Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Then there's the time when Brian Wilson invented the unplugged concept, 24 years before MTV's show went on the air. Working hard in the studio on the highly-ambitious Pet Sounds album, Wilson was pressured by Capitol Records for a new album for the Christmas 1965 season. Not wanting to rush his Pet project, instead Wilson started throwing around different ideas for something fast. Since the band had issued a live album the year before, that was out. Instead, he came up with the unique plan to record a party album.

Wilson would assemble The Beach Boys in the studio, but give them all simple instruments, like you would at a house party: acoustic guitars, harmonica, bongos. Then they played some of their favourite songs, old hits they grew up with, current stuff from The Beatles, even Dylan, plus some general clowning around on their own hits.

Then, Wilson added a backing track of "party" sounds. He got his gang together, and they recorded sounds of laughing, chatting, eating chips, general teenage hanging out. This was dubbed into the music tracks, and the Party! album was done, quick and easy. When the loose version of The Regents' old hit Barbara Ann became a huge hit single, the album did very well indeed, and Wilson's idea had paid off.

The trouble was, it wasn't that great of an album. The chatting in behind was annoying, the goofing around childish. But since the actual party never happened, something could be done about that. Here, producers have gone back to the original tapes, and dumped the phony party. Now what you get it the original album as recorded, stripped down, by The Beach Boys and a couple of pals. You bet it's better.

Mostly, you hear what great natural singers they were. Barely rehearsed, still stumbling over the words and chords, the boys gamely go through the chosen songs, quickly coming to solid arrangements that would certainly work in a real live concert. They mimic The Beatles on I Should Have Known Better and Tell Me Why, but turn those songs into California beach classics. The much-maligned Mike Love is heard doing a perfect harmony with Brian on The Everly Brothers' Devoted To You. And Dennis Wilson's You've Got To Hide Your Love Away shows the deeper, mellow voice he would eventually showcase in the early '70's.

So that's a slam-bang success, but what comes next over the rest of the two-CD set, about two hours' worth, is all the sessions and out-takes for the disc. This is very much hit-and-miss stuff, with stops and starts and lots more dumb-ass humour. There were five sessions in total for the album, and lots of repetition of songs. But there are also a few gems that didn't make the final album, and those are the best moments. A couple of takes of Satisfaction are pretty interesting, and if they had remembered more of the words, could easily have made the album. And I'm not sure why they didn't try another take of Blowin' In The Wind, it's a better choice than The Times They Are a-Changin' , which did make the record.

Wilson never did get the unplugged concept perfected. It was a stop-gap, he did it and moved on. The band actually sounds great stripped down when they do a few of their own songs, and that could have easily been a better album than Party!. The instrumentation was not quite right, with the bongos getting pretty annoying after awhile, just as they did in your rec room parties. But this new set makes Party! a better album, and offers a handful of bonus moments as well, if you're willing to sit through some silliness.

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