20 years ago I did a sitdown interview with Brian Wilson and then-fiance Melinda Ledbetter during the 1995 Sundance Film Festival. We were supposed to talk about Don Was‘s documentary about Wilson, I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, which was having its big premiere up there, but we went all over. I remember telling Wilson that I always loved the reverb guitar-and-keyboard intro for ““The Little Girl I Once Once Knew,” and he quickly agreed. (That same year he told a British interviewer that “the intro is the only good part of it.”) I then told Wilson how I once tried to learn to play the intro on keyboard but I couldn’t “hear” the separate harmonized notes in my head. Wilson responded with disappointment and even a lack of patience — “You couldn’t figure that out?” That’s how geniuses are. When the stars are aligned they can swoop right in and solve any riddle, and if they’re in any kind of mood people who lack their gift can seem…I don’t know, tedious?
I’m presuming that a lot of people are going to be re-sampling Beach Boys music this weekend after seeing Love & Mercy. The default iTunes downloads will be Pet Sounds and The Smile Sessions, of course, but during last night’s cab ride from LAX I decided to buy a few songs from The Beach Boys Today!, which was recorded a little more than a year before Pet Sounds. Today! is occasionally experimental and in some ways a kind of Pet Sounds forerunner. It contains similar elements — sophisticated off-rhythms and swirling harmonies, a feeling of sadness and vulnerability in the lyrics, that symphonic white soul thing — that Wilson built upon and made into something extra with Pet Sounds. The track that knocked me out was “Kiss Me Baby.” It’s not so much a love song as a “we almost broke up last night so let’s not get that close to Armageddon again!” song. The melody is a bit on the plain and familiar side, but the lyrics are so child-like and emotionally arrested…an immature boy-lover recovering from nearly losing his mommy-lover: “Please don’t let me argue any more…I won’t make you worried like before…can’t remember what we fought about…late, late last night we said it was over,” etc. But when the chorus kicks in the harmonies and the general meltdown sound of this song are just amazing. This was Wilson’s unique realm — he made it sound just so, and with such exquisite balance and texture.
This instrumental track for “Let Him Run Wild” is also interesting for its resemblance to the instrumental Pet Sounds Sessions tracks.