of jasper glaze,” as well as its follow-up, “The stream is a timepiece of children / Bridged with crystal haze.

Not everything is that evocative. We also get lines like ““The creek is a funnel of forgiveness / Winning every prize.”  But Rieley had the immense good fortune to have Carl Wilson singing lead — a man who could make the Poet McTeagle sound good.

3. And now for something completely different. Throughout his career, Dennis Wilson’s songwriting was marked by deep, almost naked emotion. Every lyric seemed torn from his heart and inspired by some turn of his personal life.

This is not a bad thing — Pacific Ocean Blue has a permanent spot in my car, even as other CDs revolve in and out around it.

“Steamboat” (whose lyric, again, isn’t Dennis’s) stands out in his compositional oeuvre as a song not laden with elation, regret, pain or longing.

Presumably he could have written words for it. But, he didn’t. And he ended up with something he probably wouldn’t have come up with on his own, given his usual lyrical proclivities.

It’s an interesting variant — a wild card, if you will, or a taste of something different.

4. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. The late-’60s and early-’70s Beach Boys did a masterful job of camouflaging the fact that Dennis Wilson was not a tremendously talented or versatile drummer. At their best, their arrangements remind us that the straight 4/4 beat on a drum set — so often an assumed building block of pop music — is in fact completely optional.

The BBs had a competent drummer in Ricky Fataar on hand when they cut “Steamboat.” Still, the rhythm track features only the most basic drumming (kicks on the bass drum, mostly), with other percussion and effects mimicking the slow chug of a steamboat.

(Actually, it sounds at least as much like a slow, overloaded train as it does a steamboat. No matter. Americana is as Americana does.)

5. The slide solo. The rural dustiness of “Steamboat” is interrupted, almost exactly halfway through, by a snarling slide-guitar lead. The solo has a sort of slow-handed primitivism that suggests it’s being played by someone who doesn’t play a whole lot of slide.

The occasion doesn’t call for heavy chops, though. And the singing, keening quality of the slide is perfect. I’ve mentally placed any number of other instrumental solos in that spot (tenor sax, anyone? Parlor organ? Mandolin?) and I don’t think any of them would have worked nearly as well.

Dig how the slide shimmers and flickers at the end, too, like waves of heat coming off the banks of a river on a summer’s day.

Encore Performances: Gee, your hair smells terrific.

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The other day I said I might repost an item from my old blog about the Beach Boys and hair. So hair it is. From March 2011:

I had the Beach Boys’ “Friends / 20/20” CD playing the other night as I was cooking dinner, and a lyric jumped out at me.

In “Do It Again,” Mike Love sings:

“It’s automatic when I talk with old friends
The conversation turns to girls we knew
When their hair was soft and long and the beach was the place to go.”

OK, Mike.
You spend your teen years on the beaches of southern California, with beautiful teenage girls in ripe profusion.
And what you talk about, years later, is their hair?

But the Beach Boys always were follicularly obsessed, in a quiet sort of way.
A few examples:

* The “bushy bushy blond hairdos” of “Surfin U.S.A.”
* The line from 1965’s “Girl Don’t Tell Me”: “Your hair’s getting longer and those shorts, they sure fit you fine.”
* The song “She’s Goin’ Bald” from the “Smiley Smile” album.
* The dated-in-the-best-way line from “Friends”‘ title track: “I talked your folks out of making you cut off your hair.”
* That line about “the way the sunlight plays upon her hair” from “Good Vibrations.”
* And of course, there’s the anguished cry that begins “Caroline No”: “Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know?”

2012 edit: Last time this ran, I didn’t think to add the hair reference from “Almost Summer” by Celebration featuring Mike Love — a song written by Love, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine.

They also had a guy named Blondie join the band for a couple of years — though that doesn’t really count, since he’s not actually blond.

Perhaps it was the band’s lyrical obsession with hair that led an interviewer from Circus magazine to ask Dennis Wilson about his first pubic hair. (If you ever want to read an interview that goes completely off the tracks, click hair.)

2012 edit: I am disappointed to report that the new Beach Boys single, “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” features the line “Feel the music in the air” — a perfect opportunity to rhyme with “hair.” But they passed up their chance in favor of “Find a song to take us there.” They’re losing it in their old age. Hair, that is.

Goin’ through a four-year spin.

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It was warm enough to grill in Pennsyltucky this afternoon, and it’s going to get into the 70s this coming week.

I think we’re at that point in the year when a late-season snowstorm is finally out of the question, and it’s just about time to start putting the long-sleeved T-shirts at the back of the shelf.

Almost summer, in other words.

Which brings to mind a song that — by cosmic coincidence — was just starting to hit radio stations across America around this time in 1978.

(Its first appearance in the ever-faithful ARSA database is in the countdown for the week ending May 8, 1978, at WYSL-AM 1400 in Buffalo. They get excited about the coming of summer in Buffalo.)

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bea — er, Celebration featuring Mike Love:

“Almost Summer,” the title track to a California teen movie I’ve never seen that sounds like a hoot if you don’t think too hard about anything in it, has to have one of the worst opening couplets of the Seventies:

“Susie wants to be a lady director
and Eddie wants to drive a hearse
Johnny wants to be a doctor or lawyer
and Linda wants to be a nurse.”

Who in the world has ever wanted to drive a hearse?

The second verse doesn’t get much better — there’s a self-referential mention of a “little deuce coupe,” as well as another of the BBs’ near-obsessive references to hair.

(I wrote about this once on my now-departed other blog — there are a surprising number of BBs songs with references to hair. I may dig out that one and repost it here. Since “Almost Summer” was co-written by Love, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, I say it belongs in the same discussion.)

I revere Brian, adore Carl and sort of quietly respect the other Beach Boys. But I think Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks might have been the most valuable people in that entire enterprise over the years, simply because of their abilities to write lyrics that didn’t embarrass anybody.

Meanwhile, I have no idea who else was in Celebration. The Interwebs describe them as a “studio band.” Not sure whether Brian played on the record, or simply appeared in the videos for promotional purposes.

Whoever they were, their song broke into the American Top 40 the week of June 3, 1978, and peaked a few weeks later at Number 29.

It was gone from the Top 40 a month after it arrived — perhaps because a song called “Almost Summer” lost all its appeal once it actually was summer. Who wants to be reminded of going back to class and cracking books when it’s the Fourth of July?

As minor as it was, “Almost Summer” may represent the last gasp of America’s rediscovered Seventies love affair with the Beach Boys.

The band proper would have only one more Top 40 hit in the ’70s — “Good Timin’,” which slipped in at No. 40 in the spring of 1979. And from there on out, the band would pretty much build its entire brand on nostalgia.

The remaining Beach Boys have a new album of original material — something a lot of people never thought they would see — coming out in a little over a month.

Perhaps that album will be the talk of the summer of 2012. Anything seems possible when it’s almost summer.