Thursday, March 26, 2009

GMVW # 64: "Behind the Scenes"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 64:  Behind the Scenes
Song:  Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys
(Songwriter: Brian Wilson)
March 26, 2009

An up front thanks to Cousin Jack for tossing me a bone of an idea leading to this week’s Gem.

Often it’s what goes on behind the scene that tells the true story of an event.  Take a confrontation I had in 8th grade.  A teacher caught me in a fight with a classmate just before the opening bell.  We were both hauled down to the guidance councilor and warned that if it ever happened again there would be serious repercussions.  It never happened again. 

Considering the daily taunting that lead to that fight, the subsequent reprimand was quite the watershed moment, a blessing in disguise for me, because this confrontation was planned (unbeknown to my antagonist), a brilliant scheme concocted by Dad’s poker-playing partner who also happened to be the school’s guidance councilor.  He had heard through the grape vine (or more accurately, through cigar smoke) that I was having problems with a kid in school.  I was intimidated not so much by the kid as by the rule breaking of a fight…. four early grade-school years at St Mary’s with teachers like Sister Lorena and Sister Margaret Ester can do that to you.

First thing that fateful morning, I was guided into the councilor’s office and told that if confronted again, I could push back.  This was a bit hard to comprehend….I was actually given permission to fight in school!  I was not sure where all this was going, but that was all I needed to hear.  All went according to plan…my antagonist did his usual taunting and much to his surprise, I responded.  The fight was broken up pretty quickly (the teacher in the hallway was also part of the plot) and before I knew it we were being read the riot act (it was just that my riot act included a wink on the way out of the councilor’s office).  The rest of the year played out trouble free.  I actually gained some respect from the kid, who apologized for all he did leading to the fight.

In the studio, much of what goes into a ground-breaking album is pieced together behind the scenes as well, and when this happens the album’s producer often plays a major role.  There are only a handful of bands I’ve gotten deep enough into to know just how influential a producer can be.  Glyn Johns was the producer behind The Who album “Who’s Next”.  The difference between the sound of that album and the one that preceded it (“Tommy”, which was produced by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp) is like night and day.  The world had never heard anything like the songs “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Baba O’Riley”, “Bargain”, and “Behind Blue Eyes”, and the Who would never look back.  Glyn Johns was the technical wizard behind every successful venture by The Who from that album forward.  He fleshed out the potential of the band’s sound in a way that no one had done before. 

The Rolling Stones were given a jolt in the early 70’s as well.  Their transition was prompted by Jimmy Miller, who would produce the albums “Let It Bleed”, “Exile on
Main Street
” and “Sticky Fingers”.  Among Miller’s many talents was patience, having to deal with the whims, all nighters and habits of Keith Richards during these turbulent years. 

And if you ever watched the movie ‘Walk the Line’, you could see what influence Sam Phillips had on Johnny Cash.

The Beatles, of course, had their studio maestro too.  Of the last five full-fledged albums the Beatles produced (my favorites), it’s pretty clear which ones George Martin had a major role in: “Revolver”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road” (the other two albums “The Beatles {aka The White Album}” and “Let It Be” were deliberately stripped down, giving the Beatles final years a nice blend of both ends of the techno-spectrum).  Unfortunately, Martin’s role in the studio does not play out on video.  Songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “She Said, She Said”, “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, “Oh Darling”, “Because”, “Golden Slumbers”, “Something”, “Come Together” and many others are left to the imagination in terms of witnessing the Beatles performing them live or in the studio.  The only way to appreciate George Martin’s contributions is to listen to the albums.  No Gem to be found. Sorry, Jack. 

But this opens the door to discuss another producer, Brian Wilson.  Of all the producers listed here, Wilson was the only one who was also a member of the band he produced, The Beach Boys.  For Cuz Jack, there is a connection here, because George Martin was heavily influenced by Brian Wilson’s success in the studio.  Unlike many others though, Martin was enamored more so by the melodies of Beach Boys albums than he was by the harmonies, and all credit for Beach Boy melodies has to go to their producer-genius. Wilson has often claimed divine intervention as the only explanation for what he produced.  It’s hard to argue. 

Watching this week’s Gem, a live version of “Good Vibrations”, it’s strange that Brian is the only Wilson brother to live to an old age.  It’s not so hard to understand Dennis’ premature death, as he took on a grizzled Richard Manuel-like persona as the years rolled by, but Carl (who sings the high notes in the Gem…“I Love the colorful clothes she wears…”) was the one I would have predicted as the survivor. Brian was too fragile too early to expect him to be the long-living family patriarch. By the time the Beach Boys were touring songs off the ‘Pet Sounds’ album (like ‘Good Vibrations’) in 1966, Brian had retreated to the back of the stage (he is on piano in the Gem) and would soon disappear from tours altogether, a victim of a variety of phobias related to mental illness. 

As for Mike Love, I never knew what to make of him.

A second video off the ‘Pet Sounds’ album ‘Sloop John B’ is included below, as is Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and a symphony (conducted by Sir George Martin) performing “Golden Slumbers, Carry the Weight, and The End”.

- Pete

Gem Video “Good Vibrations”

“Sloop John B Sloop John B”

“Golden Slumbers, Carry the Weight and The End”    


About the Video: Live, mid-70’s.  Not many more details.  The camera work seems professional.  Brian is playing piano near the back of the stage. 

Video Rating: 1

Best  feedback: Jeff

Mike Love.  idealist/spiritualist on oneside and pragmatist way on the other.   A part of the gang who played with the maharishi, which I believe profoundly influenced a lot of them - Donovan and John L., as well as the other obvious ones.  But on the other hand, the one who kept the live Beach Boys music going through parts of the 80s and 90s when the original brothers were gone and or incommunicado.  I saw a couple shows live and several others on tv, and have always felt that Mike's singing hits the core of the sound.  I hear him singing Little Old Lady from Pasadena or whatever its called (I am terrible with song titles I take my music more in a more intuititive form) and I am right back in early teen years peddling my bike up and down the street, past the pool where the juke box played all those songs loud enough you could hear them a block away.  Back on the other side, I read Patti Boyd's book a couple years back or so, and a few other  accounts, I guess something from Donovan and can't remember some others, but the gist I remember was that Mike L. was a real part of the India trip with the guru, not just some innocent bystander.  And for me that is a very big deal, because again, that phenomenon of young western rockandroller cultural icons seeking out the eastern wisdom was a huge deal.  Might not have saved the world or prevented georgeWcheney, but had a lot of influence on people in a positive, universal way.

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