Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Good Vibrations

A couple of weeks ago I finished a book called Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys. It wasn’t the best-written book I’ve ever read but I got it for 50 cents so it was definitely worth it. And this isn’t a book review anyway. I’m hoping that now I will be able to give a more informed blog post about one of my favorite musical artists: The Beach Boys.

My first exposure to the Beach Boys probably came from listening to the now defunct “oldies” radio station, 97.3 KBSG, when I was in grade school. Of course this was before I took music seriously and like most people when they think of this band, I thought of the music as “fun.” They sang about cars and surfing and had a sort of addictive vocal harmony that I still bask in today. When I started getting more into researching and discovering music, it came to my attention that the Beach Boys weren’t just a hit-machine from the early to mid-sixties. This album Pet Sounds was quite well respected by critics universally. In fact, Rolling Stone named it the 2nd best album of all time behind the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. High praise. I acquired it. I haven’t looked back.

If I could summarize the book I just read in a phrase it would be, “Good music, selfish people.” It’s quite sad how much pain the institution that is the Beach Boys has caused over the last fifty years with all the lawsuits, drugs, mental illness, debauchery etc. It’s incredibly ironic how peaceful and upbeat the majority of their music is.

All the terrible things that happened within the Beach Boys does not change my opinion of their music at all. If anything, it’s quite admirable that they were able to record such harmonious music. Before I go on, I’d like to clarify that while some of their later albums were a collaborative process, much of the group’s catalogue is more like the Brian Wilson Experience, as Brian wrote and arranged the entirety of Pet Sounds by himself (excluding the lyrics), with the other four providing vocals only, exactly as he dictated.

But why do I like the Beach Boys so much? I think it has to do with the spiritual, transcendent quality of some their best music. That youthful sound of the blend of their voices is just gorgeous. Not to mention, the remarkably complex arrangements that sound as clear as day, both vocally and instrumentally. If you haven’t heard “God Only Knows,” you haven’t lived. I don’t think I’d be able to name my absolute favorite song but I have no doubt that it would be in the conversation. I know that it’s Sir Paul McCartney’s favorite, if that means anything (which it should!).

Forty-four years after it’s release, Pet Sounds has sort of become an essential to any well-versed music fan’s collection. Yet, in my experience, the Beach Boys have never been synonymous with the respect given to many of their contemporaries in the immensely creative 1960s. Well, I will make it my personal mission to change that. Get Pet Sounds, and after that Sunflower and Surf’s Up and after that, everything else from 1965 through 1971. A whole lot of wow.

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