A few years before the Beach Boys made their first record, the three brothers who formed the original core of the group sang together in the bedroom they shared in a tract home in suburban Southern California. Close quarters fed close harmony, and Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson taught themselves to emulate the sound of the pre-rock vocal groups—the Four Freshman and the Hi-Lo's, in particular.
The unironically monumental project of monumentalizing the music of the Baby Boomers has reached yet another landmark this month, with the release by Capitol Records of multiple editions of material the Beach Boys recorded in 1966 and 1967 for their aborted Smile album. Long mythologized as the lost masterpiece of rock, the album was reconstructed and revised several years ago by its principle creators Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks for a concert tour and recording.
Brian Wilson Presents Smile (Nonesuch) No masterpiece is so great as a lost one—a symphony unfinished, a painting painted over, a novel shredded or suppressed. Largely or wholly unheard, unseen, or unread, such a work derives its life, as most objects of legend do, from scraps of generative evidence and the accretion of romantic speculation about them, and it takes its lasting if ethereal form in the creative imagination of the public. The lost masterpiece is the only artwork that is perfect, the fulfillment of all our artistic dreams, because it exists primarily or solely within them. Incom
Johnny Mercer, one of the master artisans of pre-rock popular music, was driving with some friends to the Newport Jazz Festival one summer in the early 1960s when a Chuck Berry song came on the radio. Mercer listened closely and grinned, as one of his car mates, the film-maker Jean Bach, recalls. Soon he was singing along, beaming. Mercer leaned his face into the rushing air and slapped out the beat of the song on the side of the car that Bach's husband had rented for the weekend--a big red convertible, ideally suited to the moment.