Friday, February 10, 2012

Deal alert: I Love Lucy Complete Series on DVD for $70

Today Amazon is offering the complete series of "I Love Lucy," all nine seasons, for $70.49. Regular price is $235.98.

The Road to Pet Sounds or "How I got to love the Beach Boys"

"The Beach Boys were great when they did songs about surfing and cars," a friend once told me. "But when they started doing songs about girls...oh, man."

It's true. Once the group started recording songs about love -- new found, unrequited or lost -- the results were generally gorgeous. The harmonies became more lush, the sonic palette of the accompanying instruments more varied, and Brian Wilson's arrangements more imaginative and sophisticated.

These are the sounds that ultimately grew into the unique style of music found on the Beach Boys' most-acclaimed album, Pet Sounds.

Today, it seems like everyone knows that Pet Sounds is a highpoint of 1960s pop. But, apart from the U.K. where it was highly regarded (and beloved by the Beatles, especially by Paul McCartney), it wasn't initially hailed as the masterpiece it is.

In 1966, the Beach Boys were viewed as passé. Even during the the 1970s and early 80s, Pet Sounds didn't get the widespread respect it was due. That didn't come until later, when the album was finally issued, and promoted heavily, on CD.

Personally, I resisted the Beach Boys for years, even while loving all sorts of other music. I kind of liked "Good Vibrations" and the harmonies and the nostalgia of some of the surf songs. But I viewed this stuff as unsophisticated and corny.

My view of the Beach Boys was of middle-aged Mike Love in his baseball cap, strutting across county fair stages singing the same old songs again and again. I was a musical snob, and the Beach Boys weren't cool.

But I was wrong. As I started playing and writing a little music myself in a college band, I came across fellow musicians and music fans who were a lot more knowledgeable -- and cooler -- than me. These folks included the friend quoted above.

By that point, I'd listened and read enough to know that Pet Sounds was special. I was (and still am) a Beatlemanic and had worked my way through all the touchstones of 60s hipness: The Fabs, Stones, Kinks, Who, Velvet Underground, etc. And I was blown away, and a little ashamed at my denseness, when I finally gave Pet Sounds a chance on LP in 1986.

At least I wasn't alone. Around this time, all sorts of people were getting hip to the album. Just as the Velvet Underground and Love had earned some belated appreciation thanks to constant name-dropping by indie college bands of the mid 80s, so had Pet Sounds. I'm much more of a trend-follower than I care to admit.

I listened to the album constantly, basking in its deep harmonies and its amazing bass lines (I was the bassist in my band), the incredible arrangements and off-beat sounds: bass harmonicas, bicycle horns! And how it all worked so beautifully together. I was a late-arriving member of the "Brian Wilson is a Genius Club."

Like any other obsessive record collector, once I heard and got to know this stuff, I wanted more. Was there more to the Beach Boys pre-Pet Sounds catalog than "Surfin' Safari" and "Little Deuce Coupe"? Where did Pet sounds come from? My pal quoted above was there to guide me, lending me selected Beach Boys LPs that demonstrated Brian Wilson's evolution from teenage Four Freshmen fan to mid-century Mozart.

If Pet Sounds is the only album in your Beach Boys collection, you should know that there are treasures galore amongst the band's earlier recordings.

Here's the thing you need to know: Brian Wilson was a genius from day one and there are indications of that fact right from the band's start. 

When the teenage Beach Boys made their first recordings, producers and recording engineers were knocked out by Brian's ability to arrange complex vocal harmonies on the fly. On the band's second album, Surfin' USA, Brian started double-tracking the group's harmonies, giving them an even deeper lushness.

Despite continuing to mine the surfing theme, the group's third album, Surfer Girl, is another big leap forward. It's the first to credit Brian as the LP's producer and features his first ballad compositions, including the beautifully sung title track and "In My Room," a precursor to Pet Sounds' songs of melancholy and isolation. 

Even up-tempo songs from this period, including the corny-as-all-get-out "Be True to Your School" single (featured as a bonus track on the Little Deuce Coupe/All Summer Long CD twofer) demonstrates Brian's ability to create sound worlds on vinyl. This track is a pep rally brought to life at 45 reps per minute.

The following two albums, Shut Down Vol. 2 and All Summer Long (both released in 1964) contain even greater riches. The ballads on the former album, "Don't Worry Baby" and "The Warmth of the Sun" are among Brian's most beautiful, while All Summer Long is the first album where Wilson relied mostly on studio musicians to create the band's backing tracks, rather than the group itself.

Brian reportedly had suffered a severe anxiety attack or  nervous breakdown around this time. The stress of touring, producing and writing was too much. He also was struggling with mental illness and with getting out from under the thumb of his domineering father, Murray. From this point onward, he focused his work on the studio -- writing and producing music and having the band add its vocal parts when they were off the road. 

Brian was a big fan of Phil Spector and was now using many of same musicians who helped create the "Wall of Sound," mainly drummer Hal Blaine's "Wrecking Crew," which also included bassist/guitarist Carol Kaye and guitarists Glen Campbell (who briefly replaced Brian on tour), Barney Kessell, Al Casey and Tommy Tedesco, among many other top session players.

As a result, the Beach Boys sound got even bigger and the sonic palette more varied. The surf instrumental "Carl's Big Chance" featured horns and bass harmonica underneath Carl Wilson's guitar lead. Songs like "Hushabye" and "Wendy" featured layers of beautiful harmonies over rich instrumental backing tracks. This was a wall of sound, but much smoother, more sophisticated, lovelier and less rocking than Spector's productions.

The following album, The Beach Boys Today, built on these advances. Listen and you'll hear all sorts of sounds that feature later on Pet Sounds. There's the great bass sound, a result of most bass lines being performed by two musicians, one playing electric bass, the other an upright acoustic. There's all sorts of hand percussion, including sleigh bells. And "When I Grow Up to Be a Man" features a harpsichord. The Beatles at this time, too, were adding all sorts of outside instruments to their music, but not yet to this degree. This is one of my all-time favorite Beach Boys albums and maybe the strongest of their pre-Pet Sounds LPs.

Next came Summer Days (And Summer Nights), featuring one of Brian's greatest songs and productions, "California Girls." Along with "Good Vibrations," it's pretty much the Beach Boys' theme song. "Let Him Run" is another highlight, featuring a wonderful vocal by Brian and huge, Spector-like production. Also included is one of my favorite Beach Boys tunes, the overlooked, Beatles-influenced "Girl Don't Tell Me," featuring a great solo Carl Wilson vocal -- with no background harmonies!

And, after this, comes Pet Sounds. If you're not familiar with any of these earlier albums, you'll be rewarded by listening to them. There's an abundance of wonderful music here. There are also some pretty good Beach Boys LPs after Pet Sounds, but that's a story for another day...

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Video find: Disneyland in 1958

Reunited Beach Boys to appear on Grammys -- but don't get too excited

The Beach Boys are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. Long-estranged  group leader Brian Wilson is even along for the ride. So this is is a pretty big deal.

So why do the Horrible Idea People at the Grammy Awards insist on messing up an opportunity to feature the reconstituted group at its ceremony this weekend by tacking on inexplicable guest appearances?

Let alone guest appearances like this:
The Beach Boys' 50th anniversary reunion is set to begin this weekend at the Grammy Awards with a performance featuring guest appearances by Maroon 5 and Foster the People. The surviving members of the band's classic lineup – Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks – will make their first appearance on stage together in more than 20 years.
It's unclear exactly what Maroon 5 and Foster the People will be doing onstage with the Beach Boys, though it seems likely that their own hits will be included as part of a medley. So yes, there's a good shot that the first Beach Boys set in over two decades will include renditions of "Pumped Up Kicks" and "Moves Like Jagger."
This (will) sound(s) dreadful. How do Maroon 5 and Foster the People come to mind when you think "Beach Boys"?

The Grammys hate music.

Rare video: Beach Boys perform I Can Hear Music

Complete list of Beach Boys and Brian Wilson DVDs

The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson are particularly well-represented on DVD, with a few great documentaries, performances and making-of-album available.

Click the links to order discounted items from Amazon:

The Beach Boys - Good Timin' - Live at Knebworth, England 1980

Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story

Beach Boys - An American Band / Brian Wilson - I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

The Beach Boys - The Lost Concert

Brian Wilson presents Smile

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Sign a petition asking Marvel to give proper credit and royalties to Jack Kirby's family!

I signed this petition and I hope you will, too. Here's the text:
Jack Kirby is one of the most important and influential artists in the history of U.S. comic books and popular culture.

Along with writers Joe Simon, Stan Lee, and Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby created the characters and stories on which Marvel Comics has built a very successful business over the past 60 years.

Kirby created or co-created Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and many more. 

For his efforts, Kirby was paid a few dollars a page and never shared in the billions of dollars in profits his characters have made in various media, including print, film, and video games.

We strongly urge Marvel Entertainment and its owner Disney to acknowledge Jack Kirby's authorship and primary role in the creation of these characters. As well, we urge Marvel to pay Kirby's family royalties or other just compensation for the use of these characters and stories.

Until such a time as Marvel can make things right with Kirby's legacy and Kirby's family and heirs, we may refuse to purchase any Marvel product, including comic books, movies, toys, or games. We ask Marvel, Disney, and its shareholders to act ethically and morally in this situation, just as their characters would.

New Amazing Spider-Man movie trailer

New Music I Like: Django Django

Complete list of Beach Boys and Brian Wilson Albums

Here's a complete list of Beach Boys albums, followed by a list of Brian Wilson's releases. Click the links to order discounted items from Amazon.

Surfin' Safari / Surfin' USA

Surfer Girl/Shut Down, Vol. 2

Little Deuce Coupe / All Summer Long

Today/ Summer Days (and Summer Nights)

Pet Sounds

Pet Sounds [Hybrid SACD - DSD]

The Pet Sounds Sessions Box Set 

Beach Boys Concert / Live London

The Smile Sessions (2CD)

The Smile Sessions Box Set

Smiley Smile / Wild Honey

Friends / 20/20

Sunflower / Surf's Up

Carl & The Passions - So Tough / Holland

15 Big Ones / Love You

M.I.U. / L.A. Album

Keepin' The Summer Alive / The Beach Boys

Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys

Christmas With the Beach Boys

Brian Wilson CDs

Brian Wilson

I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

Live at the Roxy Theatre


Orange Crate Art w/Van Dyke Parks

Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds Live

Gettin' in Over My Head

Brian Wilson Presents Smile

What I Really Want for Christmas

Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

In The Key Of Disney [ Exclusive Version]