Danny requires very little forgiveness, but it is apparent from Confessors’ comments referencing Danny that one of the few things they would edit out of his act is his űbercoolness about music. About this I would agree. I am an admirer of Danny’s musical talent as it manifests itself on The Ticket, but I am not familiar with his non-Ticket oeurve. I don’t own any Sorta or any of his solo stuff, no particular reason, just haven’t gotten around to checking it out.
But yesterday – oh, Danny, Danny, Danny.
Sneering at – The Beach Boys. (Corby joined him in this sneering, but this particular article is about Danny Danny Danny, and Confessors I hear from don’t get exercised about Corby’s musical tastes.)
Now I will concede that in these the Twenty-Taints songs from fifty years ago about chicks, surfing, high school, and cars don’t sound cool to forty-year-olds. It might not even have sounded cool to those forty-year-olds when they were fourteen. And the Beach Boys didn’t get into groovy trippy lyrics until “Good Vibrations” and Brian Wilson’s collaborations with Van Dyke Parks. And I will also concede that we’re not talking about instrumental virtuosity here.
But oh, Danny – the music, the music.
Brian Wilson in the studio during "Pet Sounds" session
Brian Wilson is widely acknowledged among musical scholars and serious pop music critics as a musical genius. Look, I know there's a lot of pretentious BS in the musical press on the artistic merit of marginal pop. I am not a scholar of music, but I am knowledgeable about it and I concur with those who stand agape at the alter of Brian. Couple of things:
First: Melody. It’s near impossible to do well. Oh, we can all write a little melody that follows the conventions acceptable to Western ears, but the chances of it being catchy, much less of catching the interest of millions of your fellows, is vanishingly tiny. Brian Wilson wrote dozens of them. Dozens. And while all were catchy, many were and remain truly beautiful -- even some of the car and surfing songs, like "The Ballad of Ol' Betsy." Freakin' song makes me cry. Who can write like that, song after song after song? Paul Simon; McCartney and Lennon; Richard Rogers; Cole Porter; Jerome Kern; Fagen and Becker. Might put Billy Joel on that list. Personal addition – Brian Eno. Others, for sure, but not a lot with the vastness of Wilson’s string of hits.
In the documentary "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," Tom Petty compares Brian Wilson to Beethoven.
Second: Sophistication. Jeebus, Danny, I know there’s a lot of posturing in the musical world, but lots and lots and lots of people who know quite a lot about music recognize Brian Wilson as a musical genius, albeit a naive (untrained) one. Yeah, critical attention doesn’t define great music, but his music is great. And part of what makes it great is that it manipulates musical forms in a way that engages the ear in a very complex way. Paul McCartney repeatedly acknowledged the Beatles’ admiration of “Pet Sounds” and its influence on "Sgt. Pepper." Books have been written about Wilson’s construction of his songs – and not just the gorgeous harmonies, but the underlying chordal structure and use of time. I’ll link to just one site that analyzes one my my two favorite BB songs – "The Warmth of the Sun," a stunning song composed on the night of JFK's assassination with Mike Love. (My other favorite is “Don’t Talk” from “Pet Sounds,” of which I have actually had a role in recording a cover. “The Warmth of the Sun” is a favorite of many musicians, who point to one particular chord change as nearly revolutionary as a single chord change can be.)
Yes, it's sad to see the remnants of the band continuing to cash in on music that was made all those years ago, and which only Mike Love had some role in composing. But part of the reason they can keep doing that is that the songs are fabulous constructions, every bit the equal of the Beatles' pop classics. Brian Wilson never went on to record a "Sgt. Pepper" or "Abbey Road," but what he accomplished in the face of paternal opposition, mental illness, and the ossified studio system in the US at that time -- nothing short of breathtaking. And what remains on the vinyl is still absolutely transporting.
So, Danny – not my leader, exactly, but pretty close until I saw you in that hat at the World Series remote – your credentials as a knowledgeable music guy are presently in purgatory. The Danny Nation will be listening for your further musical judgments upon which to evaluate your worthiness as a guide to excellent song listening.
But of course, you could give a crap about what we think.
And we love you for it.