Thursday, April 5, 2018

Story Goes... December 23, 1965; August 31, 1966

On December 23, 1964, Brian Wilson had a panic attack on a flight from L.A. to Houston while The Beach Boys were touring. Brian would subsequently bow out of any future concerts on the tour and affectively worked solely in the studio. His first venture was a song he wrote with Russ Titelman called "Guess I'm Dumb." It was the first song that created dissonance among the band members, particularly Mike Love. In 23 sessions working without the rest of the band and only with members of The Cutting Crew, Wilson revealed the intensity with which he would bring to future Beach Boys' endeavors. The band ultimately rejected the tune which would have otherwise appeared on Beach Boys Today, an album that contained the No. 1 smash "Help Me Ronda" (the spelling from the LP), as well as "Dance, Dance, Dance" and "When I Grow Up to Be a Man."

Wilson ultimately gave the song to Glen Campbell as a "gift" for filling in for him on the Beach Boys' tour. While offering the first truly vibrant displays of Wilson as a producer, the song failed to chart for Campbell. It's an incredible track and the first production that hinted at a Beach Boy future that included Pet Sounds.

The Beatles live gigs ended on August 31, 1965 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Like Wilson before them, touring was unpopular for each of the Fab Four and in September the band retreated into the studio. The result was the most sophisticated of rock offerings up to that time with The Beatles and George Martin creating a truly flawless rock LP in the form of Rubber Soul. Rubber Soul, of course, inspired Pet Sounds which led The Beatles to Pepper, which led Brian Wilson to SMiLE. It sounds like Matthew from the New Testament, and in the rock pantheon, it has that stature.

In April '67, Paul McCartney, along with Mal Evans and a few roadies, were in L.A. discussing record stuff with Capitol and happened upon a session for one of the SMiLE tracks, "Vegetables." McCartney asked if he could hang back and observe the session; he was still enamored with Pet Sounds (and in particular, "God Only Knows") and was already hearing rumors of "SMiLE's greatness." He even participated in the session as the one chomping on celery. Afterwards, McCartney played Wilson an acetate of "A Day in the Life." Wilson was in shambles after hearing the song and it only fueled the paranoia and insecurity that was rapidly growing at the time. Lennon and McCartney had their equivalent to Beethoven's 9th.

At the time, Wilson was increasing his drug intake of weed, speed, and other uppers and downers as a way of self-medicating. He was clinically depressed and stressed over the need for his new LP to live up to the promise that "Good Vibrations" offered. Add to that the time constraints placed on him  by Capitol (and on himself) to release an LP before The Beatles finished up with whatever they were working on. (More: his father spying on him and the other Boys offering resistance to the direction he was taking.) His brothers' insight offered cautious trust in Brian's vision, while other members, Mike Love in particular, were skeptical, believing it wasn't right for The Beach Boys and that no one would "get it."

Imagine, indeed, if John or Paul were trying to do the stuff on Pepper with opposition from the other creative forces, and George Martin wasn't a player. Wilson, unlike The Beatles, was essentially making records on his own. He wrote the music (with a collaborator for lyrics usually), recorded the piano, bass or organ part on the track (along with The Wrecking Crew), sang the falsetto part on the records with the rest of the "Boys" (sometimes doing the harmonies himself if he wasn't satisfied with their version), arranged all the songs and was the producer (He also was a co-engineer , involved in the mixing and mastering of the sessions as well).

Wilson would have his own "A Day in a Life" moment with "Surf's Up," though the failure of SMiLE would squelch that track's ambitions. Imagine, as well, if SMiLE had come out the way Wilson intended it in May '67, its tentative release date. The very essence of rock history would have been different.

Wilson's struggles and competitive bent with McCartney spawned three of the greatest LPs of all time (Revolver, Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper); none of that would have happened had Wilson and The Beatles not quit touring.

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