DiscoverA History of Rock Music in 500 SongsEpisode 153: “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys
Episode 153: “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys

Episode 153: “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys

Update: 2022-09-13
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Episode one hundred and fifty-three of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys, and the collapse of the Smile album. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a sixteen-minute bonus episode available, on "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" by the Electric Prunes.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/



Resources

There is no Mixcloud this week, because there were too many Beach Boys songs in the episode.

I used many resources for this episode. As well as the books I referred to in all the Beach Boys episodes, listed below, I used Domenic Priore's book Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece and Richard Henderson's 33 1/3 book on Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle.

Stephen McParland has published many, many books on the California surf and hot-rod music scenes, including several on both the Beach Boys and Gary Usher.  His books can be found at https://payhip.com/CMusicBooks

Andrew Doe’s Bellagio 10452 site is an invaluable resource.

Jon Stebbins’ The Beach Boys FAQ is a good balance between accuracy and readability.

And Philip Lambert’s Inside the Music of Brian Wilson is an excellent, though sadly out of print, musicological analysis of Wilson’s music from 1962 through 67.

Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin is the best biography of Wilson.

I have also referred to Brian Wilson’s autobiography, I Am Brian Wilson, and to Mike Love’s, Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy.

As a good starting point for the Beach Boys’ music in general, I would recommend this budget-priced three-CD set, which has a surprisingly good selection of their material on it, including the single version of “Heroes and Villains”.

The box set The Smile Sessions  contains an attempt to create a finished album from the unfinished sessions, plus several CDs of outtakes and session material.

Transcript
[Opening -- "intro to the album" studio chatter into "Our Prayer"]
Before I start, I'd just like to note that this episode contains some discussion of mental illness, including historical negative attitudes towards it, so you may want to check the transcript or skip this one if that might be upsetting.

In November and December 1966, the filmmaker David Oppenheim and the conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein collaborated on a TV film called "Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution".  The film was an early attempt at some of the kinds of things this podcast is doing, looking at how music and social events interact and evolve, though it was dealing with its present rather than the past.
The film tried to cast as wide a net as possible in its fifty-one minutes. It looked at two bands from Manchester -- the Hollies and Herman's Hermits -- and how the people identified as their leaders, "Herman" (or Peter Noone) and Graham Nash, differed on the issue of preventing war:
[Excerpt: Inside Pop, the Rock Revolution]

And it made a star of East Coast teenage singer-songwriter Janis Ian with her song about interracial relationships, "Society's Child":

[Excerpt: Janis Ian, "Society's Child"]

And Bernstein spends a significant time, as one would expect, analysing the music of the Beatles and to a lesser extent the Stones, though they don't appear in the show. Bernstein does a lot to legitimise the music just by taking it seriously as a subject for analysis, at a time when most wouldn't:

[Excerpt: Leonard Bernstein talking about "She Said She Said"]

You can't see it, obviously, but in the clip that's from, as the Beatles recording is playing, Bernstein is conducting along with the music, as he would a symphony orchestra, showing where the beats are falling.

But of course, given that this was filmed in the last two months of 1966, the vast majority of the episode is taken up with musicians from the centre of the music world at that time, LA.

The film starts with Bernstein interviewing Tandyn Almer,  a jazz-influenced songwriter who had recently written the big hit "Along Comes Mary" for The Association:
[Excerpt: Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution]

It featured interviews with Roger McGuinn, and with the protestors at the Sunset Strip riots which were happening contemporaneously with the filming:

[Excerpt: Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution]

Along with Frank Zappa's rather acerbic assessment of the potential of the youth revolutionaries:

[Excerpt: Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution]

And ended (other than a brief post-commercial performance over the credits by the Hollies) with a performance by Tim Buckley, whose debut album, as we heard in the last episode, had featured Van Dyke Parks and future members of the Mothers of Invention and Buffalo Springfield:

[Excerpt: Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution]

But for many people the highlight of the film was the performance that came right before Buckley's, film of Brian Wilson playing a new song from the album he was working on. One thing I should note -- many sources say that the voiceover here is Bernstein. My understanding is that Bernstein wrote and narrated the parts of the film he was himself in, and Oppenheim did all the other voiceover writing and narration, but that Oppenheim's voice is similar enough to Bernstein's that people got confused about this:

[Excerpt: Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution]

That particular piece of footage was filmed in December 1966, but it wasn't broadcast until April the twenty-fifth, 1967, an eternity in mid-sixties popular music. When it was broadcast, that album still hadn't come out.

Precisely one week later, the Beach Boys' publicist Derek Taylor announced that it never would:

[Excerpt: Brian Wilson, "Surf's Up"]

One name who has showed up in a handful of episodes recently, but who we've not talked that much about, is Van Dyke Parks. And in a story with many, many, remarkable figures, Van Dyke Parks may be one of the most remarkable of all. Long before he did anything that impinges on the story of rock music, Parks had lived the kind of life that would be considered unbelievable were it to be told as fiction.

Parks came from a family that mixed musical skill, political progressiveness, and achievement. His mother was a scholar of Hebrew, while his father was a neurologist, the first doctor to admit Black patients to a white Southern hospital, and had paid his way through college leading a dance band.
Parks' father was also, according to the 33 1/3 book on Song Cycle, a member of "John Philip Sousa's Sixty Silver Trumpets", but literally every reference I can find to Sousa leading a band of that name goes back to that book, so I've no idea what he was actually a member of, but we can presume he was a reasonable musician.

Young Van Dyke started playing the clarinet at four, and was also a singer from a very early age, as well as playing several other instruments. He went to the American Boychoir School in Princeton, to study singing, and while there he sang with Toscaninni, Thomas Beecham, and other immensely important conductors of the era.

He also had a very special accompanist for one Christmas carolling session. The choir school was based in Princeton, and one of the doors he knocked on while carolling was that of Princeton's most famous resident, Albert Einstein, who heard the young boy singing "Silent Night", and came out with his violin and played along.

Young Van Dyke was only interested in music, but he was also paying the bills for his music tuition himself -- he had a job. He was a TV star. From the age of ten, he started getting roles in TV shows -- he played the youngest son in the 1953 sitcom Bonino, about an opera singer, which flopped because it aired opposite the extremely popular Jackie Gleason Show. He would later also appear in that show, as one of several child actors who played the character of Little Tommy Manicotti, and he made a number of other TV appearances, as well as having a small role in Grace Kelly's last film, The Swan, with Alec Guinness and Louis Jourdain.

But he never liked acting, and just did it to pay for his education. He gave it up when he moved on to the Carnegie Institute, where he majored in composition and performance. But then in his second year, his big brother Carson asked him to drop out and move to California.

Carson Parks had been part of the folk scene in California for a few years at this point. He and a friend had formed a duo called the Steeltown Two, but then both of them had joined the folk group the Easy Riders, a group led by Terry Gilkyson.

Before Carson Parks joined, the Easy Riders had had a big hit with their version of "Marianne", a calypso originally by the great calypsonian Roaring Lion:

[Excerpt: The Easy Riders, "Marianne"]

They hadn't had many other hits, but their songs became hits for other people -- Gilkyson wrote several big hits for Frankie Laine, and the Easy Riders were the backing vocalists on Dean Martin's recording of a song they wrote, "Memories are Made of This":

[Excerpt: Dean Martin and the Easy Riders, "Memories are Made o
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Episode 153: “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys

Episode 153: “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys

Andrew Hickey