6:00 AM GMT 22/06/2011
Hallucinatory masterpiece salvaged from the wreckage of Smile...
In just a few short years, The Beach Boys popularised, then transcended, a whole new genre (surf pop) and recorded one of the decade's undisputed masterpieces (Pet Sounds), but they exited the 1960s in a tangled mess. Sunflower, their first offering of the new decade, had tanked and their chief songwriter - already fried by acid and plagued by the voices in his head - was still haunted by the aborted recording of the Smile album. Step forward Carl Wilson, younger brother of the troubled Brian and the band's de facto lead singer since 1965's Good Vibrations. Despite borrowing the title of Brian and Van Dyke Parks' epic hymn, this album belongs to Carl. Not only does he contribute two of the best tracks - the soulful, politically-pumped Long Promised Road and the hallucinatory Feel Flows - he also helps realise one of his brother's most sublime triumphs.
The bare bones of Surf's Up had been delivered to camera by Brian in late 1966. Filmed for documentary Inside Pop, Wilson performed the new track - then only at demo stage - alone at the piano. Host Leonard Bernstein was spellbound, calling it a song "too complex to get all of first time around" and "a symbol of the change many of these young musicians see in our future". After the Smile sessions left it half-recorded and cast aside by its creators, Surf's Up looked set to remain lost until its composer returned to earth. For this writer, the 1971 recording remains the definitive version, with those crystalline vocals imbuing Parks' cryptic verses with a grace and simplicity missing from the 2004 reboot. With Brian re-joining his brother in the vocal booth for the second-half of the song, this remains a fraternal creation from start to finish.
After a turbulent few years, the sun was setting on the Beach Boys' second stage. And it wasn't just Brian who was grappling with seismic shifts. Bruce Johnston's beautiful Disney Girls with its talk of "country shade and lemonade" is about as far from Little Deuce Coupe and I Get Around as you can get, while 'Til I Die is awash with the threat of an uncertain future ("I'm a cork on the ocean / floating over the raging sea... I lost my way"). The tide had turned, but with Surf's Up, the Beach Boys had pre-empted the changes now sweeping the coastline they had so often eulogised in their songs. As the Californian hills were flooded with the sound of singer-songwriters all wielding acoustic guitars and mammoth record deals, it was time to look inside and ask, "where next?"
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 11:07 AM GMT 30/09/2009
Brian Wilson – Smile (Nonesuch, 2004)