ARCHIVES: Why I like Brian Wilson

This Franorama World post was from my MySpace blog July 16, 2008, 1:54 a.m. PDT:

Ha — Gotcha. Thought I was talking about the Brian Wilson, huh? (And if you know me, you know what I think of the Brian …)

Well, the All-Star game was played (and played and played and …) last night at the Stadium (AL 4, NL 3, 15 innings), and the San Francisco Giants’ closer, Brian Wilson, pitched to two batters in the eighth inning. (He’s already saved 25 games for a team that, I think, has only won 26 games so far. Just kidding — barely …)

A year ago, Brian was in the bullpen for the Giants’ Triple-A farm club, the Fresno Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have made a tradition of wearing special one-off game uniforms several times a year and auctioning off the jerseys, and I have several of these sometimes-outlandish things. Anyway, last year, one of the special unis was a rather nondescript one for the team’s Jr. Grizzlies program — light blue uni with green pinstripes and light blue numbers. I decided to bid on the No. 20 of Brian Wilson (who wears 38 in SF). Why? Just to say I had a Brian Wilson baseball jersey — just like I can say I once got a base hit off Joe Namath. (It was in a charity softball game when I was at my last newspaper — and I damn near killed poor Joe with a line drive at head level through the box.)

So anyway, because the unis were kinda dull and because Brian was pretty new to the club and relatively unknown, I got his shirt for a reasonably good price as far as sports unis go. After winning the shirt, I came down to the field to pay for it; there, you meet the player, who signs the jersey for you.

Brian’s a young guy, kind of a Cali dude-looking guy with a soul patch. I shook his hand and told him, “Now I can now say I’ve met both Brian Wilsons.” (I met the Brian at Mohegan Sun after soundcheck on his 58th birthday, 6/20/2000. Very perfunctory — quick handshake — “Hi Brian. Happy birthday.” “Thank you very much.”)

“Oh,” the young pitcher said, “you’ve met the classic Brian Wilson.”

“The classic Brian Wilson.” Not “the old Brian Wilson” or “that Beach Boys guy” or “the crazy Brian Wilson” — “the classic Brian Wilson.”

Great, great choice of words.

And the future classic Brian Wilson won himself a fan that night.

Speaking of the classic Brian Wilson, I got an email from my old Ct. pal Jonny Swing yesterday. He was going to see Brian play last night at the Calvin Theater in Northampton. Tonight (Wed. 7/16), he’s at the refurbished gem of northwest Connecticut, the Warner Theater in Torrington. And I saw yesterday on the Daily News Web site that he’s playing a free show tomorrow night in Brooklyn. Damn! Double damn!! Triple damn, even!!! And then Jonny Swing emailed me back to tell me a friend had bagged the Northampton show and had two extra tickets. And me on the wrong coast. Who the hell ever thought being in California would mean being on the wrong coast for a Brian Wilson concert? Quadruple damn!!!!

Oh well, I guess I’ll have to save (lots of) my pennies and see him with the L.A. Philharmonic the second weekend of September at the Hollywood Bowl (Sept. 12-14). By then, “That Lucky Old Sun,” his new album, will be out …

UPDATE 11/2/10: I never thought a 2-year-old blog post would get so much traffic, but I guess that’s what happens when you grow the damndest beard since the House of David — or at least Bruce Sutter or Jeff Reardon — become one of the game’s most dominant closers, make the World Series, then pitch the final inning and strike out the last batter, as he did last night. Lots of hits on “Why I like Brian Wilson” this past week. And for him, like the rest of the Giants and their oft-tortured fans, I’m happy.

All I know is that another couple of seasons or so like these past two and I’ll stop calling him “The Future Classic Brian Wilson” and start calling him either “The Baseball Classic Brian Wilson” or “The Classic Brian Wilson 2.”

Hey, baby — it’s the Fourth of July!And since I have Dave Alvin’s tune of the same name running through my head, as well as Springsteen’s “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” (and did you hear that God finally busted Madam Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than he does?) — well, I don’t know what the opposite of a Hot Stove League is (the Cold Pool League?), but I figure if I post a jukebox full of tunes — 100 of them — that either have something to do with summer or have been part of my personal summer soundtrack, then you can 1) make a pretty good mixdisc/mixtape/mixpod; 2) say “Wow — cool music”; 3) scrunch up your face and say “What the fuck were you thinking?”; or 4) all of the above.Despite my boyhood affinity for The Beach Boys (and eternal affinity for Brian Wilson), there’s little Beach Boys here, and no surf (I’m not a surfer — tried twice as a teenager at Narragansett and failed horribly — and the genre is a year-round thing for me, like anything else). But I guarantee Thrills! Spills! Surprises! You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll hurl!

I’ll start with the two aforementioned songs in the spirit of the holiday, then the rest in no particular order. Commentary when I feel like it:

4th of July — Dave Alvin/X: Dave was playing with X at the time, and both his solo version and X’s rendition came out around the same time (’86).
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) — Bruce Springsteen: Hey, Sandy girl … with the recently departed Danny Federici on accordion.
No Surf in Cleveland — Euclid Beach Band: An obscure 1978 Beach Boys-inspired gem by a Cleveland group that included a couple members of Eric Carmen’s post-Raspberries band.
I Live for Cars and Girls — The Dictators: Another Beach Boys-inspired tune (from a bunch o’guys from Da Bronx) and an underrated but very pivotal tune in rock history. Why? Because it inspired three guys from Cheshire, Ct. (the snotty little town next to where I grew up) — John Holmstrom, Eddie “Legs” McNeil and Ged Dunn — to go to NYC and start a magazine so they could get free records and free drinks and hang out with their favorite bands in the Lower East Side scene — like The Dictators. The magazine was called Punk.
Long Hot Summer — The Style Council: From Paul Weller’s first flush of glory after The Jam, in the summer of ’83 — languid, beaty, sultry, simmering, pavement-steaming and soulful.
The Paris Match — The Style Council:
From the same period. But instead of steaming pavement, we got breezy, rainy Parisian streets — but just as much sultriness, only with French accordion.
Dancing in the Streets — Martha & the Vandellas: Miss Reeves’ hits were the most electric of the Motown female singers.They were blazing. I can just picture in my mind how this song sounded coming out of an AM radio on the stoop of a building on a hot day in the ’60s. Same goes for Heat Wave, Wild One and I’m Ready for Love (the song whose bassline The Jam nicked for Town Called Malice).
Summertime, Sitting in the Park
and Secret Love — Billy Stewart: Stewart isn’t remembered the way he should be because he died so long ago and so relatively young (1970, in his early 30s). But his ballads were sweet (NRBQ’s version of “Sitting in the Park” is wonderful, too) and his uptempo songs were just sooooo over the top. He torched the “Porgy and Bess” classic “Summertime” in 1966 and later did the same, with more of a breezy, drive-with-the-windows-down summer feel, to what was a hit ballad for Doris Day, “Secret Love.” The man was a force of nature.
Give Me Just a Little More Time — The Chairmen of the Board: The national anthem of the Carolinas beach music scene. The lead Chairman, General Johnson, shows up a few times here.
Ms. Grace — The Tymes:
Another beach classic, from 1974 (from the same album as the bigger hit “You Little Trustmaker”), a finger-popper and head-snapper is there ever was one, and SO achingly soulful.
Summertime’s Calling Me — The Catalinas:
Another beach music anthem, a very breezy tune. I’m gonna sit there in the sand/watch those golden tans go walking by.
Summer Breeze — Seals & Crofts: Gentle, sweet, calming and of a certain time period (an age of denim and bliss — and, OK, Nixon … such a killjoy I am). No one could get away with recording that song now because it was so early-’70s.
Summer Breeze — The Isley Brothers: But the Isleys put a great soulful and equally blissful spin on it later in the ’70s.
Cape Cod — Patti Page: Despite going there for a week every year for about 10 years, I could never quite find the quaint Cape Cod that Patti Page sang about so wonderfully in 1954. Too much traffic on Route 6, I guess. But it’s still a great escape.
Rockaway Beach — Ramones: From the first Ramones album I ever owned,. “Rocket to Russia.” That and their version of “Do You Wanna Dance?” sealed them for me as a 16-year-old.
Rockaway Beach — The Godchildren of Soul (w/Joey Ramone & General Johnson): You need to hear this 1994 version. The Godchildren were a studio project of producer Steve Greenberg, who did a lot of mixing of rhythms, beats styles and cameos. The highlight of the “Anyone Can Join” album was this beach music version of “Rockaway Beach” pairing Joey with General Johnson. Total bliss.
Oh Oh, I Love Her So — Ramones: From meeting her at the Burger King to going down to Coney Island, on the coaster and around again … an innocent lovey-dovey pop song with rapid-fire chords.
It’s OK — The Beach Boys: From their comeback, “15 Big Ones,” in the summer of ’76.
Surf’s Up — The Beach Boys:
The most beautiful thing Brian ever wrote, even if Van Dyke Parks’ lyrics were stream-of-consciousness. The piano, the falsetto soaring and the colonnaded ruins dominoed. A “Smile” gem that becae the title tune to a lesser 1971 album.
409 — The Beach Boys: The song that made me a Beach Boys fan, late one steamy summer night in 1976, sleeping in the cool cellar with the radio on.
I Can Hear Music — The Beach Boys: Carl does Phil Spector; a cover of a Ronettes hit that, for some reason, has never come out on CD (the Ronettes version, that is).
Don’t Back Down — The Beach Boys: Probably described the surfer attitude better than any of Brian’s other surf hits.
Don’t Back Down — The Queers: A fun remake and title cut to a mid-90s album by a legendary Ramones-inspired punk trio from Portsmouth, N.H. The rest of the album’s fun, too.
Bertha — The Grateful Dead:
These are places that are gone — it reminds me of my first visit to my favorite beach, the Narragansett Town Beach, in the summer of ’77 — and my first time surfing. My boyhood friend Rick Moisan, who had his own short board, took me along with him, and “Skull & Roses” was one of the tapes I pulled out to play while breezing along 95 that Saturday morning. I never did get the hang of surfing, Rick was taken away much too young 3 1/2 years ago — and I need to go back to Gansett at some point when I go home.
Do You Believe in Magic? — The Lovin’ Spoonful
The Golden Age of Leather — Blue Oyster Cult:
Raise your can of beer on high. From my favorite BOC album, “Spectres.” Why this song? It had the vibe of a bunch of guys in the ’70s hanging out at their cars, cranking the stereo and popping down cold ones from chilled, gold-colored aluminim cans.
Wild Summer Nights — Beaver Brown: The original, pre-“Eddie & the Cruisers” single version from ’79, when John Cafferty’s crew was just a very popular, very Springsteen-sounding bar band from Narragansett. And the original had a hot rod peeling out. And the picture sleeve had a nighttime beach scene with a woody, a surfboard, empties of Narragansett Beer — and the Rolling Stone with Brian Wilson in his robe on the cover. How can you lose?
American Beat ’84 — The Fleshtones: My personal national anthem from my favorite band. The theme to my radio show on WPKN for 13 years. Can you hear the American sound? When I roll down the windows, you can!
Ariel — Dean Friedman:
That geeky pop hit from the summer of ’77. Something about the cute girl and making love to bombs bursting in air in the days when Channel 2 would sign off the air.
A Summer Song — Chad & Jeremy: Just plain sweet.
Castles in the Sand — Stevie Wonder:
Wonderful bongo rhythm and soaring strings. (And let’snot forget the seagulls) It’s a song of sad wistfulness, about how all good things must come to an end, and how it’s all as firm as castles in the sand. In my mind, it’s a song for about 6 p.m. on a day in late August — the day’s almost over, the summer’s almost over.
A Roller Skating Jam Called Saturdays — De La Soul: Just a great hip-hop beat and scratches and soul hooks geared to a summer afternoon in NYC.
Genius of Love — Tom Tom Club: Bless you, Chris and Tina.
Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love — Van Halen: Read a Rolling Stone piece about 25 years back about fave summer tunes, and this was on Joey Ramone’s list. And if it was good enough for Joey … Hey, it was the most explosive song on VH’s best album (yes, they never got better than that first album).
The Message — Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five: Why? A hot Saturday morning in the summer of ’82, staying over at a loft a college friend was renting in TriBeCa, and I took his keys to drive one of his friends back to Queens. Running low on gas heading back through Brooklyn — oh shit! Left my license and my money in Manhattan. And I’m lost. Pulled into an Amoco with the only 37 cents I had to put some fumes in the tank. The attendant, a Jamaican guy, was kind enough to make it a buck’s worth. I thanked him, shook his hand, and got back across the bridge. And I heard this groundbreaking hip-hop track for the first time on the radio between the gas station and the loft. That’s why.
Go All the Way — The Raspberries: A classic roll-down-the-windows pop-rock gem.
That Summer Feelin’ — Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers: Wistful, nostalgic and one of the best descriptive songs of summer ever. And that summer feelin’s gonna haunt you the rest of your life.
Roadrunner — The Modern Lovers:
When I worked nights in sportswriting in the ’80s, I spent a lot of time driving around aimlessly on highways late at night in the summer, in the dark, windows down — with the radio on. This is the late-night driving song.
Summer in the City — The Lovin’ Spoonful:
That jackhammer.
Fistfight at the Beach — The Reducers:
The pride of New London, Ct., now together 30 years. Another great descriptive song of summer.
Let’s Go — The Reducers:
An anthem of escapism. Hell, an anthem, period.
The Summer Wind — Frank Sinatra:
These Early Days — Everything But the Girl: A breezy bit of summer from Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt in the summer of ’88. The big surprise was the ending guitar lick lifted straight from the next song:
Ridin’ in My Car — NRBQ: In my formative years, you couldn’t go a day in Connecticut without hearing this song on an FM rock station. One of the most infectious pop tunes ever. Al Anderson’s ode to a lost love is as young and bouncy as it was in the summer of ’75, even if none of us are anymore.
Celebrated Summer — Husker Du: From my favorite Huskers album, “New Day Rising.”
Cruel Summer — Bananarama We’re Acting Like Lovers — The Spellbinders: From 1966. One of the first beach music songs I glommed onto, in the summer of ’83. Breezy, shuffling guitar sound, muted trumpets, fine, feathery falsettos and stirring strings.
Thunder Road — Bruce Springsteen: The screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves/like a vision, she dances across the porch as the radio plays/Roy Orbison singing for the lonely. Then the ride begins.
Theme From “A Summer Place” — Percy Faith:
Though sometime, you have to find a yard-sale copy of the “Love Bomb” album by The Tubes and listen to “Theme From a Wooly Place.” One stereo channel plays “Theme From A Summer Place,” the other channel plays “Wooly Bully.” Sick.
Summertime, Summertime — The Jamies:
Almost left it off because of its Red Sux connection. One of the co-writers was the late Sherm Feller, the longtime public-address announcer at Fenway — and one of the dullest announcers to ever sit behind a mic. But memorable music triumphs above most.
Palisades Park — Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon: The roller coasters! The screams! Written by “Chucky Baby!” Barris.
School Is Out — Gary U.S. Bonds: “Quarter to Three” was a classic, but how can you a resist a song with the line “I can root for the Yankees from the bleachers”?
That Lady — The Isley Brothers:
When I was a teenager and first heard this most electric of ’70s soul tunes, I envisioned myself in California, driving down I-5 in the summertime and cranking this tune. You know I’ve been out here over four years and still haven’t cranked this song on I-5?
Girls in Their Summer Clothes — Bruce Springsteen
Be My Baby — The Ronette
Jamaica — Cat Stevens: From the “Izitso” album, summer ’77. Reminds me of a class trip to Newport and an afternoon on the beach.
Find Out in Time — Poco: From the “Indian Summer’ album — same story as Cat Stevens.
Summerfling — k.d. lang: The highlight of her “Invincible Summer” album. Those stirring, spiraling strings, it was just so upbeat, so sunshine, so summer — even if we don’t know how to run on the beach with Kennedy flair.
Constant Craving — k.d. lang:
I used to play this a lot at cocktail hour when I DJed weddings (many in the summer) in the ’90s and early ’00s.
Crystal Blue Persuasion — Tommy James & the Shondells: Classic.
Draggin’ the Line — Tommy James:
One of my favorite traveling tunes from the first summer I really got into music, 1971.
I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All — The Fifth Dimension:
One bright spot out of a shitty summer of ’72. That was the summer some of my relatives in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., were flooded out of their homes, and we went down to help out. You haven’t lived until you’ve smelled flood muck.
Feel Like Making Love — Roberta Flack:
I know it’s about winter turning to spring, but I first heard it in the summer of ’74 — and it’s very romantic.
Until You Come Back to Me — Aretha Franklin:
Beautiful ballad, summer ’73 — and that backing gospel-sounding choir. Actually written and originally recorded by Stevie Wonder.
Harlem — Aretha Franklin: Another car radio gem from the summer of ’71. It reminds me of that time period of New York (and Afros).And again with the chorus.
Summer Love and When I Feel This Way — APB: My favorite Scottish punk-funksters got a little breezy on some of their later singles in the mid-to-late ’80s. “When I Feel This Way” was light as well as lively, but “Summer Love,” had a heavy, driving, fuzzed bass.
Up the Ladder to the Roof — The Supremes: One of their first big ones after Diana left.
Stoned Out of My Mind — The Chi-Lites
Up on the Roof and Under the Boardwalk — The Drifters
— One extreme to another.
Lonely Island — Sam Cooke: The B-side of Sam’s second secular single,”You Were Made for Me” (and one of the batch of old 45s my father gave me when I was 9). Loneliness in the summertime in the big city. Doo-waaaaa, do-waaaaaa, do-waaaaaaa.
96 Degrees in the Shade and Try Jah Love — Third World: The first was in my summer list long before Imoved to Fresno, where it’s always 96 degrees in the shade, at the very least. The latter was from the summer of ’82, one of my favorite songs of the ’80s. Stevie Wonder co-wrote both.
Is This Love? — Bob Marley & the Wailers
I Shot the Sheriff — Eric Clapton:
His was the version I heard first, summer ’74.
Paper Mache — Dionne Warwick
and Hands Off the Man (Flim-Flam Man) — Barbra Streisand: Two tunes from when I was 9, trapped in the backyard playing with my cars, with Mom cranking her old-folks’ station while getting a tan. “Paper Mache” was one of the underrated Burt Bacharach gems, and I’m glad Rhino included it on the box set. “Flim Flam Man” was one of the great Laura Nyro-written tunes on the “Stoney End” album.
Wild in the Streets — Garland Jeffreys:
Another period piece of early-’70s New York, a smoldering, then exploding tune by a guy who knows what he’s writing about.
Brother Louie — Stories: Why? It’s another smoldering song that reminds me of a blistering early-’70s New York summer (in this case, ’73).
The Rapper — The Jaggerz: It smolders like an AM radio melting down in the summer heat.
Paradise — The Showmen: A soulful piece of beach music escapism by General Johnson with his first group.
Loverboy — The Chairmen of the Board: One last bit of impassioned coastal beach breeze from General Johnson. The Style Council later remixed it and released it as a 12-incher in England.
Pretty Lady — Lighthouse:
A gentle, sweet beach music pop tune from the ’70s group whose first hit was the soaring “One Fine Morning.”
Summer — War:
Ridin’ round town with all the windows down — some things never change. Except, of course, for the part about rappin’ on the CB radio in the van.
Summer (The First Time) — Bobby Goldsboro: The obligatory slice of musical cheese. “She was 31 and I was 17 …” These days, it would be called stautory rape. Back in ’73, in a more lax time, it was coming off the heels of the success of the film “Summer of ’42.” And the imagery of the heat of the last day of June was indelible.
I Get Around — The Beach Boys
Summer’s Cauldron, Grass and Mermaid Smiled — XTC: All from one of the best albums ever, “Skylarking” (aka the “Pet Sounds”of the ’80s). It was a story of a couple from young, blissful courtship to bitterness and death do us part. The first two tunes were from the upbeat first half of the disc. “Mermaid Smiled” was a beautiful instrumental midway through which was replaced over here in favor of the downer “hit single” “Dear God,” which totally threw off the story. It’s been restored on later CD versions.
Here Comes the Summer — The Undertones: Who woulda thunk there’d be a cool American summer song out of ’70s Northern Ireland?
Spirit in the Night — Bruce Springsteen:
See you down at Greasy Lake.
Pinball Wizard — Elton John: From the summer evening when I was 14 when my brother, my neighbor Dan Coelho and I went down to the ranch down in the woods to play our semi-regular pinball tournament. The sky got dark, the thunder was getting closer, Dan was kicking my ass — and I had just 10,000 points going into my last ball on the Gottlieb Hearts and Spades machine. Then WDRC started playing Elton’s version of the song. And the thunder raged. And — like Hollywood — I just kept playing and playing … buzzes and bings and the constant POP of free balls. Ten minutes later, I had 77,000 points, I thoroughly kicked his ass, and we got back home just before the sky opened.

I suffered for my art — now it’s your turn. Feel free to vent one way or another. Any suggestions for great summer songs, I’m game. Happy Fourth …


One Response to “ARCHIVES: Why I like Brian Wilson”

  1. The Giants in the Series: They’re ours (well, some of them) « Franorama World Says:

    […] Brian Wilson — or should I say, The Future Classic Brian Wilson — a little-known reliever when he came to Fresno, also in the spring of ’07. I did a […]

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