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"So how did you get your name?"
November 4, 2013 10:28 AM   Subscribe

"He also played piano obsessively after school, deconstructing the harmonies of The Four Freshmen by listening to short segments of their songs on a phonograph, then working to recreate the blended sounds note by note on the keyboard"

-- regarding Brian Wilson, from "The Lost Beach Boy", by Jon Stebbins

Please take pause to be absolutely charmed by The Four Freshmen.

It's like you want to take them all home and introduce them to your mother.
posted by timsteil (19 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
And, some years later, a tribute of sorts to their style of music from Forever Plaid.
posted by the sobsister at 10:41 AM on November 4, 2013


And a more indirect tribute from 5 Neat Guys.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I like the part where they escape when they see the sign "No Freshmen Allowed", although strictly speaking one of them could have stayed behind.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:56 AM on November 4, 2013


Great stuff! I'm still partial to Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross though.
posted by cleroy at 11:06 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yup, Wilson was a big fan of the Freshmen. By the way, though the group was formed in 1949 they're still playing today. There's also a very active fan club that holds an annual conference in appreciation of all things frosh.
posted by nowhere man at 11:15 AM on November 4, 2013


A great tribute to the Four Freshmen's "close harmony" style is Donald Fagen's "Maxine," from The Nightfly, later covered by the Freshmen themselves.
posted by Clustercuss at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's like you want to take them all home and introduce them to your mother.

I don't know, my mom would probably have some questions about their lack of academic progress.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:41 PM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


But which came first, the Four Freshmen or the Lettermen? (warning: auto-music and 100% Dave-free)
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2013


The Freshmen were great, but don't forget the Hi-Lo's, which Brian also knew. On a side note, if you like vocalese, be sure and check this clip of French masters Les Double Six from German TV. Formidable!
posted by Fnarf at 12:54 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


But which came first, the Four Freshmen or the Lettermen?

Oh, the Freshmen, by a decade or so. I think the lineage would go Mills Brothers -> Modernaires (though they had a woman in the group) -> Hi-Lo's -> Freshmen -> Lettermen. Your answer might depend on where you draw the line between barbershop and jazz/pop vocal groups. If you're going to allow the girls, you'll have to include the Boswell Sisters, who I think predate all of the above groups.

There should also be room in the vocal group discussion for larger ensembles like the Ray Conniff Singers. This stuff all gets lumped in with "easy listening" but to my ears there's nothing quite so refreshing as roomful of close harmony backed with an orchestra, with a big ol' Fender bass in the foreground.

The Freshmen were more modern in that they didn't really come out of the moribund (by the late forties) big band tradition like the Modernaires and Pied Pipers. They also continued the somewhat avant-garde jazz chording and soloing of the Hi-Lo's, like vocalese, but in a pop setting. The Lettermen were much more straightforward pop (but still pretty wonderful, if you like your white bread with the crusts cut off). Further down that line, the Sandpipers make even the Lettermen sound like Cannibal Corpse or something, they're so mellifluous. Or somnolent, take your pick.

On the country side, there's a terrific tradition of close harmony hillbilly singing from the Louvin Brothers, Stanley Brothers, Delmore Brothers, up to the Everly Brothers, which often gets overlooked when dissecting the roots of rock'n'roll.
posted by Fnarf at 1:12 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


A great tribute to the Four Freshmen's "close harmony" style is Donald Fagen's "Maxine," from The Nightfly, later covered by the Freshmen themselves.
posted by Clustercuss


Clustercuss? This is the awesomest of sauce. Also, there's IGY
posted by timsteil at 1:18 PM on November 4, 2013


... the Louvin Brothers, Stanley Brothers, Delmore Brothers, up to the Everly Brothers...

Plus my favorite of all the brothers, Jim and Jesse.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:20 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


LeLiLo, how is it possible that I don't already know Jim and Jesse? They were on Capitol, for chrissakes. I guess I know what I'm looking for at the upcoming record shows.
posted by Fnarf at 1:42 PM on November 4, 2013


Beautiful, thank you!

Say I don't suppose anyone could hip me to those intervals, in general? Low to high, say. Root, major third, fifth, seventh? Lotta dim9?

It's, ah, for a friend. *clicks pen*
posted by petebest at 3:18 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


nowhere man: "Yup, Wilson was a big fan of the Freshmen. By the way, though the group was formed in 1949 they're still playing today. There's also a very active fan club that holds an annual conference in appreciation of all things frosh."

It's like Menudo, with hats.
posted by chavenet at 3:59 PM on November 4, 2013


The Four Freshmen obviously have a significant presence in the book Inside the Music of Brian Wilson: The Songs, Sounds and Influences of the Beach Boys' Founding Genius by Philip Lambert, which is a decent surf if you wanna get nerdy about the structures of Brian Wilson's songwriting techniques.
posted by ovvl at 4:29 PM on November 4, 2013


This is so great. I listened to it last night and enjoyed a lot of the hamming for cameras too.

Want more? Grooveshark has quite a bit. I'm on their Complete Studio 1950-1954 album right now. Prepare to be blown away by a really deep clean jazz sound compared to the YouTube video.

Thanks again for posting this.

petebest: I know. I wish I was one of those people who could hear a song and decide which harmony part to sing. I'm stumped without chords or sheet music.
posted by surplus at 4:44 AM on November 5, 2013


I wonder what Brian was picking out, considering pianos can't play the harmonies these guys sing.

Do you think Brian was singing along with it?
posted by surplus at 3:21 PM on November 5, 2013


I'm pretty sure Brian Wilson sang along with everything.
posted by timsteil at 5:23 PM on November 5, 2013


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