Brian, George and The Unexpected
First, a logistical note. As you are observing, I am adding my own musical bits to this blog. If, for some reason, you are not hearing music when you press play on the bar (usually located by my picture at the piano), let me know. As with the YouTube clips, you need to click twice with your mouse in order to activate.
Take three brothers. Add in a cousin. Mix with a good family friend. Shake it all up and… what do you get?
While the harmonies of The Association hold a unique place in my heart, there are many groups which have “struck a chord” (sorry) with me and, among them, The Beach Boys deserve recognition. Their particular blend of vocals has given them a trademark sound which has endured over four decades. Here they are performing Their Hearts Were Full of Spring culled from performances, rehearsals and recordings.
The creative centre of the band was Brian Wilson who led the group to numerous hit records. In the last posting, I mentioned The Association’s intro to Love Affair. Listen to the opening of this next song and, if you know The Beach Boy canon at all, you’ll immediately recognize it… from their extraordinary Pet Sounds album.
Brian has battled back from a series of troubles including his inability to cope with the stresses of early fame, drug abuse and the untimely death of his two brothers. He continues to compose and perform as a solo artist from the Beach Boy catalogue and his own material. He has assembled a dedicated and talented set of backing musicians who assist him in recreating the characteristic “Beach Boy” sound. Here they are performing one of Brian’s favourites, Caroline No, also from the Pet Sounds album.
Co-incidentally his most recent project has been to record some of his favourites written by another extraordinary and successful songwriter- George Gershwin.
Prolific. Innovative. Intense. All appropriate words to describe George Gershwin. His compositions incorporate elements of jazz, opera, blues, classical and the popular music of his era but resist simple categorization. Here he is at the piano performing I Got Rhythm with that intensity which characterized his too-short life.
I recall, as a child, hearing Gershwin’s songs not realizing that he was the composer. Some of you may recall this sixties take on the Gershwin classic by The Happenings.
I’ve grown in my appreciation (and recognition!) of Gershwin’s music over the years and now frequently warm up at the piano with one of his many popular songs. In this case it’s Things Are Looking Up (lyrics by brother Ida) from the movie A Damsel in Distress. (In this case I’ve added a bass line to my piano playing… one of the benefits of living in the computer/midi/sequencing age… )
The Unexpected (no relation to The Edge or The Situation)
A simple but unforgettable melody line. Unanticipated harmony progression. Unusual instrumentation. Atypical bass lines. You might expect these “unexpecteds” from either Brian Wilson or George Gershwin. I mentioned Caroline No earlier. It’s a very simple but memorable tune and Brian does not rely on vocal harmony. Instead he uses an “unexpected” bass line- E minor chord but with a G bass and a F major chord but with A bass. Play the song without those bass notes and it just doesn’t sound the same. I’ve recorded a bit of the song below- listen especially to the bass line.
Speaking of unexpected, listen again to the classic Beach Boy hit- God Only Knows. Listen to the bass line. The choice of instruments. The restrained vocal harmony choices. The lyrics. The chord progressions. Paul McCartney (he of Beatles fame) calls this his favourite Beach Boy song.
And George… well, another of his songs from Damsel is A Foggy Day. It’s another of my warmup songs because I enjoy the melody line and his harmony.
I’m not alone. While I was preparing this posting I decided to check some others who have recorded their version of A Foggy Day. Here’s a few… some of them may surprise you.
You may want to fast forward through the first minute or two of this one…
Finally, if you haven’t heard Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, haven’t heard it in a while or didn’t realize the piece was by Gershwin, here it is… a rather enjoyable video to watch as well as hear! (By the way, this composition was one of Brian’s favourites from a very early age.)