Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let The Good Times In

Sunshine Pop Plays While Audiences Wait For Brian 
By Jeff Bleiel

A Sampling of the Tracks Played Prior To Brian Wilson’s Concerts
Glen Campbell: Guess I’m Dumb
Eric Carmen: My Girl
Dennis Diken With Bell Sound: Standing In That Line
Dino, Desi & Billy: Through Spray Colored Glasses
Dukes of Stratosphere: Pale and Precious
Mama Cass Elliot: It’s Getting Better
Mark Eric: California Home
Eternity’s Children: Mrs. Bluebird
The Explorers Club: Forever
First Class: Beach Baby
The Flame: Another Day Like Heaven
Lesley Gore: On A Day Like Today
Henry Gross: Springtime Mama
The Group: Baby Baby It’s You
Harpers Bizarre: Malibu U
The Kinks: Australia
Gary Lewis & The Playboys: Jill
Billy Nicholls: Would You Believe
Parade: Sunshine Girl
Partridge Family: Let The Good Times In
Chris Rainbow: Dear Brian
Raspberries: Cruisin’ Music
Sagittarius: My World Fell Down
Tradewinds: New York’s A Lonely Town
Wizzard: See My Baby Jive
Roy Wood: Why Does a Pretty Girl Sing Those Sad Songs
XTC: Humble Daisy
Weird Al Yankovic: Pancreas
Yellow Balloon: Yellow Balloon
Zombies: Care of Cell 44

Attendees of Brian Wilson’s concerts over the past several years have been treated to a winning selection of the Beach Boys greatest hits, as well as masterful performances of complete works such as Pet Sounds, Smile, and That Lucky Old Sun.  But the great music actually started long before Brian and the band took the stage. 

Fans who arrived at these concerts early received a real audio treat via the music that played over the house sound system prior to the show.  It has been an enticing selection of joyful pop music influenced by Brian Wilson.  Some of the songs are courtesy of familiar Brian Wilson disciples, but much of the music is relatively obscure, even to the most devoted Beach Boy loyalists.

The tracks were selected by – and come from the impressive personal collection of – keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, who chose “songs that I’ve known over the years to be inspired by Brian’s music.”  The eclectic mix includes both massive Top 40 hits (1974’s “Beach Baby”) and tracks from albums which have probably sold less than 5,000 copies.  Some, but not all, of the songs are familiar to fans of the “sunshine pop” genre, but even collectors and pop geeks are likely to discover some eye-opening gems within this repertoire.

The Sahanaja-created mix CDs have been played prior to Brian’s shows for approximately the last five years.  Jeffrey Foskett explains that the idea actually came out of a bit of frustration with the pre-show music that had been featured on some earlier tours. “They were playing Steely Dan and stuff that had no purpose,” he says.  “And I said, ‘we’ve either got to play The Beatles or we’re got to play something else.’  We were playing Beatles songs for a while and it was pretty cool.  But then Darian said ‘Let me make a CD.’  He actually made three CDs, and they were great.”

Indeed, this collection of songs is likely to be appreciated by anyone who shares of love of Beach Boys/Brian Wilson music.

Friends and Family
The mix contains no Beach Boys tracks or Beach Boys solo efforts (or Jan & Dean songs, for that matter).  But some members of the extended Beach Boys family make an appearance.  Sahanaja calls “Guess I’m Dumb,” Glen Campbell’s 1965 single, “arguably the best Brian Wilson composition and production outside of the Beach Boys.”

“Another Day Like Heaven” comes from the Carl Wilson-produced 1970 Brother Records album by The Flame (featuring Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar in their pre-Beach Boys days).

“I love that track,” Sahanaja says.  “It sounds like Abbey Road Beatles, but produced by Carl Wilson.”

Sagittarius’ 1967 nugget “My World Fell Down” features Glen Campbell, Bruce Johnston, Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher.  And an obscure non-album single by Billy Hinsche’s hitmaking teen trio Dino, Desi & Billy, “Thru Spray Colored Glasses,” is a remarkable slice on sunshine pop, co-written by David Gates.

Sunshine Poppers
Some fondly-remembered 1960s hits which are indebted to Brian Wilson’s production style include The Tradewinds’ “New York’s A Lonely Town,” which Sahanaja considers “one of the best Brian Wilson-influenced records ever made.  Similarly, The Parade’s “Sunshine Girl” and Yellow Balloon’s “Yellow Balloon” both from 1967 are still regarded as one-hit-wonder sunshine pop classics.  Sahanaja also included non-hit songs by more successful 1960s acts, such as Gary Lewis & The Playboys’ “Jill” (“one of my all time favorite West Coast pop records,” he says) and Lesley Gore’s “On A Day Like Today” (produced by Wrecking Crew saxman Steve Douglas).

Though Brian Wilson’s influence on the music of The Partridge Family may be less obvious, the made-for-TV group’s harmony-drenched obscurity “Let The Good Times In” perfectly fits within the spirit and the purpose of Sahanaja’s collection.  Memories of this song, which was featured in the TV series’ pilot episode but never released on record, lingered with Sahanaja, and when it was finally released on a Partridge compilation CD in 2005, it soon thereafter made its way into the Brian Wilson pre-show mix.  

Across The Pond
Like Cleveland, Ohio’s Eric Carmen (also represented by two tracks) England’s Roy Wood is an unquestioned Brian Wilson disciple who has recorded a wide stylistic range of music.  Sahanaja calls Wood’s “Why Does A Pretty Girl Sing Those Sad Songs” “so Beach Boys.”  Another featured track is “See My Baby Jive” – by Wood’s band Wizzard – which was a number one hit in Britain in 1972.

Two British Invasion-era bands make appearances among the track selections.  The Zombies are near and dear to Sahanaja’s heart.  “Care of Cell 44” comes from the band’s landmark Odessey & Oracle album.  When the four surviving members of The Zombies reunited in 2008 to perform the album in its entirety in London, Sahanaja was among the band’s supporting musicians, playing keyboards and contributing background vocals.

More surprising is the inclusion of a track by the generally harder-edged Kinks.  “Australia” comes from their 1969 rock opera Arthur.

“Well, they’re doing their homage to the Beach Boys there,” Sahanaja explains.  “They’re singing about Australia, which to the British is almost like an alternative summer paradise.  It was Ray Davies’ style to be a bit sarcastic and ironic.”

Cult favorites XTC are represented by two tracks (including one from their alter-ego Dukes of Stratosphere).  Another standout production is “Dear Brian” by one-time Alan Parsons Project vocalist Chris Rainbow.

Weird Science
One of the most recent tributes to Brian Wilson has been largely overlooked by fans, probably because it comes from such a highly unlikely source – Weird Al Yankovic.  “Pancreas” was featured on Yankovic’s 2006 album Straight Outta Lynwood.

“It is in no way a parody; it is a genuine tribute,” Sahanaja says.  “I think it’s genius.  It’s musically beautiful and it lyrically captures Brian in his most sincere form.  Weird Al is singing about an internal organ in the tradition of ‘Solar System’ or ‘Airplane’.”

Whether it’s the discovery of a buried album track by a popular artist such as The Kinks or Eric Carmen, the re-discovery of a not-played-anymore Top 40 hit from yesteryear (Henry Gross’ “Springtime Mama”), or exposure to brand spanking new Beach Boys/Brian Wilson-influenced works (such as 2008/2009 albums by Dennis Diken or The Explorers Club), the music mix created by Darian Sahanaja has successfully served to whet the pre-show appetite of fans who have seen Brian Wilson’s recent concert tours.  For some concert goers, this may have been a somewhat subliminal or even overlooked experience.  But whether it was appreciated “in the moment” or not, anyone who seeks nourishment from the life-affirming music exemplified by The Beach Boys should take the time to seek out and soak in these tracks.      

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