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I hear you are singing a song of the past.

Walter Becker wouldn’t have cared about my 10 favorite Steely Dan songs, and most likely you don’t either.

But it’s raining too hard to walk, and I don’t wanna think about work, so here ya go, in no order but chronological.

Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments …

1. “Dirty Work.” Steely Dan fans love Becker and Fagen’s quirkiness — their insistence on wedging jazz chords into pop songs, their frequent name-drops of specific (if sometimes imaginary) places and people, and like that.

I go for that too. But I also think 1972, pound for pound, was the best year of the Seventies for Top 40 music; and I love the fact that these two weirdos were able to create songs that walked right onto the mass airwaves and held their own. Becker and Fagen would have plenty of time to get weird — and they would take it — but Radio-Friendly Dan is a distinctly winsome creature of its own.

“Dirty Work” wasn’t one of the two singles from Can’t Buy A Thrill, but I’ve heard it on the radio a bunch of times and it sure sounds fantastic, starting with that flare of Hammond organ that makes me sit upright and pay attention. And just try not to sing along (in your head, if nowhere else) with that simplest of choruses.

2. “Razor Boy.” I wrote about this mournful little cha-cha once, several years ago, and everything there is still true. Ray Brown’s upright bass meets Skunk Baxter’s pedal steel guitar and it works wonderfully. The chorus is at once sad and soaring.

3. “Your Gold Teeth.” In which Becker and Fagen match angular licks to a hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett sort of lyric, over another uncategorizable Latin groove. I suppose the long solo section in the middle is awfully rockish, but I do enjoy hearing Fagen and Baxter stretch out. Fragments of the lyric from this one often occur to me at totally random moments (usually it’s “Got a feeling I been here before / Won’t you let me help you find the door?”)

4. “Any Major Dude Will Tell You.” From my least favorite of the classic Dan LPs, Pretzel Logic. (You will eventually note the absence of Becker and Fagen’s reunion albums from this list; I’ve just never gotten into them like I did the Seventies stuff.)

This one is uncharacteristically gentle and reassuring, like a pat on the back, and as a much younger lad I once derived reassurance from it for a brief period.

(Of course, knowing Becker and Fagen, they probably wrote this lyric in the voice of one junkie singing to another, or something perverse like that. But on its surface, at least, it is unique in the Seventies Dan catalog, and all the more charming for it.)

5. “Bad Sneakers.” From my favorite of the classic Dan LPs, 1975’s Katy Lied, which features the Dan’s most consistently successful marriage of subterranean lyrical darkness with the surface charms of jazz and pop.

The swelling up of piano and melody on the chorus here — “Bad sneakers and a pina colada, my friend / Stompin’ on the avenue by Radio City” — shines like a Manhattan marquee; it’s Cole Porter for the age of ‘ludes and paranoia. Also a nifty guitar solo (as if that need be specified in a Steely Dan review). And is that another electric sitar on the intro?

6. “Chain Lightning.” The single baddest, tightest, most laid-back, in-the-pocket shuffle of the Seventies, which is saying a mouthful.

And while I’ve always thought of Rick Derringer as an arena-rock mope — the sort of gent perfectly suited to the 11 a.m. slot at Cal Jam — he delivers the goods in a big way here. Dig the chord-clang at 1:25; or the way he dances down into the muck at the bottom of the neck and then skips up again; or the snotty Jeff Beck-ish pick-flick at 1:41.

Not gonna write about the rest of the songs until I listen to this one again.

7. “Sign In Stranger.” From the “Dirty Work”/”Razor Boy” school of mournfulisms, I guess, comes this downbeat reggae dirge (and how often do you get to write “reggae dirge”?) about a future Wild West in which you can dodge your past misdeeds just by jumping from planet to planet.

Fagen’s narrator sounds like a pitchman preying upon the disaffected and spat-out, offering promises of easy redemption in the kinds of terms you’d hear on late-night infomercials (“Do you have a dark spot on your past? / Leave it to my man, he’ll fix it fast”) along with appeals to his prospective clients’ less savory desires (“Or maybe you would like to see the show / You’ll enjoy the Cafe d’Escargot.”)

The second verse does kinda go on and on, and the bridge ain’t B&F’s finest, but I like it anyway. And the big-brass instrumental coda rises up out of nowhere to suggest a happy ending, or at least a dead-end paved in gold.

8. “Aja.” A stone beautiful piece of music; the usual quotient of abstruse-but-memorable lyrics, with a gently Eastern tinge; and a couple of marvelous individual performances, most notably by Steve Gadd on drums. This glows like a sapphire.

9. “Deacon Blues.” The tale of a loser who’s decided he’s tired of watching the victors write history.

I find this more mournful than hopeful — do you really think the narrator’s going to find what he imagines when he crosses that fine line? — but brilliantly affecting in any case.

10. “Babylon Sisters.” Another flavor of shuffle here (it’s the wonderful Bernard Purdie on drums, IIRC) — polished and malevolent, with a Rhodes navigating a dark, snaky series of changes on top.

The mood eventually brightens, a little, but the whole thing sounds driven by energies, desires and situations that are untenable over the long term — lavish parties, younger women, general debauchery. Turn this one into a screenplay, and the narrator’s floating in a pool at the end.

(The Santa Ana winds are the perfect natural phenomenon to include here … and what is that weird sax-or-voice thing that rises up like a cobra at 3:21?)

So why is this tawdry offering one of my 10 favorite Steely Dan songs? Because, having spent the Seventies combining sunny exteriors with questionable interiors, Becker and Fagen had come pretty close to perfecting it at this point. If “Aja” shines like a sapphire, “Babylon Sisters” gleams like gunmetal.

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“Nothing good happens in films about airplanes.”

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If you’re spending the summer in a full-body cast in a faraway state, these are the jams you need.

FAACover4

The (Oh, Lord, can it truly be?) eighth Kurt Blumenau “solo album,” released on Bandcamp precisely four years to the day after the first.

The biggest influences this time around are probably Captain Beefheart and Jandek, if that gives you any sense of what kind of toe-tappin’ good time awaits.

There’s a song called “I Wiped My Hands on a Pigeon” … and an 18-minute guitar solo … and a song that sounds like you’re being dragged underwater in a cold sea behind a slow-moving trawler … and a song that starts with  a weird murky voice-mail I once got that sounds like the people didn’t know they were being recorded.

(I think there is at least one more “conventional” release in my pipeline, but it turned out not to be this one. You won’t want to miss that one either, I’m sure, when it comes along.)

Anyway: Go check it out. You certainly don’t have to buy it. Just by clicking the link and visiting the site, you’ll give me the happy illusion that somebody’s interested.

If you don’t even want to do that, here’s a taste you can enjoy without having to go anywhere at all:

Truth is the glue.

A brief break from Art for Art’s Sake to bring you an important announcement:

The speeches of Gerald Ford set to a backdrop of theremin is something you can now enjoy in your rec room, pup tent, Quonset hut, or wherever people gather and the beer is cold.

Portrait

Unlike some of my earlier Bandcamp releases, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere has no deep origin story.

I found audio recordings of the speeches of Gerald Ford online. I found an electronc theremin simulator online. And at some point, my mind put the two together.

The speeches of Gerald Ford … accompanied by theremin. Yeah, the time has come.

It’s probably better in concept than execution. But, having executed it, I decided to loose it on the world anyway and let you, the listener, be the judge.

(Edit: I should probably mention that no social or political comment is intended here, nor do I have anything against Gerald Ford. His speeches just happen to be publicly available, in decent fidelity, begging to be set against vaguely psychedelic aural backgrounds.)

Like everything else I do, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere (it’s a phrase Jerry uses at one point; see if you can find it) is available as a free Bandcamp download. You need pay nothing for its myriad pleasures. In a world stacked against the common man, that’s a remarkable thing, Bunky.

As with previous releases, I will react with doglike gratitude (though no swag) to anyone sending me a photo of a WHSINA track playing in their iTunes, on their computer screen, on their phone, etc. I know, my comments are turned off, but anyone who reads this knows where to find me anyway.

Be of good cheer.

What’s playing now.

I bought a couple of CDs as part of an Amazon orgy a little while ago … and while I like ’em fine, right now I’ve set them aside and am listening instead to a bunch of stuff I downloaded off Bandcamp.

(Have no fear, Charles Mingus. I’ll get back to you.)

Just in case you’re looking for cheap thrills too, here’s what’s playing.

Squinch Owl, On The Goddamn Radio: Squinch Owl is pretty much one person — a singer and multi-instrumentalist named Sofia Pocket — and this marvelously titled release features her walloping the banjo and performing solo on WTBU-FM in York, Maine.

Pocket’s voice is a big, bruised, moonshiney yowl that suits her material well.

However, somebody seems to have told the engineer at WTBU that Blossom Dearie was coming instead, because they set the levels for someone much quieter. Every time Pocket even remotely opens up, her voice distorts into something thick, molten and mostly unintelligible. (When she really gets going, both her voice and her banjo go thick and fuzzy around the edges.)

I actually think it works nicely. The effect is akin to routing the Mississippi River into a channel too small by half to hold it. The pain and devastation is redoubled as a result.

It also hearkens back to the great old days when blues and folk singers made records with one ropey microphone, in whatever room they could use for an hour, and acoustic finery was the most distant of considerations.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=894006763/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=2212974734/transparent=true/

bobbito pickles, old ones: I clicked on this mainly because I liked the primitive cover art. Then I found it was lo-fi beats and loops from Edmonton (!) and I figured I’d never heard those before, and life is short.

These tracks are probably inspired by some beatmaster (J Dilla?) I’m not hip enough to be familiar with. Basically, they sound like chopped and channeled bits of mellow-gold love jams, driven sideways by loopy production techniques.

Senor Pickles provides us with 20 tracks totaling 29 minutes, which is pretty much the point at which his skips, scrapes and spasms start to get old … so everyone leaves happy, except maybe a bunch of copyright lawyers.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1898454920/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=3795920171/transparent=true/

Duluth Homegrown Music Festival, Mayor’s Mix:  I admit I’m just starting to listen to this one, and it might suck; but I include it because I enjoy the concept.

Under the label of the Homegrown Music Festival, you’ll find a whole bunch of Bandcamp releases created by the hipsters — DJs, musicians, indie label owners — who populate the Duluth scene, all offering a mix of their own favorite bands and tunes.

And then there’s this collection, compiled by Duluth mayor Don Ness (he’s no longer mayor; the collection dates to 2011.)

I love the idea of the mayor of a city acting as your guide to its music scene, and Ness was/is youthful enough that I believe he actually did listen to these bands.

Hizzoner apparently digs a “low-fi, folky vibe,” though that doesn’t stop him from including a Sly Stone cover that’s played nicely straight — not thrashed up or Chili Peppered out or anything stupid like that.

We’ll see if the rest is as tolerable.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3362082434/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=1941900196/transparent=true/

Back to Memphis.

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As I watch tonight’s YouTube viewing of choice, I’m watching a man whose life in the spotlight is about to fall away from him.

I’m also looking at his boss, Elvis Presley.

For context: This week marks the anniversary of the last week Elvis ever worked.

After the June 19 show in Omaha, the King stumbled for another week through the Midwest, playing shows in Lincoln, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Des Moines, Madison, Cincinnati and, on the 26th, Indianapolis. (Two of those shows were filmed for a regrettable — and, as it turned out, posthumous — network TV special.)

After the June 26 show, Elvis went home to Graceland. He hadn’t held a recording session since the prior October, and he didn’t hold any more before his death in mid-August.

This, then, is the anniversary of the last week Elvis spent at his principal occupation — making music.

I’ll withhold most judgment on the quality of the music he was making at the time, except to say the June 19 Omaha concert is a less depressing experience when you can watch the film. I’ve had a recording for years, and it’s a hugely dispiriting listen. But the sight of Elvis’s porky smirk and the remnants of a gleam in his eye redeem things a little bit. Although he’s in dismal shape, he doesn’t look as bad as he sounds.

This week in ’77 also would have been the last week in the arena spotlight for Elvis’s longtime crony, Charlie Hodge.

Hodge, a diminutive Alabamian, had sung in a gospel quartet and picked a little guitar as a young man. He’d had the good fortune to meet Elvis backstage in 1955 and the even greater fortune to be stationed near Elvis in the Army, where he used their shared showbiz experience to strike up a friendship.

(Hodge’s Wiki entry, which appears to have been given a thorough scrubbing by the Charlie Hodge Appreciation Society, claims that Hodge appeared on network television before his famous future boss. Perhaps he did.)

When Elvis filmed his legendary 1968 comeback special, Hodge’s musical ability and place in Elvis’s inner circle landed him a spot in the show’s rowdy small-band jam sessions.

And when Elvis returned to live performing that year, Hodge was again at his side — fetching towels, bringing drinks, holding mics, strapping Elvis into his guitar, and singing backup and strumming unmic’d acoustic guitar when not otherwise needed.

Reportedly, the members of the Memphis Mafia spent much of their abundant free time coming up with reasons to be jealous of one another. Hodge was a particularly ripe target: Alone among Elvis’s entourage, he got to be on stage every night, in close proximity to the King, sharing the attention.

Watching the Omaha film, it’s difficult to tell just how much he enjoyed the privilege by the end.

His smile seems genuine enough at times … but then there are times when he reaches for the mic and Elvis won’t give it to him, or when Elvis pantomimes kicking him in the rear end, and the cruelty under the boys-will-be-boys routine seems to show itself.

(Peter Guralnick’s excellent biography of Elvis says that, about two weeks prior to the Omaha show, Elvis hit Hodge in the nose forcefully enough to draw blood during a discussion of cars Elvis had given to some of his lieutenants. It could be, then, that Hodge’s relationship with Elvis was more strained during these last shows than it had been previously.)

Elsewhere, Hodge can be seen standing apprehensively in the background while Elvis launches into flannel-tongued between-song monologues. Even after many nights of watching Elvis embarrass himself onstage, that couldn’t have been pleasant.

And then there’s the start of “And I Love You So,” where Hodge dispenses his usual supplies and retreats to the background. He wrings his hands briefly, pulls up his pants, and finally settles into a sort of subservient parade-rest posture, unable for the moment to escape the fact that he is 42 years old and makes his living handing out towels and water to a former friend he can now scarcely recognize.

I wonder if Hodge ever thought, at moments like that: “I could have been my own boss. I could have stayed in the Army and been an officer by now. I could have married the local Chevy dealer’s daughter and gone into the business. Instead I run like a squirrel around the stage of the Omaha Civic Auditorium, trying to stay two steps ahead of a guy who swears at me when the mic feeds back. But what else can I do with myself at this point?”

Whether he liked the setup or not, it had almost run its course on that night in Omaha. Less than two months later, Hodge would be trimming and coloring his boss’s sideburns in preparation for his funeral.

In addition to co-writing the obligatory book, Hodge spent some of his remaining years as an onstage gofer to Elvis tribute artists — doing the same things he did for Elvis, on much smaller stages, for performers who presumably treated him humanely and with respect, and in front of audiences who bought tickets as much to see him as to see the Elvis impersonator.

I suppose that passes for a happy ending, when you’ve gone that far down the road of professional subservience.

I still like to imagine Hodge clad in ’70s polyester, killing time during soundcheck in Springfield or Tuscaloosa or one of the other second-rank ports of call where Elvis played at the end, mulling the eternal question:

Is it better to be renowned for your fetching than to be anonymous for your bossing?

Rear View: Attacking the Vatican.

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Uncle Meat is the new Astral Weeks.

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Uncle Meat includes more harpsichord than any post-Chuck Berry pop album you’ve ever heard. Its decks are positively awash in harpsichord. For you harpsichord freaks in the crowd, it is a sure-shot must-own.

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Uncle Meat, its fondness for 18th-century keyboard instruments aside, is also a record where a whole lot of stuff sounds disorientingly unlike what it’s supposed to. The skies are purple and the trees are blue in Uncle Meat’s alternate universe.

Some of these sonic variations are low-tech — like bassist Roy Estrada’s prodigious dude-sounds-like-a-lady falsetto, or the unexpected cameo appearance of operatic soprano Nelcy Walker on “Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague.”

Others are the result of studio tomfoolery. Clarinets sound like trumpets. Voices sound like chipmunks. Electric organs sound like theremins. Unprocessed horns gibber like tropical birds. Something swings like a loose door in the wind on the ominous “We Can Shoot You,” and flickers and trills like a piccolo on “A Pound For a Brown On The Bus.”

(Speaking of things that depart from the norm, the fade at the end of “Pound For a Brown” isn’t quite as advertised either.)

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Uncle Meat is somewhere between a slap and a Bronx cheer, delivered simultaneously in five languages you do not speak.

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Uncle Meat is the last album the notoriously fastidious Frank Zappa recorded with average musicians.

The Zappa/Mothers narrative says that Zappa emerged from the California desert with a head full of doo-wop, R&B, Varese and Stravinsky. He brought with him an ex-bar band that could cover the first two influences in their sleep, then added hired guns more familiar with the latter two.

Uncle Meat, released in April 1969, was the last album the Mothers recorded with Zappa’s desert cohort — Ray Collins on vocals, Estrada on bass, Jimmy Carl Black on drums and Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood on saxophone — alongside the hired guns.

Zappa broke up the band later that year, and when he relaunched the Mothers in 1970, they were fully staffed by skilled players like George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar.

By the mid-’70s, Zappa’s lineups had acquired their now-legendary status — studio-quality players who could turn out 17/8 riffs in unison, when not executing their boss’s twisted idea of a stage show.

And yet, things were never quite the same without the bar-band contingent.

Maybe Zappa’s eternal ’50s steals sounded more convincing being delivered by guys for whom that style hadn’t always been an ironic joke.

Or maybe the presence of the dudes from the desert was the last thing grounding Zappa … once they were gone, he was free to disappear into a black hole of hemidemisemiquavers.

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 “You guys listen to the worst shit.”

-one of my oldest and dearest friends, upon walking into the room where my brand-new CD copy of Uncle Meat was playing for only the second or third time, circa 1989.

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 Uncle Meat, on a certain level, is one of the friendliest and most accessible records out there.

How so? Well, it’s full of people talking. And nothing’s warmer or more natural than the sound of people talking, right? Moreso even than singing.

Everywhere you go you hear people talking. It’s the most common and comforting sound there is. (Its absence, in contrast, can be highly discomfiting.)

Three of the album’s tracks are entirely spoken-word, while a fourth, the deathless “Ian Underwood Whips It Out,” begins with a lengthy monologue.

Elsewhere, spoken bits pop up at the beginnings and ends of songs. Best is the apparent interview segment at the end of “Electric Aunt Jemima,” which captures Zappa’s contrarian attitude more concisely than any other five seconds of audio.

Uncle Meat, along with the other early Zappa/Mothers albums, takes a sledgehammer to the notion that a “pop” album has to consist of 10 to 14 tracks of shined-up, conventionally orchestrated pop, presented in an uninterrupted row.

Instead, it argues, there’s a place for the people who conceived and performed the music to express themselves, without having to craft a song to do so.

(One could say the same for Having Fun With Elvis On Stage. If you want to make the argument, go right ahead. I’ll read it.)

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Uncle Meat reached No. 43 on the Billboard album chart.

This is not at all bad for a double album with a thoroughly unattractive cover, portraying some sort of baroque dental exam …

… an album on which jazz, pop, R&B, and modern classical music collide haphazardly and not always tunefully …

… an album with no hit single, and indeed no single at all, whose leadoff/title track sounds like a military march from behind the Iron Curtain until it dissipates into tape-wavery coughing noises.

For all his kvetching about America’s plastic culture, and his constant lampooning of people not hip enough to understand “real music,” Frank Zappa sold a bunch more LPs than he might have.

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Uncle Meat was very nearly the name I convinced my son to call my brother, when my son was a toddler and easily influenced.

My brother escaped, but it was a near thing.

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Uncle Meat in its CD form contains 40-plus minutes of dialogue from the unfinished movie of the same name, plus an early-’80s “bonus track” in which an Italian journalist (whose voice resembles a particularly stroked-out Zappa) boasts in Sicilian about the size of his John Thomas.

These are not part of the original album and around here we tend not to speak of them.

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Speaking of the Iron Curtain, as we were a few grafs ago, we know Vaclav Havel was a Zappa fan of many years’ standing, and Czechoslovakia’s foremost underground band named itself after a Zappa song.

Imagine, then, dubbed copies of Uncle Meat in the hands of the few brave Czech longhairs, back in the day.

Imagine the weirdness of Uncle Meat, amplified a few hundred times by geographical and cultural distance. Imagine what colorful images arose in the minds of the Plastic People as they contemplated what “The Legend of the Golden Arches” could possibly mean.

Imagine Uncle Meat not as a sprawling, self-important, impenetrable mess … but as an inspiration, and a rare cultural ray of daylight in a repressive sea of gray.

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Uncle Meat bent my mind like a five-cent coathanger when I was maybe 11 or 12 and starting to sort out my notions of what grown-up rock n’ roll music might be.

I have maybe been a little disappointed in everything else since.

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.”)