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The Influence of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, Vol. 1



Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys2Time and time again the phrase “Beatles-esque” appears in various reviews to describe the music. After all, The Beatles are the most influential band of all time, whether you’re a fan or not. But if there’s one other songwriter, whose influence is heard over and over again in other songwriters’ works, it’s Brian Wilson’s (of The Beach Boys; The Beatles’ friendly rivals). Even Beatles legend Paul McCartney has acknowledged the genius of Brian Wilson stating that the Pet Sounds album is one of the supreme masterpieces in music history, and that his all-time favorite song is Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows (off Pet Sounds). In regards to the genius of Brian Wilson and his painstaking perfectionism, Bob Dylan said that "He ought to donate that ear to the Smithsonian". The following list consists of notable songs that are overtly inspired by the songwriting and harmonies of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.


1.

Up Album Cover R.E.M2At My Most Beautiful by R.E.M.: At My Most Beautiful (from the 1998 album Up) is a charming ballad with a distinct/stylistically authentic Brian Wilson-esque arrangement, from trademark Beach Boys piano and harmonies to tambourine and a bouncy drum pattern. To some, it may veer dangerously close to pastiche, but anyone who knows how much this band sincerely loves The Beach Boys (not least guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills) will realize that this tribute is honest and heartfelt. Another song on Up that owes a debt to The Beach Boys is Parakeet.

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2.
XTC Nonsuch Album CoverHumble Daisy by XTC: Replete with a lush vocal/harmony arrangement that oozes warmth and a soulful sweetness, the tranquil Humble Daisy (from the excellent 1992 album Nonsuch) is ample evidence that main songwriter Andy Partridge is a huge fan of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. Another Beach Boys-influenced song that can be found on the album is the wistful, tambourine-adorned Wrapped In Grey. In terms of atmosphere this track is also slightly reminiscent of Bread (think If), whose main songwriter David Gates did some studio sessions with Brian Wilson in the 1960s. Bread’s beautiful ballad If, written by Gates, doesn’t feature Beach Boys-like harmony singing, but the song inhabits a similar melancholia and pensiveness as certain late ‘60s/early ‘70s Beach Boys ballads. 



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3.
Slow Dazzle John Cale3Mr. Wilson by John Cale: The Beach Boys’ sunny sound shines through in the lovely, laid-back chorus and the vocals/harmonies towards the end of the song. Interestingly enough, while this single -– off his 1975 LP Slow Dazzle –- is an obvious homage to one of Cale’s musical heroes, his delicate piano motif emulates Supertramp’s trademark sound (which in turn was very much inspired by the Beach Boys track All This Is That). To this day, Mr. Wilson remains one of the most engaging and charming tributes to the genius that is Brian Wilson.



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4.
Chris Rainbow Looking Over My Shoulder Album CoverDear Brian by Chris Rainbow: This Brian Wilson tribute by Scottish singer/songwriter Chris Rainbow (off his 1978 album Looking Over My Shoulder) is epic and ambitious, replete with soaring harmonies and the sound of crashing waves, very much in the spirit of The Beach Boys’ widely acclaimed genius. During the better part of a decade (the '80s) Chris Rainbow was hired as a lead vocalist for several songs written by Alan Parsons –- yet another musician, who’s paid homage to Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys (see next entrance).



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5.
Eye In The Sky Album Cover Alan Parsons ProjectGemini by The Alan Parsons Project: Underpinned by very light instrumentation, this track (from 1978’s Eye In The Sky album) features an exquisite, otherworldly choral arrangement worthy of Brian Wilson. The choice of song title makes sense when knowing the definition of this star sign. In astrology, one of the most dominant characteristics of a Gemini is versatility -- a quality that Brian Wilson, if anyone, possesses as a songwriter, producer and arranger. Also, people born when the sun was in this sign -– from May 22 to June 20 –- are considered Gemini individuals. Brian Wilson was born June 20. Chris Rainbow sings lead vocals (see above).



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6.
Elemental Album Cover Tears For FearsBrian Wilson Said by Tears For Fears: A Brian Wilson-inspired album track from Tears For Fears' 1993 Elemental album. Main songwriter and mastermind Roland Orzabel is a self-proclaimed Beatles fanatic, but he's also expressed a huge admiration for that band’s greatest albeit friendly rival, Brian Wilson. The piano, keyboard and harmonies pay respect to Brian Wilson, but as with John Cale’s homage, Roland Orzabel incorporates other influences, too, in the shape of an instrumental, jazzy passage. (In the mid-'80s Orzabel stated that jazz trumpet player Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain was one of his favorite albums.)



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7.
Tripsitter California Son Album CoverCalifornia Son by Tripsitter: California Son is a sweet homage to Brian Wilson. This title track off Tripsitter’s second album (from 2004) may not match the complexity of The Beach Boys’ music in their creative heyday (1966-1973), but it convincingly recreates the melodic sound, sun-soaked ambience and heart-warming, five-part harmonies of some of their best mid-/late '70s output. The end of the song references the last lines of the lyrics to The Beach Boys song When I Grow Up (To Be A Man): "Won't last forever / It's kinda sad / Won't last forever / It's kinda sad / Won't last forever."



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8.
Spilt Milk Album Cover Jellyfish2Hush and Sebrina, Paste And Plato and The Ghost At Number One by Jellyfish: All three of these tracks are featured on Jellyfish’s second  and last album, 1992’s vastly underrated Spilt Milk. Executed with an ear for detail, the exquisite, lullaby-like Hush is a 2:10 minutes a capella intro that recalls The Beach Boys' Smile-period. Sebrina, Paste And Plato is somewhat reminiscent of the hazy, lazy and carefree, sunny sound of early '70s Beach Boys albums like Sunflower and Surf’s Up (think endearing songs like Deidre and Disney Girls), only with modern, punchier production. The heavier The Ghost At Number One is an up-tempo, electric guitar-based song, which midway through transforms seamlessly into a slow passage of classic Beach Boys harmonies…before picking up again and ending on a charming note, a fade-out featuring a banjo and a Hawaii-sounding instrument (apparently a musical saw).



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9.
Sea Lion Album Cover The Ruby SunsRemember by The Ruby Suns: Essentially a project by California native/New Zealand-based musician Ryan McPhun, the only permanent band member. McPhun’s Beach Boys fascination could be heard in several songs on 2006’s debut album The Ruby Suns (most notably the acapella Trees Like Kids), but this particular track can be found on 2007’s Sea Lion. Tranquil and spaced out, Remember has all of the captivating qualities of The Beach Boys’ psychedelic period (1966-1967). Ryan McPhun is evidently impressed and positively inspired by Brian Wilson’s eclectic selection of instruments on Pet Sounds and his command of mood and atmosphere as a producer and arranger -– just listen to the lush soundscape of tambourine, brass, synths, samples and sun-laced, elaborate layers of looped vocal harmonies.



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10.
Five Roses Album Cover Miracle FortressLittle Trees by Miracle Fortress: This song off Miracle Fortress’ first album, 2007’s Five Roses, brings to mind late '60s/post-Pet Sounds The Beach Boys, when the band’s commercial clout was fading fast (even if some of these albums -– quite understandably -– became favorites among Beach Boys aficionados). Less polished than pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, this production has more of a raw/funky edge to it in a similar vein to 1967’s Wild Honey. Compared to the majority of all other Brian Wilson tributes, it’s also a more modern Power Pop take on The Beach Boys sound.



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11.
Hawaii Album Cover The High LlamasNomads and Sparkle Up by The High Llamas: A bit of a genius in his own right, Irish singer and musician Sean O’Hagan, the mastermind of The High Llamas, is undoubtedly the most ardent advocate of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. Over the course of 19 years and nine official albums (to date), Sean O’Hagan has drawn inspiration from such late '60s/early '70s Beach Boys LPs as Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends, Sunflower, and Surf’s Up. These two tracks are from The High Llamas album Hawaii (released in 1996) and among Sean O’Hagan’s best work. Nomads wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Friends or Sunflower, with its blissful vibe and choice of instruments, ranging from tambourine and banjo to trumpet (possibly a flugelhorn). Sparkle Up is an instrumental number, which in many regards recalls Let’s Go Away For Awhile. Instruments include banjo, brass, and –- as on the Pet Sounds track –- a theremin.



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12.
My Morning Jacket Circuital Album CoverThe Day Is Coming by My Morning Jacket: Possibly inspired by – or an unofficial sequel to – I’m Waiting For The Day off Pet Sounds, this song (from 2011's Circuital album) is quite irresistible with its lovely, melodic melody, inspirational lyrics and characteristic Beach Boys piano motif. The heart-wrenching harmonies towards the end of the song successfully emulate Brian Wilson’s touchingly yearning vocals on Pet Sounds (think I’m Waiting For The Day, Caroline, No), and songs like ‘Til I Die (from 1971’s Surf’s Up).



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Also see The Influence of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, Vol. 2

 

 

Posted by Thomas Thomsen on Saturday, December 29, 2012
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