Thursday, October 07, 2004

Brian Wilson presents Smile, an essay in four parts. Part I: Imagine

Imagine... that John Lennon created the Beatles not with Paul McCartney and George Harrison, but with his little brother Winston and his cousin Mycroft Needham, both of which could sing well but not write a song to save them. Then imagine that George Martin, rather than encouraging the Beatles musical development, was jealous of John and kept pressuring him to retain the Mersey sound. Imagine now in this setting that John wrote Sergeant Pepper by himself, presented the songs to the band and they said they wanted to do more Mersey songs instead. Meet Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the legendary album Smile.

The Beach Boys for a long time were the only act that could touch the Beatles for sales and fan appeal. But unlike the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys founder, was the only songwriter with "the touch." (In fairness, all of the other original Beach Boys have written songs, but few became hits, and even fewer touched Brian Wilson's second rate stuff.) Moreover, while Brian was the actual producer of the music, in addition to writing it, for many years the "producer" of the Beach Boys was Brian's father Murray Wilson, a hard case who proved to be jealous of his sons and tried to rip Brian's "sound" off with his knockoff band The Sunrays.

And there is one other difference between Brian and his friend and rival Paul McCartney: Brian's talent for lyrics is just not in the same league, so he tended to work with lyricists.

So on the heels of the daring (for the Beach Boys) Pet Sounds and the Beatles Rubber Soul, Brian set out to create a concept album, the whole thing constructed the way one might construct a symphony. And he did. And then the world ended.

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