SMiLE Track-By-Track XV: Mrs O’Leary’s Cow

May 24th, 2017

This is the one track in the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson canon that genuinely scares me, and one that I have mixed feelings about. Of course, it has a history with Brian Wilson’s own paranoia and belief that the track had some sort of power to inflict troubles, but the reality is that the track became a key part of the SMiLE debacle that imposed huge mental chains on Brian.

Mrs O’Leary’s Cow is a track like no other in Brian’s ouevre. Forget the silly whistles that lead-in the track; the music is like a descent to hell, with a heaviness that rival’s anything that metal can bring up. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable experience, but there is a power that is overwhelming, and no amount of fireman’s hats and whistling can distract that there is something intense happening here.

Most peversely, but in line with the singularity of this piece, the song got the only proper Grammy that Brian and the Beach Boys ever got, for best instumental. This is despite the humming in the song, and even more so, despite Brian being known as the master of vocal harmony.

But in album of duality, the element fire, which this song clearly represents, has the most duality of all. Fire can detroy and kill, but at the same time, it can also renew by burning out the old to allow the new to grow. And that is the miracle of SMiLE, that the fire that almost consumed Brian eventually lead to his biggest redemption.


It Wasn’t SMiLE But….

May 23rd, 2017

1967 was the Summer of Love, the year of Sgt. Pepper and the year SMiLE didn’t happen. But even although the Beach Boys faded from their 1966 critical and commercial success, they did do quite a lot, including two studio albums.

To celebrate that, we will now be getting 2 CDs worth of rarities, including the first stereo mix of Wild Honey, on 30 June. You can see more detail here, and start looking forward to celebrating a year that still saw some great new Beach Boys music.

The Revolution We Need

May 22nd, 2017

Image result for a kind revolution Paul Weller’s record-making career now spans 40 years, and while there is a fair musical distance from 1977s In The City to Weller’s latest record, most of his work is connected by power, melodicism and also a desire to progress and not be constrained by the previous record..this is the person who broke up his band at the height of their success to “progress” his music.

Weller’s albums in the since 2008 have received quite a bit of acclaim for being willing to experiment and move beyond the “mod” rock boundaries. Weller has also been known to be quite political, especially in his Style Council, but his new revolution of his latest record moves the revolution from the political to the personal -to the radical idea that one may have to change oneself.

So his latest record, with a title reflecting that the world could do with a lot more kindness, sets out this new world mood as well his ongoing musical progression. It’s a bit more gospel-ly, a bit more melodic, even a little more hearkening back to the Style Council, but it is also testament to Weller’s ongoing drive for quality, meaning and good music. There are 10 solid tracks, with the picks being Long Long Road, The Cranes Are Back and The Impossible Idea which all move the album to an almost transcendental level with a mixture of hope and self-reflection.

51 Years Great

May 16th, 2017

Although the Pet Sounds 50 year tour is still ongoing, the greatest album ever turns 51 today. Here is what I said about it a year ago.

SMiLE Track-By-Track XIV: Wind Chimes

May 15th, 2017

Windchimes have a distinctly spiritual quality and this song pays tribute to these popular household items, as well the air element. As with much of SMiLE, there is a real sense of contrast, especially between the slow, ethereal first part of the song and the quite heavy instrumental fadeout. Of course, the element air is one of contrasts- it can be the light breeze, or the raging hurricane.

Never-Ending Pet Sounds

May 12th, 2017 OK, it will never equal Dylan’s “Never-ending” tour, but the extension of Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tour well into the 52nd year of the album’s existence is pretty impressive. 2017 will now see 83 shows, slightly down on 2016, but still meaning that Brian and his band will spend almost one in four nights in 2017 on the road.

SMiLE Track-By-Track XIII: On A Holiday

May 7th, 2017

This is an interesting track, a bit of a break (holiday?) from the elements theme. Instrumental sections called Holiday were known to collectors, but on the completed 2004 album, it becomes a fully realised vocal track called On A Holiday. The “pirate” lyrics gave the track and album a certain coolness, and there was speculation whether the pirates referred back to the abovementioned collectors. Nick Walusko did his pirate rap and overall, this was one of the fun moments on SMiLE.

Things get a bit more serious at the end with the beautiful “long long ago” and the “whispering winds” section leading into the next part of the “elements”…

SMiLE Track-By-Track XII: Vega-Tables

May 5th, 2017

Generally regarded as the “earth” section of the elements, Vega-Tables focuses on the theme of healthy living, tying back to the I’m In Great Shape section of the previous track. One can see again the humor element of SMiLE coming through in the goofy instrumentation and the offbeat lyrics that turn around the traditional dislike that people, especially children, have for vegatables. However, a deeper message can be seen in the idea of looking after your body, and by implication, the earth around us. Also listen to great segue from the previous workshop sounds into this track.

SMiLE Track-By-Track XI: I’m In Great Shape / I Wanna Be Around / Workshop

April 29th, 2017

The fragmentary nature of SMiLE is nowhere more noticeable than here – in less than two minutes, we have three distinct and completely separate sections- a brief new song, an old standard and then the sound of workshop instruments. We are now in the final section of SMiLE, which can be described as the “elements” and while these sections don’t seem to directly follow that theme, we get a taste of healthy living (possibly linked to the “earth” element, a broken heart and then that heart being fixed. As I have blogged before, the sound of the workshop can be quite therapeutic -just think of it as your heart being repaired.

Central Europe Intermission

April 23rd, 2017

I’m in Central and Eastern Europe for a few days, so the blog is on a bit of an intermission but we’ll soon start looking at the third movement of SMiLE. Meanwhile, in the spirit of where I am, here is a 1969 performance of one of my favorite songs in Prague.