A couple of other folks have chosen their favourite songs by an artist during a particular set of years. Thought I’d hop on and give it a go. No surprise that I’m doing the Beach Boys.
1962: The Lonely Sea
I’ll start with Brian’s first collaboration with Gary Usher.
“The Lonely Sea” is a ridiculously early indicator of all the things that Brian would come to master.
It may have been released in 1963 (on the “Surfin’ USA” album), but this was an outtake from 1962’s “Surfin’ Safari”. So 1962 it is! This also leads one to question: Who in the name of Mike-Loves-Receding-Hairline chose that début LP line-up? I mean… Who? Out of the 12 songs on that patchiest of patchy albums, precisely 12 of them aren’t fit to polish the fret board of this melancholy masterpiece. Early groupe politique?
The song itself is an intense, emotional and sonically interesting composition with an added touch of sincere imitation conjured up from Brian’s musical upbringing.
The sound is practically a melodic “Music Concrete” (if you can actually have such a thing?) with the sounds vividly mimicking the waves and endless undulations of the ocean. This idea that music could sound like, make you feel like, and talk about a particular subject already points to the multiple-meanings and textured sonic layers of SMiLE. In 1962!
The lyrics are an example of how Brian (with help from his collaborators) wrote about a comforting female presence (almost an earth-mother-goddesscharacter) which the protagonist felt he could never live up to. This is a subject that would appear many more times in Brain’s writing (and had already being displayed in the earlier “Surfer Girl”, often documented as the first song Wilson wrote).
The spoken section in the middle is a typically Wilsonian non-ironic pastiche of music that Brian grew up with (remember that Elvis’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was only 2 years old!). The imitation is so close (in time) to its doo-wop and crooning origins, and is delivered without a hint of a knowing nod or wink, that we don’t know if it’s a serious take or an early homage. And that makes it brilliant!
You can compare Brian’s hesitant yet sincere spoken section to how McCartney uses the same device seven years later with “Oh Darling” on Abbey Road. McCartney may be a melodic genius, but he does tend towards the “LOOK AT ME I’M DOING A PASTICHE” school of song writing. Something Brian (and Lennon) tended to avoid. (see also “Honey Pie”, “When I’m 64” and even “Yesterday” for other examples of the sledgehammer McCartney pastiche, but that’s another story!)
To sum up, I can’t state enough how amazing it is to see all the ingredients of Brian’s craft in place on such an early song.
Blimey – all that for one song? I’d better get to the point a bit better for the next ones!
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