Album Reviews

Various Artists: Here Today! The Songs of Brian Wilson (Ace Records)

heretoday

Various Artists
Here Today! The Songs Of Brian Wilson
Ace Records

A decade ago, Ace Records released an excellent compilation, entitled Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions. The collection documented many of the uber-rare, unheard-by-most Brian Wilson songs that were given to others or written for others. It was an excellent, essential collection, and that collection—from which we took a handful of songs for our tribute to The Beach Boys last month—is the only collection to find some of those rarities. Now they’re back with a follow-up collection entitled Here Today! The Songs Of Brian Wilson, and it is equally an essential listen. Here Today is a little different from Pet Projects in that it features both Wilson productions and compositions for others and covers of previously released Beach Boys numbers

The covers outnumber the original productions, though, and are occasionally a bit of a mixed bag. Bruce & Terry’s cover of “Help Me Rhonda” surprisingly falls flat, considering both Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher’s involvement within the Beach Boys’ circle. The Tymes’ cover of “Surf City” is okay, but pales to the original. The less said about The Tokens’ offering, the better; an egregious rewrite of “Don’t Worry Baby” ruins what would be an otherwise fine performance. And as for Hugo Montenegro’s fascinating take on “Good Vibrations,” replete with a whistler replacing the iconic theremin part, is either brilliant or terrible, depending on your point of view. We loved it, but we realize not everyone might share that sentiment. Making up for those deficiencies are The Surfaris’ “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister,” one of their catchiest performances outside of “Wipe Out,” while Peggy March’s version of Wild Honey album cut “Aren’t You Glad” proves that even Brian’s lesser numbers could transform into high quality Burt Bacharach-style pop hits, given the right voice.

Pet Sounds is the album most interpreted here.  Bobby Vee’s cover of “Here Today” is fine, but his vocal range is nothing like Mike Love’s, and the arrangement is not nearly as grand as the Pet Sounds, though it isn’t completely without orchestration. His cover aside, these songs take on a wonderful new depth in the hands of others. Carmen McRae’s “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulders)” turns that ethereal number into a gorgeously orchestrated torch song, while “God Only Knows” is given an R&B makeover by Betty Everett, and what it lacks in harmonies, it makes for in groove. Studio arranger Nick DeCaro turns “Caroline No” into a dark, melancholic piano ballad. His arrangement is sparse and atmospheric, and turn it into something completely new. Louis Philippe’s indie-pop update of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” gives it a contemporary update, turning it into a unique dance number. Kirsty MacColl’s version of “You Still Believe In Me” closes the set, and is one of her finest covers, bar none.

Interestingly, the rest of Here Today offers up some curious rarities. The future Three Dog Night leader Danny Hutton offers two songs under two different names. The first is a take on early Brian Wilson number “Farmer’s Daughter” under the amusing name Basil Swift & The Seegrams. It’s catchy, and there’s some question as to whether Nik Venet or Brian produced the number. Then there’s “Time To Get Alone” by Redwood, who would shortly change their name and go on to international success. Two songs featured on Pet Projects are offered here in different versions, and better them, even though those versions were already excellent; “She Rides With Me” is credited to Joey & The Continentals, and sounds like a Beach Boys hit that got away—a vast improvement over the Paul Petersen version, while “Guess I’m Dumb,” best known as a Glen Campbell song, is less sappy and more upbeat, performed in a style not unlike The Walker Brothers. Also worth noting is the rarely heard Jay & The Americas version of “Things Are Changing (For The Better),” a public service announcement that would be rewritten as “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister.”

But the biggest surprise of all comes in the form of a cover of “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” This version was performed by an eleven year old boy whose father brought to Hollywood in hopes of making him a teen idol. Meeting up with Wilson’s partner-in-crime Gary Usher and employing members of The Wrecking Crew, their cover was fine, upbeat, and not unlike what would soon come with The Jackson 5. However, as these things happen, the pop career didn’t work out, and thus ended the lad’s shot at pop stardom. That would be the end of the story were it not for the fact that this young man, Keith Green, would shortly turn his back on the rock and roll world, becoming a Christian folk singer and in his short career he became one of the founding fathers of the CCM movement.

There’s a lot to love on Here Today—even the lesser numbers have their charm. This is one of the finest Brian Wilson-themed compilations out there, and it’s certainly worth tracking down. Here’s hoping that Ace doesn’t take another twelve years for a follow-up comp!

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