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678323 Posts in 27401 Topics by 4045 Members - Latest Member: reecemorgan January 27, 2023, 12:42:25 PM
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Author Topic: Questions about the writing of Rio Grande  (Read 2363 times)
barto
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« on: January 05, 2023, 06:08:26 AM »

Rio Grande is one of my favorite Brian Wilson compositions and I sometimes wonder if there is a more underappreciated moment in Mr. Wilson's long and wondrous career.

The music is wonderful to my ears. I also find the available session material to be as exciting as much of the smile material. When I consider the context of Brian's life and the other tracks he was making in that period the work seems even more impressive.

A common complaint I hear from even some of Brian's more hardcore fans is that others are deemed to be too involved in the writing? I am wondering if that is actually the case relative to his earlier works (other than pet sounds)? From what research I have done it does seem like there was some heavy involvement from others, but does anyone know any specifics? Obviously Brian's environment was not a healthy one, I am not debating that.
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HeyJude
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« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2023, 06:30:48 AM »

I can't speak for anyone else particularly, but apart from how much Brian "wrote" the various parts versus someone else, I think one issue some fans have had is that the whole basis for the piece existing was not seemingly as organic a process/choice as something like "Smile". That is, Waronker basically placed an order for a "Smile-type suite", and we got "Rio Grande."

One could argue that this isn't too far from a work being "commissioned" the way some of Brian's later solo long form pieces were. But this was more of a record executive pitching an idea than some sort of hallowed art organization simply asking Brian for a piece. This seemed a bit more like Waronker telling himself "I'm going to order me a Smile 2."

If you read McParland's "Usher Tapes" book, you can see the type of guidance Brian needed around this time. I think it's fair to say that Brian had significantly more help bringing pieces together and getting the music out the door in the mid-late 80s than he needed in 1966. I think *that's* the difference. "Rio Grande", while made up of some great constituent parts written by Brian (I think a lot of us live for those inspired fragments/riffs/melodies), feels a bit artificial in both conception and execution.

But at the end of the day, it's got some great Brian stuff on it. Like most of the BW '88 album, I'm glad we have it despite all of the garbage involved in making it.
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« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2023, 04:24:43 PM »

The "commission" aspect set aside (despite its historical accuracy), I think "Rio Grande" has strong analogies to something like "Can't Wait Too Long," where Brian had a set of highly evocative musical fragments that proved to be unruly enough that he could never decide how to bring off a definitive, synthesized song. "Rio Grande" might well have succumbed to a similar fate had not Waronker made his pitch, which in that moment (and with the right collaborator on hand in Andy Paley) was taken seriously and seen through to completion. It's certainly possible that any "artificiality" that one might sense about the finished track has to do with some force-fitting that was employed to achieve closure on a finished version.

My sense is that at some point Andy may have said "let's do it this way, Brian" and Brian simply went with it (after all, he'd been put into a more "malleable" mood by Dr. Quacky, and they were probably working on "Rio Grande" rather surreptitiously due to the ambient conditions in place during the production)...all of which may have resulted in some rapid real-time decisions about how the track got put together. David Leaf is unfortunately short on details regarding this in the first section of his update material for the 2022 "Calfornia Myth" update.

So as it is, we got an official version of it, which is better than nothing and might be "better" than the fate of "Can't Wait Too Long," which remains "lost and found" as an unrealized masterpiece...
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barto
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« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2023, 04:54:46 PM »

Thanks for the replies. There seems to be some interesting nuance in this conversation. How do we exactly define a 'commission'? Is it about the creative direction? Could one compare influences like Murry, record companies, or the 'hip' smile crew to Waronker? (I'm genuinely asking, not trying to be fecitious). Didn't they all want something out of Brian and shape the creative direction?

And is that necessarily a bad thing? Out of all of Brian's work, the one with the least outside creative influence to my ears is Love You. While I do enjoy it, I don't think many Brian fans rate it as their favorite of his. I hope I am not coming off as confrontational, I am just trying to understand better.


Edit- I reread your response HeyJude and I think I am understanding more why some view this piece as less organic than others. I guess perhaps some view it as less 'inspired' by Brian, even if it was executed by him. To me there is enough musically that tells me Brian's heart was in it, but that's a subjective take. Thanks all for the replies.

From an arrangement perspective, does anyone know about Brians role? Was he writing individual instrument lines like ps/smile?
« Last Edit: January 05, 2023, 05:04:44 PM by barto » Logged
WillJC
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« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2023, 03:31:20 AM »

I can fill in some of the specifics about how it came together, outside of the 'commission' aspect. Brian said at the time that he wrote slightly more music than Andy and Andy wrote slightly more lyrically, and that seems to be broadly accurate. They also conceived and demoed the whole suite before recording, then the pieces were shuffled around and reworked as the project evolved - it wasn't just edited together from disparate fragments, as much as they have little musical relation to one another and were written separately. Every track was built up on top of Brian on the tack piano. He played just about every keyboard and Andy played just about everything else.

No idea who's primarily responsible for the "Ride 'Em Cowboy" intro section. The main "Rio Grande" mini song was a new collaboration between Brian and Andy, with Andy lifting the bassline from "Along the Navajo Trail". The banjo riff in the opening verse is straight out of "That Same Song". I would think the "oh the great big river" vamp came from Brian, because he later reworked it into the bridge of "Morning Beat". The bluegrass band arrangement of the theme that follows was produced by Andy with the Bay State Bluegrass Band in Boston, no direct involvement from Brian, seemingly thrown in as a bit of an afterthought.

The "Rain Dance" section was built up on top of "Cool Cool Guy" with overdubs until it became an entirely different piece of music. Seeing as Brian said he didn't like that part, I assume he didn't have much to do with deciding to take it in that direction. "Cool Cool Guy" was originally half a Brian vamp and half a progression that sounds like Andy's work.

The "Take Me Home" section comes accross as Brian's music, possibly from something older, and he's also called that part his favourite. That's one example of Waronker asserting some creative influence as a producer - he asked Brian to turn it from a solo lead vocal to a multi-part harmony, but then Brian took that and arranged and recorded it how he wanted. That's probably more or less how things tended to happen when others gave him suggestions.

"Night Bloomin' Jasmine" is obviously Brian's chorus from way, way back. It sounds like Andy wrote the connective music around that hook. "Jasmine" came in later to replace an entirely different uptempo section that's included in the early rough mix assembly on the reissue CD. Also, at the demo stage, Brian and Andy had the "Spark in the Dark" riff as an instrumental intro to "Heavenly Lover" as the finale, which they cut out and expanded into a full song before recording began. I think whole thing developed in a more organic way than it's sometimes given credit for. Not every idea came from Brian, but he certainly wasn't creatively out of the loop or doing anything against his will.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2023, 03:44:52 AM by WillJC » Logged
barto
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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2023, 05:31:36 AM »

That is some fabulous detail, thank you so much for that.
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« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2023, 07:51:22 AM »

Coincidentally someone uploaded this interview with Brian from 1988 where he talks about recording the album and plays some piano near the end (inclduing a song fragment that he seemingly made up on the spot)

Brian Wilson - Interview (August 20, 1988)


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq4IV2CLTLY
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« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2023, 10:04:33 AM »

Thanks for the interview, Rocker--it reminds us that Brian really was under the thrall of "Quacky" at this time, to the point where Brian seems to be giving the Bad Doctor credit for some god-like oversight over the songs on BW '88, despite massive subsequent evidence to the contrary--including "Rio Grande," where Brian omits any mention of Andy Paley.

And many thanks for the tremendous breakdown of the consituent parts in "Rio Grande," Will. Do we have a session chronology for BW '88--which songs were done when and where? We do know that Waronker pushed for a composition like "Rio Grande," and was (obsessively) in attendance at the recording sessions for it. And, apparently, would make artistic suggestions relative to details in the production as they occurred to him during those sessions.

The Bad Doctor then attempted to hijack the LP in its final stages, though I don't think he did anything substantive to "Rio Grande" as part of that.

The basic narrative that Brian was cajoled into returning to a modular composing format, and collaborated in many different details with Andy Paley, acceding to many of his ideas and creations, does suggest that the reinforcing presence of a creative partner in the studio (in this case, two of them) is one of the reasons why "Rio Grande" made it onto BW '88 while "Can't Wait Too Long" is still...waiting.
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Zenobi
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« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2023, 02:07:36 PM »

I have no questions about the writing of "Rio Grande". It is, as it has been confirmed by WillJC in his excellent post, very simply an extremely good Brian Wilson/Andy Paley collaboration. As much as as the "Wilson/Paley" sessions are.
But I have a certainty. The BB/BW fandom never tires of second/third/fourth/etc guessing literally everything Brian ever did. As it did/does not happen to any other musician around, I have no doubt about the reason. It's called "ableism".
Sorry.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2023, 10:25:22 PM by Zenobi » Logged
wjcrerar
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« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2023, 12:45:10 PM »


The basic narrative that Brian was cajoled into returning to a modular composing format, and collaborated in many different details with Andy Paley, acceding to many of his ideas and creations, does suggest that the reinforcing presence of a creative partner in the studio (in this case, two of them) is one of the reasons why "Rio Grande" made it onto BW '88 while "Can't Wait Too Long" is still...waiting.

I wouldn't say Can't Wait Too Long is comparable to Rio Grande. That was a simple, commercial song that Brian continually restructured as he worked on it (just presented very confusingly on official releases), while Rio Grande is a conscious attempt to create a suite of unrelated miniature song fragments, something Brian had never really done before. It's more akin to the montage nature of the way 1970 Cool Cool Water was put together, which was Waronker's main point of reference.

Quote
And many thanks for the tremendous breakdown of the consituent parts in "Rio Grande," Will. Do we have a session chronology for BW '88--which songs were done when and where?

The broad strokes, few specifics. The AFM contracts only cover select sessions (see AGD's site) and the rest of the current timeline is pulled from rough mixes or anecdotes.

From the spring to early June '87, Brian and Andy worked on There's So Many, Doin' Time on Planet Earth, Night Time, Love and Mercy, another version of The Spirit of Rock and Roll, Saturday Morning in the City, Saturday Evening in the City, I Feel This Love, and early versions of Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long and Let's Do It Again. That was nearing a complete album - and at that point, at Landy's insistence, there were female backing vocalists on every song. It was... odd.

Russ Titelman entered the project when the sessions moved to New York in June, which is also when the Stack-O-Brian approach to backing vocals started... weirdly late into all of his solo career launch attempts. Those sessions introduced One for the Boys, Terri She Needs Me, Walkin' the Line, Little Children, new versions of Let's Do It Again and Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long, and an early version of Melt Away.

Post-New York is when Goodnight Irene, Rio Grande, Heavenly Lover, Carl and Gina, final Melt Away, and Let It Shine were done. The final song selection was whittled down from there and Hotter was a late addition in '88, followed by Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight, which usurped Let's Do It Again on the album assembly at the last minute.

Somewhere in all of that there were versions of Water Builds Up, Christmas Time, a Shortenin' Bread track, apparently Must Be a Miracle, Christine/Living Doll, and of course He Couldn't Get His Poor Old Body to Move. Probably more! A lot of music was amassed over the course of that project.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2023, 01:06:01 PM by wjcrerar » Logged
WillJC
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« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2023, 03:19:09 AM »

.
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Aomdiddlywalla
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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2023, 11:10:44 AM »


The basic narrative that Brian was cajoled into returning to a modular composing format, and collaborated in many different details with Andy Paley, acceding to many of his ideas and creations, does suggest that the reinforcing presence of a creative partner in the studio (in this case, two of them) is one of the reasons why "Rio Grande" made it onto BW '88 while "Can't Wait Too Long" is still...waiting.

I wouldn't say Can't Wait Too Long is comparable to Rio Grande. That was a simple, commercial song that Brian continually restructured as he worked on it (just presented very confusingly on official releases), while Rio Grande is a conscious attempt to create a suite of unrelated miniature song fragments, something Brian had never really done before. It's more akin to the montage nature of the way 1970 Cool Cool Water was put together, which was Waronker's main point of reference.

Quote
And many thanks for the tremendous breakdown of the consituent parts in "Rio Grande," Will. Do we have a session chronology for BW '88--which songs were done when and where?

The broad strokes, few specifics. The AFM contracts only cover select sessions (see AGD's site) and the rest of the current timeline is pulled from rough mixes or anecdotes.

From the spring to early June '87, Brian and Andy worked on There's So Many, Doin' Time on Planet Earth, Night Time, Love and Mercy, another version of The Spirit of Rock and Roll, Saturday Morning in the City, Saturday Evening in the City, I Feel This Love, and early versions of Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long and Let's Do It Again. That was nearing a complete album - and at that point, at Landy's insistence, there were female backing vocalists on every song. It was... odd.

Russ Titelman entered the project when the sessions moved to New York in June, which is also when the Stack-O-Brian approach to backing vocals started... weirdly late into all of his solo career launch attempts. Those sessions introduced One for the Boys, Terri She Needs Me, Walkin' the Line, Little Children, new versions of Let's Do It Again and Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long, and an early version of Melt Away.

Post-New York is when Goodnight Irene, Rio Grande, Heavenly Lover, Carl and Gina, final Melt Away, and Let It Shine were done. The final song selection was whittled down from there and Hotter was a late addition in '88, followed by Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight, which usurped Let's Do It Again on the album assembly at the last minute.

Somewhere in all of that there were versions of Water Builds Up, Christmas Time, a Shortenin' Bread track, apparently Must Be a Miracle, Christine/Living Doll, and of course He Couldn't Get His Poor Old Body to Move. Probably more! A lot of music was amassed over the course of that project.

Great info, thank you. A lot new to me. ....  how’d you know all this ? Interesting.
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« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2023, 04:37:47 AM »

"Rio Grande" is probably the one thing I still thoroughly enjoy listening to the most off his 1988 album.  Definitely a miniature homage to his SMiLE compositions and easily one of the more adventurous songs he put out in his later years.  Definitely miles better than "Happy Days" or "The Waltz".  It probably would have fit in nicely on That Lucky Old Sun
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« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2023, 06:50:07 PM »

Ah, TLOS. I had not listened to it for a while, and yesterday I put it on in the car. I ended listening to it twice in a row. It's just that good. As near to being SMiLE 2 as it was possible, and then some.
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« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2023, 06:44:55 AM »

Ah, TLOS. I had not listened to it for a while, and yesterday I put it on in the car. I ended listening to it twice in a row. It's just that good. As near to being SMiLE 2 as it was possible, and then some.

Yeah it's probably Brian's most ambitious solo album besides his reworking of SMiLE.  Had his 1988 album centered around "Rio Grande" the way "That Lucky Old Sun" served sort of as a motif for said album, that would have been pretty cool.  Or just stretch and expand "Rio Grande" out as a complete album; where the songs transition from one another as if you were floating down the river itself.  That could make for an adventurous and remarkable concept album.
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barto
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« Reply #15 on: January 10, 2023, 07:39:08 AM »

Pardon my ignorance but what is the status of the 88 session material? Is that something that could get a release at some point? Based on the 88 bonus tracks I would think there is some illuminating material there
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« Reply #16 on: January 10, 2023, 09:38:23 AM »


The basic narrative that Brian was cajoled into returning to a modular composing format, and collaborated in many different details with Andy Paley, acceding to many of his ideas and creations, does suggest that the reinforcing presence of a creative partner in the studio (in this case, two of them) is one of the reasons why "Rio Grande" made it onto BW '88 while "Can't Wait Too Long" is still...waiting.

I wouldn't say Can't Wait Too Long is comparable to Rio Grande. That was a simple, commercial song that Brian continually restructured as he worked on it (just presented very confusingly on official releases), while Rio Grande is a conscious attempt to create a suite of unrelated miniature song fragments, something Brian had never really done before. It's more akin to the montage nature of the way 1970 Cool Cool Water was put together, which was Waronker's main point of reference.

Putting the emphasis on your phrase that (IMO) makes my analogy pertinent, if not exact. It was the restructuring and different approaches to CWTL, in a time frame when Brian was still inclined toward a modular working method, which prompts me to make the comparison. At that point Brian was looking to recycle the bass riff from the SMILE version of "Wind Chimes," and it went through several permutations and ... he never solved it, even as the later attempts became much more elaborate. The late July '68 sessions for CWTL/BWTL are followed by a good deal of radio silence from Brian, with only sporadic work in the studio as the rest of the band pushed forward with material for what became the 20/20 LP. There are a number of reports suggesting the Brian's first seriously depressive period occurs in this time frame, which began to lift in early '69 (with "Break Away").

It seems that there was an attempt to make CWTL into something more ornate that just didn't come together, which seems to have thrown Brian for a loop, as he'd been exceptionally creative all the way up to the weeks right before the FRIENDS LP was released (the album's big commercial failure in the US couldn't have helped, either). A box set approach to the LPs between PET SOUNDS and SUNFLOWER would show that FRIENDS appears to be the "fault line" where Brian takes a big step back in terms of producing new material.

(And I think one can credibly argue that the evolution of "Good Vibrations" was analogous to what was in process with CWTL--but the summer of '68 was a much different landscape for Brian than the summer of '66, when he soldiered through all the versions/variations to come up with a "montage" (or "mosaic") approach that was so startlingly different that it leapfrogged any potential commercial resistance en route to #1.

Clearly Brian "made peace" with CWTL many years later by incorporating a portion of it into TLOS. But the compiled session fragments on the I CAN HEAR MUSIC digital release create a version of the song that has odd (possibly accidental) but striking parallels to "Rio Grande"--a suite made up of "dead end" versions of a track that never synthesized into a "proper" song but may be more satisfying as a "mosaic" of fragments.
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« Reply #17 on: January 10, 2023, 09:54:15 AM »

I have no questions about the writing of "Rio Grande". It is, as it has been confirmed by WillJC in his excellent post, very simply an extremely good Brian Wilson/Andy Paley collaboration. As much as as the "Wilson/Paley" sessions are.
But I have a certainty. The BB/BW fandom never tires of second/third/fourth/etc guessing literally everything Brian ever did. As it did/does not happen to any other musician around, I have no doubt about the reason. It's called "ableism".
Sorry.

You'll never find a more sympathetic, empathetic, sometimes *overly forgiving* place on the internet when it comes to Brian/BB fans than this place. And this thread has been a great thread both in terms of information/discussion, and empathy and love for Brian and his work.

There's no need to create an "ablelist" straw man here.

Researching and documenting and studying is not "second guessing."

And for the record, when that sort of thing does occur, Brian Wilson is far from the only musician or artist that it happens to.

If there are fans that are intellectually incurious enough that they just want to listen to the music and aren't interested in accurately depicting how it was written/developed/recorded, etc. (and let's be clear, this was in response to someone STARTING A THREAD ASKING about the development/history of a Brian song), then that's all well and good.

But trying to determine the background of how Brian went about writing/performing/producing/arranging in this era (or ANY era for that matter) is not "ableism" if it depicts Brian stuggling and needing help. Framing this as "ableism" is an insult and disservice to the people like Gary Usher (and Andy Paley, and others) who sympathetically, out of love for Brian and his work (to reiterate, love for *Brian* himself, not just his work) did everything they could to help him during the awful, awful Landy period. It's also an insult to folks like Stephen McParland who documented it.

Old Mike lawsuits saying Brian didn't do anything but stay in bad after 1967 and imply he was never again able to write or produce, THAT is ableism.
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« Reply #18 on: January 10, 2023, 03:48:28 PM »

Paradoxically, I agree with everything you said. I went overboard, as it often happens to me.

But I have a long history with BB forums (fora?), and it has often been rough.
A few (not here!) tend to treat Brian like he had run over their dog with his car. Many love Brian but seem to think that having collaborators somehow diminishes his accomplishments or creativity.

Actually, one thing has always been true: no collaborators, no Brian output.

No Mike, probably no string of hits in the first years.
No Asher, no Pet Sounds as we know it.
No Van Dyke, no SMiLE (at least, no released SMiLE...).
No Carl, Dennis and Beach Boy collective, no post-SMiLE great years.
No Carl, no completed Love You.
No Andy Paley, no Rio Grande nor Wilson/Paley sessions, of course.
No Darian, no BWPS.
No Scotty, no TLOS.
No Thomas, no TWGMTR nor NPP.
No Darian, no At My Piano nor probably Long Promised Road soundtrack.

But... no Brian, none of all these works.

I still think that somebody takes Brian's need for collaborators with a creativity problem. It's simply that Brian, for several reasons, lacks the drive to complete what he starts. At least, since 1967. The artistic ideas are there, but he needs someone to get things done.
And if, beyond that, Andy or whoever also wrote some of the music... what's wrong with that?

This is not targeted at any of the excellent people here. Smiley
« Last Edit: January 10, 2023, 04:09:56 PM by Zenobi » Logged
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« Reply #19 on: January 10, 2023, 06:41:09 PM »

Actually, one thing has always been true: no collaborators, no Brian output.

This is so important. The need to work with someone, to prove himself to them (and also have a buddy) is so important to Brian. I remember once being told by a non-musician friend of Brian that BW asked him to sing backing vocals on a track (or produce it or something). The friend was aghast and turned him down. But that social drive really motivates the man's creativity.

But... no Brian, none of all these works.

And that's the other point. You take someone like Joe Thomas or Andy Paley or Scott Bennett. Talented guys, sure. Able to write songs on their own, sure. But where else in their careers did they manage anything like their work with Brian? The fact is, whatever his contributes in a collaboration (and sometimes it might be a few lyrics and a bit of vocal melody), it creates something totally different and special. It creates a Brian Wilson song. They're not all great, but almost all of them, in some way or another, represent him.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2023, 06:41:43 PM by Wirestone » Logged
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« Reply #20 on: January 10, 2023, 06:48:30 PM »

Interesting note about Rio Grande and TLOS: Both were created in a similar way. Brian had a number of songs or song fragments laying around. Then someone wanted a suite. In the case of Rio Grande, Lenny W. wanted a single long track. For TLOS, the Royal Festival Hall wanted a follow-up to Smile.

In each case, Brian couldn't write the suite from scratch. He doesn't work that way. For Rio Grande, he and Andy wrote a couple of extra pieces, then bolted everything together. For TLOS, Brian and Scott wrote nearly two albums' worth of music over a summer. They had no specific project in mind, and great material from that project remains unreleased (I've heard multiple people talk about a track called "Angles in Love"). Then the commission came in, and Brian for a brief time considered doing a musical version of the Little Prince (it's true! He said it in an interview). But that didn't happen, so they ended up roping in Darian and Van Dyke. Darian sequenced and Van Dyke wrote the segues. Then Brian and Scott wrote (I believe) Midnight's Another Day and Southern California to pull the whole thing together.

More alike than you might think!
« Last Edit: January 10, 2023, 06:50:02 PM by Wirestone » Logged
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« Reply #21 on: January 11, 2023, 07:59:10 AM »

I'll have more to say soon, and I do think we're all kind of pretty much agreeing on everything.

Brian has usually needed a collaborator (though obviously not *always*, see "Surfer Girl", "This Whole World", "The Little Girl I Once Knew", "'Til I Die", etc.). I think it is worth nothing that perhaps *part* of his latter-day collaborations have sprung from the same need he had in the 60s.

But I think the "collaboration" process as described in the 1986-88 Landy era with folks like Usher and Paley and whatnot, is pretty different from Brian's collaborations in the 60s with Love/Asher/Parks/Usher/Christian, etc. And not just different, but clearly a case where, *at times*, he has needed more involvement/input from the collaborator. More than handing off mostly or wholly completed songs, with top melodies, and often with some lyrics, and having someone mostly fill in the rest of the lyrics.

And I think his post-Landy collaborations are also different, from both of those scenarios.

So no, I don't think he needed a collaborator on "The Lucky Old Sun" in the same way as he needed a collaborator in Mike Love or others in the 60s. I think the idea that he needs another person there to bounce off of, to "prove" himself to, is interesting, and that may be where there are some similarities in those latter-day collaborations to his early era collaborations.

But at the end of the day, there are many more Joe Thomas or Scott Bennett or Andy Paley chord changes/melodies, etc. in his latter-day material than there are Mike Love chord changes or melodies in his 60s stuff. And that's fine. I just think it should be documented, to the degree we can, and those that report (either neutrally, or perhaps sometimes with some disappointment or lament) that a given song or album doesn't have enough "Brian" in it, aren't attacking him. Sometimes it's just cool to hear a "Message Man" or "That Special Feeling" rather than something that sprung more from Bennett or Thomas, etc.

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Wirestone
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« Reply #22 on: January 11, 2023, 10:25:55 AM »

Excellent points, Jude. But I'd suggest things are even more complex.

As you write, we can't ignore the primary change in Brian's work. As he grew older and more affected by his illness, he required collaborators to pitch in more musically than simply lyrically. But that process shifted over time. In the 1970s, he was often able to finish songs (or get them close to completion) and do vocal arrangements, but producing and mixing a final product posed the main challenge. In the 1980s, he still would finish songs on his own, but the idea of bringing in an Usher or Paley to "prime the pump" and generate new songs came up. What Andy found, in particular, was this sometimes really inspired Brian to write a middle eight, or jot down some lyrics.

This continued with Joe Thomas, who I believe was one of the first to actually play chords to Brian and have him sing over the top as a way of generating material. This is used by a lot of singers these days (Sia among them) but was new to BW. He could still do the vocal arranging, but the songs were now generated in four entirely separate ways. 1.) He wrote the whole thing himself. Say Cry, on the Imagination album. 2.) He wrote a tune and had someone else write lyrics. This happened with Right Where I Belong, where he handed a piano demo to Jim James. 2.) He added lyrics and vocal melodies to chord patterns by someone like Joe. I'd suggest something like "Whatever Happened" on NPP sounds like that. 3.) He would contribute a chunk to a song largely written by someone else. Let It Shine or some of the Paley material.

Those first two methods have happened throughout Brian's career. The latter two are newish. But even his most recent albums, as mentioned above, have examples of all of these methods. Then you have discoveries like "Rooftop Harry" on the Sail On Sailor set, which shows up in "From There to Back Again" and proves it wasn't simply a Joe Thomas creation.

(Oddly, as Brian managed to coalesce a consistent band around him, he moved back into production more consistently. Part of that was the band being able to simply conjure up head arrangements, of course, but it's pretty clear that between TLOS, the Christmas record, the Gershwin record and and the LPR soundtrack that he found a consistent and satisfying sonic vocabulary.)
« Last Edit: January 11, 2023, 04:29:31 PM by Wirestone » Logged
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« Reply #23 on: January 11, 2023, 03:53:26 PM »

I think that Brian is different from any other composer. He is an unparalleled source of short melodies. No long progressions, no Beethoven or Mozart or Pink Floyd. He is more like Bach, he lives more in the "vertical" musical dimension, harmony and counterpoint. Hear "At My Piano".
So, hence his "modular" approach to composition, particularly when he needs anything long. I don't think Brian thinks of his music as "songs". He has this wealth of often wondrous fragments, to combine in hopefully wondrous wholes. If I got that correctly, he has also a specific word for those fragments: "feels".
This also explains why he reworks so often existing fragments as parts of new songs.

However, great points by everybody as usual, folks. Smiley
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« Reply #24 on: January 12, 2023, 06:46:37 AM »

Excellent points, Jude. But I'd suggest things are even more complex.

As you write, we can't ignore the primary change in Brian's work. As he grew older and more affected by his illness, he required collaborators to pitch in more musically than simply lyrically. But that process shifted over time. In the 1970s, he was often able to finish songs (or get them close to completion) and do vocal arrangements, but producing and mixing a final product posed the main challenge. In the 1980s, he still would finish songs on his own, but the idea of bringing in an Usher or Paley to "prime the pump" and generate new songs came up. What Andy found, in particular, was this sometimes really inspired Brian to write a middle eight, or jot down some lyrics.

This continued with Joe Thomas, who I believe was one of the first to actually play chords to Brian and have him sing over the top as a way of generating material. This is used by a lot of singers these days (Sia among them) but was new to BW. He could still do the vocal arranging, but the songs were now generated in four entirely separate ways. 1.) He wrote the whole thing himself. Say Cry, on the Imagination album. 2.) He wrote a tune and had someone else write lyrics. This happened with Right Where I Belong, where he handed a piano demo to Jim James. 2.) He added lyrics and vocal melodies to chord patterns by someone like Joe. I'd suggest something like "Whatever Happened" on NPP sounds like that. 3.) He would contribute a chunk to a song largely written by someone else. Let It Shine or some of the Paley material.

Those first two methods have happened throughout Brian's career. The latter two are newish. But even his most recent albums, as mentioned above, have examples of all of these methods. Then you have discoveries like "Rooftop Harry" on the Sail On Sailor set, which shows up in "From There to Back Again" and proves it wasn't simply a Joe Thomas creation.

(Oddly, as Brian managed to coalesce a consistent band around him, he moved back into production more consistently. Part of that was the band being able to simply conjure up head arrangements, of course, but it's pretty clear that between TLOS, the Christmas record, the Gershwin record and and the LPR soundtrack that he found a consistent and satisfying sonic vocabulary.)

All solid and succinct points. I like your breakdown of the different types of collaborative composing; that's a very helpful guide.

I think one of the things that this general topic ends up hitting on, which is understandably a sensitive topic, is some of the stuff touched on in the Usher/McParland book. The picture painted by Usher goes beyond the sort of push and pull and malleable nature of collaborative songwriting. It veers into medical/personal territory; that Brian, either wholly or partially as a result of Landy's care, was medically/physically unable to do X, Y, or Z. Usher, who is really like *the most sympathetic, empathetic* character in Brian's life at that point on a day to day basis, paints a picture of Brian having "lost it" essentially, meaning the ability to really functionally create in a substantive fashion. Usher seems saddened by this. He clearly doesn't feel that all is lost, and he doesn't seem to be unwilling to believe Brian can "get it back" so to speak. I think others could have (and in some cases *did*) see Brian's condition at this point and assume Brian was toast, that it was all over and the whole thing was just sad. Usher does seem to find the situation sad, but he rolls up his sleeves and, even if at times it requires him to treat Brian like a student at school, is able to cajole Brian into working. Usher did a good job of literally getting Brian moving and feeling confidence to work (both in terms of writing and arranging/production).

I think the stuff on the BW '88 album is better by leaps and bounds than the Usher material (obviously a bit of Usher stuff overlapped), and I think the Usher sessions were an important bridge to getting Brian to be a lot more active and also to not just write *something*, but write some *good* stuff. Usher understandably felt used on multiple levels by the whole affair, and has never really gotten the credit he deserves for jumpstarting that process. Without Usher working with Brian for that year or so, I don't know we would have gotten BW '88, or Brian crossing paths with Paley, and so on.

I do think there are "fans" out there, or just spectators/naysayers, who are quick to paint Brian's situation for the last X number of years in terms of writing as another "Weekend at Bernies" sort of situation. And that is of course uninformed and incorrect. But on the other end of the spectrum, and I'm not trying to create a straw man here, but there are some fans who seem to want to paint a picture of Brian's latter-day work as being very similar to how he wrote/arranged/produced in the 60s. And I have no problem acknowledging that that is not the case. I also don't have a problem saying that, on occasion, it's not a plus to hear a new Brian album that has a LOT of Bennett or Thomas, etc. in the writing. So I can see where defensive fans might feel that "Bummer, that sounds more like a Scott Bennett song than a Brian Wilson" song is some sort of affront/accusation against Brian. I can only say that *I* don't mean it that way. But I'm also not going to pretend that some of the stuff isn't similar to, say, Jeff Lynne's hand in "Let It Shine", where it's mostly a Jeff Lynne song. "Let It Shine" is actually one of my favorite Brian solo tracks, because I'm such a big fan of both guys. Which all probably speaks in part to how what I'm probably lamenting (when I am lamenting anything) about some Brian solo stuff is not so much a lack of Brian's hand, but his choice of collaborator. I'm probably one of few who wouldn't have minded Brian singing an album of Jeff Lynne tunes in like 1990 or so.

I think "No Pier Pressure" is a great example of this push and pull, both in terms of Brian's songwriting, and my observation of both liking a lot of the material, but often feeling like it sounds like a lot of *other* people as much if not more than Brian. And such disappointment is not an accusation or affront to Brian. It's just a reaction to the end product. If anything, those that care enough to listen to a Brian album and are kind of saying "More Brian please!" seemingly are saying so because they believe Brian can still do it!

What I think would have been cool at some point in the last 20 years or so, would have been, while continuing to do the albums he did, to also do essentially a modern version of that '76 Love You/Adult Child tape, and polish that up and make it an album. An album of "Message Man" for lack of a better way to put it. Meaning, solo, uncut, unfiltered, maybe sometimes *unfinished* Brian compositions, untouched by others. Just as an alternate way to hear some Brian stuff.

"At My Piano" was not such an album, despite a few fans saying "there, now you have your 'Brian alone at the piano'" album. But I dug that album too.

Which all probably rolls back to the same conclusion I've come to regarding "Beach Boys" projects, which is that for both BB and Brian material, the archives is really where it's at. All that weird stuff that Brian has posted on his website, even the unfinished clunky 80s backing tracks and whatnot, I'd eat up a hundred discs of that stuff. And there's tons there.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2023, 06:53:03 AM by HeyJude » Logged

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