Thursday, August 20, 2009
"Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys (1965)
By all rights, the entire music industry should have packed it in and went home in 1966. These days, we look back to this era as a kind of halcyon ‘golden era’. And with good reason too. By 1967 (the so-called ‘Summer of Love’), rock of the ‘heavy, dude’ persuasion had really taken over and destroyed much of what was wonderful in 1966, the year of “Revolver”, of “Fifth Dimension”, of “Blonde on Blonde”, of “Pet Sounds”...
Ah yes, “Pet Sounds”. It truly is as wonderful as everyone says it is. “Caroline, No” melts your heart into a tiny puddle. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” confirms to you that music can bring eternal youth. Even “Sloop John B”, strangely maligned, is in my opinion great.
But how “Pet Sounds” ever got made I don’t know. How it took until 1967 for Brian Wilson to eat his hat and fry his brain, I don’t know. If I were him, I would have crawled into that sandbox the moment this present atrocity was released as a single.
How humiliating it must have been for him. He had put his heart and soul into “California Girls”. Okay, let’s admit it, the lyrics are twaddle. But that melody, and that instrumentation. It was the great leap forward for the Beach Boys, from conservative surf-and-cars nonsense to greatness. Pushing himself as much as he could, Wilson retired from live performance to craft similar ‘teenage symphonies’.
The next one up, “The Little Girl I Once Knew” is, well, just all right. To hear people say it, the fact that there are seconds of silence in this song pretty much condemned it to failure (clearly an era before InXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart”). To be honest, the song isn’t a great leap forward on the scale of “California Girls” before it or Pet Sounds after it. But it wasn’t an embarrassment either.
When it stiffed, the record company put out this.
This, if you can stand to hear it from start to finish, is an insult to Brian Wilson, an insult to Beach Boys fans, and an insult to all lovers of good music. It came from a knock-off album meant to simulate a ‘Beach Boys Party’. All acoustic instruments, homey campfire-vibe, whatever. This is two minutes (three on the even more excruciating album cut) of off-key and off-tempo warbling, bummed notes, fluffed lines, knock-off crap. It would be the weak point of a bootleg record of ‘studio outtakes’. It’s already a terrible song, and they do a bad job of a terrible song.
More diabolically, they pronounce it “bobberann”. Incessantly.
Fans should have revolted. Brian Wilson should have quit in disgust. Radio should have refused to play any Capitol singles until they withdrew the single and apologized for the whole fiasco.
Instead what happened? Meatheads bought the pile of rubbish and drove the single to #2 on the charts, higher than “California Girls”.
When the record industry realized that finely crafted indelible compositions would sell less than knocked-off, cynical product – and here in 1966, the ‘golden year’ of music, they should have cried uncle and packed it up and went home.
Instead, a full generation later, we got “Kokomo”. For our sins.