Inspired, in part, by the fact that today (as in the day this is being written) is the quintessential American holiday, I went out and bought (as shopping is one of our civic virtues) a copy of a disc that came out this week, The Beach Boys Classics Selected by Brian Wilson. It was once said that Marcel Duchamp anticipated all of the notable art movements of the 20th century. I submit that Brian Wilson anticipated most of the forms and modes of rock music from the Sixties on. As this is Independence Day, let me proclaim: Sergeant Pepper is overrated.
Cameron Crowe has said that before starting a movie—and let’s face it: of his generation, Crowe is the quintessential American director—he gives the primary players a copy of Pet Sounds. It helps provide the context. The context that is of our lives. Even if we’ve never been to California. If music is as much about feeling as melody, about emotion and rhythm, then what Brian Wilson spun is something that is both fine and strong, proactive and evocative. Doubt it? Listen to “Don’t Worry Baby” or “God Only Knows.” Period.
It’s often noted that “Good Vibrations” is the work that contributed levels of complexity to rock in a manner that is often imitated but never truly executed, carefully listen to the levels and structures of, yes, “California Girls” and “Caroline, No” and it becomes clear that Wilson was working that strata well before “Vibrations” hit the airwaves.
At the pop concert held in London last month marking the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, Brian Wilson was, in effect, the representative of the United States. He more than held up his end vis-à-vis the likes of McCartney and Clapton, Tom Jones and Brian May. Indeed, he did so well, that King George III was undoubtedly massively agitated in his crypt.
A national treasure.