Saturday, June 12, 2010

What was Brian Wilson thinking?

It was a fascinating era, to have some of the best rock 'n' roll bands ever churning out classic hit after classic hit. Was there anybody better than the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys?  Follow this timeline of record releases from just a small window during 1964-66. (Numbers in parentheses indicate Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time ranking):

May '64: Don't Worry Baby, Beach Boys (178)
July '64: Hard Day's Night, Beatles (154)
April '65: Ticket To Ride, Beatles (394)
May '65: Satisfaction, Rolling Stones (2)
July '65: California Girls, Beach Boys (72)
July '65: Help, Beatles (29)
Sept. '65: Yesterday, Beatles (13)
Dec. '65: In My Life, Beatles (23)
Dec. '65: Norwegian Wood, Beatles (83)
Mar. '66: Sloop John B, Beach Boys (214)
June '66: Rain, Beatles (469)
May '66: Paint It Black, Rolling Stones (176)
May '66: God Only Knows, Beach Boys (25)

Every one of these songs -- released during a two-year span -- is ranked among the Top 500 of all-time. Obviously there were plenty of others. The Stones, with Jagger-Richards in their formative songwriting period,  had several songs during this stretch that failed to crack the 500, notably "Heart of Stone," "Last Time," "Get Off My Cloud" and "19th Nervous Breakdown."  And much of their fury was yet to be unleashed.

There has been much written about the competition between the Beatles and Beach Boys, specifically the songwriting duel of Lennon-McCartney vs. Brian Wilson. The chess match really began with the Beatles' Rubber Soul album in 1965, which Wilson acknowledged as the best he'd ever heard. He responded with Pet Sounds, and in another year the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's not too surprising to scan the top of another Rolling Stone compilation, the Greatest Albums of All Time, and find:

1. Sgt. Pepper, Beatles
2. Pet Sounds, Beach Boys
3. Revolver, Beatles
4. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan
5. Rubber Soul, Beatles

But was it really a competition? Probably for Wilson, who took his songwriting role very seriously. Perhaps the most telling list of all is Wilson's personal Top 10 from the RS Top 500 Songs edition. Not surprisingly his list is heavy on voices, harmony and production, but what do you make of him putting a lesser-regarded Beatles song above four of his finest compositions?  Was that the ultimate compliment, or a final dig?

1. Be My Baby, Ronettes
2. You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling, Righteous Brothers
3. Walking in the Rain, Ronettes
4. Da Doo Ron Ron, Crystals
5. River Deep -- Mountain High, Ike and Tina Turner
6. She's Leaving Home, Beatles
7. California Girls, Beach Boys
8. Good Vibrations, Beach Boys
9. I Get Around, Beach Boys
10. Surfer Girl, Beach Boys


  1. A couple-a things: Brian has named, for
    *decades*, now, 'Be My Baby' as his favourite
    song ever; I suspect there's as much emotion
    as there is a respect for Phil Spector and
    even the lyrics that made this His Song. And
    as is the case with the most-a us, many songs
    have a "moment" that makes them special (I
    spent a glorious 17 minutes - the first time
    ever - with a girl beneath the covers as Iron
    Butterfly's 'In-A-Dadda-Da-Vida' played, and
    it will forever be one-a my special songs!).
    Brain, of course, 'sees' and hears music
    differently than most others, and his list
    is - as Jim notes - an homage to harmony.
    'She's Leaving Home' (the Beatles' song on
    his list) almost partners with his 'In My
    Room' in a Brian/thematic manner.

  2. Congrats, Wayne! A lot of guys never lasted through that drum solo.

  3. I was able to catch Brian Wilson and his band on the Smile tour and also on tour for his last record, about a year and a half ago.

    I read somewhere that Paul McCartney said they are the best touring band in the world and I would have to agree. If you like Brian Wilson's songs, do not miss them if you get a chance.