By Doug Draper
Posted September 28th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Summer may officially be over, but that isn’t stopping the boys of summer from invading the Greater Niagara Region this last week of September.
By boys of summer, I’m talking about ‘The Beach Boys’ or what is left of them with founding member and singer Mike Love putting on the first of four shows under the Beach Boys brand this September 29th through October 1st at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara, Falls, Ontario, and the band’s legendary songwriter and singer/musician Brian Wilson performing at the University of Buffalo’s Center for the Arts this September 28th.
It is the Brian Wilson part of this late September reach back to the band’s fabled “summer days and summer nights” that I want to focus on because it is the suite of songs he wrote and is paying tribute to on this tour through our region and much of the world this year that played such a profound and last role in the evolution of pop music.
One of those Brian Wilson songs, in particular, will forever remain part of the soundtrack of my life as I will never forget the first time I heard it while sitting in the back seat of my father’s car with the radio on during a family vacation 50 years ago this summer.
A bright sunlight was reflecting off the blue waters of the Potomac River as my dad was driving us to see the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. when the first symphonic chords of ‘God Only Knows’, the B side of a single that had “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” achieving Top 10 status earlier that summer.
From those first few chords to lyrics that turned so many of the “kiss me, hold me tight” lines in other songs inside out– “I may not always love you, but long as there are stars above you, you’ll never need to doubt it, I’ll make you so sure about it. God only knows what I’d be without you …” – it was a song that, at that time in pop music, sounded radically different than almost everything else on those transistor radios that, in those days, almost everyone between the age of 13 and 30 had glued to their ears.
Nor did the album that featured ‘God Only Knows’, , along with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, ‘Sloop John B.’, Caroline No’, ‘You Still Believe In Me’ and other songs, sound like most any other album pop groups had released to that point.
The album, Pet Sounds, which Wilson’s Buffalo show is paying tribute to was release in the spring of 1966, did not sell as well as most Beach Boy albums did up to that time (which was a great bone of contention for Mike Love, who wanted Wilson to go on cranking out tunes about girls, cars and surfing in the sun at the time). In fact, it made the suits at Capitol (the record company the Beach Boys were signed to at the time) nervous enough to call Wilson in and ask him what was going on with the music, and why not just keep cranking out hits like ‘I Get Around’, ‘California Girls’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’.
Why not? Because Wilson was more interested in growing as an artist than he was in doing whatever he had to do to sell records at the time. Years later, in a memoir titled ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, he wrote; “Pet Sounds represented the maturing of my talent, the single-minded pursuit of a personal vision. I wasn’t just entertaining people, I was speaking directly to them, directly from my heart.”
In doing so, Wilson produced an album that has gone down in the history of pop music as a master work and ground breaker for the art form – an album that is listed as the second greatest album of all time on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums list – right between The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, which is number one, and ‘Revolver’ by The Beatles, which is number three and was released in the summer of 1966.
Years later, former Beatle Paul McCartney would say this about the album – “No one is educated musically ‘till they’ve heard Pet Sounds… It is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways.”
McCartney and this fellow Beatle and writing partner John Lennon, and Brian Wilson would also later agree that they were listening very closely to each other’s music and feeding off of it. So much so, that The Beatles’ Rubber Soul’ from 1965 inspired ‘Pet Sounds’ which, in turn, inspired 1967’s ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’.
‘Revolver’ was released in August of 1966, during the last leg of what would turn out to be the last concert tour The Beatles would ever do together as a band. With songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby’, which became a big hit that summer, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, ‘I Want To Tell You’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ the music was becoming more sophisticated, and the sounds on the record were so multi-layered, they were virtually impossible to reproduce on stage at a time before computers were around to augment a live performance.
Albums like Pet Sounds and Revolver, along with a handful of significant others released that summer – Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Aftermath’ with its most foreboding track, ‘Paint It Black’ – marked the beginning of the end for the ‘Glad All Over’ groups like the Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits, and opened to door to artists who would set the soundtrackfor the rest of the decade – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana, Grateful Dead, The Velvet Underground, Crosby, Stills & Nash, a young David Bowie, The Doors, the reborn Who with Pete Townsend’s rock opera ‘Tommy’, Canada’s own Guess Who, and the list of artists that went on to expand the art form and create music that continues inspiring new artists to this day, goes on.
The summer of 1966 and that whole year continues to go down as one of the best ones for music on the radio. A few more of myfavourites from that summer include ‘Summer in the City’ by the Lovin’ Spoonful, ‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down’ by the Yardbirds, ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ by The Animals, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ by The Kinks, ‘Sunny’ by Bobby Hebb, and (one that a young Bruce Springsteen was listening to and later covered with his E Street Band) ‘I Fought The Law’ by the Bobby Fuller Four. Oh, yah, how can I leave out ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ by Percy Sledge and that forerunner to grunge song and long-time party favourite, ‘Wild Thing’ by The Troggs.
I posted this just to get away from the heavy issues for an hour or two and to have a little fun. I hope some of you enjoyed it too, and maybe you can think of a few more great songs from 1966 that you can list in the comment space below.
Meanwhile, a great book was published earlier this year called ‘1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded’ by Jon Savage that does a great job of placing the changes in music in context with the cultural and political turbulence happening in the world at that time. To find out more about the book, click on – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/20/1966-jon-savage-music-review .
To Listen to ‘God Only Knows’, as recorded for the original Pet Sounds album, cluck on –
.For more information on the song ‘God Only Knows’ click on – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Only_Knows .
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