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February 17, 2011 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Today in 1966, Brian Wilson starting laying down instrumental tracks for "#1 Untitled." Eight months, 90 hours of tape, and $50,000 later, he released his "pocket symphony."

There are a lot of different cover versions out there, some incredibly faithful. You can read about both the song and arrangement. Hear about it from the BBC, NPR, and Brian himself.

Brian plays it, the Beach Boys play it, but perhaps the best way to experience it, is the original mono mix, 3:35 of pop perfection.

Forty five years later, it still gives you a buzz.
posted by timsteil (54 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first time I heard it, I wondered, "Why is the orange juice commercial going on for so long?"
posted by Joe Beese at 9:19 AM on February 17, 2011


I never really got the Beach Boys. I was really shocked about 10 years ago to learn that they were considered Serious. Had no idea--I'd grouped them with the Monkees, rather than with the Beatles or Stones.

This song in particular always sounds like a mess to me. So many different, unrelated things going on in there.
posted by DU at 9:25 AM on February 17, 2011


Mike Love sounds like he was a visionless jackass, for the most part, but... god help me, I really do prefer his lyrics to the supposedly "original" ones that appeared on the Smile version of this song.
posted by pts at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2011


I will also point out that I am renowned on both the internet and the earth for having terrible music taste.

It also can't help that Good Vibrations is overplayed, particularly as Mr Eese points out, in cheesy commercial contexts.
posted by DU at 9:28 AM on February 17, 2011


Two words for the haters: Pet Sounds.

That is all.
posted by chavenet at 9:29 AM on February 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm not really that familiar with the Beach Boys overall, but Pet Sounds is truly incredible.

(But then my favorite band is U2, so my musical taste is obviously bunk.)
posted by kmz at 9:31 AM on February 17, 2011


This song in particular always sounds like a mess to me.

Rock critic Dave Marsh - who mentions the Beach Boys as the first band he thought seriously about - makes the interesting point that Wilson's major works relied on sonic details that could not be well heard, if at all, on the average records players and radios in use at the time.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:31 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


chavenet: I've heard that song a million times, but God Only Knows still gives me chills. Goddamn.
posted by pts at 9:32 AM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also: this will give you an idea of the mental circumstances Wilson had to overcome.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:38 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Joe Beese: I was just trying to find those tapes. Thanks. I'd heard them a few years back. Such tragic psychodrama.
posted by chavenet at 9:41 AM on February 17, 2011


Joe Beese: Jesus. The description alone is harrowing; I don't think I could handle listening to the audio.

To think the guy managed to get through that to make Pet Sounds and (eventually) Smile. Amazing.
posted by pts at 9:46 AM on February 17, 2011


This has always been a favorite song of mine, even though I'm kind of lukewarm on The Beach Boys as a whole. There's just so much inspired weirdness in it, just beneath the surface of what at first seems to be simple bubblegum-pop.
posted by Bummus at 9:47 AM on February 17, 2011


I am of the generation that was a teenager listening to punk and new wave in the eighties. I didn't start listening to the Beach Boys until the mid nineties (thanks to XTC and The Dukes of Stratosphear, mostly). It took me a while to get over my childhood memories of those damn orange soda commercials, but I did fall down the rabbit hole of Brian Wilson's work in 1966: Pet Sounds, Good Vibrations, and the Smile sessions.

In short, Brian Wilson is to be taken seriously for his work that year, for the best stuff he wrote in their career leading up to it (you can see this young man's musical development), and for a few good songs after his mental breakdown post-Smile.

Not to be taken seriously: Mike Love and his cheesy good-time-fun touring band and most of the Beach Boys fluff they play.
posted by D.C. at 9:48 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not really that familiar with the Beach Boys overall, but Pet Sounds is truly incredible. (But then my favorite band is U2...)

It's the same thing as U2, minus the wistfulness.
posted by crapmatic at 9:48 AM on February 17, 2011




Brian Wilson is an unmitigated real life genius. How anyone can not like Good Vibrations is beyond my comprehension.

The re-do on Smile is simply rapturous. The simple notion that organized sound waves can bring me such profound feelings of joy is one of the great ineffables that makes me ponder the existence of G*d.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:04 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I see the Beach Boys as an experiment in "What would have happened if the Beatles had just been Paul McCartney and a bunch of dickheads who didn't understand him." I mean, up through Pet Sounds, their careers tracked similarly -- super-popular bands who produced superbly crafted pop tunes, and later became illuminated. Except, instead of having 1 super awesome partner and 2 dudes who mostly didn't get in the way, Wilson had a bunch of guys who were all like, "Whaaa? Why can't you just poop out a few more hits?" As a result, he never got to take it to the next level with SMiLE, depriving the Beach Boys of their Sergeant Pepper's hit-it-out-of-the-park album.

Interestingly, I feel the same way about the BB's early catalog as the Beatles' : originally I dismissed it as unexciting bubblegum pop, only later to return and realize how perfect some of those songs are. These boys really knew what the hell they were doing.

Speaking of SMiLE, if you can find Purple Chick's SMiLE Reconstruction, GET IT, and get it NOW. Basically, she (they?) took the best of the original SMiLE sessions and put the snippets together in the same ordering as 2005 SMiLE. The result is awesome and amazing in every possible way; think 2005 SMiLE only with a better-sounding Brian Wilson.

I'm sure you can find it on BitTorrent.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:13 AM on February 17, 2011 [14 favorites]


I've never liked the Beach Boys sound, even though they undoubtedly have some good melodies. I always felt that Good Vibrations sounded over-produced and artificially contrived, that you could almost see the wizard's feet poking out from beneath the curtain. The article in the "arrangement" link of the FPP does little to disabuse me of this notion.
For me personally, it's the quintessential example of those creations in which you can see the objective craft inherent in making it, and can even see something of what other people find attractive in it whilst yourself remaining untouched by it. Is there a word for those things?
posted by Jakey at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ooh, that would be great if they put out a Smile with the Beach Boys tracks. (Not that the stuff isn't out there, I guess, but still, a complete package would be cool.) The re-recording is okay, but it's just so stilted and lifeless; the band sounds like they're giving a Very Serious recital of this Important Music. Much better to have Hal Blaine bashing the fuck out of the drums.

Agree with pts, though--Mike Love's lyrics really did improve "Good Vibrations" a lot.
posted by equalpants at 10:18 AM on February 17, 2011


I'm sure you can find it on BitTorrent.

And other places.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:19 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


instead of having 1 super awesome partner and 2 dudes who mostly didn't get in the way, Wilson had a bunch of guys who were all like, "Whaaa? Why can't you just poop out a few more hits?"

Well, in all fairness, Brian was also going through some pretty spectacular paranoid delusions at the time. I seem to recall that during the recording of the "fire" section of SMiLE, there were some fires burning in southern CA and he was convinced that his music had caused them.

There was a lot of that kind of thing going on in his mind at the time. Yes, he didn't quite have the cooperative moldable group of conspirators he may have needed to carry off his project, but his own crazy was certainly a major part inhibiting of the entire process.
posted by hippybear at 10:19 AM on February 17, 2011


you can see the objective craft inherent in making it, and can even see something of what other people find attractive in it whilst yourself remaining untouched by it. Is there a word for those things?

Figure Skating
posted by timsteil at 10:21 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's called "not getting it." My condolences.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 10:22 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I see the Beach Boys as an experiment in "What would have happened if the Beatles had just been Paul McCartney and a bunch of dickheads who didn't understand him."

Emphasis on "dickheads".

... in November 2005, Love filed yet another lawsuit against Wilson and his management. ... There has been speculation that Love's lawsuit was an attempt to pressure Wilson into agreeing to let him continue to use the profitable Beach Boys name for his... touring efforts. ... In a series of rulings, the court rejected all of Love's claims, including the claim that Smile was a Beach Boys project as to which Love deserved compensation from Wilson directly. The court subsequently ruled that Love had to pay the legal fees of all the defendants as well.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:32 AM on February 17, 2011


I'm sure you can find it on BitTorrent.

And other places.


As always, Grooveshark to the rescue!

(why didn't I look there first?)
posted by Afroblanco at 10:35 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


and a bunch of dickheads

Agree with you regarding Mike Love, but it's unfair to lump Dennis and Carl in with him.
posted by the cuban at 10:45 AM on February 17, 2011


I am of the generation that was a teenager listening to punk and new wave in the eighties. I didn't start listening to the Beach Boys until the mid nineties (thanks to XTC and The Dukes of Stratosphear, mostly).

I backed into them the exact same way. When I was a kid, I didn't much get the Beach Boys, mainly because I more exposed to the Surfin' Safari & I Get Around cruft of their early career, but Pale and Precious form the DoS album made me go back and reassess my position. It's a very able and apt homage to a truly influential artist.

I kind of resisted Good Vibrations as a kid, but gave in many, many years ago. Yet another thing to thank Andy Partridge for.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:50 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]



Just relax, baby, me and this other cat are gonna straighten you out; and then we'll get, like, world peace.

Zappa on the Beach Boys:
One of the most exciting things that ever happened in the world of 'white person music' was when the Beach Boys used the [chord] progression V-II on "Little Deuce Coupe". An important step forward by going backward.
Mike Love on Frank Zappa:
Frank Zappa's a very hep cat and everything ... If Frank and The Beach Boys got together and did a Super Session album, it would be a gas.
posted by Herodios at 10:55 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Always was curious about the relationship between Zappa and the Monkees. Must have been the most unlikely, bizarre friendship ever. Like the when Pat Buchanan used to drink beer and talk football with Hunter S. Thompson.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:05 AM on February 17, 2011


Lew Shiner wrote an odd rock-n-roll time-travel fantasy novel, Glimpses, about a modern (circa '90) man who manages to get to the right places in the right times to bring to fruition the great uncompleted works of the Beatles, the Doors, the Beach Boys (Smile), and Jimi Hendrix.
posted by Zed at 11:12 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


How about Zappa and Barry White? check out that relationship sometime...

as to the post: Carol Kaye was tasked to play the bass on GV, but couldn't get that middle part right. So Brian played it and she ended up playing guitar on the track. So she says.
posted by bonefish at 11:16 AM on February 17, 2011


Afroblanco, this thread isn't about FZ or the Monkees, but their relationship is best summed up by this exchange in the movie Head:

FZ: That song was pretty white.
DJ: Well, I am white, what can I tell ya?
FZ: You've been working on your dancing, though. It doesn't leave much time for your music. You should spend more time on it, because the youth of America depends on you to show the way.
DJ: Yeah?
FZ: Yeah!
posted by Herodios at 11:21 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Zappa on the Beach Boys: "One of the most exciting things that ever happened in the world of 'white person music' was when the Beach Boys used the [chord] progression V-II on "Little Deuce Coupe". An important step forward by going backward."

And in fact Zappa quotes Little Deuce Coupe directly in Brown Shoes Don't Make It (links go to the relevant parts of the songs).
posted by dfan at 11:26 AM on February 17, 2011


DU:
I never really got the Beach Boys. I was really shocked about 10 years ago to learn that they were considered Serious. Had no idea--I'd grouped them with the Monkees, rather than with the Beatles or Stones.

This song in particular always sounds like a mess to me. So many different, unrelated things going on in there.
DU, I know you didn't mean to, but I think you nailed down why the Beach Boys are such a quintessentially AMERICAN band. A complete, messy, misunderstood melting pot -- sometimes dreck, sometimes sublime, and an inspiration to many.
posted by artlung at 11:29 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can second Glimpses as odd but extremely interesting in parts.
posted by mikepop at 11:39 AM on February 17, 2011


I just wasn't made for these times, so I naturally love this stuff. How can you go wrong with music produced in a war to best each other between Brian Wilson and the Beatles? Rubber Soul begat Pet Sounds, which begat Sgt. Peppers and so on. We should have such rivalries today.

"Good Vibrations" is a joy, with the sole caveat for me, as a former builder and seller of theremins, that I have had to correct the constantly made (and wrong) claim that there's a theremin in the song. There's not, never was, never will be, and the story of the actual instrument used is a Tannerin (the modern nomenclature for the confusingly named "Electro-Theremin") and is pretty interesting on its own merits.

Hearing some of the other takes of GV is also pretty amazing. They're in one of the various box sets, and range from the esoteric to honest-to-god klezmer. I can't find a YT version, but this assemblage of takes for another song, where the various experiments blend into something pretty damned lovely, gets close.
posted by sonascope at 12:14 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't get not getting it. I grew up on classic rock and both sides of the Beach Boys make me happy. Little Deuce Coupe and Calfornia Girls are perfect pop songs. Pet Sounds is a masterpiece. God Only Knows is one of the greatest love songs ever. I Just Wasn't Made For These Times just hurts.
I saw Brian Wilson a few years ago. My dad was awash in nostalgia and I was just in awe at Wilson and those SONGS.
he came into my Dad's restaurant lately. He wasn't welll
Someone should do a movie about the Beach Boys and the Manson family
Walk Hard has a great parody of this period of Wilson's life
And I love how Wilson described Pet Sounds as 'teenage symphonies to God'
Any love for Barenaked Ladies' 'Brian Wilson'?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:20 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not really that familiar with the Beach Boys overall, but Pet Sounds is truly incredible. (But then my favorite band is U2...)

It's the same thing as U2, minus the wistfulness.
posted by crapmatic at 9:48 AM on 2/17
[+] [!]


Them's fighting words. U2 could never approach the Beach Boys' lightness and grace. Though my friend claims he saw The Edge approach Brian in Sydney and Brian didn't recognize him
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:26 PM on February 17, 2011


I've long had a real soft spot in my heart for Surf's Up. The one-two punch of 'Til I Die and the title track at the end of the album is breathtaking. Feel Flows is a third great track off this album as well. I'm not enough of a student of the Beach Boys canon to know how well it is regarded in general, and it is rightfully not mentioned in the same breath as Pet Sounds, but I still think it is a damn good album, warts and all. I'm looking at you, Mike Love.
posted by the painkiller at 1:35 PM on February 17, 2011


Walk Hard has a great parody of this period of Wilson's life

Not being a fan of this movie overall, this section had me in hysterics and I'm grinning a bit now just thinking about it. Spot on.
posted by General Zubon at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2011


Lest I come across as one of the sort who thinks the Beach Boys are about Brian and only Brian, I humbly submit "Be With Me," a Dennis Wilson piece with an orchestral arrangement (which you can hear without vocals here) that makes my hair stand gloriously on end even after the thousandth listening. The massed, melancholy chords, the spectral, sweeping strings, the suspension of it all—oh my.

[Also, while I'm going a bit sideways and speaking to the Wilson faithful, I'll put in my usual plug for the High Llamas, who are essentially this dimension's shard of Brian's brain that shattered in a roiling cloud of acid in '67 and fell into the spacetime vortex, crash landing on Earth in the 90s. Try "Sun Beats Down," "Nomads," "Tilting Windmills," and "The Goat Looks On," to give a few examples. It's all stuff that fits neatly into the synapses that trip from the truest of Brian's experiments.]
posted by sonascope at 2:09 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Walk Hard has a great parody of this period of Wilson's life

Heh. Read somewhere that Van Dyke Parks actually wrote the song that's used in the movie as a parody of the SMiLE material.

I actually liked Walk Hard a lot, but it's only really funny if you've seen both Ray and Walk the Line recently.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:56 PM on February 17, 2011


I don't really care for the Surfer song of the Beach Boys. They do, however have some amazing songs like "God Only Knows."
posted by lhc67 at 3:38 PM on February 17, 2011


I'm pretty sure I would rather have a limb amputated Civil War style, than to be young, alone, having just broken up with a girl and hear Caroline No.
posted by timsteil at 4:11 PM on February 17, 2011


This will give you an idea of the mental circumstances Wilson had to overcome.

In 1970, Brian Wilson wrote 'Til I Die, an indelibly haunting song that captures his struggles with mental illness.
posted by New Frontier at 4:20 PM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the song 'Til I Die has the profound depth. It was released on my favourite Wilson-related album, Surf's Up.
posted by ovvl at 4:46 PM on February 17, 2011


There's a mass of other great 'hidden' Beach Boys tracks (at least hidden to me till recently). This was a revelation for me: Kirk De Giorgio Beach Boys Special on Red Bull Radio. He skirts over Pet Sounds and then goes on to play track after track of unmitigated genius.
posted by niceness at 5:27 PM on February 17, 2011


Man, Sloop John B. is 3:00 of perfection...
posted by mikelieman at 5:47 PM on February 17, 2011


In my experience, Surf's Up is often looked upon as the last classic beach boys album, but there are some great tracks on the later stuff. I highly recommend this mix.
posted by saul wright at 6:11 PM on February 17, 2011


I have to say, Stack-O-Tracks is the best cheap-cash-in record ever put out.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 6:17 PM on February 17, 2011


In Roald Dahl's autobiography he talks about flying a fighter plane in the Battle of Athens, and in the midst of combat being amazed that so many buildings could nestle so elegantly on the seven-or-so acres of the Acropolis. This song gave me the same kind of feeling when I first heard it. You Never Give Me Your Money does it too.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 11:34 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Beach Boys may have been generally categorized as a vanilla surf-pop band, but man could those guys harmonize. I haven't heard any (non a cappella/barbershop) group since then come close to that sound, apart from maybe Relient K (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, of course; they also covered Sloop John B).
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:52 AM on February 18, 2011


I actually went and googled that Zappa quote that Herodios mentioned, and now I have to go out and buy The Real Frank Zappa Book before I can do anything else.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:19 AM on February 18, 2011


Don't Worry Baby gives me chills, after all these years. Still, this video is a hoot!
posted by SPrintF at 12:50 PM on February 18, 2011


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