Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chuck Berry: The Fountainhead of 20th Century Rock by Peter Reum

Chuck Berry: The Fountainhead of 20th Century Rock by Peter Reum

Chuck Berry died today. His 90 years were lived on his terms. Almost any form of rock and roll, and later, rock music, owes a debt to him. Most rock groups, including such behemoths as The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones absorbed his music, and in a few cases directly, retitled it and said it was their own.

Mr. Berry absorbed all of the ugly drama of Jim Crow, responding to the pain with quiet dignity. His response to this most horrible experience was to fight it with a subtlety that undercut segregation.  Chuck Berry tunes brought White kids to listen to African-American music that helped many kids of all races and ethnicities to be more at ease with people from other races.

Songs like Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Promised Land, and others became the story of pride of being African-American and dignified over against White prejudice. As a child, Chuck Berry had been told to sit in the segregated theater balcony of the most beautiful theater in St. Louis, with the White kids sitting in the best seats on the main floor. He then reflected that he was asked to play a concert 50 years later in the same theater as an integrated show. He shook his head with a grimace, but also with a look of irony and a half smile.

Chuck Berry, like many African-Americans, was deeply scarred by his experiences with segregation.  It led to some time in prison right when rock and roll became Whiter. He saw that white men with similar convictions were being given probation without setting foot in prison. He traveled to gigs himself, without anyone else, with his electric guitar and perhaps a change of clothes. His list of demands in his standard contract specified that he must be paid in cash before he played a note. If things didn't look right to him, he would hop back in his rental car, and drive back to the airport post haste.

He did not pay a band to travel and play behind him. The concert promoter was responsible for that. If the band couldn't keep up, he would tell them to leave. He and his guitar would finish the show. He had an amusement park for a few years, and had detailed plans for it. For reasons that are often contradictory, the plans never got done.

As a family man, he was quietly protective. He adored his wife and treated her as a partner. They celebrated their 68th anniversary a few days before his death. There is so much to celebrate in Chuck Berry's life. His catalog of songs is the gold standard of rock.  His influence on other artists is unmatched. If Rock Music could be seen as a massive tree, Chuck Berry would be the roots.

Hail Hail Rock and Roll......Hail Hail Chuck Berry!

The reader is suggested to find The Great 28, a compilation of his hits.
For hard core Berry fans, Bear Family Records has a boxed set which includes his entire recorded output. I have it and love it!

Copyright 2017 by Peter Reum - All rights reserved

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lei'd In Hawaii: The Further Cooling Out of Brian Wilson by Peter Reum

Lei'd In Hawaii: The Further Cooling Out of Brian Wilson
by Peter Reum

Despite the avant-garde minimalist approach to recording Smiley Smile, sales of the album in the United States did not come close to the anticipated sales volume as projected by Capitol Records. The Smile period Brother Records employees had jumped ship throughout the first half of 1967, leaving a void that placed the business decisions for Brother Records with The Beach Boys themselves without being able to bounce ideas off Brother employees.

Contributing to the relative chaos that ensued after Smile was shelved, the legal discord between The Beach Boys and Capitol/EMI soured the company and The Beach Boys on trying to negotiate a new recording contract. The Heroes and Villains single rose to number 12 on the national music surveys, only to disappear much faster than previous Beach Boy hits. The disappointment of the group and Capitol in Smiley Smile led Capitol to suggest releasing Smile as an album with ten tracks following Smiley Smile.

Jon Hunt's Brilliant Art Workup for an Imagined Lei'd In Hawaii Front Cover

Brian Wilson's emotional stability was eroding. The rest of the Beach Boys group were witnesses to his mental health unraveling. It was evident that he had exhausted himself and had a nervous breakdown which continued to manifest itself symptomatically through the summer and fall of 1967, and winter of 1967/68. After the group submitted Smiley Smile to Capitol, the Heroes and Villains single did not make the top ten singles charts nationally. This was a severe disappointment to Brian, and his exhaustion and deteriorating emotional state gave the other Beach Boys some cause to take over the production duties faster than they anticipated. Also complicating the situation was the group's affection for mood altering chemicals, which at times clouded their judgement regarding song selection in live performance and in selection of newer tunes for future albums.

As was  the group's habit in the mid-Sixties, the group understood that the hype regarding Smile and the incredible success of Good Vibrations worldwide, had made their situation post-Smile-being -canned period seem like a broken wagon wheel on Donner Pass in a snow storm.

Given the numerous circumstances and the group's disaffection with Capitol, it is quite possible that The Beach Boys began to see that their remaining time on the contract with Capitol Records was best completed quickly, perhaps giving the group a chance to seek a new beginning with another record label. The decision to record Lei'd In Hawaii was  one way to partially fulfill the frequency of single and albums submissions to Capitol Records more quickly,  and also to conserve possible songs for a post Capitol album.

The history of Beach Boy live concerts in Honolulu, Hawaii was excellent historically for them, and the opportunity to perform two shows on successive nights to promote Smiley Smile was also attractive to the group.  The shows would inject needed income to Brother Records, at a time when the group's overall Stateside concert revenue had not met the success of the group in Asia, Australia, and Europe.

Lei'd In Hawaii Front and Back Covers-Spank Label Boot

The concert venue, Honolulu's International Center, was sold out for both nights-August 25 and 26, 1967. The five original Beach Boys made the trip, sans Bruce Johnston. Bruce's reason for not coming was later quoted that "it all got a little weird" with the Beach Boys. (Bellagio 10542-Andrew Doe, Given the recreational pharmaceuticals the group used during the Smiley Smile sessions, perhaps Bruce didn't want to imbibe, and bowed out gracefully. The Beach Boys had previously headlined a KPOI show at the Center in 1964. As in Europe, The Beach Boys were universally adored in Honolulu, having made reference to Hawaii in a number of their recordings.

The group had a rehearsal before the August 25th show, and it was taped. It was clear that Brian was enchanted by the Baldwin Organ that had been given to him as a gift by Murry Wilson.  They began with a stunning version of Their Hearts Were Full of Spring in a rehearsal for the first night of the 1967 Honolulu shows displays Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al, and Brian playing together in a manner that suggests that the group had not played the material they were presenting enough to be their usual seamless selves playing live. The group played a few tunes for the first time live, such as Heroes and Villains, Gettin' Hungry, and the Box Tops huge hit, The Letter. They also resurrected their first single 'A' side-Surfin', which they indicated they wanted to play to observe their fifth anniversary as a band. Brian's vocal presence was somewhat scattered during the first show, as the Beach Boys had not had him along for a show in roughly two and a half years. The screams of the doting audience seemed to mess with his being able to hear the rest of the group. He had brought his new Baldwin organ with him, electing not to play bass as was his wont. Thus, Carl and Alan were shifted at times to bass guitar, which was not their usual instrument. The shift in assignments for the Hawaiian shows seems to have impacted the effectiveness of the group playing live.

An Example of the "Tiki" Craze in the Sixties
Note the Name of the Club

After the opening group for the first show, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Beach Boys took the stage.The group's first show had some unusual tunes included. The vocals recorded for this show were muffled and at times asynchronous. The audience was extremely enthusiastic, and did not care whether the group was playing well or not on certain tunes. Girls would scream loudly, as if The Beatles were playing instead of The Beach Boys. It was very evident that the Hawaiian crowd was partial to The Beach Boys. There were times when it sounded as if the Beach Boys were not hearing each other well over the monitors. The concert opener, The Letter, seemed to surprise the crowd, and the group played and sang it well. The song "Hawaii" seemed to fire up the crowd, and they were incredibly loud for the rest of the first show. The group did a nice, if somewhat ragged version of You're So Good to Me next, with Brian's lead vocal coming through clearly for part of the song and almost off mike for other parts.

The crowd's enthusiasm was undoubtedly energizing for The Beach Boys, with the screams from girls in the audience being so loud that it distorted the group's mix coming live from the monitors. There were mistakes made by the group, but crowd enthusiasm was a needed and important factor in the group's ability to calm nervous feelings and deliver a solid concert. A pair of songs that were so-called "surf music" tunes followed. Surfer Girl was beautifully sung by Brian despite the loudness of the crowd. The Beach Boys' first single followed, which was pre-Capitol Records material. The first 'A' side by the Beach Boys, Surfin', was rendered respectfully and loved by the Hawaiian audience. The first live performance of the last tune cut for Smiley Smile, Gettin' Hungry, was well performed by a nervous group who wanted to sing the tune, but were not sure how well they would be received playing it. The group's worries  were allayed by the audience's reception, which was very enthusiastic.

Double Exposure-Brian Wilson First Show Honolulu Hawaii
The Beach Boys at The Lagoon Salt Lake City Utah 1968

After debuting Gettin' Hungry live, the group explained that the single's performers on the Brother Records label were Brian Wilson and Mike Love. A version of California Girls followed, with the introduction to the song being a bit ragged, with the group relaxing into the tune's middle and end, but being done more cleanly harmonically. Wouldn't It Be Nice was the first of two Pet Sounds tunes done in this show. The tune requires an almost athletic form of singing from the lead vocalist. Brian had some hiccups in the tune, which was workmanlike, but not as spectacular as the group's later performances through the years. Heroes and Villains was next, with Brian performing a demanding lead vocal clearly and in tune. The background vocals were still being worked out as of this first Hawaiian Show, and there were a few glitches therein. God Only Knows followed, with Carl delivering the lead vocal  in a manner that made this tune become a show stopper for him in later years. Despite ridiculous crowd noise, the song kept its stately feeling and was a highlight of this August 25th first show. Good Vibrations proved to be the concert's finale, and with the group having had several months to polish the performance of this intricate tune, Vibrations proved to be a show stopper.

The encore, which was Barbara Ann, was done in a light and faithful manner to the tune on the Capitol single version, and this tune continues to be a concert closer fifty years later. The concert MC informed the patrons of this show about the next show on the 26th of August, and thanked the Beach Boys and the crowd for a great show.

Native Pacific Islanders
Surfing Began With Them

On August 26, Dino, Desi, and Billy opened for The Beach Boys. There is some documentation extant that Bobbie Gentry also performed. The details of her appearance, if any, are missing in historical accounts of the shows. When the Beach Boys took the stage, crowd reaction was almost worshipful, with attentive, rapt listening, and the occasional tween screams. The song selections were fairly close to the previous night's show, with a few songs that the group didn't play showing up in the set list.

As in the August 25th first show, there were songs a fan would not hear stateside.  The instrumental tune called Hawthorne Boulevard made its first and only appearance in a concert by The Beach Boys. The Letter was moved into the next to last song in the set. Hawaii was performed second in this concert. Another tune that got a great audience reaction was when Alan Jardine did "Help You Rhonda" reversing the lead for a woman who just broke up with her long term boyfriend. Gettin' Hungry and Surfin' got positive crowd reactions. Barbara Ann was added as an encore tune. The rest of the songs in this show were identical to the August 25th first show.

One of the most interesting accounts of these shows was by a Wally Heider engineer who was retained by the Beach Boys for recording the two shows. His name is Dale Manquen, and he was in his second year of sound engineering when The Beach Boys flew him to Honolulu to be one of the engineers for the two Beach Boys concerts. While some professional engineers report having trouble getting paid for their recording work, Mr. Manquen reports in his blog at the Wally Heider blog site that "at least The Beach Boys knew how to treat a guy!"

Mr. Manquen in his blog notes that Wally Heider Studio-Los Angeles brought two eight track machines which were to be connected together to gain maximum flexibility. There were technical problems, and Bill Halverson, the chief engineer, asked Mr. Manquen to get things fixed, which happened to finally get finished just as Paul Revere and the Raiders finished their opening set.

In his conclusion to this blog entry, Mr. Manquen makes some observations about The Beach Boys performances. Regarding the quality of the tapes of the two shows he says:" The Beach Boys were so stoned during their performances that I don' t think any of the tracks we recorded were ever used."

Where the Boys Are-Waikiki Beach Mid Sixties

For the Beach Boys, their time in Hawaii was again an opportunity to help Brian's recovery from a major nervous collapse after shelving Smile. Brian's trip to Hawaii was the last live performance until he filled in for Mike Love until a trip with the Beach Boys in 1970 through the United States Northwest. The same year he performed a show at the Roxy in Los Angeles. He suffered terrible ear pain due to the loudness of the band in that small venue. Film was shot of the Hawaiian trip after the shows were done. Footage has appeared in several films through the years, most notably Beach Boys-An American Band and Endless Harmony.

After returning to California, The Beach Boys listened to the shows recorded in Hawaii. They wisely determined that both shows were not of the quality needed for release. Having spent a small fortune recording the shows, the band decided to try rerecording the shows at Wally Heider Studios in Los Angeles September 11, 1967, and in two dates at Brian's home studio. They spent several hours recording a number of songs performed at the Hawaiian shows.  These included rehearsals for Surfin', Surfer Girl, California Girls, Good Vibrations. There were new versions of The Letter, Surfer Girl, You're So Good to Me, California Girls, Help Me Rhonda, 6 takes of God Only Knows, and Heroes and Villains (with Brian's send up on himself and Mike Love narrated by Mike over the track to Heroes and Villains.

Image result for The Beach Boys Lei'd In Hawaii

Full Group Photo August 25, 1967 First Rehearsal for Hawaiian Concert

What is left of these shows is probably what many Beach Boys concerts taped in the early and mid Sixties sounded like. Even before Lei'd In Hawaii, Brian had to remix, and occasionally replay tunes done in concert due to crowd noise, vocal and instrument mistakes, and remote sound system failures. Even today, the act of playing live is a huge task for many rock and jazz bands. Is there enough material from Hawaii to issue a live cd or digital recording of what is a very unusual time in live Beach Boys Music? That Brian played both of these shows, despite his mental health concerns, and sounded great on many tunes at a time when touring was not something he usually did, is somewhat of a minor miracle. The concerts were the only performance of a few of the songs live, and the material is deserving of release for historical purposes, as well as being the only live Brian shows between 1965 and 1970.

Regarding the results of the taping of the two shows, the finishing of a final product of the numerous efforts to assemble a record that satisfied The Beach Boys and Capitol Records was not to be. There were sessions in Wally Heider Studio-Los Angeles that were targeted to be used for completing a record quickly that would start to get The Beach Boys moving toward the timelines in their Capitol contract.

The tape of the proposed album was roughly 90% complete, and had been mixed to mono. Apparently, only crowd noises were needed to have a final product. The unfinished tape was a 1/2 inch 4 track reel labeled "Hawaii Concert." The mono tracks were left open to accommodate the addition of crowd noise. The reel included You've Got to Hide Your Love Away and Barbara Ann from the October 1966 concert tape from Ann Arbor. The remaining tracks were from 1967. Most of the tracks used were from studio work.  The only song that proved to be from Hawaii was the lovely Their Hearts Were Full of Spring from the September 25th rehearsal. For some of the October 11th and undated Brian's Home Studio sessions, there were two mixes of sessions tracks. It is unclear as to whether the group was planning to select the best whole song take, or to merge the best of two versions into one.

One unknown but interesting fact is that the version of With a Little Help From My Friends most likely cut at Brian's home studio was set for release on Lei'd in Hawaii. It appears in the song list on the nearly completed master tape. The full track lineup, as listed on the nearly finished Lei'd In Hawaii album tape from the Brother Records Library is as follows:

The Letter
You're So Good to Me
Help Me (You) Rhonda
California Girls
God Only Knows
Surfer Girl
Sloop John B
With a Little Help From My Friends
Barbara Ann
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
Their Hearts Were Full of Spring
Good Vibrations

The amount of recorded material post Smiley Smile and pre-Wild Honey was unusual in that Brian used his new organ on 11 of the tunes cut for Lei'd In Hawaii songs on the nearly completed master tape. The reasons for the canning of the album can only be guessed about. Perhaps the group felt they needed a new studio album. Maybe the new Baldwin organ sounded too strange. could be that costs were driving the album too high at a time when the cash flow was tight.

There was one other track recorded during this period, a studio version of Game of Love, a hit for Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. Released on the superb Sunshine Tomorrow (1967) double archival set, the version is probably more experimental than intended to be released. As was wont for the Beach Boys to do, their dalliance with this hit remains somewhat of a mystery that only a Beach Boy present at the session could answer.

The group chose to can the material from the Lei'd in Hawaii period. Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote instead a group of songs with a funky feel...and along came Wild Honey. Songs from the Hawaiian Shows were released on the Sunshine Tomorrow double cd, and offer some perspective on the two concerts.

Text copyright 2017 by Peter Reum-All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Smiley Smile-The Little Album That Could by Peter Reum

Smiley Smile: The Little Album That Could by Peter  Reum

The effort to assemble the Smile album was effectively tabled by Brian Wilson in late December 1966, when he was told by David Anderle that a new single was overdue. In Paul Williams pioneering rock journal, Crawdaddy, Anderle said telling Brian that a single was overdue was the hardest thing he had to do while at Brother Records. Brian, who had Smile roughly 75% complete, had to shelf the album in favor of working on a new single.

In a frantic manner, in the winter of 1967, Brian recorded several segments of Heroes and Villains, shuffling the segments in a manner that seemed unfocused. In several subsequent interviews through the years concerning why Smile was shelved, Brian attributed his difficulty in finishing Smile to losing his focus and perspective. As time marched into late Spring 1967, Brian's inactivity spoke volumes about his exhaustion and mental health's deterioration. March 1967 was consumed with a lawsuit stating Capitol Records owed Brother Records a substantal amount of money for unpaid royalties due to an outdated policy Capitol used in the 1940s to charge off to artists' 78 rpm records that broke in shipment.

In April 1967, Brian set Heroes and Villains aside like he did Smile, and began work on a new single--Vegetables. Nearly all of his studio time in April was concerned with Vegetables.  In effect, both Smile and the first single, Heroes and Villains, from the album were set aside.

Brian, exhausted from 6 years of hectic work as a songwriter and producer, had a nervous collapse, which led to him telling the Beach Boys that he wanted more involvement from the group in studio work, and that he needed the guys in The Beach Boys to take over production of future singles and albums, because he needed to rest following his nervous collapse in May 1967. A quote from Carl Wilson regarding Brian's emotional frailty during and after this breakdown intimated that had the group pushed Brian during his collapse to produce the single and album, they might have never gotten Brian to do any future work for the Beach Boys. In June 1967, The Beach Boys, with Brian and Carl Wilson co-producing, used both Wally Heider's Studio 3 and Brian's Home Studio, still a makeshift studio under construction, to record this most eccentric of Brian's albums with The Beach Boys. The  use of Brian's home studio had to accommodate use of the mixing board on Beach Boys Tours in the late Sixties.

Smiley Smile was recorded in very primitive conditions, partly in Brian's new home studio, and it tends to show. Nevertheless, it has some great innovation. Coming on the heels of the Derek Taylor Smile publicity horse opera, it was probably commercially doomed from the start. Smiley Smile is the antithesis of what Smile was promoted by Taylor to be.

Whereas Smile was ornate, broad brushed Baroque Rock Opera bathed in Americana and Elemental Mythology....Smiley Smile was a Zen Koan, a riddle, Minimalist in its approach, full of intuitive cues that were at once humorous, eerie, silly, and unexpected. To illustrate, some of the chants, spoofs, and some of the Van Dyke Parks written lyrics were retained for Smiley Smile, and others were shelved for future use. The influence of the shelving of Smile cannot be understated with respect to the minimalist approach on Smiley Smile. In a 1983 comprehensive interview with Geoffrey Himes, Carl Wilson reaffirmed the exhaustion and feelings of ambivalence Brian had after he ceased recording Smile. There is an observation by Carl in that interview that had The Beach Boys not understood Brian's state of mind after canning Smile, that "we might have lost him for good." It appeared to several observers at the time that the failure of Heroes and Villains to enter the top ten singles charts across the country drove Brian  further into self-doubt and fear, leading to sparse home brewed recordings in 1967. It is also likely that Brian's compulsive shuffling of recorded bits for Heroes and Villains led him to rewind his approach to studio recording, resulting in the homemade, subtle approach to Smiley Smile. In an interview that this author did with engineer Jim Lockert prior to his passing away, Lockert observed that Brian suspected several groups of spying on the Smile Sessions, with Brian then assembling Smiley Smile from five modular taped recordings into a finished album, thereby ensuring Smiley Smile's sound would not be copied by competing groups. In that sense, Smiley Smile was the first completed modular production approach album which was successfully assembled and then released in rock.

Author and musical analyst Daniel Harrison in a 1997 chapter in a book about musical structure made a crucial point that given the approach Brian took to Smiley Smile, it could not be regarded as a piece of art that could be compared to their albums of the late Sixties, and to compare it to those works does a disservice to Brian and his creativity. In a separate interview with Tom Nolan from a 1971 two part Rolling Stone article on The Beach Boys and Brian, fellow producer Terry Melcher makes two critical observations about the era of Smiley Smile. First, he recounts a story in which Brian and his friends formed a line of cars that went to a radio station in Los Angeles to offer that station the debut broadcast on radio of Heroes and Villains. The midnight disc jockey, not sure what to do, turned Brian down at first, then called his supervisor who screamed "put it on, you idiot!!!" Melcher goes on to say that the experience of not initially playing Heroes "killed was like someone kicked him in the stomach and deflated him." With distance and perspective, it appears to this writer that whatever self-confidence Brian had regarding his songs being commercial disappeared forever. Later on, in 1975, Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher signed an agreement with Brian to produce 15 sides for their Equinox Records label. Both men remarked in separate interviews that Brian was loathe to touch the mixing board, and thereby could not meet the requirements of his Equinox contract. Terry Melcher remarked that "they ought to give Brian a grant to be able to write and record whatever he wants without any expectations so he could follow his own muse." The simple fact is that Brian's commercial instincts ebbed after Smiley Smile, partially due to his internal voices, partially due to his refusal to step on the commercial recording treadmill again, and partially due to his inability to produce artists on Brother Records, and his own doubts about his ability to produce hit records.

None of the factors cited above in any way diminish the beautiful simplicity of Smiley Smile. The creative heart of Smiley Smile is the non-verbal musical humor embedded in the tunes. When Carl Wilson called Smiley Smile "an album for Brian to cool out by," it was hard to imagine the levels of exhaustion and cross-talk that Brian was experiencing in his brain. The stark beauty of Smiley Smile, the subtle and idiosyncratic humor therein, and the overcoming of true and abject fear that Brian experienced because of the hostile voices he was hearing gave birth to Smiley Smile, but for Brian, the creative load was no longer bearable. The phrase "Produced by Brian Wilson" did not appear as a complete album credit until 15 Big Ones, recorded almost 10 years after Smiley Smile.

Here is a revised section on Brian's use of humor in recording partially taken from my article entitled Light the Lamp, with new material included, which I first wrote with the goal of searching for the sources of Brian's musically humorous approaches and expressions:

...So we begin our search for Brian Wilson's laughin' place....We know that Brian valued humor as a child and as a young adult from anecdotal evidence from childhood friends and The Wilson Brothers' own stories of his antics at home in Hawthorne, at school, later on the road, or in the studio. We also see that the albums we have enjoyed through the years have all had differing types of humor that evolved and changed as Brian grew older, became more worldly, and was more responsible for his extended family.

If we accept the definition of humor as outlined by Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D. from a well done 1997 article at the American Academy of Therapeutic Humor website entitled "What is Humor?", we find a definition in several parts. First, Dr. Sultanoff makes the point that "one way to experience humor is to experience incongruity in a familiar situation." Musically, this could be as complex as a song with a paradoxical twist at the end of it, a musical unexpected moment, or simply a picture of people that does not fit with standard behavior. An example of a musical punchline almost approaching a Zen koan in its emotional suddenness is the version of Wind Chimes on Smiley Smile. We are lulled into somnambulence listening to our wind chimes, almost to the point of total relaxation. If Brian were to loop the singing, it would surely have the quality of reducing distances between people. For Brian, humor was one way for a very shy and gifted teenager who was always on the edge of several social circles to be able to be accepted. This is well documented by David Leaf in his interviews with Rich Sloane and other high school friends of Brian's. A high school friend of Brian's tells the story of Brian's high school graduation, where Brian asked several friends to limp across the stage to get their diplomas. He told each person "everyone is doing it." Second, in the end, only Brian decided to limp. What would motivate Brian to do this?" The most likely answer is that Brian wanted to do something funny that would make the gesture by Brian the most memorable event at graduation.

Using Dr. Sultanoff's definition, the third purpose for humor is to dispel anger. In Brian's chaotic, abusive, alcoholic home, the major emotion he witnessed was anger. His father's volcanic temper could be tamed by two of Brian's gifts, music and humor. Brian used one or the other as often as he could in order to lighten the emotional tension in his mom and brothers' lives. There are several interviews with Brian, Dennis, and Carl which mention Brian telling funny jokes or singing songs to reduce the anger and fear that the boys routinely experienced and its consequential anxiety, which was always at a high level throughout their childhood. In this sense, we can attribute to humor a third and critical purpose for Brian, which was to alleviate anger, depression, and to reduce stress generated anxiety.

Another notorious part of Brian's sense of humor is the "put on." Even his best friends report difficulty determining at times whether the answers they are getting in conversations they have with him are complete fabrications or on the level. Don Was tells the story of asking Brian how he wrote Til' I Die during the I Just Wasn't Made for There Times Film. Brian replied by telling Don that he was trying to compose a song by "only playing the black keys." Don admits not knowing whether Brian's reply was true, or "Brian was just entertaining me." 

Dr. Sultanoff mentions a fourth purpose of humor as deflating or ridiculing the seriousness of a highly important topic. The song She's Going Bald is an example of this form of humor.  The song begins with a modified Brazilian jazz sound, with the topic of going bald being probably one of the worst problems a woman who values her appearance can have happen to her. Derived from a brief fragment in the Smile Session known as "He Gives Speeches,"  Mike Love added some lyrics that amplified the absurdity of the song. The sarcastic and angry tone of He Gives Speeches was altered to emphasize silliness instead of a more critical and sarcastic focus. One of the brilliant musical touches of humor Brian employed was to alter the vocals of part of the song using an Eltro Information Rate Changer. The Fifties tune "Get a Job" is quoted, only adding to the absurdity of the tune. The third part of the song mocks the urgent nature of the problem, a woman going bald. Finally, the call and response section of the tune's end, quoting a Fifties Rhythm and Blues type of singing breaks the news to the woman...."You're Too Late Mama, Ain't Nothin' Upside Your Head No more, No More, No More...."

Another purpose of Brian's Smiley Smile humor is  to dispel feelings of fear or being scared. Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony) uses the same chord progression as Mrs. O'Leary's Cow from Smile.  Brian, quoted in an interview about Smile, remarks that the ominous chord progression from Mrs. O'Leary's Cow did not  have to be a "big and frightening tune." Instead,  he states that Fall Breaks and Back to Winter can be a "candle" instead of a "big scary fire."

The rest of the tunes on Smiley Smile can be placed in one or more of Dr. Sultanoff's purposes for humor. Smiley Smile's version of Wonderful, unlike the almost chamber music tone of the Smile version, is presented with an unusual spoken word bridge that is humorous instead. The song's bridge is somewhat discordant, lending an almost "musique concrete" feel to the song. The overall impression one takes away from repeated listens is an almost bemused wonder, bringing out the subtle smile the album's title evokes. The same feeling is generated by Little Pad and Whistle In, two modified "chants" which parallel some of Brian's work on Smile. Both tunes are repetitive. Whistle In simply repeats the phrase "Remember the day, remember the night, all day long...Whistle In." Little Pad is a little more developed, but still has the feeling of a Smile type of chant that has been modified to offer a feeling of living a more simplified life in Hawaii. The overall feel is a wistful type of happiness, as the listener places himself or herself in the vocalist's place.

A promotional album from the Smiley Smile period released by Capitol has an interview with Brian about the song With Me Tonight, in which Brian is asked why there is a loud "GOOD!!!" included in the otherwise hypnotic sounds of the song. Brian responds by saying "oh that was Arny Geller, and we liked how it sounded so we just left it in." This almost Zen acceptance of what could have been considered a blown take of the song again illustrates the whimsy and humorous attitude Brian and The Beach Boys took  in recording Smiley Smile. Brian instinctively understood the necessity of humor in his childhood to distract his younger brothers from the fury of Murry Wilson's outbursts of rage. Humor became a prime coping method for Brian to be able to laugh off the fear of his father when intoxicated, which in turn was also protective of his younger brothers using distraction to dispel their fear as well.

Gettin'  Hungry is the first tune written by Brian and Mike Love with Brian fulfilling his promise to write an album's worth of songs with Mike. This promise was made just before recording Pet Sounds, and the Smile Sessions using Van Dyke Parks as lyricist delayed the keeping of that promise, with Mike possibly feeling cast aside. Brian, deciding to keep his promise to Mike, wrote Getting Hungry with Mike, and this second single from Smiley Smile was not released as a Beach Boys song, but as performed by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. Gettin' Hungry was a hit in some parts of the world, but not in the USA. The organ and other instruments in the song are more Rhythm and Blues in tone, making it sound more like a Wild Honey tune than a Smiley Smile track. It may have fit better there.

Vegetables is a song that makes fun of, yet promotes the dietary benefits of eating vegetables and fruit. The Los Angeles region of California has historically been obsessed with being healthy and trying to maintain a youthful appearance for as long as possible. Brian toyed with exercising and maintaining a healthy diet, but did not maintain a consistent approach. A few years later, Brian's Radiant Radish health food store graced the Hollywood area for roughly a year. The reversed laughs in the tag of Vegetables are from the Smile version.

For Brian, humor is indeed a gift from God. He has been quoted repeating that idea in several interviews down the years. For him, the good feelings and relief that came from being funny and getting laughs generated from brothers and friends were a lifesaver. Dr. Sultanoff mentions in his article that as anxiety increases, a person's ability to maintain healthy self-esteem, realistic self-perspective, and ultimately, sanity, decreases. He mentions that the effect that is commonly seen therapeutically is that "without humor, peoples' thoughts become increasingly  stuck and narrowly focused."  That phenomenon is one of the primary reasons Brian stopped working on Smile.

Brian got a form of emotional release from crippling social anxiety and humorous relief from seeing conflict. He scripted a scene at a rehearsal for Heroes and Villains after the 1967 Hawaiian Live Concerts in which Mike Love actually reads a Brian authored script making fun of Brian for having a less successful sales result with the Heroes and Villains single than anticipated. Brian is making fun of Mike making fun of Brian and Van Dyke's art during Smile's recording several months beforehand. There is a complex form of humor which is a form of payback for Mike's discomfort with Van Dyke Park's lyrics for Smile, yet Brian is also ridiculing himself for thinking that Smile would be accepted by the group as a Beach Boys album. Self-deprecation is a major form of expression of humor that Brian finds funny. 

If we carefully listen to Brian's humorous songs. we have a window into his feelings. For Brian, humor was the safe outlet to express the anger and hostility he felt for the wrongs that life had dealt him as a child and young adult. The Cassius Love vs. Sonny Wilson script is one written mostly by Brian on Shut Down Volume 2, and reflects some of the frustration Brian felt with his relationship with his cousin, but more importantly, his father, Murry. We see that Brian found humor in replaying the arguments of his childhood in his art. The famous story about Brian wanting to have his Smile era pals go out and provoke a bar fight to be tape recorded for Smile was serious. There is also Brian's skit from April 1967 which has Hal Blaine (imitating Murry) arguing with Dennis about whether Dennis can have some Vegetables because he is hungry. Hal says "get outta here you punk, and take your dog with you!" Does anyone else catch the similarity to the lines of a certain witch in the Wizard of Oz?

Above, in this article, we asked what Brian finds funny, and why he might limp across the stage at his high school graduation. One answer is that Brian finds the opportunity to sneakily get back at those who he perceives as hurting him as funny, and the actual act of doing so hilarious. To limp across the stage at his high school graduation was to say to his tyrannical father, "Hah! you won't be able to tell me what to do much longer, because I'm going to be my own boss. Screw you for wanting this to be a dignified occasion!" Brian finds humor in being able to put one over on people he considers intrusive, rude, pushy, or as bullies. 

Perhaps the ultimate expression of what Brian finds funny is his complex, yet hilarious send up of himself and his father regarding the ongoing and terribly damaging conflict in their relationship in I'm Bugged At My Old Man on Summer Days. The absurdity of a millionaire Beverly Hills musician singing 12 bar blues about having his phone ripped out of the wall and having boards tacked up on the windows, while "dad is out there eating steak" is brilliant, and went over everyone's heads in 1965. This is a valid yet hysterically funny expression of Brian's incredible anger at his dad for all that had happened in his life, most recently his dad's infidelity to his mom, which also spawned the more emotionally wrenching Let Him Run Wild, also on Summer Days.

Brian also is highly interested in the use of visual humor, and began to utilize pratfalls, camera tricks, absurdity, and even Three Stooges gags to illustrate his music beginning with Pet Sounds. We see Brian, in the Sloop John B promotional film greeting what we assume to be Brian, only to have the unseen person turn around and be Carl. They all carry a life raft into a swimming pool, then proceed to swamp it, turning it over and falling into the pool. In the Good Vibrations Promotional Film, several Beach Boys slide up a fire station pole after sliding down. In another Pet Sounds Promotional film, Brian employs the use of masks to create a surreal atmosphere involving confused identities. These ideas, had they been further developed in Smile, would have likely resulted in some ground breaking performance art comedies of the type later used on MTV. There were discussions of a complete album related to comedy with accompanying visuals. Instead, Brian's incorporation of humor into Smiley Smile was primarily expressed in sound, which helps distinguish the overall difference of Smiley Smile from Smile. 

Returning to the subject of therapeutic humor, Dr. Sultanoff's article points out that humor is a highly idiosyncratic experience which is unique to each human being. We are left to wonder what else Brian himself finds humorous. His use of humor in his music has had the effect of bringing him and his fans together. This phenomenon has been substantiated by several researchers in the field of humor. What we subjectively find funny is something that Brian intuitively grasped from the very first Beach Boy album, with its self-deprecating descriptions of the five band members in the song Chug-a Lug. Brian realized that in order to connect with his audience, he had to share humor with them in such a manner that they could find a universally common frame of reference in his music. The audience can picture themselves in The Beach Boys' place in Chug-a-Lug. His music transcended its immediate California locale to become something even teenagers in landlocked states and frosty foreign countries could understand. Humor in Brian's music had the quality of replacing mundane feelings of life with pleasurable experiences that everyone could feel were honest and truthful. 

According to humor researchers, we experience humor in three ways...through our intellect, emotions, and physiology. Brian's music primarily connected with us emotionally in the early years. We felt the honesty in his records, and how they reflected our experiences in life.  Smiley Smile began a shift from emotional humor, often called mirth, to cognitive humor, called wit. 

Brian had been influenced by the creative use of humor in the work of Jan Berry throughout his career, and at the same time Pet Sounds had been recorded, Jan had issued an album designed to piggyback the mid Sixties Batman television show craze. Undoubtedly, Brian admired Jan's ability to express humor on Jan & Dean records dating back to Schlock Rod Parts 1 & 2 on their Drag City album. Brian heard the Jan & Dean Meet Batman Album, and decided perhaps there were some ideas to develop there on Smile. By the time of Smile's distillation into Smiley Smile, humor was the central motif presented. 

During the Smile Sessions, Brian had the advantage of working for the first time with a musician whose abilities equaled his own. Van Dyke Parks brought a literate sense of word play in the writing of lyrics, hearkening back to the 1930s and 40s in American popular music when brilliant songwriters  like Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the Gershwin Brothers dominated music with snappy wit and beautiful melodies. If Brian were aiming for a new American Musical Style, he had found his match. 

Parks' lyrics presented the listener with the challenge of deciding whether to take them somewhat literally or at levels of deeper meaning. There are multiple options for interpretation in each tune, and the lyrics to songs such as Heroes and Villains and Wonderful offer puns  double entendres, and whimsy, often quoting other American classics and favorite children's songs. Brian's musical tracks continued to connect on an emotional basis. What is fascinating is that for the first time , we consistently experience a multi-modal attack using humor on Smiley Smile. In Vegetables, for example, we hear funny pouring sound effects while listening to puns and whimsical lyrics at the same time. In Wonderful, the lyrics we hear are those that remind us of archetypal images from fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood. In Heroes and Villains, the picture of Bugs Bunny and his ongoing battles with Yosemite Sam in the Old West emerge, while also referencing a rooster's call in the lyric "what a dude'll do in a town full of Heroes and Villains.

It is ironic that in the recording sessions for Smile from 1966, an album that was intended to celebrate humor and its healing properties, caused Brian to become so anxious and out of self-control that his ability to see the big picture became narrower and narrower, to the point that he believed that he had to scrap Smile to save his life, his sanity, and his emotional balance and perspective. Brian instinctively drew back from Smile, and shared what had become the overbearing burden of creativity with his band mates. Together, in an environment of stoned silliness, Brian shifted some of the burden of creativity to his brothers, cousin, and friends, deciding to work on healing his fractured psyche  using the very human resilience that had preserved his human resilience for a future he did not think was possible until the Post Landy period of his life.

Smiley Smile, as released in 1967, began to take on the added dimension of highly pictorial musicak performance, giving we listeners the chance to interpret some of the nuances heard in this 1966-67 recording. In Smiley Smile, the intellectual and emotional connecting experience was turned on its ear by the use of slapstick, a third approach to humor, evoking deep laughter, the physiological component of humor. For the unprepared listener in 1967, Derek Taylor's publicity campaign had created an unprecedented anticipation for an American Rock album. Why did it leave Brian emotionally spent? Brian lost the ability to find the humor in his own Smile music, consumed with his rivalry with The Beatles. However, in asking for the group's help on Smiley Smile, Brian was able to back away from his work on Smile and to allow the other Beach Boys to contribute in a fully creative manner, creating a multi-modal approach that transcends his previous work by using and blending various types of humor to create a new form of art. Dr. Sultanoff, in a 1994 article entitled "Exploring the Land of Mirth and Funny" makes the following important observation...."the fullest, and most powerful experience of humor is one that is experienced with all three components (wit, mirth, and laughter) simultaneously."

We are left to wonder how Brian instinctively knew that his creative muse would return by inviting his fellow Beach Boys to contribute to the creation of Smiley Smile. For the close listener, the chance to experience humor in all its forms awaits on Smiley Smile. Perhaps it is the very resilience of Brian Wilson himself and his ability to see humor in the most tragic of circumstances that enabled him to create an work of art with his group that is so powerful that it meets we listeners on all possible planes of human levity.

If resilience is the ability of people to bounce back from the most deadening of experiences in life, it is no coincidence that Smile would be the most resilient of Brian Wilson musical works. We are left with a few thoughts from people about humor.... 

"Tragedy plus time equals humor." Carol Burnett 

"Humor is a great, the great thing, the saving thing, after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place." Mark Twain

"Humor is sacred, a gift from God." Brian Wilson 

Dr. Sultanoff's ground breaking work may be found at his website: HumorMatters 

Some Final Reflections on Smiley Smile:

Both Smile and Smiley Smile were recorded using modular formatting, but whereas Smile proved too complex to assemble, Smiley Smile was completed in a roughly three week period, and recorded "dry" without echo. Recorded in modular format and assembled in a final mix by Jim Lockert, Bill Halverson, and Stephen Desper, it proved that the modular method of recording was not only feasible, but capable of being used for an entire album.

Brian's self-preserving instincts seemed to tell him that if had kept up the pace of the first 5 years, under Capitol Records contract, he would have ended up either in a straight jacket or suicidal. In effect, Smiley Smile was the first "therapeutic album" that Brian did, some 10 years before 15 Big Ones, Adult Child, and Beach Boys Love You. Little did he realize that it would prove therapeutic for thousands of listeners as well. Carl Wilson, in a number of interviews from the Seventies and Eighties, often termed Smiley Smile "music for Brian to cool down/chill out while recording." Smiley Smile was also seen as a "back to basics album" in which Brian help produce but which other Beach Boys were expected to contribute actively as well. In a late Sixties interview, Brian termed Smile "music that was too personal to release."

Track by track:

Heroes and Villains

Undoubtedly my favorite Beach Boy 45. Incredible in its power. An example of how amazing the human voice can be used as an instrument. Had it been released at another time, when art rock was more accepted, e.g. after Hey Jude and MacArthur Park, it would have been a better seller. A perfect marriage of music and lyrics, it was rock critic Paul Williams's favorite single,  and is mine as well. A wealth of ideas in roughly three and a half minutes, and based on the River Deep Mountain High baseline, it is the aural equivalent of a three ring circus, with so much to hear that it reveals more upon each play. Recorded in small sound snippets, Heroes was the single tune that proved hardest for Brian to sequence and complete. He worked the equivalent studio time of recording and sequencing for entire previousBeach Boys albums on the Heroes and Villains single. From October 1967 until 1990, Brian refused to sing Heroes and Villains in live concerts. Since 1990, it has become a song Brian loves to sing with his incredible backing band.


This should have been the second single off Smiley Smile, but got shunted aside by group vote. A nice version, certainly commercial, with a catchy tag. The reverse laughs at the end are a marvel of rock music singing. The humor here is more subtle than on the Smile version. The heartbeat bass, the sounds of juice being poured, the crunching and "mmmms", and the break into  a Stephen Foster bridge just before the end all add a more subtle approach than one might expect.

Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony)

Composed during the Smile period after a camping trip to Redwood Country, it of course contains the chord progression and vocals intended for Mrs. O'Leary's Cow. I have always believed this piece was linked to Elements in some manner. It has a similar chord progression to MOLC. In the true stereo mix, it sounds quite spooky. The distorted bass vocal combined with the various harmonicas make the tune at once gently mocking and foreboding. The tone of the tune is reminiscent of death and decay, with the promise of new life in the coming spring signified by the call of the woodpecker. The tune has a way of reminding me of Randy Newman's classic song "Snow."

She's Going Bald

Credited to Van Dyke as co-author, he can't remember writing it. It is possible his credit was put on here as a practical joke. The dope influenced tape effect and sophmoric lyrics are typical of Beach Boy humor of the time. Probably as close to an obvious humor track on this album as exists. Obviously derived from He Gives Speeches. Perhaps this is why it is partially credited to Van Dyke. He Gives Speeches was targeted at Murry, and it is likely that this reframing of the tune was Brian's way of not pulling the trigger in a negative manner and making fun of his father like he did on Summer Days.

Little Pad

This tune is a model of modular recording. Using five recorded modules with two of them repeated, Brian schools the group in how to assemble a full length tune. Great track, great Hawaiian guitar effect, nice wordless singing section. Like many of Brian's songs from here on out, an idea left incomplete. This one is an obvious stoner tune. The song begins with a "Do it!", then proceeds to a section shared by Mike's lead vocal, laughs, and kazoos. The Hawaiian Guitar module kicks in at 16 seconds into the tune, then lasts for 23 seconds, followed by a finger snap, then roughly 20 seconds of ukelele, then into Carl's second verse  at 60 seconds, followed by a reprise of the Hawaiian Guitar module for another 23 seconds, the ukelele section with wordless vocals pops in for 20 more seconds, Brian comes back in for a brief third verse, followed by the third reprise of the Hawaiian Guitar segment to fade.  The Hawaiian Guitar module is repeated three times, and the ukelele section is repeated twice.

Good Vibrations

Probably the Sloop John B of Smiley Smile. It doesn't fit with the rest of the album, but probably was needed for sales of this album. In this Minimalist context, it became more of a reminder of what was lost when Smile was shelved, and in this sense, it became a cement overcoat when The Beach Boys were doing their best to tread water.

With Me Tonight

An undeveloped tune based off a riff written during Smile. The weird "good" that you hear about 30 seconds into the song is by Arny Geller. It is one of those little Brian surprise artifacts that  make the album a Zen type of experience.  Better developed by Sandy Salisbury than by Brian himself. The Salisbury version should have been a hit, but got buried on the Together records label and disappeared.

Wind Chimes

Incredible example of Brian's subtle use of humor in his music. Brilliantly recorded and executed, perhaps the most influential Smiley Smile track on other musicians. The whole tune is a prank, lulling the listener into a near trance, then shocking one back to reality with an unexpected fuzztone. If you were stoned listening to it, you'd be even more shocked. I love the Yogi  Bear sounding ting-a-ling by Mike twice toward the end...more humor.

Gettin' Hungry

The last track recorded for the album, and sonically closer to Wild Honey. A departure from the rest of the album soundwise, it has a computer sounding organ piece alternating with a breathy lead vocal from Mike. Chosen to be the album's second single with the provision that it come out as a Brian Wilson/Mike Love single. Gettin' Hungry was also a gesture on Brian's part to make peace with a bruised Mike Love, who had been told by Brian that there would only be one ornate "arty" album, only to be put on hold for Smile. This song was chosen by Brian over Vegetables, which was the intended second single. A political "family peace" move.


A dramatic departure from Brian's almost classical approach to this tune for Smile, the track is riddled with sounds that play against each other, such as a clarinet playing out of tune notes, the sounds of children playing, and on the incredible bridge to the song, Brian singing "cool it....just cool it" over against Carl saying "don't think your God Vibrations will make it off the record." The bridge has been cited by numerous choral composers as a  radical use of the spoken voice to make music. A minimalist tour de force, and certainly the most radical of the innovations on an already innovative album.

Whistle In

The coda to the album....a fitting conclusion to an album so Minimalist, so subtle that it is missed by most who listen to it. Can you imagine the sound of one hand clapping????

Copyright 2017 by Peter Reum--All Rights Reserved