High Frequencies
The Beach Boys - You're Still A Mystery
40 plays

The Beach Boys - “You’re Still A Mystery”

From the album Made In California (2013)

……and, I’m back! Just wrapped up an intensive, 2+ month project at the office, won a campaign, and most important, managed to carve out time for a nap and some laundry. And now, it’s back to High Frequencies (the title that my brother hates, but…what can I do at this point?). 

To celebrate my return, I’m posting a track from the recently released Beach Boys 50 year career retrospective, Made In California. The track, “You’re Still A Mystery,” is a song that came out of aborted sessions the band held in the mid-1990s, when I was a young’un in college, the Beatles Anthology was raking in millions for the Beatles, and there was a sense that some of the giant bands from the 1960s might still have some creative fire (and financial rewards awaitin’) burning. After years of basically being an oldies band - and a fractured one, at that - the Beach Boys were going to come together with the surviving members of the original line-up, write new songs, and mastermind Brian Wilson was going to oversee the whole thing. This was something to be excited about. 

But the ever-volatile Beach Boys just couldn’t keep it together, and instead of creating a modern-day masterpiece, they just reworked some old hits with some country music stars and called it a day.  Some songs from the earlier sessions did make their way onto bootlegs, though, and one of them - “You’re Still A Mystery" - showed what could have been. The song had such an interesting, disjointed structure and a melody line showed Brian Wilson (amazingly) still had flourishes of brilliance - and those glorious harmonies were part of the package. It’s still astounding to think that, at this late date, the band was capable of producing something that could easily sit alongside their classic material from 30 years prior.

Unfortunately, it was always frustrating listening to the bootleg of this song; partially because it was several generations removed from studio-quality, and partially because it came from an era when Brian Wilson’s lead vocals were particularly spotty. So I was quite pleased to see this released as one of the promised “rarities” on the boxed set. The sound quality is near-pristine, Wilson had obviously re-recorded his lead vocal at a later date (just when he did this is open to question, but it’s much, much smoother than the earlier bootleg versions), and the song itself is just fantastic. So I present this to the word of Tumblr to share the goodness, with the hopes that EMI doesn’t sue me….

The Beach Boys - The Warmth Of The Sun
101 plays

The Warmth of the Sun - The Beach Boys

Available on Endless Summer (1974)

Just saw this song posted over at Briandouglaswilson, and since it’s one of my all-time favorite tracks (not just by the Beach Boys, but by anyone), I could not help but quickly re-post. This song perfectly sums up all the things about the classic Beach Boys that I love: the way the harmonies wrap themselves around the listener like a warm, sun-drenched hug, the way the melodies sound both familiar and fresh, the way the lyrics offer a cloyingly simple poetry about the nourishing value of love and togetherness. 

When Brian Wilson was at the top of his game, as he was here, it was almost scary (which, I suspect, is the word he would likely use himself…).

The Rubinoos - Heroes And Villains (Beach Boys)
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The Rubinoos - “Heroes & Villains”

From the album Crimes Against Music (2003)

It’s a foolish group that thinks it can out-Brian Wilson Brian Wilson. After all, this is one of the pioneers of layered, harmony-drenched pop-rock masterpieces. He’s the guy who created such timeless, emotionally satisfying songs as “This Whole World,” “Til I Die,” “God Only Knows,” and dozens upon dozens more. For “Wouldn’t It Be Nice" alone, the guy should have his permanent place in rock history secured. And in the mid-60s, Wilson could do no wrong. This one-man hit factory was churning out   such high quality material that he even kept the Beatles on their toes, forever worrying that he was crafting better goods.  With the release of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, they certainly had good reason to worry.  

And then, in late 1966, things started to unravel for Brian Wilson. Business pressures, inter-band creative arguments, heavy drug abuse, and escalating mental illness started to rob him of his golden touch and his confidence as he worked on the Smile album. The first big single from the album, “Heroes and Villains,” was issued in the summer of ‘67, and it landed with a thud.  After the thundering success of “Good Vibrations" - a dynamic, exciting rock single - several months earlier, expectations for this track were sky high. But instead of another scorching, danceable rock song, the listening public instead got a complex, confusing rock-meets-barbershop-meets-Americana pastiche of sounds with a less accessible hook. It was still an ambitious, interesting track, but it was simply too out there to truly catch fire, and the public rejection profoundly stung Brian Wilson. 

Fast forward a few decades, and power-pop rockers the Rubinoos released a cover of “Heroes and Villains” on their 2003 disc “Crimes Against Music.” And lo and behold, they actually bested Wilson with one of his own songs. The Rubinoos’ version of “Heroes and Villains” is everything the Beach Boys’ version was, only better. The band opted to cover it acappella-style, allowing the intricate harmonies and the ambitious melodic twists and turns to take center stage. The resulting track is both direct, crisp, and exciting in a way that the greatest Beach Boys tracks were. 

I can’t vouch for other tracks by the Rubinoos. Haven’t heard much of their original stuff, and what I have heard sort of washed right over me. But on this one, at least, the liberated one of Brian Wilson’s great songs from its own studio excesses. And amazingly one-upped him. No small feat!

The Beach Boys - “Auld Lang Syne”

From The Beach Boys Christmas Album (1964)

As we close out another year, I can’t think of any better song to wrap it up with than the Beach Boys' sweet harmonizing on Auld Lang Syne. Taken off their 1964 Christmas disc, this song sums up all the joy and pathos of the band, the time of year, the holidays - everything. What more can I say? To anyone reading, here’s hoping you have an excellent 2013, full of health, happiness…and great music.

Glen Campbell - “Guess I’m Dumb”

Single Release 1965, available Here.

I seem to be on a bit of a Brian Wilson kick lately. It happens to the best of us, and listening to tracks like this 1965 single by Glen Campbell should be explanation enough as to why. I’ve always loved this one, which was produced by Brian Wilson for Campbell, and I believe it was written by Wilson as well. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a Brian Wilson production, circa ‘65: odd-yet-delicious melodies, a big band backing, drenched in echo to achieve the Phil Spector sound. Wilson built up a number of compositions in the same vein around that time, all to stunning effect.

If anything, this one has always seemed much more like a Brian Wilson single as opposed to a Glen Campbell track. As I said, it’s got that mid-60s big, muscular Beach Boys sound, the signature majestic Wilson production, the blaring backing horns, the almost cinematic drama built into it - but Glen Campbell has mainly built a career around more country & western style music, such as on Gentle on My Mind and Wichita Lineman. Still, he does manage to stamp the song as his own with a commanding vocal in the silky smooth style he’d become better known for by the decade’s end. It may stick out like a sore thumb in the Campbell catalog, but that’s more due to the fact that he wasn’t actively working in the Brian WIlson/symphonic-pop work following this period. Oh, and if you weren’t already aware of it? He was a temporary Beach Boy for a spell

Sadly, Campbell is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease these days, and he has been on an extended farewell tour throughout much of 2012. It’s a story that unfortunately won’t have a happy ending. But he is at least getting one last chance to soak up the love, to sing a bit more, and to unleash the emotional power behind soulful, heartfelt classics like this one.  

The Explorers Club - “Safe Distance”

From the album Freedom Wind (2008)

It was just about a year ago that I heard some unexpected news that totally got me pumped: The Explorers Club were working on a new album. I’d randomly discovered the band - a bunch of South Carolinian musicians who clearly loved vintage Brian Wilson - circa 2009, when they released their debut disc, Freedom Wind. And as cliché as it feels to write this, this was truly the greatest Beach Boys album the Beach Boys never recorded. The songs touched upon so much of what made the Beach Boys so fantastic in the early-to-mid 1960s: the soaring harmonies, the layered instrumentation, the adventurous, Spectorian-esque productions, and the attempts to perfect the 3 minute pop masterpiece. Some of the lyrics were pretty fluffy (example: “I’ve got time for one last kiss before I go/ there’s no time left for our sweet lovin’ to grow”), but this band was so clearly devoted to reproducing that early Beach Boy vibe that I remain convinced that this was by design.

For the longest time, it looked like the band wasn’t going to follow up that sterling debut album, and then? Grand Hotel was unexpectedly recorded and unleashed upon the world…and sadly, for me, it just didn’t live up to the weight of my expectations. Maybe after all that time, it couldn’t. The band, to their credit, tried to move beyond just being the faux Beach Boys. They branched out with their songwriting, looked to other influences, and produced a few excellent songs (particularly the rollicking “Anticipating.”)

But after doing such an amazing job on that first album, I was hoping for more. Case in point: “Safe Distance.” This track from the first album so perfectly captures that sense of musical melancholia that Brian Wilson practically invented in the late ’60s on tracks like “Til I Die" and "Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder).” Out of nowhere, singer-songwriter Jason Brewer came along and tapped into that same spirit, crafting something both lovingly recreating the song, and also making something new out of it. Not an easy feat, but he and his band pulled it off beautifully here. Between the delicate, interweaving melodies, the gentle strumming of the guitar chords and the almost hymnal melody, this song evokes that haunting, autumnal vibe underpinning some of Brian Wilson’s greatest works. So can you blame me if I wanted more?

I love Freedom Wind so much, and I still hold out hope that the Explorers Club continue striving to top it. I think they’ve got it in ‘em.


Missed our rundown of The Beach Boys’ 50 Greatest Tracks? Well here’s a Spotify playlist of them all, from 50 - 1…

I haven’t listened to this yet…but it’s the Beach Boys and Mojo. What could be bad about it…?

“Hey, Wilson” says Mike Love, placing his hand gently on Brian Wilson’s forearm. “Hey, Love,” says Wilson, brightly, as his cousin slides into the booth next to him. “You were great last night,” Love says. “Animated. Ani-fuckin’-mated.” Wilson beams. “Gracias, amigo. Our harmonies – we sound good together.”

I just saw a link to this recent Rolling Stone piece on the Beach Boys - which is notable partially because it’s nice to have a look at what’s going on with this band, and because I’m always astounded when Rolling Stone actually devotes coverage to bands that matter.

Younger Brian Wilson

Lead Beach Boy Brian Wilson turns 70 today. In terms of lasting power, and defying probably every music fan (and members of his own extended family), who would have thought this guy would have made it this long? Here’s to hoping that it’s a happy birthday, and that at this stage of his life, Brian Wilson is able to get back even a fraction of the love and positive feelings he’s put out into the world…

For a treat, here’s Brian and his band performing the entirety of “Smile” a few years back. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

The Beach Boys - “Summer’s Gone”

From the album That’s Why God Made The Radio (2012)

Like many Brian Wilson fans, I’ve been cynical about this year’s 50th reunion of the Beach Boys. Aside from the uber-casual fans who perhaps only know the band from their sanitized, Stamos-ized “Kokomo" mid-80s incarnation, most people seem to recognize that underneath the songs about warm weather, good times, and teenage romance lurked a much darker reality. Maybe everyone doesn’t quite know all the ins and outs and the troubling details, but they at least know that the band members haven’t always been the tightest of friends. And since it’s almost Father’s Day, we won’t get into the legacy of old Murray Wilson, father of founding members Brian, Dennis, and Carl.  All of which is to say: having the surviving members of this band gather to share a friendly meal, let alone record a new album and stage a giant 50th anniversary tour, was not a forgone conclusion.

So it’s fairly safe to say that I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to hear that this reunion album actually did get made. More shocking still, it’s not a giant steaming bowl of awful. Actually, parts of it serve as a fine pastiche of what the Beach Boys have always done best. And tracks like “Summer’s Gone,” which I’ve included here, are actually damn fine pieces of work. This track, a lush throwback to the delicate, almost lethargic vibe and feel of 1971’s masterfulTil I Die,” works because it ties in the beach, sunshine, and nature imagery that the group has woven their image around for 50 years, but - as it’s sung by 70 year old men who have seen their share of loss, and who are unquestionably closer to the end of their journey than their beginning - lyrics like “Summer’s gone/Gone like yesterday/The nights grow cold/It’s time to go” just come off as an unexpectedly poignant meditation on their mortality.

The general consensus on this new album is that it has ended up being much, much better than it has a right to be, and I can’t add anything new to that judgment. As someone who grew up listening to the complex harmonies and learning about the troubled waters these guys have navigated, though, this comes as a truly satisfying coda to their career, and it features some emotionally nourishing tunes in the process. Well done.

(By the way - anyone else having trouble uploading mp3 tracks? I originally tried posting this as an mp3, just as I’ve tried on a couple of other entries, and Tumblr refuses to save ‘em. Technical suggestions greatly appreciated!)


The Beach Boys stopped by “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” last night to make their first TV appearances of their 50th anniversary reunion tour. Brian Wilson and Mike Love sat down with Fallon to discuss The Beach Boys’ signature harmonies. Even, Fallon joined on an impromptu version of “Barbara Ann” with Wilson and Love. The band also played three songs on the show, “In My Room,” “Wouldn’t it be Nice” and the group’s new single, “That’s Why God Made the Radio.”


The Beach Boys - That’s Why God Made The Radio (Preview)

A preview of the lead single from The Beach Boys’ new album has appeared online. The band (Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks) have recently kicked off their 50th anniversary tour of the US and will release the new record on June 5.

And don’t forget to check out MOJO’s Beach Boys extravaganza in the new issue of the magazine - on sale now (you can see our very own Barney Hoskyns interviewing the band in the clip above).

Wilson v. McCartney - Who Made The Better Throwback Album?

Wilson in '66

Just had a few thoughts kicking around, what with Paul McCartney releasing his latest disc, Kisses On The Bottom, this week - topping off a flurry of recent activity that will culminate with his appearance on the Grammy Awards this Sunday. It’s the same program that his old friend & competitor, Brian Wilson, will be appearing on with his old band, the Beach Boys.

Back in their 1960s heyday, when both men were at the top of their creative powers, Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney egged each other on as friendly rivals atop the charts, continually upping the ante and expanding the possibilities of what we could expect in popular music. In the mid-60s alone, they produced classic discs like Pet Sounds, Revolver, Sunflower, and the White Album. Heady stuff.

Each man has seen artistic peaks and valleys since their glory years, and each has proven, in their way, to be a durable survivor. As of 2012, both Wilson and McCartney are considered elder statesmen in the rock world, and while each has amazingly entered into an unexpected creative resurgence in recent years, it’s interesting that each man has dipped back to the Great American Songbook on recent albums. The question is, who does the better job of it?

Recent Macca

Surprisingly, I’ve gotta give the nod to Brian Wilson. While McCartney has admirably stated that he hasn’t wanted to retread the same popular songs that Rod Stewart (among so many others) has been covering, and while McCartney has never had to overcome the drug and mental health issues that have haunted Wilson over the decades - his new disc is kind of dull. Backed by Diana Krall's ace band, McCartney does a classy job of crooning these lesser-known songs, but he doesn't do anything to place his own stamp on the material, or to elevate it beyond what we've come to expect. Beyond offering his voice, there's nothing on the set that suggests McCartney's musical signatures or personality, and it ultimately ends up sounding like a perfectly pleasant, perfectly blah affair. Nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t add much to McCartney’s cannon. (Contrast this with his old bandmate Ringo’s similar disc from 1970, Sentimental Journey. It’s an endearing listen, and it definitely screams out, for better or worse, Ringo!)

Wilson, on the other hand, put out an unexpectedly strong album in 2010, which focused on one of the biggest names in that Great American Songbook, George Gershwin. Rather than hewing as close to the original tunes as possible, Wilson and his band worked to infuse Wilson’s signature sounds into the material, updating, revamping, and re-energizing songs that have been done thousands of times over, breathing new life into such chestnuts like “Someone To Watch Over Me.” The end result has echos of Wilson’s best work in the 60s, while his singing - something that has sadly decayed over the years - is strong and engaging. The production is tight and crisp, and the album is one of the strongest and most fun discs Brian Wilson has been involved in in decades. I can’t overstate how fantastic it is.

So Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney: two towering figures in the pop music world, two men who have reshaped the boundaries of rock, and two men who have reached far into the past for inspiration on their present. Despite the solid efforts of both, this round definitely goes to the once and future Beach Boy. Can’t wait to see what comes next….

Dennis Wilson - “River Song”

From the album Pacific Ocean Blue (1977) 

Every now and then, there is an album that I completely miss on that first hearing - it just does nothing for me, and I don’t return to it for years; and then, for whatever reason, when I pick it up again, something about the music grabs me in a way that it previously didn’t, and the album goes into heavy rotation, just like that. Like flipping a switch. 

Such is the case with the first solo album by the late Beach Boys drummer, Dennis Wilson. The guy had an apparently well-earned reputation for being a drunk, an emotional train wreck, a general misbehavin’ rock star (and no child of Murry Wilson was ever going to be the picture of mental stability). The general storyline for the Beach Boys was always that Brian Wilson was the tortured musical genius, middle-brother Carl was the workman, and Dennis was the lightweight screw-up. And though I’d heard for years that his 1977 disc, Pacific Ocean Blue, was actually an overlooked musical gem, I must confess that I’d heard a couple of songs, was not blown away, and never gave it a fair shake. 

So what changed my mind? A friend recently sent me an invite to Spotify, which is similar to Wikipedia in that it gives you the ability to click through related content, and listening to the Beach Boys can give you the opportunity to click on similar acts like the Beatles, Brian Wilson - and in the case of a recent night when I was listening to a Pet Sounds track, Dennis Wilson. I’m glad I took the bait, because I listened to the first track, “River Song,” and was blown away. It has this larger-than-life gospel sound and a complex structure that I absolutely was not expecting, and it far outpaces the quality and ambition of any Beach Boys music released post-1972. I have no idea how I missed this the first time around, but it got me re-evaluating the entire album, and the whole thing has been steadily growing on me. And this track, in particular, has been finding its way onto a number of mixes lately. Have a listen…. 

Jeffrey Foskett - I Live For The Sun
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Jeff Foskett - “I Live For The Sun”

From the album Thru My Window (1996) 

As I’ve said in the past, it’s not often that you’ll run into a cover version of a song that puts the original to shame - but it does happen, once in a blue moon. And such is the case with perennial Beach Boys/Brian Wilson sideman, Jeff Foskett covering a fantastic summer anthem, “I Live For The Sun.”

The original track was recorded in the mid-60s by a Beach Boys knock-off band, the Sunrays (a group that was actually managed by former Beach Boys manager - and prototypical Evil Stage Dad - Murry Wilson), and while it boasted a cool hook and some decent harmonies, it was all rather bland, flat, and lifeless. Not the traits you’re looking for if you want to have a really good beach party. But 30-some-odd years later, Foskett got ahold of the song, pumped some life and energy into it, gave it some polish, and the result is a really fun, energetic pastiche of all those great early Beach Boys singles. 

Not a deep record, and it’s not recommended that you listen too intently to the lyrics, but it’s the perfect song to herald the start of summer. Even if many of us are stuck in some very Seattle-like weather this week….