The Transcendental Era

One of my Beach Boys fascinations since I became a “hardcore” fan in the mid-90s has been the 67-71 era, incorporating albums from Wild Honey to Surf’s Up, and covered succinctly on the third disc of the Good Vibrations box set. Peter Carlin’s book (which I am about halfway through) covers this era well and notes that a lot of the material in this era seems to seek a sense of transcendental beauty and escape in the natural world. One can think of songs like Country Air, Let The Wind Blow, Wake The World, I Went To Sleep, Soulful Old Man Sunshine and At My Window as examples of this. 

One must remember this was also a turbulent era of student riots and other disturbances, and much of the other music of that time seemed to reflecting that discord. Only the Beach Boys seemed to be retreating from that reality, and in the USA at least, that seemed to reflect on their popularity and sales, as well as their critical standing.

Of course, that harsh reality couldn’t be closed out together, and this era also saw the rather scary Never Learn Not To Love, which almost certainly has significant Charles Manson involvement in its creation. But even Dennis, who was possibly at his own songwriting peak at this point, was also creating his own visions of natural harmony such as Little Bird and Be Still from Friends.

One really gets the sense (without having completed the book) that this era is pivotal to Brian’s life. The book hints at a brief visit to a mental hospital for Brian in 1968, and the sense around this era is of a gradual decline, rather than the public perception that Brian was a complete acid casualty by the time SMiLE was pulled. Indeed, Brian was fairly prolific in this era if one also takes into account material that wasn’t released on albums such as Can’t Wait Too Long, Sail Plane Song and Games Two Can Play.

The era seems to culminate in the Surf’s Up album, which co-incided with Jack Rieley trying to make the Beach Boys hip again. The natural world now became a cause that needed to be saved (Don’t Go Near The Water) , but for Brian, it was his own soul that seemed to be crying for salvation and release. The astonishing pair of new Brian songs (A Day In The Life Of A Tree and ‘Til I Die) both take the natural motif, but instead of peace, there is now a desperate call for help, a sense of decline, and of drifting aimlessly.

Looking at the wider musical world, it was also the high point of Sunshine Pop, but again it was the harder edged music that seemed to getting the public attention. Yet Dylan also seemed to be drifting towards a sense of peace and simplicity (Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait) and the Beatles signed off with a mixture of stuff, but including some of their most beautiful ballads (Something, Because, Sun King, Here Comes The Sun, Long And Winding Road…). Scott Walker brought out his five classic solo albums. And Jimmy Webb’s tortured love life was being played out vinyl in the Richard Harris, Fifth Dimension and other albums that he was involved in from that era (and one of these will be reviewed tomorrow….).

Yes, if I had to relive an era of music, I would choose 1967-71. So much of the music then seemed to a sanctuary from the madness taking place around the world. Can we say that for today?

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