Friday, November 20, 2015

The Beach Boys America's Band Review by Peter Reum

Having been involved with 70 media projects in the years since 1974, I tend to look at new Beach Boys books as reruns of books that have preceded the book I am reviewing, unless the author breaks new ground. Of the recent books on the Beach Boys as a band or biographies of individual members, only the James Murphy book Becoming the Beach Boys 1961-63 deserves the praise of being innovative, but not The Beach Boys America's Band.
It appears that Mr. Morgan, the book's author, felt that there was a need for a coffee table type of book covering the recording history of the Beach Boys. The book is lavishly illustrated, as it needs to be as a coffee table book. There are no pictures or historical articles that are unfamiliar to me, yet it appears to me that people under 40 years old would be thrilled to view the visuals in this book.
The book is organized chronologically, beginning with Surfin' and ending with That's Why God Made Radio. The book's coverage of each single and album is information any curious fan could see online. The author, Johnny Morgan, appears to have forgotten the 4 by Beach Boys EP, and doesn't seem to be aware of the appearances by the group's members on other artists' recordings.
Furthermore, there is no coverage of solo projects by the group's members. These stumbling points are significant enough to grouse about. The coordination of text and visual content is herky-jerky. Whoever proofread the text missed misspellings of several words and people's names.
What makes the book purchase a bargain is the price, the excellent visuals that whoever did photo research found, the accuracy of the basic information (e.g. release dates, color illustrations of original albums and singles, chart performance,etc), and the presentation as a hardback book instead of those trade paperbacks that always end up with pages coming loose and falling out.
I was somewhat in disagreement with Mr. Morgan's critiques of group members. Throughout the book, I found his assessment of Brian particularly off center. For example, the opinions he expressed of songs like When I Grow Up and Til I Die.
Overall, I would give this book a C on the old scale of A being excellent, B being very god, C being Average, D being Don't Bother, and F being a waste of a good tree. This book will be more than enough for people with a casual interest, but as a book to turn to by serious students of The Beach Boys or music scholars, it is irrelevant. For the latter group, there is Andrew Doe's out of print complete critique of the group, or his site located within Endless
Summer Quarterly's site, Bellagio 10542.

Copyright 2015 by Peter Reum - All Rights Reserved

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tropically Topical: Curt Boettcher's California

Curt Boettcher's name graces some of the most treasured albums of the Sixties and Seventies. His productions brought innovation and creativity to nearly every artist he worked with. There is no doubt that people who enjoy a softer sound will eventually find their way to listening to albums Curt produced. Starting out singing folk music with the Goldebriars, Curt moved to California in the mid Sixties, promptly making his mark with other psychedelic pop musicians. As early as 1966, Boettcher produced The Association's first album on Valiant, with the iconic singles, Along Comes Mary and Cherish.

California Music

Artwork for Poptones Issue of Passion Fruit Released as California Music

Boettcher's production work caught the attention of Brian Wilson and Gary Usher, with Usher inviting Boettcher to produce records at Columbia. Boettcher used the Columbia Studio access he had to produce the unreleased Ballroom album, which in turn led to the CBS Begin the Millenium album and the also the Sagittarius CBS LP entitled Present Tense. The single My World Fell Down, with its unusual bridge and psychedelic lyrics was lauded as being ahead of its time. Gary Usher, already an established and respected producer, asked Boettcher to collaborate on producing albums for the Together Records label. While relatively short in its lifespan, Together issued a number of soft pop records, including Sagittarius's second album, with Boettcher performing and co-producing. The result was a number of  Sunshine Pop albums by not well known artists, which, when compiled together and listened to, reveal a beautifully crafted body of work.

Several albums were issued with Boettcher's production and/or perfomance during the first affiliation with Usher. The best of them, such as the two Sagittarius albums, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, Begin the Millennium, and Eternity's Children had Gary Usher's sure footed supervision and Boettcher's already formidable production talent flourished. Boettcher began to have a favorable reputation among some of the more attuned to new ideas record company executives in Los Angeles. His reputation for his albums being expensive to produce also accompanied him. The Millennium on Columbia was well received in many countries, such as Japan, but tanked in the USA. It was estimated that nearly four albums worth of material were recorded in the Millennium sessions, which was confirmed when 3 and 4 cd boxed sets were released in the USA and Japan in the early part of the 2000s. The quality of the material in those sessions was an excellent example of the Baroque Rock and Pop period in Sixties music. The album as first released may be heard here:Begin the Millennium Album 1968 release  The sales results were disappointing to Boettcher and Gary Usher, co-producers of the sessions.


Original artwork for the Begin the Millennium Album Produced by Curt Boettcher

As the Seventies began, Boettcher focused on writing, recording few tunes under his own name or for other artists. Gary Usher was also still producing, and recorded a moving instrumental album tribute to Brian Wilson, who was experiencing exacerbated mental illness at that time. In 1971, Boettcher was asked by Jac Holzman, President of Elektra Records to record an album for that label. The resulting album was two years in the making. The team of Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher and studio musicians were responsible for There's An Innocent Face, released under Curt Boettcher's name. The album suffered from there being only three Boettcher compositions on the album. The reviewers at All Music make the point that the album bowed to the the explosion in popularity of Country Rock in Los Angeles and the USA as a whole. Their criticism of the album center upon Boettcher being out of his usual element, Baroque Pop, and the unfamiliarity of the Country Rock flavor of the album.

There's an Innocent Face

1972's There's An Innocent Face by Curt Boettcher
The Executive Producer was Gary Usher

As the Early Seventies appeared, several former Surf Music alumnae decided to begin recording for fun. The first single, by the Legendary Masked Surfers, included Jan and Dean, Brian Wilson, and Bruce Johnston among others. Several singles followed under the name California Music, with Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher taking the initiative. The two Legendary Masked Surfers singles got some USA radio airplay from friendly disc jockeys, but did not chart. The Japanese cd entitled California Music and Disney Girls gathers most of the songs recorded by Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher for RCA Equinox, which was a custom label run by Bruce and Terry. A nice Bruce Johnston tribute to Brian Wilson was Don't Worry Baby, with the second side being a song called Ten Years of Harmony, also sung by Bruce, which eventually was reworked into Endless Harmony on the Beach Boys Keepin' the Summer Alive album.  A second California Music single, produced by Brian Wilson, was issued in 1975. The version of Why Do Fools Fall In Love on the first side was produced by Brian. The second side was co-produced by Brian and Bruce Johnston, a nice version of Jamaica Farewell, on which Brian also plays organ. 

Curt Boettcher was interested in 1975 in beginning an album of songs under the name of California Music. The resulting collection of songs appearing on the California Music cd in 2001, originally entitled Passion Fruit, brought a new and vibrant sound to the Los Angeles music scene. Curt worked as a dj for a number of local dance events in Southern California area beginning in 1975. That the audience response to some of the earliest disco pop music he played excited him, and made him want to produce a record of contemporary California Music, harmonies included, but with a new approach that embedded dance into every song on the album. The resulting 50 to 60 minutes of music was entitled Passion Fruit. The album demo was shopped to a number of record companies in LA, but no one seemed enthusiastic. Two issues of the music from Passion Fruit have been released, California Music by Curt Boettcher by Poptones in 2001, and again in 2010 in Japan. 

Cover Art for 2010 Passionfruit by California - Japanese CD

The Japanese reissue from 2010 contains some mixes of songs that are different from the 2001 release on Poptones. The track lineup here is:

Happy In Paradise
Happy In Hollywood
(Just To Let You Know) I Love You So
Jamaica Farewell - Traditional Long Version
Music Music Music
Banana Boat Song (Day-O)
Iko Iko
Come Softly To Me
The Word
Brand New Old Friends
Yes We Can Yes We Can
Head Shampoo (Bonus Track)
Happy In Hollywood (Bonus Track)
I Can Hear Music (Bonus Track)
Love's Supposed To Be That Way (Bonus Track)
I Can Hear Music (Special Disco Mix) (Bonus Track)
Music Music Music (Disco Mix) (Bonus Track)

As can be seen, the Japanese track list has some minor variations from the first Passion Fruit track list. The major difference is that two tracks, California Music and Will You Ever See Me are not on the Japanese version of the Passion Fruit sessions.

The question everyone asks is "why did this music not receive a proper release when it was originally recorded?" The answers are fairly subjective. First, the music is a disco album that strays somewhat from what was then the disco music that was being released in the Seventies. It has a dance orientation, but sounds Beach Boys enough that it got a similar reaction to Boettcher's redone Here Comes The Night on the L.A. Light Album. It seems that listeners could not move aside their preconceptions and just accept a Beach Boys sounding disco format recording. Second, the music on Passion Fruit is joyful, almost giddy. That is, it  sounds like someone swallowed an overdose of happy pills and then went to the studio. Third, the album itself was a major project that took an enormous amount of  studio time, and perhaps the record companies approached could not see it selling highly enough to recoup its costs.

When I was given a cassette tape of the Passion Fruit sessions in the late Seventies, I could not move past my own biases toward disco and mixing that style with the Beach Boys vocal sort of sound. Listening today, some 38 to 40 years after the album was cut, it offers up a feeling of joy and affection that a "would be" Sixties and Seventies rock music critic like I was in the Seventies could not be caught dead liking. The reviewer at All Music had the same reaction to the album that I did in 1978...."what is this sh*t?"  Well, age and many listens have changed my mind. This album is a timeless sort of album that can be listened to, danced to, or enjoyed while driving. The cover versions of Iko Iko, The Banana Boat Song, Come Softly To Me, and especially I Can Hear Music are delightful. Bruce Johnston's Brand New Old Friends, a loving tribute to the Marx Brothers, is probably the best song Bruce ever wrote. Brian and Bruces's Jamaica Farewell is fun, perhaps the surprise of the album. Love's Supposed To Be That Way,  Music Music Music, California Music, Happy In Hollywood, and This Is Just To Let You Know are all catchy and beautifully realized tunes. The All Music critic who reviewed the album is a Beatlemaniac, and hated the version of The Word on this album. Not being one who brings any pro or anti Beatle ideas to the table, I liked it and thought it was an imaginative reworking of the song.

To summarize, this collection of Curt Boettcher's is a fun and sunshiny collection of tunes. It is neither heavy nor should it be approached that way. Curt released an almost 11 minute remake of Here Comes the Night for L.A. Light by the Beach Boys. He was saddened that the record company chose the version it did for that album. He had mixed several more adventurous long versions of the song. Had the L.A. Light Album been released with the 3:18 length version, that album would have been better received. In the Eighties, there was not much activity from Boettcher. Sadly, he passed away far too early at the age of 43 in 1987. His friend and mentor Gary Usher also passed away much too early as well. Both men brought a freshness to every project they took on, and they are central figures in California music from the Sixties to the Eighties.