Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Beach Boys - 1971

One of the conditions required in signing THE BEACH BOYS to Warner Brothers / Reprise Records (and resurrecting their own banner, BROTHER RECORDS, not used since the 1967 single HEROES AND VILLAINS, the LP SMILEY SMILE and the one-off single credited to BRIAN AND MIKE, GETTING HUNGRY) was that BRIAN WILSON be actively involved in the songwriting and production of any new BEACH BOYS product. After the overall failure of SUNFLOWER, an LP that BRIAN put his heart and soul into, (he wrote seven of the twelve songs included on the LP), he once again retreated to his bedroom, feeling pretty much uninspired to continue the effort which seemed to be falling on the public's deaf or uninterested ears. By the time THE BEACH BOYS were ready to record the follow-up LP, BRIAN was not really interested in participating, even though many of the recordings were being done right in his own home studio. THE BEACH BOYS were now under the wing of new manager JACK RIELEY, a former KPFK disc jockey, who once interviewed BRIAN on his radio program and then sent an outline of how he felt the band could revitalize their career. One point made was that THE BEACH BOYS should take an environmental stand and soon they were hard at work on their next LP, tentatively titled LANDLOCKED. RIELEY received songwriting credit on three of the tracks (LONG PROMISED ROAD, the first single, co-written with CARL and FEEL FLOWS, recently featured in the CAMERON CROWE film ALMOST FAMOUS, also written with CARL. Rieley also wrote A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A TREE with Brian.) Once again, Warner Brothers was not impressed with the LP, feeling that it ALSO lacked a hit single. (As with the SUNFLOWER scenario we told you about earlier, the label was right again ... LONG PROMISED ROAD, released TWICE as a single, never made it past #79.) Word was dispatched to songwriter VAN DYKE PARKS, now a Warners executive, who had collaborated with Brian on many of the songs from the aborted SMILE album: Would it be possible to get ANY better material from Brian that might constitute a hit single? VAN DYKE PARKS had cowritten the Top Ten Hit HEROES AND VILLAINS and helped to stir additional controversy amongst the band members who had absolutely NO clue what these lyrics were supposed to be about! (Keep in mind that, up until the PET SOUNDS LP, MIKE LOVE was pretty much only singing about cars, chicks and surfing!) VAN DYKE recalled a song that BRIAN had performed on a LEONARD BERNSTEIN television special saluting American songwriters called SURF'S UP. In fact, SURF'S UP was originally planned to be the crowning centerpiece of the SMILE album ... and had been sitting in the can since that filmclip was made in 1966. He played the short excerpt that existed to the powers that be at Warner Brothers and they LOVED it ... it was "classical" rock at its finest ... the song simply HAD to be finished and included on the new LP. (They were SO sure that it was a hit that they quickly changed the name of the album to SURF'S UP.) Brian was absolutely adamant that it not be released ... he had shelved the SMILE tracks and did NOT want SURF'S UP released under any circumstances. The band and the label prevailed, however and it holds up today as one of the most sophisticated rock compositions ever written ... the LP went to #29 and THE BEACH BOYS were back ... almost. Instead of being the revolutionary break-through that everyone seemed so certain of, the single tanked ... in fact, it never even made the charts at all! Regarded today as one of Brian's finest achievements, NOBODY bought it back in 1971 ... and, once again, THE BEACH BOYS could not buy a hit.
(I remember watching the LEONARD BERNSTEIN TV Special solely to see BRIAN WILSON ... when he began performing a solo version of SURF'S UP, I have to admit that I had NO clue which direction his music was headed. Even co-writer VAN DYKE PARKS to this day cannot explain what the sophisticated, poetic lyrics mean ... and HE wrote 'em!!! But there is NO denying that this piece of music was lighyears ahead of its time for 1996/1967. )

The B-Side of the SURF'S UP single was the lead track from the LP. Written by MIKE LOVE and AL JARDINE, DON'T GO NEAR THE WATER took the ecological theme of the LP to its fullest extent. It was a nice, soft-rock ballad that I remember hearing all the time on the Adult Contemporary / Soft Rock stations here in Chicago in the early '70's ... yet, once again, it failed to chart. The last official Top 40 BEACH BOYS single was I CAN HEAR MUSIC, released while they were still with Capitol, in 1969. They would not have another Top 40 Hit until 1974 ... amazingly, when Capitol re-released SURFIN' U.S.A. as a single, cashing in on the #1 compilation LP ENDLESS SUMMER. Nothing released in the interim under the new BROTHER / WARNER-REPRISE label peaked above #49. Unfortunately, even THE BEACH BOYS themselves began to believe that they were more marketable as an "oldies" band than for any new music they might create. (By the way, they resurrected the eleven year old recording of DON'T GO NEAR THE WATER and released it once again as a B-Side, this time to their 1982 hit COME GO WITH ME, a remake of the DELL-VIKINGS song, which actually went all the way to #18 for THE BEACH BOYS.)

If IN MY ROOM was one of the most introspective, soul-baring songs a very young BRIAN WILSON had ever written, then TILL I DIE completes that circle as an adult. When LONG PROMISED ROAD was released for the second time as a single from the SURF'S UP album, it was paired with this WILSON classic for an October, 1971 release. This time, the "A" Side (which failed to chart during its first release) peaked at #79 ... but the far-superior "B" Side never charted at all ... yet stands today as one of Brian's greatest (and most personal) compositions. Part of the stipulation in signing THE BEACH BOYS to the Warner Brothers label was that BRIAN be, in some way, involved in the studio with all of their releases. He barely kept up his end of the bargain on the SURF'S UP album. However, if the ONLY song he ever contributed again was TILL I DIE, then justice was served ... it's a BEAUTIFUL song and arrangement.

Full of introspection and melancholy, Til I Die is a stand-out cut from the Surf's Up album of 1971. Beautiful, complex harmonies with a lead vocal by Brian comprise this song of resignation and despair. To that measure, Brian was pretty whacked out at this time by his heavy drug usage. He had ordered his gardener to dig a grave in his backyard and had threatened to drive his Rolls off the Santa Monica pier. One evening, with his wife Marilyn asleep, Brian drove to the beach. Filled with feelings of torment and confusion, he envisioned himself proportionate to a small jellyfish floating on the surface of the vast body of water. The following day he began work on Til I Die, trying to capture those feelings of insignificance and smallness. Brian experimented with various rhythms and chord changes, trying to emulate the ocean's tides, and to portray the feeling of being a small object, such as a raft, adrift, and the destination and final outcome being out of one's hands.
-- Frannie