Admin Post I just finished watching a DVD about Brian Wilson’s songwriting from ‘62 - ‘69. There is also another, parallel program which details his work from ‘70 - ‘82, which I have also seen, on Amazon Prime video. My interest in Pop/Rock Music seems to be centered on the early ‘60s, probably stemming from hearing this music when it was Top 40 material, while tagging along with my older sister. So I heard Duane Eddy, The Ventures, the various Instrumental Surf songs, Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys in real time. Even then, I felt I was hearing something special whenever The Beach Boys came on the radio and have admired their music ever since. Brian Wilson was, of course, the creative genius behind much of The Beach Boys music, and I have spent no small number of hours learning about him and his various creative endeavors. Quite simply, the man is a musical genius whom may well be considered on par with the great classical masters such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, as history unfolds. The Pop/Rock music of the late ‘50s consisted chiefly of two patterns, the 12 bar Blues and the circle of 6ths (C, Am, F, G7). There was nothing wrong with this, a lot can be done with these sets of changes and we still see them used frequently, even all these years later. But Brian Wilson came up with something much more harmonically complex and created vocal arrangements which had been influenced by the Jazz-based harmonies of The Four Freshmen and then he did something amazing; he managed to meld these advanced harmonies into the rock n’ roll feel of the times; The Four Freshmen meet Chuck Berry, and it worked. The Beach Boys delivered something unique; a form of music which celebrated the lifestyle of southern California and packaged it in two forms; the Surfer subculture, which was far out of reach for most American youth, but they also had a car song as the flip side of most of their singles. Surfer Girl, no small accomplishment in an of itself, had a flip side of Little Deuce Coupe which added relevance for those of us in the landlocked midwest. This was some very smart marketing, to say the least. Beyond that, it provided a sense of identity for members of their target audience. Most of us didn’t have the beaches of coastal California, but young men were hopping up old cars and dreaming about new performance cars pretty much across the US and the Beach Boys gave them entree into the hippest of youth cultures by providing something relatable for the mass of the youth market. But then Brian Wilson began to grow up and wanted to write about more than the standard sun, fun, cars and going steady world of his earlier work. After leaving behind the world of touring in late 1964, Wilson concentrated on composing, producing and recording, having the rest of The Beach Boys record their vocal tracks between tours. The music became more sophisticated and Wilson took the world of youth-market music to new heights, with regard to innovative chord changes. The mid ‘60s music of The Beach Boys stood on par with just about anything that had come before. It was compositionally quite sophisticated. At the same time, Wilson began to rely almost completely on session musicians, many of whom had extensive knowledge and experience in playing Jazz and improvising a coherent solo on the fly. It is my belief that the contributions of the Wrecking Crew made a huge contribution to the overall quality of the completed product. Wilson was the creative genius, but one of his best choices was to use musicians whom could do justice to his compositions and make a meaningful contribution to the process. With all of this in mind, there is still one glaring fact and that is simply that Brian Wilson had a rare ability to create complex and satisfying arrangements in his head; his sense of harmony was flawless. Beyond that, he had unique ideas involving the use of instruments. In an era when the accordion was all but synonymous with being musically irrelevant, Wilson was using them in hit songs, and no one seemed to mind in the slightest. His musical imagination was vast, perhaps even unbounded, combining instruments no one had ever imagined in a rock n’ roll song with vocals that harkened back to the Jazz era and a beat that pounded away unrelentingly. It doesn’t hurt in the slightest that Wilson frequently used Hal Blaine, one of the best session drummers in history, but then again, recognizing talent in others is a talent unto itself. As most people are aware, Wilson descended into a period of inertia and mental health issues as The Beach Boys heyday drew to a close. Much has been made of this with legends of eccentric, even bizarre behavior making the rounds. Brian Wilson himself has stated that he feels his drug experimentation played a role in this. My personal opinion is that the same fertile mind which could create complex and intricate arrangements and which allowed Wilson to “hear” these in his head, probably became so saturated and sensitive that he fell victim to auditory hallucinations and obsessions with fleeting thoughts which would have hardly reached the level of conscious recognition in a less fertile mind. Years of therapy and medication marked Wilson’s life in the seventies and eighties, but he seemed to regain a great deal of his equilibrium later on and, happily, has returned to the world of both creating and performing music. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of all this is the fact that Wilson’s music has not only stood the test of time, but is actually more appreciated now than ever. What seemed like fun little songs about Surfing and Hot Rods at the time are now seen as significant works in their own right. Perhaps my favorite of all Wilson’s compositions is one that remains relatively obscure. Written the night that John Kennedy was assassinated, “The Warmth of the Sun” strikes me as a creative tour de force. It starts, simply enough, with a I VI change in 6/8, like countless ‘50s ballads. Then, instead of proceeding to the IV, it changes tone centers up a minor 3rd and does another I VI change. Then it makes a somewhat unforeseen, but completely logical move up to Dm7 for two measures, a measure of G7 and the 8th measure is a G7+. (C / / C / / Am / / Am / / Eb / / Eb / / Cm / / Cm / / Dm7 / / Dm7 / / Dm7 / / Dm7 / / G7 / / G7 / / G7+ / / G7+ / /) If I ever had the opportunity to speak to Brian Wilson, I would ask him if he consciously used a b5 move in the third measure, or if he just thought that it sounded good to move to Eb, at that point. The refrain is equally as inventive. He starts with a parallel move, the parallel Major of the relative minor (A Maj) and then deftly transitions his way back to a sequence which will lead logically back to the C Maj at the beginning of the third verse. (A Maj / / A Maj / / A Maj 7 / / A Maj 7 / / Am7 / / Am7 / / D7 / / D7 / / G Maj 7 / / G Maj 7 / / G Maj 7 / / G Maj 7 / / G7 / / G7 / / G7+ / / G7+ / /) The vocal harmonies are straight out of The Four Freshmen’s approach and what starts with a musical cliché from countless ‘50s teen ballads ends up as a harmonically sophisticated exercise in parallelism which would have done any jazz composer proud. It’s one of the most musically satisfying pieces I’ve ever played. I can’t think of a better point to stop my little dissertation. Through all the twists and turns of his life story, Brian Wilson is at his very root a composer of great depth and versatility and he has gifted us with music of lasting significance.