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The Songs of Brian Wilson
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It's hard to believe 12 years have passed since Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions, one of Ace's first releases in their much-admired Producers series. Not before time, Wilson now joins such greats as Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Goffin & King, Dan Penn, Bacharach & David, Jackie DeShannon and Serge Gainsbourg in their equally high profile Songwriters series. The collection opens with 'Do You Have Any Regrets?' by Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints, a rare composition from Wilson's unissued Sweet Insanity album of the early 90s. While Wilson's version was a rather frantic latin-styled piece, Sahanaja's recording is an homage to the 1965-era Beach Boys. Along with collectable tracks by Johnny Wells, Basil Swift, the Castells, Joey & the Continentals, Keith Green and Peggy March, Sahanaja's luxuriant cover makes its legit CD debut here. Other highlights include heavenly versions of songs from the Beach Boys' masterpiece Pet Sounds by Kirsty MacColl, Carmen McRae, Nick DeCaro, Betty Everett, Bobby Vee and Louis Philippe. Those who own a copy of Kirsty MacColl's harmony-drenched 'You Still Believe In Me' single might have noticed a message etched into the run-off groove: God Bless Brian, an emotion seconded by all lovers of great music. Compilation and notes by Kingsley Abbott, Mick Patrick and Harvey Williams.
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Jan & Dean "New Girl in School" (1964) #26
The Hondells "My Buddy Seat" ('64-65) #61
The Tokens "Don't Worry Baby" (1970) #71
Hugo Montenegro "Good Vibrations" (1969) #87
Bobby Vee "Here Today" (1966) #122
My top 13 (out of 25 total tracks), which includes "New Girl in School," "Don't Worry Baby" and "Here Today" (listed above) -
The Surfaris "Don't Hurt My Little Sister" (1965)
Keith Green "Girl Don't Tell Me" (1965)
Bruce & Terry (Bruce Johnston & Terry Melcher) "Help Me Rhonda" (1965/unissued until 1998)
Johnny Wells "Guess I'm Dumb" (UK/1967)
Carmen McRae "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" (1967)
Nick DeCaro "Caroline, No" (1968)
Little Peggy March "Aren't You Glad?" (1968)
Betty Everett "God Only Knows" (1975)
Kirsty MacColl "You Still Believe in Me" (1981)
Darian Sahanaja "Do You Have Any Regrets?" (1994)
Of the above ten, a trio of women (Carmen McRae, Betty Everett and Kirsty MacColl) rule. Jazz chanteuse Carmen McRae's recording of "Don't Talk" - produced in London by Johnny Keating, replete with theremin - is a near masterpiece among Brian Wilson/Beach Boys cover versions. Betty Everett's Gene-and-Billy-Page-produced "God Only Knows" is an emphatically soulful mid-'70s take on the classic tune. And Kirsty MacColl's "You Still Believe in Me" qualifies as an outright masterpiece, taking into account all aspects of the multi-layered production supporting her magnificent, deeply connected reading of the poignant "Pet Sounds" ballad from fifteen years earlier.
The problem with this compilation, though, involves the other twelve tracks which do not make my cut. Most of them are concentrated in the middle of the disc, creating kind of a doughnut effect. Tracks 11 through 17 take the inconsequentiality cake, with Jay & the Americans' "Things Are Changing" (a Bob Dylan rip-off title) hitting rock bottom (in more ways than one). It's actually a bizarre piece of Phil Spector-produced propaganda (in the form of an extended public service announcement) urging poor minority kids to go out and get jobs which were supposedly so plentiful. This is an even preachier and more dumbed-down quasi sequel to Jay & the Americans' jingoistic 1963 hit that proclaimed, "Only in America, land of opportunity..." This feels like the longest 2:50 ever captured on vinyl and would appear to be here only as a sop to completists.
(Incidentally, a suddenly distracted Homer Simpson stopped reading this review following my "doughnut" and "cake" references.)
As usual, one can trust Ace Records to provide the best sound mastering possible, along with a deluxe 20-page full-color booklet chock-full of eye-popping realia and comprehensive liner notes covering each track and artist.
The effort is here - and there is very little I had ever heard before - but getting through a dozen of the lesser tracks (just about half) felt like a bit of a slog.