Monday 30 May 2016

Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds at The Sage, Gateshead 2016

Image result for brian wilson sage gateshead 2016
Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds at The Sage, Gateshead

Frank Black
29 May 2016

A packed house paid homage to Brian Wilson and his amazing band as they played the celebrated Pet Sounds album and a collection of hits and deeper cuts.

This was Wilson’s third time at The Sage after his 2004 Smile show at Newcastle City Hall and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that his vocal delivery has become more idiosyncratic. At times, he belted out the numbers, at others, he opted for a lounge singer approach. Perhaps because at he’s now 73, he sang fewer leads than previous visits but was more than ably supported by fellow Beach Boys Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin and Al’s son and former Beach Boys touring band member, Matt Jardine, who hit the high notes Wilson can no longer reach.

The first half was a mix of hits and ‘deeper cuts’ and a superb reminder of the range of Wilson’s song-writing. While it was sad to him ceding the bridge on Surfer Girl to Chaplin, it was a pleasure to see the latter take lead vocals and play some blistering guitar on Wild Honey, Funky Pretty and Sail on Sailor, for which, of course, he was the original vocalist.

Long-time Wilson band member and conductor and arranger Paul Von Mertens referred to Chaplin, who, after spending so long playing with the Rolling Stones bizarrely sports their somewhat weathered appearance, as ‘the real deal,’ but surely that accolade belongs to 73 year-old Al Jardine. He may have lost a bit of his upper register, but his voice remains remarkably like it was 50 years ago and he retains a boyish enthusiasm for the music. His take on Cotton Fields was alone worth the price of admission.

Despite the occasional flub, the notoriously ill-at-ease Wilson was in good humour throughout, putting the band through their paces to sing the chorus of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary before stopping them and adding wryly, “We don’t know the rest…”

Pet Sounds followed the interval, with Wilson singing God Only Knows as the obvious highlight, followed by a standing ovation, though Wilson and the Jardines' rendition of Sloop John B was equally appreciated. After the sound of the train passing and the barking dogs faded, Good Vibrations kicked in for a rousing finale until Wilson sang an affectingly hesitant Love and Mercy to round off the night.

Leaving any gig is a downer and a good one like this, even more so, but the foyer was filled with an air of melancholy, like the fade at the end of Caroline, No. There was something extra poignant about this show: it’s likely to be his last tour and while he still wants to record, the door is closing on a remarkable career.

Wilson had commented as he left the stage at the interval that this was music therapy. And it was. For everybody.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Paul Simon talks about Stranger to Stranger - album now streaming...

Image result for stranger to stranger

Paul Simon's latest album, Stranger To Stranger, is due out June 3.
First Listen: Paul Simon, 'Stranger To Stranger'
Paul Simon's latest album, Stranger To Stranger, is due out June 3

Tom Moon
26 May 2016

When we first meet the Street Angel, three tracks into Paul Simon's new Stranger To Stranger, he uses a bebop riff to describe what he does. "I make my verse for the universe ... I write my rhymes for the universities, and I give it away for the hoot of it ... A tree is bare, but the root of it goes deeper than logical reasoning." No one talks to this person, so Simon, longtime champion of underdogs, lends a sympathetic ear. Naturally, he discovers not just a homeless person, but a thinking man, a soul prone to reflection.

A few songs later, this character returns as the star of a drama in some unlucky ER. There's a boisterous carnival groove with lots of percussion — the soundtrack of a celebration in his head? Riding atop this pulse is an anxious mantra: "I can't talk now / I'm in a parade." This could be the Street Angel jabbering into a make-believe phone, or a medical professional's jargon for peak ER traffic; either way, the phrase grows more surreal with each repetition. Soon enough, reality intrudes. Simon switches his voice to monotone to evoke the procedural call-and-response of official paperwork:

Diagnosis: Schizophrenic

Prognosis: Guarded

Medication: Seroquel

Occupation: Street Angel

When the parade roars back up again, it's newly chaotic, more defiant and weird. We're never quite sure what's happening inside this character's head, or what's occurring out in the world. We're also unclear about what happens: Does he survive to rhyme another day? Or is the Angel destined for the queue in heaven's waiting room, a place Simon sketched brilliantly in "The Afterlife" from 2013's So Beautiful Or So What?

The slight "In A Parade" has much less description than "The Afterlife"; it's more dramatic vignette than deep commentary. But its portrayal of that fine line between madness and genius is startlingly visceral — it's a scene, a slice, a rendering of mental imbalance from deep within the maelstrom in progress; one that makes no judgment and draws no conclusions.

That's pretty much the game throughout Stranger To Stranger, Simon's 13th solo album. It's more opaque than Simon's recent works, less forthright and declarative, less locked onto linear tracks. Its tales unfold in shards and mumbled asides, oddly unsettling repeated phrases and strange prophecies. These don't always seem haunting at the start, but they become that way — as the details fill in, or don't, as Simon's telegraphic shorthand implies multiple meanings. You can't read the lyrics to these songs and expect to "get" them; you have to surrender to the slurpy backward vocals, the sharp crack of drumsticks, the whole experience.

Contrasting the unspoken tremors of interior life with the outside world's endless parade of diversions, Simon sounds like someone who's given up trying to force the scattered message-bombardment of daily life into an orderly narrative. This should be liberating, but no weight has been lifted from his shoulders; abandoning the business of parsing life's big mysteries has brought him no peace. In the title track, he talks about being jittery and explains it by saying, "It's just a way of dealing with my joy" — and you don't immediately believe him, because everything around him sounds like a somber elegy. Forget joy; nothing in the audio landscape suggests so much as a wan obligatory smile, let alone the jitters.

Most of the time, the jitters live in and travel happily through the musical accompaniment, lifting the upbeat lyrics and animating the dour ones. Since at least Graceland, Simon has built his songs around specific rhythms — or short, Morse-code-like rhythmic phrases that acquire their power through churning repetition and subtle variation. Some of these are descended from funk or gospel: The trance pulse of "Wristband," which evokes a memorable scene from Birdman, celebrates the simmering tension of '70s cop-show soundtracks. Elsewhere, Simon weaves trace elements of rhythms from around the world into music that's deep and powerful yet somehow not self-consciously "global." It's not easy to connect the relentless whomp of samba to the nimble-fingered chop of flamenco guitar to the chatter of salsa's metallic percussion, but Simon makes it sound that way. This herding of disparate ideas into a cohesive whole has become one of his enduring sonic signatures — pop as a language of exuberant dances and polyrhythmic upheavals.

As inventive as these tapestries are, there's a quiet sense here that Simon, composer of hundreds of profound and enduring songs, is battling himself and his catalog every time he sits down to write. Simon discussed this in a recent interview with Bob Boilen for All Songs Considered, suggesting that he may now seek creative outlets beyond music. And he refers to his artistic struggle in the enigmatic title track: "Most of the time it's just hard, working the same piece of clay day after day, year after year." This confession comes after he's described his work in a series of short, almost dismissive disconnected lines — first "words and melodies," then "easy harmonies," followed by the sad clincher, "old-time remedies."

Even within the few Stranger To Stranger songs that hearken back to moods and chord sequences Simon has used before, there's no rewriting going on. His music still pulses with the feeling of invention; he's still discovering new ways to communicate, new percussive beats, challenging new frameworks for observations about joy, death and everything in between. These new songs are not as easily parsed as "Bridge Over Troubled Water," but that doesn't mean they're not as artful. They're just remedies and salves of a different sort. They're just the isolated vision-bursts and flashes of clarity that sometimes occur when you look up and realize you're trapped in the middle of a parade.

Album now streaming:

Friday 27 May 2016

Bob Dylan - Daniel Kramer book and exhibition at The Snap Gallery, London, 2016

Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited album cover, shot by Daniel Kramer

Bob Dylan unseen: Daniel Kramer discusses rare images from the 1960s
Capturing classic album sleeves and private moments on 35mm, Kramer spent a breathless 12 months with the musician, who turned 75 yesterday

Interview by Jim Farber
Wednesday 25 May 2016 

Daniel Kramer picked a good time to pester Bob Dylan about setting up a photo shoot. It was early 1964, a few months before Dylan went electric. Kramer, a well-known photojournalist specializing in artist portraits, knew nothing of Dylan before he heard him sing the politically charged song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll on the Steve Allen Show. “Then I began regularly sending notes, and making calls, to the office of Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, asking for a one-hour session,” Kramer recalled. “The office always said no.”

But six months later, when Grossman himself picked up the phone for one of Kramer’s calls, things changed. “He just said, ‘OK, come up to Woodstock next Thursday,’” Kramer remembers.

Upon Kramer’s arrival at Grossman’s home, the one-hour photo session stretched to five hours, and was followed by encounters over the next 12 months which resulted in some of the best-known shots of Dylan ever taken. Now those photos, many which have never been seen before, have been published in A Year and A Day (Taschen), a book named for the timespan Kramer and Dylan spent together between 27 August 1964 and 28 August 1965.

Here, Kramer talks about some of those images.

He’s electric

This was shot in Columbia Records’ studio in New York. It was part of the Bringing It All Back Home recording sessions. Bob did the album with acoustic instruments on one side and electric on the other. People say Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. That’s not true. He did it months earlier, right here in Studio A.

Playing chess with Victor Maymudes at Bernard’s Cafe Espresso, a favorite hangout spot in Woodstock, 1964.
This was shot up in Woodstock. Dylan used to go up there when he wanted to get out of the city to write music. It was taken the first day I met him, during that five-hour session. He didn’t want to sit for just a normal portrait. He said to me: “Do what you want.” So I shot him around Albert Grossman’s house. Then it was time to go to lunch. This was at an outdoor part of a local cafe where Dylan went regularly. The chess shot wasn’t set up. It was just part of how Dylan was spending his day. He was playing chess with his road manager, Victor Maymudes. The woman and her son were just locals who knew Dylan from coming to the cafe. Interestingly, that cafe was later converted into the Center for Photography in Woodstock. Forty years after I made this picture, I had a show in that same facility featuring these photos.

‘He suggested I photograph him on the swing. His mood changed when he stood up and he pumped the swing higher and higher.’

That’s the porch of Albert Grossman’s home. There’s a series of swing pictures in the book, all taken in that first session. Bob looks glum, but I have some in the book where he’s standing up on the swing pumping hard and smiling. It just a couple of guys taking some pictures that day to see what we could do. It was all unsaid. Dylan is very smart about these things. He knows how to work with the camera.

At a pool hall in Kingston, New York, December 1964

This shot was taken a few months later, in Kingston, New York, down the road a piece from Woodstock. We went to the pool hall in the evening after dinner. Victor Maymudes went and so did Bernard, who owned the cafe in the chess picture. Dylan’s a pretty good pool player. No one bothered him. He has a little more privacy around him than most performers. People understood that.

Surrounded by fans after a show at Town Hall, in Philadelphia, 10 October 1964

After I showed the first pictures to Dylan and Albert Grossman, Bob said to me, “I’m going to play in Philadelphia next week. Would you like to go?” If you want to be a good photographer, you need three things: you need a camera, a phone and you need to say “yes”. I had never heard Dylan play live. So I drove with them in their station wagon to Philadelphia and we got to know each other a little more. He wanted to know about the work I had done with Salvador Dalí. I was an assistant to a photographer who worked with Dalí a lot. Dylan and I were discussing Dalí’s ability to be a showman. He’s the opposite of Dylan. Dalí made a whole business out of “here I am”. This shot was taken after the Philadelphia show in one of the rooms off the lobby. He’s signing autographs and smiling for his fans. He was still accessible then.

‘It was obvious from the very beginning of the recording sessions that something exciting was happening.’

This is from the recording session for Bringing It All Back Home. I was surprised to see that he played piano. And he played it well!

An outtake from the Bringing It All Back Home album cover shoot with Sally Grossman, Woodstock, January 1965

This is one of the shots I’ve been sitting on for 50 years. It has never been seen before. I wanted the shot to express the fact that Bob Dylan was about to change. He’s not the guy in the leather jacket any more. Now, he’s the guy in the dark sport blazer wearing nice cufflinks. There’s no guitar in the shot because I saw him not as any one kind of performer but as a prince of music. I had been in the sessions for the album, so I knew now who he was musically. The photo was shot in Albert Grossman’s house. The room was the original kitchen of this house that’s a couple hundred years old. The fireplace is big enough to cook in. The divan, which was multicolored, was a gift from Mary Travers, of Peter Paul and Mary, to Albert and his wife, Sally, for their wedding. Bob contributed to the picture the magazines he was reading and albums he was listening to. Bob wanted Sally to be in the photo because, well, look at her! She chose the red outfit.

“It seemed inevitable that the particular talents of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez would find their way on to one stage during the winter of 1964–65.”

Dylan was going to do this concert with Joan for Halloween night, 1964, in a show that became one of his Bootleg Series records. It was at Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center. I always photographed him from wherever I wanted. But at that concert, I was told by the house manager that photographers had to be up in a press booth. They can’t roam around. I told Albert when we were backstage with Bob, and at that moment, the house manager walked by and said: “Can we bring the curtain up?” Albert said: “You can, just as soon as you give Dan permission to shoot from wherever he wants.” Now you understand Albert Grossman. One shot here is of Bob and Joan at Philharmonic Hall. The shot [not shown] of them waiting at the train station to get to a plane was the next day.

One of several unpublished photos of Bob Dylan on 5th Avenue with Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, and the guitarist John Hammond Jr.

Here Dylan is with Peter Yarrow, of Peter Paul and Mary, and John Hammond Jr. Bob calls me one day and says: “We’d like to come over, go down in the street and make some pictures.” This is right in front of my studio on 39th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue. There was this truck there, so now we had a prop. Another picture that day was used on the back of Bringing It All Back Home, the one with the police officers. Forty years later, I get a phone call – “are you the guy that made that picture on the back of the album cover showing that policeman? That’s my grandfather. Can we get a print?”

Soundcheck before the show, Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Queens, New York, 28 August 1965

This is shot on my last day with Dylan. It’s from the afternoon before the Forest Hills show. That was the first full official show going electric, unlike Newport, where he just did a few numbers. There was some booing from the audience. Not much. Writers make such a fuss over that. He’s holding the electric guitar which sold at Christie’s a few years ago for $1m. It’s the most money ever paid for an electric guitar. I made a life-sized version of this picture for the auction as evidence – look, it’s Bob with that guitar!

Kramer had a backstage pass to both the private and public Dylan in the seminal year when he became an international superstar

Here, Bob and I are having a shootout in March of 1965. He’s taking a shot of me with a very important camera. It’s the same one you see in the background of the cover of Highway 61. It’s a 35mm Range Finder Nikon. No one asked him to shoot me. Bob just liked the camera and he was very playful.

Photos from Dan Kramer’s A Year And A Day will be on display at The Snap Gallery, London, SW1, starting 18 June

Book launch exhibition - Daniel Kramer - Bob Dylan: A Year and A Day

Details of our new exhibition and book launch

In June 2016 we are hosting an exhibition for Daniel Kramer to mark the launch of his new limited edition Taschen book, Bob Dylan: A Year and A Day, which we are now offering to our clients. A Year and a Day costs £450, and if you want one you can order one from us right now.

I am in the very fortunate position that I have turned every page of A Year and A Day, and read every word, and can vouch for it being something really special.

Daniel Kramer first photographed bob Dylan on 27 August 1964 in Woodstock, and his final photographs of Bob Dylan were taken on 28 August 1965, just over a year later. Dan was in the studio when Bob Dylan recorded Bringing It All Back Home, and took the grammy nominated cover photograph for that album, and its follow up Highway 61 Revisited. He photographed Dylan live in many guises - solo, duetting with Joan Baez, and in his final session, electrified with The Hawks at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium - and behind the scenes, relaxing off stage with friends.

Dan's work needs no introduction to Bob Dylan fans, who will no doubt already own his 1967 book, Bob Dylan: A Portrait of the Artist’s Early Years. This was the first major photographic work about Bob Dylan, and contained 140 black and white photographs.

Old vs new

Given that Dan's first book will be on the book shelf of any self respecting Bob Dylan fan, I thought I should shed some light on how the new book, A Year and a Day, differs.

First, it is a whole lot bigger. It measures 12.5 x 17.5 inches (approx), and has 288 pages. I counted 190 photographs, so up considerably from the 140 in the first book, and with unpublished material included.

Second, A Year and a Day contains a selection of 15 colour photographs, including previously unpublished colour session photographs from Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. The first book was all black and white.

Third, there is a signed limited edition version. We are offering what the publishers refer to as the Collectors edition of the book, which is a limited edition of 1,765 numbered copies, each one signed by Dan Kramer, and costs £450. It is a hardcover, and comes in its own printed clamshell box. The slipcase has the book title on the front, no picture, and once you lift open the clamshell lid, you find the book inside. The cover of the book has a tight-close-up head shot of Bob Dylan from the first session in Woodstock on 27 August 1964.

Fourth, A Year and a Day has some really nice design aspects. A number of the spreads fold out, so that you get up to four full size photographs visible at one time, rather than the usual two. This works particularly well on a spread showing four photographs of Bob Dylan at the piano during the recording of Bringing It All Back Home.

The book is organised into six chapters, covering Woodstock, Philadelphia Town Hall, Recording Bringing It All Back Home, Bob and Joan, Early 1965, and finally Forest Hills. Each chapter has accompanying text by Dan Kramer, who has great insights and a relaxed and easy-going writing style.

All this comes as a highly recommended package. Please do buy one now to be assured of securing your copy of this limited edition.

Here's the link to where you can do that online - or you can call us at the gallery on 0207 493 1152 to place your order.

On timing, I am told by the distributors that we will have copies of the book available at the gallery at the end of May, and we have started to take orders for them now. We will get them to you just as soon as they arrive. We will give you details of the June gallery exhibition in a later update.

Thursday 26 May 2016

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
I'll See You In My Dreams
Sunny Afternoon

Da Elderly: -
Is It Only The Moonlight?
Into The Light

The Elderly Brothers: -
Crying In The Rain
The Boxer
Medley: Sweet Caroline/Hi Ho Silver Lining
Sea Of Heartbreak
Putting On The Style
Wonderful World
Walk Right Back
When Will I Be Loved
I Saw Her Standing There

What started as a rather quiet night just kept getting busier. There were plenty of players and plenty of Dylan covers (for his 75th Birthday - on Tuesday) inc. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, Mr Tambourine Man and Tomorrow Is A Long Time. The Elderly Brothers set, which included 'new' songs by Lonnie Donegan and Sam Cooke, was extended by two encores!

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Happy 75th Bob

It's the only way to celebrate!

Burt Kwouk RIP

Burt Kwouk, Pink Panther star, dies aged 85

Nick Serpell
24 May 2016

Burt Kwouk, who was best known for playing Inspector Clouseau's manservant Cato in the Pink Panther films, has died aged 85.

He appeared in seven Pink Panther films opposite Peter Sellers as Clouseau's servant who regularly attacked his employer to keep him alert.

He also starred in BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine from 2002 to 2010.

Born in Manchester but raised in Shanghai, the actor was awarded an OBE in the 2011 New Year Honour List.

A statement issued by his agent said: "Beloved actor Burt Kwouk has sadly passed peacefully away. The family will be having a private funeral but there will be a memorial at a later date."

On the big screen Kwouk also appeared in three James Bond films including Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice.

Kwouk had a long TV career, appearing in numerous TV shows including The Avengers and Doctor Who. He also played Major Yamauchi in the 1980s wartime television drama Tenko.

He joined long-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine as electrician Entwistle - a part that was written with him in mind.

The actor appeared in Harry Hill's comedy series in the 1990s and also gained a cult following when he presented Channel 4's interactive gambling show Banzai from 2001-2004.
Burt Kwouk appeared alongisde Brian Murphy and Russ Abbot in Last of the Summer Wine

Many fans have been paying tribute on social media and sharing their favourite clips of Kwouk as Cato.

Film director Duncan Jones tweeted: "Just heard the wonderful Burt Kwouk has passed away. Lovely man. Was willing to work with film students like myself."

Al Murray also tweeted how he "was very lucky to have worked with Burt Kwouk on the Harry Hill show way back when".

'Allo 'Allo! actress Vicky Michelle tweeted a picture of herself with Burt Kwouk and said she knew him well through their charity work with the Heritage Foundation.

"Fab actor, lovely fun and gentle man," she said.
Kwouk played Major Yamauchi in Tenko, the popular drama which was set in a women's prison camp in World War II

Kwouk started acting when he returned to England in 1954 after his family's wealth was wiped out in the 1949 revolution.

His big break came 10 years later when director Blake Edwards offered him the part of Cato Fong, opposite Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau.

His double act with Sellers was hugely popular with fans and he continued in the role of Cato after Sellers died in 1980, appearing opposite Roger Moore and Roberto Benigni when they took on the role of the bumbling French detective.

Kwouk said he never expected the part to continue for such a long time, starring in his first Pink Panther film in 1974 and the last in 1992.

"They were always a lot of fun because after a while I got to know Cato quite well and I liked Cato because he never argued with me and he never borrowed money from me. I liked playing Cato quite a lot," he told the BBC in 2011.

Talking about his career after being awarded an OBE for services to drama, the actor said working on the James Bond movies was a special experience.

"Bond movies are always great fun because everything about them is big, expansive, huge - the sets are big, the amounts of money that is spent is huge as well, and the whole thing has a big atmosphere about it. And actors like doing that kind of thing."

But if he had to pick a favourite role, the star said it would be the first time he "had a featured role in a good movie".

"You always remember your first of anything - your first house, your first car, your first child, your first woman - you always remember those things and this was a picture made in 1958.

"It was The Inn of the Sixth Happiness which starred a great lady called Ingrid Bergman, I remember that very fondly."

He is survived by his wife Caroline Tebbs, who he married in 1961 and a son.

Monday 23 May 2016

Steely Dan: Dallas and Sail the Waterway

Dallas/Sail The Waterway” (1972)

S Victor Aaron
15 June 2014

“Dallas” and “Sail The Waterway” were recorded by the initial Steely Dan band in 1972 and together comprised a pre-Can’t Buy A Thrill single. We know that promo singles were pressed; they’re still in circulation. What is less certain is whether the single ever made it to general public release. That just can’t be verified because, if it was, it sold too poorly to be sure.

Becker and Fagan seem to agree with the lackluster reception to these songs; they haven’t allowed them to be included in any SD compilations, you can’t get it on cassette or CD and in an interview the duo have labeled these tunes “stinko.” Though the melodies are a bit straightforward for what would soon become typical for them, I’d hesitate to say they were putrid. Far from it.

Jim Hodder, their drummer at the time, took lead vocals duties on “Dallas,” and the underrated croon that gave a lift to “Midnight Cruiser” nailed it on this song, too. Skunk Baxter’s pedal steel steered the song in a decidedly country direction, perhaps more so than the song’s composers really wanted in hindsight. It fits the whole character of this tune perfectly, though.

The country-rock band Poco covered “Dallas” a few years later for their Head Over Heels LP and, though it lacks Skunk’s distinctive pedal steel, this is one of the rare instances where a Steely Dan song done by someone other than Steely Dan is a match for the original. For those of you who love to connect dots, Poco at the time had future Eagle Timothy B. Schmidt in the band, a studio backing vocalist on several Steely Dan recordings including “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”

Fagen takes over the vocal reigns for “Sail the Waterway,” and the B-side track is decidedly more in the rock vein, similar in style to “Kings,” and quite good harmonies along with a tangy blues lead guitar (Baxter again?). Come to think of it, I like it even better than “Kings”; it only needed a little more studio polish.

Brilliance wasn’t present at the dawn of the greatest American rock band of the ’70s, but you can surely tell from the “Dallas/Sail The Waterway” single that they were well on their way there.

Friday 20 May 2016

Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger

Paul Simon’s Ambition, and Inspiration, Never Gets Old
Jon Pareles
New York Times
18 May 2016

Sitting on the windowsill behind Paul Simon’s desk in his Midtown office was an instrument shaped like a teardrop: a gopichand from India, with one string down the middle and two flexible bamboo sides. At an interview there, Mr. Simon demonstrated how to pluck the string and squeeze the sides to get the “boing” that’s the first sound on “Stranger to Stranger,” his 12th solo studio album and his first since 2011, which is due for release June 3.

“Stranger to Stranger” is a set of songs that crack jokes and ponder questions about love, death, spirituality, baseball, economic inequality, brain chemistry and music itself. It’s the latest ambitious, tuneful installment in a career that has had far more to do with curiosity than crowd-pleasing. Along the way, Mr. Simon has sold millions of records, with Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960s and in a globe-hopping solo career ever since. He has racked up Grammy Awards and accolades; he has also received scathing receptions for projects like his 1998 Broadway musical, “The Capeman,” although revivals concentrating on the songs rather than the storytelling were praised. “I’m a wanderer,” Mr. Simon said. “So much of this record, and the way I record, is about just going there to see: What is it? What can you learn?”

At 74, Mr. Simon could be comfortably retired, savoring the continuing popularity of his older songs like “America,” which he donated to ads for the Bernie Sanders campaign, or “The Sound of Silence,” which became a hit last year for the hard-rock band Disturbed. Or he could stay on the road performing his oldies just the way his original baby-boomer fans remember them (though he recently said any reunion with Mr. Garfunkel is “out of the question”). He could also keep trying to write new songs in the style of those oldies.

Instead, Mr. Simon’s recent albums are as experimental as anything he has ever recorded. “He trusts himself and he pushes himself. That’s a very good combination,” said the composer Philip Glass, a longtime friend and occasional collaborator. “If one part of that equation isn’t there, then you’re in trouble.”

Mr. Simon has a clear imperative. “To make a pop record, if you don’t make it really interesting, nobody’s going to listen to it,” he said.

On “Stranger to Stranger,” Mr. Simon is, above all, playing by ear. “The sound is what led me to everything,” he said. “The theme of this album — it’s not a lyrical theme. It’s a sound theme. This is the time that we’re living in and this is what it sounds like to me from the sources that I find interesting. In a way it’s not that different from hip-hop guys that are interested in sound, like Kanye or Kendrick.”

In hindsight, Mr. Simon arguably brought a sampling mentality to songwriting long before the concept had a name or a technology. He has always incorporated nuggets he comes across, from folk songs like “Scarborough Fair” and “El Condor Pasa” to vintage gospel like the Swan Silvertones’ “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” and imported records like the ones that led him to South African music for his “Graceland” album. “They come from different cultures, but they all have something that makes you say, ‘I’m not listening to a weird thing,’” he said.

After some early recriminations — he is still resented by British folkies he heard and echoed in London in the 1960s — Mr. Simon has made sure to share credit with his sources or compensate them upfront. “But if someone hears a line, ‘I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in my name,’ in ‘Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,’ that doesn’t mean they’re going to write ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’” he noted. (Among the neat arrays of photographs and memorabilia on the walls of Mr. Simon’s office, he keeps a framed copy of the string arrangement for “Bridge Over Troubled Water”; its title, misheard from the demo by the arranger, is “Like a Pitcher of Water.”)

Mr. Simon still prizes the vinyl-era ideal of an album as two connected 20-minute sides, which he considers a “natural form.” Yet he recognizes the ways streaming and randomly shuffled playlists can provide instant gratification. “The whole listening process changed,” he said. “What’s harder is to say to somebody, I know you’ve got it, but if you give it a little while longer you might actually find a pleasure that exists in music that you haven’t experienced, because they keep cutting it shorter and shorter before you get to the pleasure. They just keep giving you shots of adrenaline, not serotonin.”

He explained: “Serotonin is the drug that puts you in the situation where you feel safe and comfortable. The drug that gives you the awe is the dopamine. And the adrenaline is the thing that keeps you going.”

When they arrive together, he said, “I think it’s so incredible, it’s an addiction, and that’s why artists keep doing it.”

“Stranger to Stranger” opens with “The Werewolf,” a jovial shuffle that gibes at the rich getting richer amid “Ignorance and arrogance/The national debate”; it was written well before the current presidential campaign, Mr. Simon said. “Cool Papa Bell” is named after the fastest runner in the Negro Leagues, before baseball was integrated, while “The Riverbank” depicts the funeral of a veteran who committed suicide. The title song reflects on songwriting and romance: “Love endures all the carnage and the useless detours,” Mr. Simon sings.

The music on “Stranger to Stranger” exults in percussion; four of the album’s first six tracks don’t use guitar at all. The songs often stretch beyond pop’s typical four minutes and take startling (but in the end logical) twists. They subtly cohere, with some songs sharing rhythmic elements; they also continue to expand Mr. Simon’s sonic vocabulary with unique instruments as well as with electronics, loops and samples.

Mr. Simon has often been called a perfectionist, but Mark Stewart, a guitarist in Mr. Simon’s band since 1998, calls that a “two-dimensional” description. “It’s more of a sonic safari,” Mr. Stewart said. “You’re looking for the rare bird. And he’s just so consistent in his finding the bird. And of course, we’re all assembled to help. But you can’t finish a musical sentence for the guy. He’s going to stay on the trail till he finds it.”

The album’s snappiest song, “Wristband,” starts as a fictional anecdote and turns into a larger metaphor for privilege. Its narrator is a singer who goes out for a smoke, hears the stage door lock behind him and realizes he left behind his backstage-pass wristband as he faces a bouncer who’s “a well-dressed six-foot-eight.” Eventually, riots ensue among “Kids that can’t afford the cool brand/Whose anger is a shorthand/For you’ll never get a wristband.”

The music for “Wristband” grew out of the sliding tones of a West African talking drum track. Mr. Simon asked Carlos Henriquez, from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, to duplicate them on the bass, and found a stretch that felt like a montuno, a Latin dance vamp. Mr. Simon’s son Adrian pointed him toward the electronic music of an Italian producer, Digi G’Alessio, who calls himself Clap! Clap!; Mr. Simon met with him while touring Europe with Sting and later visited his studio in Sardinia to choose some bubbling electronic syncopation. There are also handclaps from a flamenco group — Mr. Simon recorded the whole group together and isolated the clapping, then slowed it down digitally — along with percussion and horns from Mr. Simon’s touring band. And the whole multitracked assemblage simply jumps.

The album’s sounds also include instruments invented by the composer Harry Partch — among them chromelodeon and cloud-chamber bowls — that divide an octave into 43 steps, which are used to bend the harmonic ambience of “Insomniac’s Lullaby.” And they include the gospel voices of the Golden Gate Quartet, recorded in 1939, pitch-shifted and played forward and backward. Listening to the group’s vocals in reverse, Mr. Simon heard the words, “Street Angel,” giving him a song title and a character mentioned in two of the album’s songs: a homeless, poetry-spouting schizophrenic who ends up in the hospital. “Too much dopamine, and you’re schizophrenic,” Mr. Simon said. “But just over here, and you’re a visionary.”

“Proof of Love” features a six-beat, African-tinged groove and intertwining guitar parts that Mr. Simon worked out with the Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, who has been part of his band since he made “Graceland” in the 1980s. Its lyrics grew out of a trip Mr. Simon made to a spiritual healer in Brazil in 2014. “I like spiritual adventures,” he said. “I half believe it and I half don’t believe it. But the half that believes it really likes it.”

At one point, Mr. Simon was asked to make music for some of the healer’s other visitors. Someone handed him a guitar and he started to play “The Sound of Silence,” approaching one person at a time. “As I walk toward people they start to weep and fall down,” he recalled. “I walk from room to room and everywhere it happens the same way. This is a big energy thing that’s going on, but I’m not controlling it. I don’t know why they’re doing this, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad.”

Mr. Simon is already on tour, mostly playing theaters, although his New York City date is on June 30 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, where he grew up. His band convenes Africans (Mr. Nguini and Bakithi Kumalo, from the Graceland band), contemporary classical musicians (from YMusic, Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Philip Glass Ensemble), a percussionist (Jamey Haddad) who’s versed in jazz, Middle Eastern and Indian music, a jazz-rooted saxophonist (Andy Snitzer), an accordionist adept at Tex-Mex, zydeco and blues (Joel Guzman) and a drummer from Nashville, Jim Oblon, who “knows the sound of rockabilly and ‘50s blues that I’m always trying to get,” Mr. Simon said, noting that all his influences “mesh together” live. “So all kinds of forms can coalesce in some way that breaks this feeling that we’ve been dumbed down.”

With the band, Mr. Simon also finds new grooves for older songs. “He wants to honor the story of the song, not necessarily the original arrangement,” Mr. Stewart said. “How do you honor that story now? That’s the question he asks himself, and how can he do that song for the 2,000th time and believe it.”

Mr. Simon is well aware that he’s had an exceptionally long career. “I often think, I don’t have to do this. I’m doing the idea I had when I was 13,” he said. “Sixty years later, it’s a 13-year-old’s idea. Do I still want to do it? That’s a good question. I usually ask it when I start off on each album. Then I start. I grumble, I grumble, and then some idea comes along. And I always say this after every album: I really don’t know if I want to do it again. But this time I really do mean it.”

He shrugged. “But I always mean it.”

All Songs +1: A Conversation With Paul Simon
Paul Simon's latest album, Stranger To Stranger, is due out June 3

Bob Boilen
19 May 2016
Paul Simon has a new album coming out and it's wonderful. Titled Stranger To Stranger, it's his thirteenth solo release and he told me he it could be his last, at least for a while. For this week's +1 podcast, I sat with Paul Simon at NPR's New York bureau to talk about the new record, but more specifically to talk about a single song on the album, the puzzling and quirky opening cut, "The Werewolf."

Paul Simon walked me through the song, the thousands of decisions he had to make and the minutia of songwriting that I think makes his music complex, conversational and memorable. This entire song was inspired by a sound, and from that sound Paul Simon had to find the subject and characters. What he came up with is a scary tale of where he believes we are in the 21st century.

You can listen to the full conversation above or read edited highlights below.

The entire album will be part of our First Listen series on May 26, a week before its June 3 release.

Paul Simon on how he started working on Stranger To Stranger:

"I started off with a rhythmic premise on the album and the rhythmic premise is that I really like the sound of hand claps and Flamenco dancing. I like Flamenco music, too, but I didn't want to make a Flamenco record. So I didn't want the guitar and those vocals and I didn't want to be learning a new form. All I wanted was the claps. In order to get that though, the musicians said, 'Well we can't just clap. We need to clap to a song!' So we had a guitarist and a singer and they were in the control room, and the percussionists were in the studio with earphones. And the singer is singing and the guitarist is playing a traditional song. And the percussionists are playing along with it. At a certain point I might say, 'That minute and a half is fine.' I can make a loop of that for four-and-a-half or five minutes and then I'll think about what should be laid on top of it. And once that happens I'll think about what might lyrically appropriate in that musical context. And that's the typical way that I write."

On finding the right lyrics for "The Werewolf":

"One of the hardest parts of making a song is finding the first line. It's very important, just as the last line is. And I started off with, 'I knew a man who...' and I immediately didn't like it. 'I knew a man who led a decent life. Made a fairly decent living. Had a fairly decent wife.' I'm kind of happy with all these 'fairly decents.' And then the quick turn: She killed him. And the specific thing: Sushi knife. Shows you what kind of household they had if they had a sushi knife. And now they're shopping for a fairly decent afterlife. They're still shopping."

Trial-ing and error-ing:

"There's a lot of trial and error that goes into the record making process for me. Most of the time I enjoy it immensely, except for when I get frustrated and I'm 'trial-ing' and 'error-ing' but I'm more 'error-ing' than 'trial-ing.' You keep doing it until it feels right. And when it doesn't feel right, the ear goes to the irritant. The thing that doesn't feel rights eventually gets on your nerves to such a degree that you finally pull it out. It may take a while before you recognize that you really don't like a certain thing. Because you start off saying, 'It's okay. It's not my favorite part, but it's okay.' And usually that's about denial because you've worked on it a long time. You know, 'It's fine, it's not the best part of the song.' But it's okay until you get to the point where you say, 'I really can't stand that.'"

On thinking about giving up songwriting:

"I really wonder what would happen to my creative impulses, which seem to come on a regular basis; every three, four years they manifest themselves. And by habit, they manifest themselves as songs. But this is really the decision of a 13-year old. Me, who said, at 13, 'No, I want to write songs.' So I'm doing it 60 years later. This 13-year old is still telling me what to do. But I wonder what happens if I simply prohibit myself from expressing whatever the creative urge is, if I do not allow that to happen in song or music form. I'm sort of willing to give it a year or so. I think maybe in the beginning it'll be frustrating and annoying and I'll want to go back to the other way. But if I stay with the rules maybe I'll discover some other outlet."

Thursday 19 May 2016

Last night's set list

At The Habit, York: -

Too Far Gone
I Don't Want To Talk About It

Ron Elderly was poorly (and we wish him a speedy recovery), so yours truly performed solo - consequently there was no Elderly Brothers set this week. The venue was absolutely rammed from the off and players were turned away due to the number already on the list. The 4-piece from last week returned for their second gig and we had two loop-machine players this time. A lass played some classical guitar and another, a fine set including Joni Mitchell's The Circle Game.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

The Psychological Western at the BFI 2016

Who wears the pants?

Lonely rangers: the dark side of westerns
The early cowboy movies were built on a simple moral struggle between goodies and baddies. So why did they so quickly evolve into psychologically bleak depictions of damaged souls?

Michael Newton
The Guardian
Friday 6 May 2016

Among the rocks and dust of an Arizona canyon, a man and a woman want to kill each other. Each draws closer, gun in hand, and they take turns to fire, inflicting wounds. Yet between each shot, the desire they feel for one another overwhelms them. Here, love reveals itself as murderous, and murder proves loving. Mortally wounded, the woman crawls through the dust so they may die, stilled at last, in each other’s arms. The scene is over-the-top, it is preposterous, and yet in being so it is also exceedingly magnificent. From Duel in the Sun (1946), David O Selznick and King Vidor’s delirium-dream of a movie, this moment encapsulates the operatic astonishment of the postwar Hollywood western, with a shootout that sets the tone for the genre’s descent into hallucinatory strangeness. From then on, the vast distances of the American landscape would be matched by the depth of fall into the human psyche.

Until then the western had stood as a realm of almost heraldic simplicities, a moral landscape in which the good and the bad square up; black hats versus white hats, and all stays firmly in its place, especially the foundational dominion that is America itself. Within a pristine wilderness, new, disconcerting complexities became manifest. Neurosis and social disorder itself could ascend to the status of legend, the petty problems of the individual soul raised up into something archetypal.

Yet at times even the fixed landscape becomes estranging. Film noir finds itself in black and white and shadow; the postwar western realises itself in colour and glare. The director Anthony Mann’s grand postwar westerns belong to pure air and light’s gift of softness. But his films are the exceptions to the Trucolor, Technicolor or Eastmancolor rule. Edward Dmytryk’s Warlock (1959), which features along with Duel in the Sun and a dozen other strange and impressive films in a BFI season of psychological westerns this month, better exemplifies the western look. The palette is harsh and lurid; the earth is red, the men sunburnt and stubbled; the characters move in sweat, grime and dust. It is a fitting world for a genre that would seek to discover the soiled self in the previously unsullied icon.

Some of these postwar films were peculiar enough to bewilder their first audiences. Nicholas Ray’s extraordinary Johnny Guitar (1954) is a western that refuses to work as a western should. Even by the standards of the time, it is a movie that operates at an uncomfortable pitch of excess and emotional extremity. Like many of the films included in the BFI season, it is an assuredly crazed work of art. Its leads, Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden, hold themselves just about steady through the intensity. As ever, Hayden looks slightly bemused by the fact that he is an actor at all, while Crawford cannot help but command the screen, in all her vulnerability and power.

The viewer is free to find this surfeit of feeling ludicrous. Yet there is a confidence in the excess that overwhelms opposition to it. It is reputed that in the decades after the war, psychoanalysts began to report that there were fewer clients suffering from the classical Freudian disorders. The old Oedipus and Elektra complexes were thinning out, replaced by vague anxieties about not really being real, substantial or present at all. Perhaps these unbalanced westerns of the postwar decades represent a last gasp of the unsettled self, its heroes and heroines given over to a dark dissolution about which later generations could only dream. Above all, they pledge themselves to the fanatical form of reciprocity that is revenge. In doing so, they embody the paradox that in seeking to put corruption right, you are apt to corrupt yourself.

It is curious that the moral ambiguities and psychological strangeness on display in these movies are largely the province of the middle-aged: men and women who had been stars before the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. So it is that the trail from mythic sanity to mythic disintegration can be tracked most clearly in the careers of the period’s two best-known western stars: James Stewart and John Wayne. Even in his good-natured, all-American-guy phase, in the 1930s and early 40s, Stewart could always tap into an alarming irascibility. Yet watching Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) or The Shop Around the Corner (1940), few could have predicted the rage, the brooding compulsions exposed in Winchester ’73 (1950) or The Naked Spur (1953). In Mann’s westerns, Stewart finds in himself hard-edged selfishness, cruel propensities. Wayne’s descent is even more precipitous. Film-maker, critic and John Ford fan, Lindsay Anderson cordially despised Ford’s greatest western, The Searchers (1956). To Anderson, it betrayed the epic simplicity, the vast decency once central to the genre. Wayne’s solid probity here disintegrates into racist hate, cruelty and an unassimilable apartness. The core of the “great men” had turned out to be a desperate one indeed.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, Americans had two great traumas immediately behind them: the Depression and the second world war had both been, apparently successfully, overcome, but these events had an affect on the American psyche, and this plays out in these westerns in half-occluded forms. Repeatedly, the violent men are themselves battle veterans of the civil war, a rite of passage through which they have had to pass. The Depression leaves its mark with a preoccupation with the need for cash. When outlaws are brought in, it is the reward that the hero has his eye on, and not justice. In what is now remembered as a postwar age of consumer plenty, money here buys a security that life has otherwise failed to provide.

The films explore other kinds of prevailing unease, in particular the relations between men and women. Johnny Guitar pursues two love-rivalry plots, one between men over a woman, and one between women over a man. Yet it is the conflict between Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge that drives the film, with Crawford deep-voiced and poised, and McCambridge taut, her voice thin with tension. These films may not pass the Bechdel test, but nonetheless they can allot central and potent roles to the women at their hearts. Fritz Lang’s stylised tour de force Rancho Notorious (1952) finds the imperious Marlene Dietrich caught between being a “pipe dream” of men’s fantasies and a moral agent in her own right. But the women here are far from passive victims: I lost count of the times a woman makes a stand in that supposedly masculine domain of the shoot-out. In High Noon (1952), Will Kane, the town’s beleaguered marshal played by Gary Cooper, knows what he must do and, after some hesitation, does it. However, it is Grace Kelly’s Quaker bride who finds herself truly caught between ideals, and ends up apparently more compromised, a pacifist who, through love and duty, betrays her principles and shoots a man in the back. In many of these movies, gun-slinging women take their shots, offering something like gender equality in the dispensing of violence. Enmeshed in what is usually taken to be a period of reaction against female empowerment, they offer far more than a token role.

The matter of gender is just one of the ways that wider political and social issues saturate these westerns. So often they explore the theme of there being “no honour among thieves”. The gangs and makeshift groups that move through them operate as microcosms of American society: mutually suspicious, on the make, thrown together by chance in fables of trust and suspicion. In the glorious 3.10 to Yuma (1957) and in The Naked Spur, people are literally commodities, embodied cash. So it is money that appears to hold people together; though, in the end, dignity, love and honour matter more. These tales occupy a frontier place before the arrival of law, a state of nature that reveals the origins of American civility, and an indication as to whether that civility may return, should the power of the gun once again conquer. It is a grey zone, and the moral certainties have shaken loose. In Warlock, Anthony Quinn chides Henry Fonda, his great friend, saying, “You have decency mixed up”, and those words are a key to all these films, operating as they do in a morally confused world, where men (such asWarlock’s Richard Widmark) may find their goodness through taking part in a massacre, and the man who upholds the law is just as likely to break it. The shade of McCarthyism often falls, pitting the baying mob against the upstanding individual. In the pious, unquestioning fervour of McCambridge’s denunciations of the outsiders in Johnny Guitar, it is not hard to detect traces of Arthur Miller’s righteous victim in The Crucible, Abigail Williams, or the screech of that moral majority ready to demonise anyone who is different.

In the apparently more open and knowing contemporary world, it has become the fashion to pathologise our heroes. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who have become conundrums where the solution lies in some easily comprehended childhood trauma. The postwar Hollywood western was more content to let strangeness be strange. In these wonderful movies, psychological disturbance rises to allegory, and in so doing vexes the sustaining myth of the American frontier, an indeterminate space now revealed to be imbued with darkness. There the lonely soul wanders. They tell us that America was born out of that darkness, though in its open spaces were also found, after their own compromised fashion, justice, or forgiveness, or love.

Ride Lonesome: The Psychological Western season is at the BFI until 31 May.

Johnny Guitar's a film student fave, ripe for discuss in terms of psychology and gender roles, but I find in its execution, arch campness as irritating as the Adam West Batman TV series and its foregrounding of psychology too deliberately smart-ass. Just sayin', Tex...

Monday 16 May 2016

Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds 16.5.66


On Monday 16th of May, 1966 two of the greatest albums of all time were released. Through archive, interviews and music from The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, we tell the story of the music from that momentous day.

For the American music lover, the two albums would come to shape music history. Blonde on Blonde is considered Bob Dylan's magnum opus, while Pet Sounds is The Beach Boys' epic journey into the musical mind of Brian Wilson.

Fifty years on, we hear from those who remember that day - musicians who worked on the albums, and teenagers who saved up to buy the records but had a choice to make, Pet Sounds or Blonde on Blonde.

We hear of two lovers who danced in the kitchen to Pet Sounds. Wouldn't it Be Nice played as they talked of the future. On that day in 1966, Bob Dylan was playing in Sheffield, one of his forty or so worldwide shows. One Dylan fan remembers it like it was yesterday. The next day Dylan would play Manchester and be called "Judas".

One day, two musical visions.

Produced by Barney Rowntree and Shani Aviram

A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4.

Listen to the progamme now at

Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds': 15 Things You Didn't Know

Acid references, animal run-ins and other fascinating facts about the 50-year-old pop masterpiece

Jordan Runtagh
16 May 2016

The story of Pet Sounds is the story of art versus commerce, youthful optimism versus adult cynicism and the independent spirit versus the mundane status quo. It's also a story of tremendous courage. In 1966, 23-year-old Brian Wilson hijacked the Beach Boys, a multi-million-dollar industry consisting of his two brothers, cousin and childhood friend, to give voice to the sounds he heard in his head and the emotions he felt in his heart. The result was an album that had leading musical figures struggling to match his technical innovation, lyrical depth and melodic genius. Half a century later, it's questionable whether anyone has.

Pet Sounds has become shorthand for a fully realized artistic vision that owes little to trends and everything to the soul. "We were trying to capture spiritual love that couldn't be found anywhere else in the world," Wilson has said. In doing so, he gave popular music one of its finest touchstones.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the seminal album's release, here are some little known facts about Pet Sounds' creation.

1. Pet Sounds' lyricist penned jingles for Barbie dolls, Max Factor cosmetics and Gallo wine.
In an effort to craft material that moved beyond the Beach Boys' lightweight fun-fun-fun-in-the-sun fare*, Brian Wilson sought to work with a lyricist from outside the band's usual circle. In late 1965, he tapped Tony Asher, a copywriter at the prestigious Carson-Scott advertising agency, who had written campaigns for Mattel toys ("You can tell it's Mattel – It's swell!"), as well as Max Factor, Gallo Wines and a host of other high-profile clients. The pair was loosely acquainted through mutual friends, and had recently crossed paths in the recording studio where Asher was producing advertising jingles. The meeting was short and uneventful, but the urbane and articulate ad man stayed on Wilson's mind.

"A few weeks later, I got a phone call, " recalled Asher in an interview for thePet Sounds 30th-anniversary box set. "And Brian said, 'Listen, I have an album that is overdue. Would you want to help me write it?' I thought it was somebody in the office playing a joke on me.'" After confirming it wasn't a prank, Asher secured a leave of absence from his job and reported for duty at the pop star's Beverly Hills home several days later. Though it may sound like an unusual pairing, Asher's experience turning long meetings with ad clients into crisp copy and memorable slogans made him an ideal partner for Wilson. Most of their writing sessions began with abstract conversations about life and love, which would inevitably seep into their work. As Asher relayed to Nick Kent: "It's fair to say that the general tenor of the lyrics was always his and the actual choice of words was usually mine. I was really just his interpreter."

2. "You Still Believe in Me" was originally called "In My Childhood" and had completely different lyrics.
For Asher's first assignment, Wilson handed over a cassette of an instrumental track for a song called "In My Childhood." The composition already had a complete melody and set of lyrics, which Wilson underscored in the arrangement with youthful sounds from a bike horn and bell. But he had grown unhappy with these words and tasked Asher with writing new ones. "That was a good way to start things off," Asher said. "It's a great luxury – at least for a lyricist – to write to tracks because you have a much better sense of what the musical mood of the song is. And here was a case where it was real clear what Brian had in mind."

The next day, Asher returned with the lyrics to "You Still Be Believe in Me" scrawled on a yellow legal pad. The new lyrics were recorded over the "In My Childhood" instrumental track, which retained its innocent horn and bell as the only vestiges of its prior incarnation. "Brian never let me hear the [original] lyric to it," Asher remembered. To date, no trace of the "In My Childhood" verses have ever surfaced.

3. The instrumental "Let's Go Away for a While" was slated to have lyrics.
Brian Wilson always had a special fondness for "Let's Go Away For a While," labeling it "the most satisfying piece of music I have ever made." The complex dynamics and elusive theme make it one of the most fully realized arrangements of his career, but he claims it's missing a major component: lyrics.

"The track was supposed to be the backing for a vocal, but I decided to leave it alone," Wilson said in 1967. "It stands up well alone." This revelation would explain why no obvious tune springs from the melodic figures ("Try to hum it!" he challenged years later). Some reports published in the Nineties accuse Capitol Records, anxious for their overdue album, of forcing Brian to use the vocal session to mix Pet Sounds – or even of confiscating the incomplete tapes outright. It remains to be seen whether these tales are based in reality or rock revisionism. Tony Asher, for his part, denies ever penning words for the tune. "I never heard any lyrics to that song, although I understood there were some. I don't know if they were recorded or who wrote them, if in fact they ever existed."

4. "God Only Knows" was written in under an hour.
The track has become one of the most beloved in the band's canon, famously praised by Paul McCartney as the greatest song ever written. Its legendary status is even more remarkable considering that it came together in less than an hour. According to a 2015 Guardian interview, Wilson claims that he and Tony Asher composed the song in just 45 minutes. "We didn't spend a lot of time writing it," confirms Asher. "It came pretty quickly. And Brian spent a lot of time working on what ended up being the instrumental parts of that song. But the part that has lyrics really was one of those things that just kinda came out as a whole."

Author Jim Fusilli theorized that the song's title was born out of a love letter Wilson wrote to his wife Marilyn in 1964, signing off with "Yours until God wants us apart." Whatever the true genesis, this reference to God created a dilemma for the two collaborators. "We had lengthy conversations during the writing of 'God Only Knows,'" remembers Asher. "Because unless you were Kate Smith and you were singing 'God Bless America,' no one thought you could say 'God' in a song. No one had done it, and Brian didn't want to be the first person to try it. He said, 'We'll just never get any airplay.'" Though a handful of Southern radio stations banned the song for blasphemy, it was warmly received nearly everywhere else.

5. "God Only Knows" had a sax solo at one point.
The intricate vocal round on the bridge of "God Only Knows" serves as the song's heavenly centerpiece. It's jarring to hear anything other than perfectly interlacing harmonies in those eight measures, but the ungainly honk of a saxophone seems especially out of place. Amazingly, that's exactly what Wilson intended at one point. An early mix has a sax solo front and center, rudely interrupting the song's finely wrought musical elegance. He wisely edited the part out soon after.

Wilson spent a great deal of time experimenting with the sonic possibilities of "God Only Knows." He originally sang the song himself before deciding that Carl Wilson's airy tenor was better suited to the piece. "I said my brother Carl will probably be able to impart the message better than I could, so I sacrificed that one," he said in 1996. For the fadeout, he had composed an elaborate 30-second a cappella break. "He had all the Beach Boys, Terry Melcher and two of the Rovell sisters [Wilson's wife Marilyn and her sister Diane] on it," says Bruce Johnston, who had recently joined the band as a full time member after filling in for Brian Wilson on live tour dates. "It just got so overloaded; it was nuts. So he was smart enough to peel it all back." Ultimately the final fadeout has just three voices – a double-tracked Brian Wilson harmonizing with himself on the high and low parts, and Johnston in the middle.

6. The original title of "I Know There's an Answer" caused major conflict within the band.
While Brian Wilson was busy writing and recording instrumental tracks forPet Sounds, the rest of the Beach Boys spent early 1966 touring Japan on the back of their most recent hit, a brainless campfire cover of the Regents' "Barbara Ann," which Wilson had tossed off in the fall to fulfill record-company commitments. When the group reconvened in the studio that February to record vocal parts for what they assumed would be another sunny Brian Wilson anthem, one of the first things they heard was a track called "Hang on to Your Ego." Written with the band's road manager Terry Sachen, the lyrics were inspired by Wilson's experience using LSD. The whole band was taken aback by this jarring new direction, but Mike Love reportedly took particular offense to the piece, which he rejected as "a doper song."

"The prevailing drug jargon at the time had it that doses of LSD would shatter your ego, as if that were a positive thing," explained Love in 1996. "I wasn't interested in taking acid or getting rid of my ego." During outtakes from the sessions, Love can be heard belching in the background, singing the lyrics in the manner of Jimmy Durante and James Cagney, and generally clowning around. Clearly he wasn't a fan of the tune. "Mike was very confused by it," confirms Al Jardine. "Mike's a formula hound – if it doesn't have a hook in it, if he can't hear a hook in it, he doesn't want to know about it."

Ultimately, Wilson let Love alter the title to a less inflammatory "I Know There's an Answer," but it was the start of ongoing tensions between the two. Love reportedly found some of Tony Asher's lyrics "nauseating" and dubbed the project "Brian's ego music." Asher recalls Love hissing the immortal phrase "Don't fuck with the formula!" at Wilson during one of the recording dates. While Love dismisses these accusations as "a bunch of bullshit," he's admitted that "some of the words were so offensive to me that I wouldn't even sing 'em."

7. Bruce Johnston is having a conversation about cameras in the background of "Here Today."
Lending credence to the rumor that Capitol Records rushed Brian Wilson into completing the album, session musician Steve Douglas claims that the album was mixed in a single nine-hour marathon session. "I remember when Brian turned in Pet Sounds," he said in the 30th-anniversary liner notes. "I was working as a producer at Capitol at the time. It was full of noise. You could hear him talking in the background. It was real sloppy. He had spent all this time making the album, and zip – dubbed it down in one day or something like that."

The tracks were mostly tweaked to Beach Boy perfection before they were pressed to vinyl, but keen-eared fans have noticed talking during the instrumental break of "Here Today." Beginning at 1:55, Bruce Johnston can be heard having a conversation with a photographer about a camera he purchased on the band's recent tour of Japan. A few seconds later, Brian Wilson's voice cuts through, bellowing, "Top, please!" – his way of asking the engineer to rewind the tape so the band could attempt another vocal take. This quirk was omitted from the 1996 stereo mix of the album, apparently at Wilson's request.

8. "Pet Sounds" was written as a potential James Bond theme.
The record's bossa nova-flavored title track began life as an instrumental called "Run James Run." The James in question is 007 himself. Perhaps inspired by the 15-second James Bond-esque theme that opens the American version of the Beatles' 1965 Help! soundtrack, Wilson apparently decided to take a stab at a full track. "It was supposed to be a James Bond-theme type of song," Wilson revealed in 1996. "We were gonna try to get it to the James Bond people. But we thought it would never happen, so we put it on the album." The cinematic orchestration hints that Brian Wilson could have had a strong future in film scoring.

9. Brian Wilson sped up his vocals on "Caroline, No " in order to make himself sound younger.
For the album's emotional closer, 23-year-old Brian Wilson cast his mind back to his teenage crush on a cheerleader named Carol Mountain. He had been obsessed with the girl as a student, rhapsodizing about her beautiful complexion and long dark hair. By 1966, Wilson had discovered that Mountain was married and still living in their hometown of Hawthorne, not far from his Hollywood home. Though also married, Wilson began to call his unrequited high-school love, who had no inkling of his true feelings until decades later. "He didn't sound drugged or anything, but it was very strange," Mountain told author Peter Ames Carlin. "He'd call at 3 a.m. and want to talk about music. ... But it was nothing inappropriate. It was just a strange thing he was going through, calling and connecting."

Though they didn't meet in person, Wilson grew depressed that the torch he carried for Mountain had begun to dim. "If I saw her today, I'd probably think, 'God, she's lost something,' because growing up does that to people," he explained decades later. He relayed this story to Tony Asher, who penned a chorus in the form of a dialogue between the two: "Oh, Carol, I know." Wilson misheard this as "Caroline, No," giving the song its pleading title. The recording became one of the most heartbreaking tunes ever committed to wax, plodding ahead at a depressive crawl. He played the song to his father (and onetime band manager), Murry Wilson, who advised his son to speed up the tape a full tone to give his voice a sweeter, more youthful quality. The effect made him sound like the lovesick teenager that, in many ways, he still was.

"Caroline, No" was released under Brian Wilson's own name in March 1966, the first solo single for any Beach Boy.

10. Session musicians used Coke cans, water bottles and orange juice jugs for percussion.
The arrangements on Pet Sounds boast a dazzling array of percussion previously unseen in the rock-music arena. Sleigh bells, timpani, güiro, vibraphone, bongos and other exotic instruments all add color to the album, but certain sounds aren't instruments at all. In order to create the music in his head, Wilson improvised a number of percussive instruments from whatever he had on hand. For the Latin-tinged "Pet Sounds" track, he encouraged drummer Ritchie Frost to tap two empty Coke cans for a distinctive percussive beat.

Drumming legend Hal Blaine, unofficial chief of the crack team of session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, had something special up his sleeve for the clip-clop rhythm that kept "God Only Knows" galloping forward. "We used to drink orange juice out of the vending machines," he explained. "I took three of these small six- or eight-ounce plastic orange-drink bottles, and I cut them down to three different sizes in length. And I taped 'em together, and I used a little vibraphone mallet. Brian loved that kind of stuff." Session man Jim Gordon (later of Derek and the Dominos) actually played the OJ bottles, but Hal pulled off a similar trick on the introduction for "Caroline, No," playing upturned Sparkletts water jugs like bongos.

11. Brian Wilson considered bringing a horse into the recording studio.

In addition to his meticulous instrumental arrangements and vocal layering, Wilson also spent some sessions making avant-garde recordings with friends and family. These ranged from echo-drenched rounds of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" stretching over seven minutes, to humorous skits (including a particularly sophomoric one entitled "Dick") and sound effects for a proposed psychedelic comedy album. He would revisit the concept when working on Pet Sounds' follow-up, Smile, later that year, but these early runs were almost totally scrapped.

The only fragment from the tapes can be heard on the final seconds of the album. As the flutes from "Caroline, No" fade away, the melancholic sound of a passing train is heard while dogs wail. The locomotive whistle was sampled off a 1963 effects album called Mister D's Machine ("Train #58, the Owl at Edison, California"), but the barks come from Wilson's own dogs: Banana, a beagle, and Louie, a Weimaraner. Their barking made for an unusual session, but studio chatter reveals that he had a bigger beast in mind.

"Hey Chuck, is it possible we could bring a horse in here if we don't screw anything up?" he can be heard asking engineer Chuck Britz. "I beg your pardon?" comes the stunned reply. But Wilson won't be deterred. "Honest to God, now, the horse is tame and everything!" For whatever reason, he ultimately decided to stick with the canines.

12. The band had a less-than-harmonious relationship with the animals on the cover.
The Beach Boys and photographer George Jerman traveled to the San Diego Zoo on February 15th, 1966, to shoot the cover art for their new album. The final image showed five of the bandmates (the newly enlisted Bruce Johnston couldn't appear on the cover for contractual reasons) feeding goats in the children's petting paddock. The scene looks wholesome enough, but apparently the band didn't endear themselves to the zoo staff.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Zoo officials accused the Beach Boys (reportedly Dennis Wilson in particular) of "mistreating the animals." The group, for their part, claimed that they were the ones who were mistreated. "You know the big white [goat] on the front? The most obnoxious animal I've ever known in my life," Al Jardine complained during a 1966 interview on Hartford's WDRC. "Pushed me, and all of us, all over the place. If you had a little piece of something in your hand, he'd know it. And he'd almost trample you trying to get that thing!" Even decades later, Bruce Johnston never forgot the ill-tempered creatures. "The goats were horrible! They jump all over you and bite. One of them ate my radio. The zoo said we were torturing the animals, but they should have seen what we had to go through. We were doing all the suffering."

13. The record label tried to bury Pet Sounds with a greatest-hits album.
Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds odyssey took up more 10 months and cost a then-unheard-of $70,000, making it one of the most expensive albums ever recorded at that time. The Capitol executives were hoping for a hit-packed album to recoup their sizable investment. But when they heard the final mix that April, they were puzzled – and horrified – by the decidedly un-sunny sounds. Instead of a celebration of youth, Capitol got a melancholic musical missive straight from the heart of their young maestro. "It was played at a sales meeting, and the marketing guys were really disappointed and down about the record, because it wasn't the normal 'Surfin' U.S.A.,' 'Help Me, Rhonda,' 'Barbara Ann,' kind of production," remembered A&R rep Karl Engermann. "Capitol didn't see the evolution," Bruce Johnston lamented. "Pet Sounds was so radical compared to the nice 'Barbara Anns' we had been making, which Capitol had been successfully selling and they just wanted more."

Unsure how to market Wilson's introspective artistic statement, Capitol hedged their bets by hastily preparing a greatest-hits compilation and throwing their full promotional machine behind it. Best of the Beach Boyswas rushed into shops less than two months after Pet Sounds' release. It promptly went gold, while Pet Sounds, effectively left to sell on its own merits, barely cracked the Top 10. It was a major drop-off from the Number One million-sellers of prior years. Capitol felt vindicated, and Brian Wilson was crushed. "In my heart of hearts, I think that the reason [Pet Sounds] isn't a billion-selling album is simply that the label didn't believe in Brian," Johnston reflected on the album's 30th anniversary. "They turned their back on him by releasing Best of the Beach Boys. Why wouldn't you allocate a massive budget to promote Pet Sounds? This album is timeless and forever, and the label turned it into an ignored stepchild."

14. Bruce Johnston's Pet Sounds promo trip almost broke up the Who – but inspired the Beatles.
If Capitol wasn't going to properly promote Pet Sounds, then Bruce Johnston vowed to do it himself. On May 16th, he began a self-guided London excursion "to do some hustling" for the album, which had been released that very day in the States but had yet to be issued in the U.K. Upon landing, Johnston was immediately befriended by Keith Moon, drummer for the Who and one of England's biggest surf fanatics. Moon played genial host to the American abroad, chauffeuring him to the best clubs, restaurants and parties in his Bentley – specially outfitted with a record player and a stack of the Beach Boys' old records.

The pair attended a taping of the rock television program Ready Steady Go!and dropped by the after-party with Moon's bandmate, John Entwistle. The revelry went on a little too long, and the trio missed the start of Who's gig that evening. When they finally arrived at the venue, they were stunned to discover that the other half of the band – Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey – had begun playing without them. Enraged, Moon instigated a drunken onstage brawl with his bandmates. "They got in the biggest fight I've ever seen," Johnston confirmed in later years. "Guitars are swinging, everybody's in a frenzy. ... guys were bleeding." When the dust cleared, Moon and Entwistle quit the Who in a huff. Thankfully, the split would prove short-lived.

Bruce Johnston's trip had a much more positive effect on the Beatles. John Lennon and Paul McCartney dropped by Johnston's Waldorf Hotel suite to say hello and scope out this new Beach Boys album that was setting the English music papers abuzz. "John and Paul made me play it twice. They loved it," Johnston said. "We all knew that it was a really wonderful thing to be listening to. There wasn't much to say; it was like collectively watching a great movie, and you go, 'Wow!' and just know it was cool." According to legend, the two Fabs said their farewells and headed to McCartney's nearby apartment to pen a Pet Sounds-style preamble for their lush "Here, There and Everywhere." The track found its way onto Revolver that August, but it was their 1967 follow-up that truly bore influence of Brian Wilson. "Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened," admitted Beatles' producer George Martin. "Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds."

15. Several songs didn't make the cut for Pet Sounds – including an iconic smash.
In addition to the aforementioned comedy skits and alternate lyrical takes, Brian Wilson also recorded a handful of original songs that didn't make the final album cut. Among the most notable is "Trombone Dixie," a playful instrumental that came together in the studio. "I was just foolin' around one day, fuckin' around with the musicians, and I took that arrangement out of my briefcase and we did it in 20 minutes," he said in a 1995 interview withRecord Collector. Though slight, the song demonstrates Wilson's flair for arrangement and dynamics. It languished in the vault until Pet Sounds was issued on CD in 1990. "Three Blind Mice," included on 2011's The Smile Sessions, is less complete than "Trombone Dixie" – though far more unusual. The session dates to October 1965, just before Wilson began working in earnest on Pet Sounds, and includes a 43-piece orchestra.

It's doubtful that these instrumentals, little more than momentary flights of studio fancy, were ever seriously considered for inclusion on Pet Sounds. However, an R&B-tinged track entitled "Good Vibrations" was included on original track lists submitted to Capitol Records. Wilson taped the initial version of the song on February 17th, and recorded a rough vocal featuring lyrics from Tony Asher a few weeks later. This version was charmingly far-out, but Wilson envisioned greater possibilities. "At the time, we all had assumed that 'Good Vibrations' was going to be on the album, " Al Jardine said in 1996. "But Brian decided to hold it out. It was a judgment call on his part; we felt otherwise but left the ultimate decision up to him."

Wilson spent the next six months tirelessly laboring on the song, adapting it to his new working methods. Rather than capturing complete instrumental performances, he adopted a modular approach, recording small sections of music and piecing them together like a filmmaker. By September he had recorded more than 90 hours of tape, and racked up a studio bill of more than $50,000 – making "Good Vibrations" the most expensive single ever recorded at the time. Unlike Pet Sounds, the song was a smash when it was released that October with new lyrics from Mike Love. It would be Brian Wilson's final Number One production.

*The Warmth of the Sun? Kiss Me Baby? In the Back of My Mind? Hello? Anyone?