John Cale, The Vintage Years and Brian Wilson Presents Smile
This is kinda like claiming to be at Woodstock -- at least in the eyes of indie rock fans -- but my circle of friends got our copies of the early Velvet Underground close to the time of their release because they showed up with the corner of the sleeve notched in the cut-out bin at Woolworths. I think my friend H. and I actually boosted the 'Banana' album out of Woolworth's at Lindale Plaza. I would have to say it was never a favorite record to play -- they really were ahead of their time, so they collided with our sensibilities. We really dug the idea of a song called Heroin. John Cale sawing away on an amplified violin at top volume could totally clear a room back then, and we reveled in it's dark energy.
Which is a long way around to John Cale -- never a huge success in the States, but it seemed like the people I knew thought the whole Cale-Eno-Cluster-etc brand of weird pop-art-music was crucial. This compilation comprises records that got heavy rotation at late night parties -- coke heads used to either really love (or hate) "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend." because it captured coke paranoia quite well. Cale's work in those years was in some respect a sell-out to prevailing tastes -- compare "Heroin" to "I'm Not The Loving Kind" and it's obvious he had pussed out on us a bit. But that's only a surface analysis, because "I'm Not The Loving Kind" is a really bleak lyric -- "Day by day I was hoping you'd be / The kind of love that would give me peace of mind / But it may just have passed me by / Because I'm not the loving kind."
That's some Paul Bowles in a bad mood type shit.
Contrast that with the work of Brian Wilson. This guy is a mad genius, in the sense that he makes music that comes from a world different than this one. Wilson seems to want to build that other world musically to escape the one he's in, which has been rough on him. People I've talked to about "Smile" didn't really like it much -- it was kind of fractured, and didn't have any strong songs other than "Good Vibrations." But that's -- again -- only a surface analysis. These songs don't willingly become the sort of aural wallpaper that a good Beach Boys song comprises, they're little symphonies each one. In three minutes he crams in enough ideas for about 10 songs, like a Gustav Mahler with severe ADD. The melange of styles the songs bounce around in include Doo Wop, Barber Shop Quartets, Stephen Foster, and Gershwin. Indeed if you listen to "Heroes and Villians" what you'll hear is not too far off from the early "Rhapsody In Blue" recordings with Paul Whiteman.
In the liner notes for "Virgin Years" Cale talks about listening to Beach Boys at home almost constantly, and wrote a song "Mr. Wilson" that's a direct address to Brian Wilson. It was a cool coincidence that two CDs I grabbed seem to comment on one another. So I put together a mix of the two.
Wilson. "Our Prayer"
Wilson. "Roll Plymouth Rock"
Cale. "Mr Wilson"
Wilson. "Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine"
Cale. "Heartbreak Hotel"
Wilson. "Surf's Up"
Cale. "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend."
Wilson. "Good Vibrations"
I tried to choose pairs of tracks that had something similar going on. The importance of vocal harmonies in "Our Prayer" and "Emily", the refractive cover versions of old warhorse pop songs in "Old Master Painter..." and "Heartbreak Hotel" and the last two tracks are perfect polar opposites, yet go together like, um, fear and bliss.