Monday, June 30, 2014

The Parts Are As Great As the Whole: Brian Wilson As Producer (Part 1) by Peter Reum

Author's Introduction: As time has passed, Brian Wilson's work as a songwriter, arranger, vocalist, and leader has been recognized. His role as a producer has been less recognized, and it is my hope to highlight Brian's studio work over four articles, the first of which is this one. This article will cover Brian's major studio work from 1963 through 1965. The second will cover from 1966 through 1970. The third will cover from 1971 through 1980, and the last will cover his solo career. I hope to use examples drawn from Youtube to  illustrate my chronology. This article is interactive in that examples in sound illustrate this story. Names of tunes and albums are italicized. Some of the production examples linked here are quite long. You can select which recordings you would enjoy hearing. Simply copy the links into your browser and  paste the files and open them.  Hope you enjoy the music!

Part 1

Modern record production was invented when Les Paul invented the multitrack track machine.  His inventive singles and albums from the Fifties brought the advent of double tracking vocals and overdubbing  and paved the way for many further developments later. As Mark Cunningham points out in his book, Good Vibrations: A History of Record Production (pp.25-34), his initial success in recording in a multitrack method that charted was How High the Moon. This seminal recording was Number 1 on the Billboard Charts for nice weeks in 1951. Here is a link:

The first multitrack producer-Les Paul

Simultaneously, in Memphis, Sam Phillips was inventing Rock and Roll at Sun Studio. His initial work was sold to Chess Records in Chicago, and many scholars contend that Phillips' (with Ike Turner) co-production of Jackie Brenston doing Rocket 88  was the very first Rock and Roll record. While many historians dispute this idea, Rocket 88 has an immediacy and uniqueness that became a hallmark of recordings by Sam Phillips. Here is a link: The Sun Studios became a hotbed of independent label recordings that culminated with Sam Phillips own Sun Records label being formed in March 1952. His first record on Sun was Sun 175, an instrumental by Johnny London entitled Drivin' Slow (Cunningham, pp, 34-39). You can here both sides here:  Sam Phillips became a talented producer by looking for the exceptional....that is, he looked for talent and then cajoled the artists he produced into creative directions they could not anticipate.

Sun Studios 706 N. Union Memphis, Tennessee

Sam Phillips at the Sun Board-mid 50s

In the Studio Itself-Sam Phillips and Unidentified Boys-Mid 50s

Sam Phillips was successful producing at Sun by finding exceptional talent and recording artists in ways that were unexpected. That his list of artists was so varied was what gave Sun it's very strength. By recording talent he found or had referred to him, he fulfilled one of the central essential functions of record production, sifting through artists and finding those unique enough to actually record. Blues, Country, and Rock and Roll....hundreds of acts auditioned for Sam Phillips, but only the best had recordings produced by Sam Phillips. Perhaps his most amazing production attribute was his ability to identify artists that he could push beyond the normal performances the were accustomed to offering, and stepping beyond their level of comfort into the performances of their lives.

At another small studio on the Llano Estacado of the New Mexico High Plains, Norman Petty was recording his trio in a pop format with occasional success. The Norman Petty Trio's Mood Indigo was a chart success for Petty in 1954, and one cannot help but notice the similarity to some of Les Paul's recording techniques. Here is Mood Indigo:  With his wife Vi, they would occasionally have other artists use their facility. After only modest success in Nashville recording for Decca Records, Buddy Holly came to Clovis, New Mexico and made history with his Crickets and Norman Petty.

Norman Petty in His Clovis, New Mexico Studio

An early recording of Roy Orbison's, Ooby Dooby, was done at the Petty Studio:  As can be heard here, this early version on Jewel Records produced by Norman Petty is more primitive, but has a sound different than Sam Phillip's version of Ooby Dooby, recorded later on Sun 242: This unique chance to compare and contrast Sam Phillips and Norman Petty's studios and production styles reveals that Phillips' studio offered more of a live sound with drums cleverly miked to add a full sound to the recording. Petty's recordings with the Crickets and Buddy Holly are a fast forward into the future, as the sound that Petty generated with the Crickets is more live than his earlier recordings, here on Peggy Sue  The emphasis on the rock steady floor tom and rhythm guitar show Petty and Holly made a rapid advance into rock and roll from Holly's recordings with Bob Montgomery in Lubbock, Texas, and from Nashville.

The Crickets 1958-Buddy Holly at center

In New York, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were writing and producing classic Rhythm and Blues records with lyrics that were humorous, romantic, violent, and wistful. Their writing and producing led to New York becoming a center for advancement of producing records through the early 60s. The Brill Building became the songwriting center of pop music. Their first successes were with The Robins, later the Coasters. For many artists, Riot In Cell Block Number Nine was their introduction to Rock and Roll, and was later covered by a number of other groups, including The Beach Boys as Student Demonstration Time on their Surfs Up album. Here's the Leiber/Stoller original:  The soon to be Coasters also had a hit with Smokey Joe's Cafe, which takes a look at places folks should not frequent:  The overall Doo Wop scene was a  big deal across the USA, with radio stations in large cities playing Rhythm and Blues and Doo Wop records by African American groups, integrated groups, and White groups. An example of a classic Doo Wop performance was The Five Satins' In the Still of the Night with Fred Parris, probably best remembered from the American Graffiti soundtrack: 

The Robins (later The Coasters) 1954

The Five Satins with Freddie Parris

The Beach Boys' prime writing duo of Brian Wilson and Michael Love cite their love for Doo Wop and Rhythm and Blues and their experiences listening to the radio in the Loves' car at night at the Love home on weekends in the 50s as some of their most formative influences. Those evenings are commemorated in Brian's Mount Vernon and Fairway fairy tale  on the Holland album. In Los Angeles in the late Fifties, there was a modest Pop scene, with a number of Doo Wop records hitting the Pop charts. The story of Phil Spector as a producer begins with his group The Teddy Bears' recording of To Know Him Is To Love Him, produced by Spector, hitting Number One in 1958. A cadre of young musicians were a part of this scene alongside Spector, with people like Bruce Johnston, Terry Melcher, Sandy Nelson, Jan Berry, Dean Torrence, Kim Fowley, Sandy Nelson, and many more emerging with hits of varying success and sounds. 

The Teddy Bears-Marshall Leib, Annette Kleinbard, Phil Spector

Jan Berry and Dean Torrence-late 50s

As the 50s turned into the 60s, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller brought Phil Spector into their orbit as a writer and producer. Spector relocated to New York City and learned the producer's trade through a series of records that he produced that have been compiled into several cds pertaining to the pre Phillies label years. Spector claims to have produced the Ben E. King recording of There Is a Rose In Spanish Harlem, and that has not been disputed by Leiber or Stoller, although Leiber is credited as a co-writer. Here is the record:  Another hit that Spector produced in those early days was Curtis Lee's Pretty Little Angel Eyes, which may be heard here:  At the same time, Jan and Dean managed to have an occasional hit, beginning with Baby Talk. A close look at the record's label reveals that the record was produced by Herb Alpert and Lou Adler. Here is the record:  As late as 1962, Jan and Dean were still cutting proto-Doo Wop records, and on their first Liberty label album they cut a tune called Linda, which was about Linda Eastman, later Linda McCartney. This is one of the first records that Jan Berry produced that did not sound like a garage tune. This is the record:  Not long afterward, Jan and Dean met The Beach Boys, and the productive partnership of Jan Berry and Brian Wilson was off and running.

In Detroit, the Motown label was soaring, and African American music became mainstream. The brilliant Motown house band The Funk Brothers began to churn out an almost endless stream of hits from a roster of artists second to no one. The production talents of Smokey Robinson and Holland-Dozier-Holland influenced sounds on both sides of the Atlantic, especially those  made by Brian Wilson and George Martin. The list of hits Robinson and the trio wrote and produced is too extensive to list here, but a personal favorite of mine is Martha and The Vandellas doing Nowhere to Run  Another favorite is I'm a Roadrunner by Jr. Walker and The All Stars:  Smokey Robinson's writing was as prolific, although his production was less prolific. Examples of his producing are legion, and here are two of my favorites: The first is My Guy by Mary Wells:  Smokey also produced the early Miracles albums through 1970, and an early hit was You Really Got a Hold On Me:

Holland-Dozier-Holland Production Team Detroit Mid 60s

The Miracles 1963 - Smokey Robinson at lower right

One last pre-Phil Spector and Beatles influence on Brian Wilson cannot be ignored, Capitol Records. Brian Wilson was deeply influenced by The Four Freshmen, who were Capitol Records artists throughout the 50s and until the mid 60s. Although the first several albums were produced by Voyle Gilmore, who also produced the Frank Sinatra albums on Capitol through the late 50s, production duties were taken over in 1960 by Dick Reynolds, arranger of the second side of The Beach Boys Christmas Album. It is no coincidence that Brian asked Mr. Reynolds to arrange the orchestral side of that album. Though Brian enjoyed the Four Freshmen albums, and emulated their vocal arrangements on many early Beach Boys tunes, he also learned a great deal from Mr. Reynolds regarding arranging.  Conceptually, Brian's ear was attuned to Sinatra's concept albums on Capitol, and there is an indebted relationship between Pet Sounds and Only the Lonely and In The Wee Small Hours. It is tempting to think that Caroline No could have fit on Only the Lonely easily. An early record that showed some Freshmen/Sinatra flavor was In My Room. This version reflects the timeless vocals and the almost hymn like feel of the song...

Brian's major production influence from 1963 onward through Pet Sounds was Phil Spector. Nearly every interview from the first Landy period in 1975 onward had Brian mentioning how everything he did in the studio was a result of his study of the production work of Spector. The "Wall of Sound" became Brian's major instrumental production influence, and he learned to use the studio itself as an instrument. To quote my own liner notes from The Beach Boys: The Capitol Years boxed set..."Before young love, lost and won, totally engulfed Brian thematically, he produced in 1963, 1964, and 1965 the body of songs for which the Beach Boys are best remembered for today. These songs, starting with Be True to Your School, reflected Brian's respect and love for Phil Spector's records and production techniques. Spector's famous "Wall of Sound" was to turn up progressively in greater degrees on Beach Boy records until it was totally assimilated on Pet Sounds." Of course, while the obsession with Be My Baby is the most famous example of Brian's reliance on Spector, it is also true that Jan Berry showed Brian many of the studio methods he had learned in the first year or so he self-produced Jan and Dean's records for the Liberty label. This was especially true regarding double tracking lead vocals and "bouncing" instruments and vocals on 4 track machines so that vocals could be stacked and overdubbed. Brian's major benefit from observing Spector sessions was his grasping of the way that the musicians known as The Wrecking Crew were physically arranged in the studio so that instruments could be combined into a sound different than each instrument by itself. Brian cites an example of a piano and a guitar playing similar parts and being miked so that they sound as one. On this recording, the sessions from Be My Baby can be heard as they happened. The Wrecking Crew is here in their glory...  Brian Wilson reflects on the "aha" moment he had when he first heard Be My Baby here:

Brian has stated in numerous interviews that he began assimilating Spector's influence in late 1963 after hearing Be My Baby, but the aural evidence points to him listening to Spector earlier. Listen to the single version of  Be True to Your School....the use of baritone saxes and the way the drums are miked shows Brian already moving toward Spector's Wall of Sound...  In his productions outside of The Beach Boys, the Spector influence is even more obvious. A close listen to The Honeys The One You Can't Have, Larry Denton's Endless Sleep,  and Paul Petersen's She Rides With Me shows full Spector influence and  Brian''s command of the studio growing almost month by month. Here is The One You Can't Have...  Here is Endless Sleep, and the castanets and piano/guitars are present and glorious...  The Wall of Sound is in full glory on She Rides With Me

In 1964, The Beatles raised the bar and Brian is quoted as saying that "all of a sudden, they (The Beatles) came and we looked and felt like golf caddies..." Brian's Fun Fun Fun was the opening single for 1964, and charted at number 5 on the Billboard charts, with four Beatles records above it. But, there was a glorious Christmas single just before the Beatles came, Little Saint Nick/The Lords Prayer.  The single highlighted the two major influences Brian had in production, the instrumental sound of  Little Saint Nick showing Spector's sound influence, and The Lords Prayer reflecting the pristine vocal production sound of The Four Freshmen.   Here is the driving instrumental track for Fun Fun Fun... This is the single version of  Little Saint Nick....  The Lords Prayer is  nod to The Four Freshmen and also to Brian's time as a boy singing Christmas choir music and carols both as a church member, and with the Love family...  Finally, there is the churning Spectorian track recorded by Brian with Dave Nowlen and The Survivors, Pamela Jean...

A Funny 1963 Beach Boys Photo with David Marks (second from left)

As 1964 went on, it became apparent to Brian that The Beatles were Capitol's big push for the year. Capitol's advance publicity campaign was very effective, after having turned down distributing The Beatles' records two previous times in 1963, with the result being that a Philly label, Vee Jay, known for Rhythm and Blues and The Four Seasons. Most of the UK Please Please Me album was released to deaf ears by Vee Jay in 1963, only to roar back and become a sales pain in Capitol's behind when the group came to the USA in February 1964. The obvious energy of the group's records and unhearable live performances due to crowd noise was undeniable. Brian, meanwhile was writing, and The Beach Boys released the Shut Down Volume 2 album in  March 1964, with soaring highlights and dismal filler. One highlight besides Fun Fun Fun was Don't Worry Baby, written for The Ronettes, but turned down by Phil Spector. The vocals here transcend The Four Freshmen and break new ground in Brian's vocal producing...  Brian's production on The Warmth of the Sun was another highlight of Shut Down Volume 2. The visuals with this recording are superb...  Why Do Fools Fall In Love is a superb cover, and fully reflects Brian's mastery of The Wall of Sound. The piano intro is an outtake from the original master tapes, recovered in 2008.  

The USA Picture Sleeve for the Fun Fun Fun /Why Do Fools Fall In Love single 

The question on Brian Wilson's mind in March 1964 was how to stay true to The Beach Boys sound yet stay competitive with The Beatles. The Beatles had taken a grieving country by storm and given exuberance and an almost "revival" type feeling to rock and roll. It was as if there had been nothing between when Elvis entered the Army and The Beatles deplaned in February 1964. This was not the case, of course, but it felt like thinks had jumped into warp speed, and those that couldn't keep pace were goners.Brian knew that he needed a single that was double sided and of the highest quality he could muster. Capitol 5174, I Get Around/Don't Worry Baby was The Beach Boys response to The Beatles, and used chords and production techniques that began to move Brian past Spector. The track to I Get Around was especially tricky, and difficult to cover, if you were in a cover band back then. During the session, it is thought that Murry Wilson was fired as Beach Boys Manager...  Here is a rather stunning acapella choir performance of I Get Around's vocals that demonstrates the power of Brian's vocal arrangement....  

By March 1964, Brian's fears of being swamped by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the rest of The British Invasion were allayed. He went to work to record an album that got away from cars and surfing, reflecting a more up to date outlook on California and the youthful independent lifestyle it had. In the Spring of 1964, Brian produced the All Summer Long album. All Summer Long was more of a fully realized production than Shut Down Volume 2 had been, and had only Our Favorite Recording Sessions as obvious filler. Many of All Summer Long's instrumental tracks were played by The Beach Boys themselves, with the title track being especially hard to record, with Brian playing vibes through some 40 plus takes before he finally got the All Summer Long instrumental track cleanly recorded. The basic track may be heard here:  A highlight of the album sessions was the stunning outtake All Dressed Up For School, featuring a great Carl Wilson lead vocal, exceptional vocal scale intro, and a driving track...the fade owes a small debt to Papa OO Mow Mow...  Another bow to the Wall of Sound was the album track Drive-In, with nutty lyrics and an almost manic track. It is here...  In September 1964, an EP highlighting selections from the All Summer Long album was released. Entitled 4 by The Beach Boys, it offered Wendy as the lead track. The song's unusual introduction was another Brian bonus that forced listeners to pay attention just a little bit closer...  Here, a compilation of rehearsals show Little Honda being constructed, along with a Honda 55 commercial... Another production highlight of 1964 was Brian's production of The Honeys' He's a Doll single... v=p_bWL1rkPeU&list=RDp_bWL1rkPeU#t=29  The drumming Hal Blaine does is spectacular on this track, with a terrific lead vocal from Honey Ginger Blake. By then, Brian's production sound with female artists was superb. The legendary Gold Star Studio echo chamber is present in full glory on He's a Doll.

The Honeys He's a Doll Radio Station Single

The USA 4 by The Beach Boys EP Cover-1964

The next single after I Get Around was When I Grow Up/She Knows Me Too Well. Brian's vocal production on this single was stellar, and his instrumental tracks were becoming increasingly complex. When I Grow Up's vocals are very intricate, and may be heard here:  She Knows Me Too Well, the first track recorded for the superb The Beach Boys Today! album second side, was an intricate and sensitive Brian production with a wonderful lead vocal from Mike Love. The track may be heard here...  Cut in the Summer of 1964, before Brian left the touring group in December 1964, it is easy to see how Brian's production. composing, and arranging responsibilities were wearing him out. He was responsible for several families, the family business, and his own life outside of The Beach Boys, which wasn't much at that time. His production methods and his lyrical subject matter were growing toward an adult perspective. 

USA When I Grow Up/She Knows Me Too Well Single Cover

As busy as Brian had been in the first half of 1964, he elected to record a Holiday themed album in the hot California summer of 1964. Sessions commenced with Brian's idea being to ask Dick Reynolds to arrange a side of traditional Christmas music and a side of Brian's compositions, with a rock feel, and Little Saint Nick from the previous year. The first side, with Brian's original compositions, offered a then contemporary outlook on seasonal music, piggybacking Spector's Christmas album from the previous year.  While Brian did not have Darlene Love around to sing, he cut a very fine version of Merry Christmas Baby with a great bottom...  Another highlight of the Rock side of the album was Christmas Day, which featured Alan Jardine's first lead vocal as a Beach Boy. Session tapes reveal that he did at least 30 takes before Brian finally had what he wanted soundwise...  Brian's collaboration with Dick Reynolds began with Frosty the Snowman, which was the last track on the first side. The traditional program continued on the second side. There were at least three vocally memorable songs. The first, We Three Kings of Orient Are featured gorgeous harmonies that sound almost angelic...  Perhaps one of the most beautiful tunes ever with a Brian Wilson lead vocal is Blue Christmas, which is a solo vocal sans Beach Boys...  The third and final memorable tune is a breathtaking acapella version of Auld Lang Syne, which was not available commercially until almost 20 years after it was recorded...  Brian's Christmas album as recorded has weathered storms of criticism from both the traditional Christmas music lovers and rock critics and is now a classic.

The Beach Boys Concert was issued  in October 1964 to huge success.  The Beach Boys Concert was the first Number One Beach Boys album on the Billboard Album Chart, and was recorded in two different concerts held in Sacramento, California in 1963 and 1964. Some of the tapes were not useable due to girls screaming in the audience. Brian had to go into the studio to rerecord the selections presented on the album, making it one of the first "doctored" live albums released in Rock music history. This version  of Papa Oo Mow Mow from The Lost Concert video offers the flavor of the crowd, which at times renders the music Brian is singing hard to hear. A second aspect of The Beach Boys Concert album is that Brian released only four original Beach Boy tunes, with the remainder of the music being songs other artists had made famous. He later disclosed that he wanted to make the album more marketable by not releasing duplicate Beach Boys songs again that appeared on the studio albums The Beach Boys cut.

The Beach Boys "product," as the Capitol "suits" called it, continued to flow like a river. Two singles were issued that fall of 1964, both very successful. The first, Dance Dance Dance/The Warmth of the Sun, was an unusual choice, in that the second side (the "B" side) of the single was pulled from Shut Down Volume 2, and the first side (the "A" side) would not be placed on an album until The Beach Boys Today! was issued in February of 1965. Dance Dance Dance was a full bore Wall of Sound type production with sleigh bells and a terrific guitar solo from Carl. An early version was cut in Nashville while the group was touring, and almost was released. Brian felt that his production in that first version lacked that feeling of command that Beach Boys singles had. The single was recut, and the new version was issued as the single. It can be found here...   A holiday single was pulled from The Beach Boys Christmas Album, The Man With All the Toys/Blue Christmas. The single charted on the Billboard Christmas Music chart at Number 3, and the first side remains a radio standard during the holiday season almost 50 years after it was issued.

In December 1964, while flying to Houston, Texas for a Beach Boys show, Brian had what today sounds like a panic attack on the airplane. Shortly thereafter, he announced to the group that he felt he could no longer tour, and would concentrate on writing, arranging, and producing. While a few songs had been recorded before Houston, most of the songs appearing on The Beach Boys Today! were cut after Houston, with Brian having the time to work with the Wrecking Crew and the group without having to worry about travel. The Today album has deservedly made several best album of all-time lists, with it having really only one filler track, a selection entitled Bull Session With the Big Daddy. Earl Leaf, who accompanied the group on their 1964 European Tour, "interviews" the group. The first side, known to Beach Boys fans as the "rock side" includes a program of songs that take Brian's production to a new level. In addition to Dance Dance Dance, there is a Dennis lead vocal that kills on Do You Wanna Dance,  presented in glorious mono here:  The second side of the Do You Wanna Dance single, culled from Today! and released with the album's release is Please Let Me Wonder. Here an instrumental track is presented, followed by a spine tingling vocal acapella section...  (note...this a long tape)...Brian's growing mastery of arrangement is notable here, as well as his ability to improvise in the studio when he hears what he likes...  Another standout was Good To My Baby, which was unusual in its approach, yet very listenable. The plastic bottle or floor tom  hit at the beginning foreshadows Caroline No. Brian's emulation of instrument combinations like Spector used can be heard in the combining of brass and saxes heard herein.  Here is the track...  The first version of Help Me Rhonda, shown as Help Me Ronda on the Today! label, was longer and for some reason had several dropouts on the instrumental track that are really unexplainable. This might be one of Brian's mixes that he wished he could have taken back. The version here has some acapella vocals at the end of the tape...

The second side of Today!, known by many names, is the strongest hint of the future arrival of Pet Sounds. Close to the time of recording Today!, Brian returned the favor that Glen Campbell had done for him by taking over Brian's road duties temporarily, by writing and producing what many people believe was the best Brian Wilson production outside of The Beach Boys that he ever did. Guess I'm Dumb would have fit perfectly where Bull Session With the Big Daddy appears on Today!, and would have been a perfect closer for the slow side of the album. Here is a piece of the session with the final lead vocal being completed. Brian and The Honeys may be heard in the background...  Another highlight of the Today! sessions was In the Back of My Mind, which featured a moody track, almost dreamlike soundwise, which may be heard here...   A dramatic Dennis Wilson lead vocal may be found here, before it was double tracked...

Beach Boys as The Lettermen...Front Cover of The Beach Boys Today!

USA Picture Cover for the Help Me Rhonda/Kiss Me Baby Single

Brian's dissatisfaction with the first Help Me Ronda led him to cut the song again as a single during the Summer Days (and Summer Nights) sessions, again with an Alan Jardine lead vocal. This time the track was very tight and showed the world what a great vocalist Alan Jardine is. Also notable is that this is the session which an inebriated Murry Wilson showed up at, leading to him being physically tossed from the session after he was unable to control his tongue.  The new version of Help Me Rhonda sounded more lively, with a track that was vibrant and more uptempo than the Today! version. Here is the single version, which was The Beach Boys second Number One single...   There is an extended recording of the Murry Wilson episode on youtube, but it is not germane to this discussion. Here is a cool stripped down vocal version...  The single's second side, Kiss Me Baby, was a highlight of the slow side of Today!, and is perhaps the recording most close to Pet Sounds before Pet Sounds. Try listening to Pet Sounds with Kiss Me Baby programmed after I Know There's An Answer, and you will be amazed!    Kiss Me Baby shows an instrumental and vocal sophistication that offers a glimpse into Brian's life at the time. He is tapping into his experiences with dating a woman he was serious about. The evolution of the love songs the Beach Boys recorded over time is spilled out on the vinyl.  Listen...   The track itself is stately...warm, loving, and very sincere. Brian uses french horn, piano triplets, and glockenspiel to express the sweet moments and bass sax and cello to express the more turbulent moments...  Put it all together, and you have the original mono single as Brian cut it...guitar triplets shadow the piano triplets and a new instrument is born...  The stately drums keep everything together...

As Spring passed into Summer in 1965, the "suits" wanted another album, and Brian set to work on his finest rocking album, Summer Days (and Summer Nights). Sessions began shortly after Today! was released, and Brian began to record "You Are the Grass, and I Am the Power Mower" at Western Recorders. By this time, the layered and stately introduction used a Holland-Dozier-Holland type intro with new instruments added every measure.  Brian mentions the rubato phrasing which refers to the staggered part of the 23 second introduction where the guitars and piano are doubled by the bass guitar with a long pair of half notes followed by sixteenth notes with brass accenting the mood with warm tones with bells and oboe in the background.  It sounds like Al Casey playing guitar, with Carol Kaye doubling on bass. The loping main melody is then introduced with Hal Blaine on drums.  The best studio players in LA finally get it right on take 44. The majestic track now known as California Girls is in the pocket.  Vocals can be found here:   The second side of Capitol 5464 was Let Him Run Wild, which was a song Brian wrote about an affair his father was having. Brian today dislikes the anger in his vocal here, but the passion he spills on the tape makes the song.  The track is exceptional, as it is a letter in sound to his mother. He uses warm saxes and brass to show his love, but also sets the track up in the same manner as California Girls in the sense that instruments gradually come in, then drop out again. Percussion replicates a broken heart, tambourine in the lead. Brian literally asks his mother in sound to stop hurting herself  by staying with his father...  A listen to the final version reveals a unique Brian lead vocal that is unduplicated in his vocal work elsewhere... 

USA California Girls Single Cover-Paris 1964 photo by Earl Leaf

USA Let Him Run Wild Single Cover-1964 Tour (UK?)-Photo by Earl Leaf

USA Summer Days (and Summer Nights) Album Front Cover

By mid 1965, Los Angeles had become the hotbed of recording in North America.  The Folk Rock period had descended upon rock music, led by The Byrds and Bob Dylan. Brian followed his own muse, recording in the Spring and very early Summer of that year. The album which resulted was The Beach Boys most rocking album to date, especially on the first side. The Girl From New York City rocked hard, with a cool sax and incredible bass guitar, presumably from Carol Kaye.  Amusement Parks USA was a hit single in Japan, with maniacal laughs from Brian, Hal Blaine as a carnival barker, and screaming roller coaster riders in the background. The song is a direct ancestor of the Heroes and Villains Smile recording.  The track is masterful in the way the various effects are woven into the mix. This is truly and underrated Brian Wilson production...  v=pliTCOVdU1A   On the Made In California set released in 2014, an alternate version was made available with some different lyrics...  Salt Lake City was an interesting  tune in that it again rocked. The session reveals Brian showing Carol Kaye vocally how to play the bass coming out of the verses. Saxes shine here, with immaculate backgrounds from the group. The bridge is an unusual piano fill playing over the baritone sax...  Girl Don't Tell Me was inspired by Brian listening to John Lennon's music and transmuting it into a Beach Boy sound.  This is truly production alchemy. The lead vocal by Carl is sung in a Lennonesque style by Carl Wilson, and the track rocks but is primarily acoustic. The song is an overlooked Beach Boys classic, and deserves further listening. 

The second side of the album is stronger than people have recognized. After California Girls and Let Him Run Wild, the third track is You're So Good To Me, which seems to be directed at Brian's then wife Marilyn. The rather unusual instrumental track may be found roughly 5 minutes into this recording, which shows the guitar centered focus of the track...  Brian's lead vocal is strong on the released version, which Beach Boys listeners either love or hate...  Sandwiched around the rather daft I'm Bugged At My Old Man, Summer Days (and Summer Nights) closes with two strong tracks, one instrumental and one acapella.  Summer Means New Love foreshadows Pet Sounds, and the strings are are arranged by Brian with the sound being rather pastoral...  The track seems a direct descendant from Theme From a Summer Place...see what you think...   Brian's closer, And Your Dream Comes True is brief but again foreshadows Pet Sounds...  Also recorded in the Summer Days (and Summer Nights) sessions was a cool version of the Four Freshman record Graduation Day. The record is nearly acapella, with a pretty jazz guitar, bass,  and keyboard underlying the vocals...

The Japanese Amusement Parks USA Single Cover

The USA Little Girl I Once Knew Single Cover

As Summer entered Fall of 1965, Brian cut a single to stem the tide until he could cut the Beach Boys Party Album. The Little Girl I Once Knew again foreshadowed Pet Sounds, with a percussive track similar to You're So Good To Me with a swinging bridge section. Prominent here is a bass that stops traffic a few times in the song, a prominent organ accentuating the percussion, and bells. The bridge is a stroll, with ascending bass line. The track freaked radio programmers with its stops and starts...  The flip side of this single was a preview of The Beach Boys Party album, a Spector related tune...There's No Other (Like My Baby). Unlike some of the other tracks on the Party album, the song is performed fairly straight forwardly...  

The Beach Boys Party Album was an album Brian recorded relatively quickly, with minimal time commitment. It contained the group's third Number One single, Barbara Ann/Girl Don't Tell Me. Barbara Ann was edited at Capitol by a company hungry for another hit...  There were high points on Party...Dennis's vocal on You've Got to Hide Your Love Away is great...this version is without the Party overdubs...   Alan Jardine's vocal on The Times They Are a Changin' was also a highlight...  Here, Brian and Mike Love do a gorgeous Everly Brothers tune, Devoted to You, minus the Party sounds...   The Beach Boys  also cut Ruby Baby, a Dion Di Mucci tune, but the song is unintentionally funny when Brian forgets the lyrics to the song.  At that point, the barnyard noises begin...shades of Smile...   The Party album is touted by Beach Boys fans as the first unplugged album, and it eventually went gold.

USA Beach Boys Party Album Cover-1965

USA Beach Boys Barbara Ann/Girl Don't Tell Me Single Front Cover

USA Beach Boys Barbara Ann/Girl Don't Tell Me Single Back Cover

Text Copyright 2014 by Peter Reum-All Right Reserved


The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll by Rolling Stone Editors Rolling Stone Press
Good Vibrations: A History of Record Production by Mark Cunningham  Sanctuary Press 1998
The Beach Boys: The Capitol Years Booklet by Peter Reum World Records 1980

Album and Sleeve Art Work from Capitol Records who hold the copyrights for them.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sacred Music Volume 1-The Staple Singers-Freedom Highway by Peter Reum

Much of my family in New Mexico is interracial. Many of us were adopted, with my deceased Native American sister Susan Reum being closest to me. I also have two second cousins, Alan Daley and Beth Daley Randle, who were adopted by my second cousin Marian who are African-American and Hispanic/Native American respectively. New Mexico is one of two states in which people of color outnumber Caucasians, and the state has been officially bilingual since admission to statehood in 1912.

As a boy, in my hometown of Espanola, New Mexico, I was a "huero (blond)" in a community that was 90% Hispanic and Native American. My family became interracial officially on November 3, 1956 when my beautiful sister came home to us. Her eyes were brown and her hair was thick and jet black. I was smitten, and so very proud of her. Later I became quite protective of her.

An Espanola landmark, not far from my boyhood home

In that small New Mexico town, my sense of being different from my neighbors was acute. Neighbors were Hispanic, many of whom could trace their lineage back to the earliest Europeans who entered New Mexico. They had come in 1598 to this small valley to find their fortunes. They found a beautiful valley with small Indigenous villages, termed "pueblos" up and down the Rio Grande. They settled In Espanola in 1598, founding their colonial capitol of Santa Fe 10 years later in 1608. The pueblos had been there for hundreds of years before the Spanish came, and did not find the Spanish easy to coexist with, driving them out of New Mexico in 1680, the only successful revolt against European colonization in North America. Ever dogged, the Spanish reoccupied New Mexico without violence in 1692.

Rio Grande Gorge-Espanola, New Mexico

My sister, being of Indigenous heritage, was accepted in Espanola. We did not find reactions to our interracial family to be negative, and my father's friendships with many Indigenous families were enhanced. I knew no racial prejudice until my family took in my elderly great aunt Olivia, and we were asked to drive her to Florida to live with my mother's cousin and her husband in 1958. The static began in Texas. We were told to leave several restaurants while driving through Southern states. The South was in the first few years of the Civil Rights Movement, and all of a sudden, our family from New Mexico was told that we were not welcome.  This was very strange, as I was used to BEING the minority, not the majority.  In the South on that drive to Florida, I came face to face with racial hatred. We ended up staying in several African American hotels and eating at mostly African American cafes.

Dogs Over "Negroes and Mexicans"

1950s Water Fountains-American South

I asked my mother why we couldn't stay at the Best Westerns and other motels we were used to frequenting when we traveled in the Western U.S. She turned to my great aunt and grandfather, and they all told me I would understand someday. I saw fountains, cafes, and motels that were marked using segregational signage. It somehow made a big impression upon me, because I was old enough to know that my sister, all of 2 years old, was somehow the reason we were not welcome in certain restaurants and motels.

African American Hotel 1950s--American South

Thus was my introduction to the American South. I found it shocking that people did not see my little sister as beautiful and as special as I did. The African Americans who made our primarily Caucasian family welcome in their hotels, restaurants, and cafes were surprised and amazed that our little family was interracial and not surprised that we were not welcomed in white motels and eating places. By the time we got to Florida, dropped off my great aunt, and returned to our sheltered little valley, I was thoroughly entranced by the African Americans who had made us feel so welcome when people of our own race had rejected us. I began to listen to Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll. It was no coincidence that I loved Elvis Presley, that Southerner who had successfully integrated Gospel, Country, and Rhythm and Blues, and introduced millions of kids to music with feeling and depth, Roots Music.

As I explored music, I picked up on most of the groups in Rock and Roll. but I was especially moved by Black Gospel Music. Through Mahalia Jackson, I began to explore the array of successful Black Gospel Artists, and when I saw the Staple Singers on television I was hooked. They had a family sound that transcended my previous experience, and I was slowly drawn into their orbit. Their records were hard to get in rural New Mexico, and I may as well have been special ordering from the moon. I was able to get a number of albums, a few singles, but the way I usually heard them was on television.

Early Publicity Photos of the Staple Singers from the Fifties

Reissue on Vee Jay of an early Staples album

The Staples had a long history by the time I first heard them in the mid Sixties. Initially, father Roebuck "Pops" Staples pulled the family together singing in Chicago churches in the late Forties. The group recorded albums beginning in the Fifties for United and then Vee Jay Records. The group at that time consisted of son Pervis, and daughters Cleotha and Mavis. In 1960. they moved to Riverside, and had some exposure during the Folk Music boom in the early Sixties.  They had some modest success on Riverside, and signed with Epic in 1965, moving to Memphis based Stax in 1968. There were 12 hits during this long and successful association. The version of For What It's Worth on Freedom Highway dates from the Epic period. 

Early Sixties Christmas Album on Riverside

The first era of The Staple Singers ended with Pervis's departure in 1970, and the lineup that latter day Staple Singer listeners know was born. Pops was a fine guitarist, and Mavis developed a soulful delivery with a deep wall shaking power that was confounding coming from such a woman of small stature. Later, The Staples were signed to Curtis Mayfield's Custom label, and had several more hits. 

In 1991, CBS/Sony reissued the Staple Singers gospel recording Freedom Highway. Due to their long history, such a reissue was badly needed. The program begins with a  recording of Will The Circle Be Unbroken,  with a lead from Pops, and his guitar style out front. The group's harmony vocals are beautifully simple and lovely. Mavis Staples takes the lead on Move Along Train, a song that captures the weary feelings many African Americans had while segregated and fighting for integration. Are You Sure brings another powerful Mavis lead vocal with strong harmonies from the group. 

Wade In the Water offers a solid bottom on a song that was a hymn often used for baptisms. The lead from Mavis is authoritative. If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again is actually an early Twenties white gospel hymn with prominent lead vocal and guitar from Pops. Oddly the tune has a jangly sound that is amazingly similar stylelistically to The Byrds. Sister Cleotha sings the lead on Glory Glory Hallelujah, and Pops plays guitar. The listener can hear Pops' amazing guitar style here in the background. The hymn is a testimonial hymn, giving glory to the Lord for a sinner's conviction and surrendering to the Lord. The Lords Prayer, which is offered next, is sung in close four part harmony, recalling the best Gospel arrangements. Pops plays guitar here which is sparse but illustrative.

Jacob's Ladder is a call and response spiritual that features Mavis calling and the group responding. Anyone who has been to a revival will know this song well. It comes and goes very quickly, leaving the listener wishing it was longer. Why Am I Treated So Bad is a song that addresses the need for justice that was so much a center of the fight for Civil Rights in the Sixties. Pops asks the questions that don't seem to be answered. Praying Time reflects upon the hope for acceptance in Heaven that doesn't seem to be there on Earth. Jesus's message of rewards in the next world for the mistreated, poor, and disabled in this world is eloquently delivered by Mavis. For What It's Worth seemed to resonate with The Staple Singers, and recalls the confrontations between the police and protesters in the many protests of the Sixties from Selma to the End the Vietnam War Movement. It is was a minor hit for the group.

Hammer and Nails is simply a Mavis Staples tour de force, being sung in a call and response manner with Pops' guitar holding it all together. It is a song of thanks and succeeds triumphantly. The title track, Freedom Highway, is a live performance. It cooks with the authority that only a group of years performing together can achieve. Interesting is that, in addition to the vocals and Pops' guitar, there is a rhythm section behind the group, drums, and bass guitar. The song, a Pops original, expresses the strong determination of a man who has crossed the threshold of moving to secure his human rights and will never turn back. What You Gonna Do? asks the question of the listener...."How will you handle yourself when the moment comes when you meet your Maker?" 

Publicity photo of The Staples Singers from the mid Sixties

The gospel song Samson and Delilah chronicles the famous Biblical narrative of a man with great strength who was seduced by a woman who was determined to take away his divine gift. The seduction occurs as Samson, who is sleeping, gets his hair cut and supposedly loses his great strength, only to pull down the fortress of his enemies killing himself and his evil seductress in the process. Pops sings lead here and carries the day. Nobody's Fault But Mine, originally recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1941, is updated by a Pops arrangement with a great guitar line, including a solo on the bridge.  The lesson here is of what good is having the Good Book in your home if you don't read it? Gossip is the subject of the next tune, Be Careful of the Stones That You Throw. This song features Purvis on lead vocal, which is unusual. The hymn is a meditation on the famous New Testament story of Jesus and The Woman at the Well. Gossip is cheap, and be careful what you tell others about your neighbor.  This Train is a famous and underrated gospel song based upon some earlier and less known gospel hymns. Of note here is a fabulous lead vocal and lead guitar by Pops, whose contributions to Gospel Music need further acknowledgement. It is fitting that The Stapes Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

While Freedom Train is not as well known as the Staples Singers' album work on Stax and Curtom, the material here is sung and performed with a strong conviction that can only come from a family singing together. The Staples family, especially Pops, have a long history in Gospel Music, and will celebrate the centennial of Pops' birth in 2015. Like many Mississippi born musicians, he left the back breaking work in the Delta and migrated north to Chicago, finding a niche in recording and performing music.  Mavis Staples, the diminutive woman with the huge voice, continues to record today with a fervor and conviction that can only come from a life of working for freedom and rights for all people. Gospel Music today would be much the poorer without The Staples Singers and their message of hope, love, freedom, and redemption.

For further information consult....

Allmusic under The Staples Singers heading:

Mavis Staples website may be accessed here:

This author is indebted to the author of the liner notes for Freedom Highway, Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer.

Text copyright 2014 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved