The Beach Boys

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 17 Edition)

Some #longreads as you prepare yourself for Record Store Day…

It should be obvious that we here at Rust Is Just Right love record stores, and so it would seem to follow that we would appreciate the “Record Store Day” celebration.  However, as the “holiday” has grown in recent years, we have begun to realize that the success of the promotion can be a double-edged sword for the very businesses it was meant to protect: a sudden influx of sales can be good, but it means little to these stores if these sales do not create regular customers, and the emphasis on special releases has the problem of crowding out vinyl production, with limited edition records for established artists taking up space initially earmarked for truly independent bands.  Pitchfork has a piece that breaks down in more detail the ambivalent feelings that Record Store Day has generated.

It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the thesis of this Stereogum essay makes more sense the more you think about it–Brian Wilson certainly had an impact on the creation of punk rock.  Elsewhere on the site, the Anniversary Machine takes a look at the tenth anniversary of Alligator from The National, which marked a significant turning point for the band.  The best point made in the article is that despite what some detractors may say, there is a real evolution from Alligator to the present day in The National’s sound.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is awarding Kanye West with an honorary degree, and FADER has an interview with the president and dean of the school explaining their decision.  Though it has generated a mild amount of heat among a minority of students and some alumni, it is an easily defensible choice, as explained in the piece.

An ugly spat has been brewing between Black Sabbath and drummer Bill Ward, and it has spilled over into the public sphere this week.  Rolling Stone has an interview with Ward explaining the origins of the dispute and the band’s current situation.

The highly-anticipated second album from Alabama Shakes will be released on Tuesday, and Consequence of Sound talked to frontwoman Brittany Howard about Sound & Color as well as the band’s rise to fame.

Finally, Cuepoint has a fantastic piece courtesy of Bethlehem Shoals on the legacy of Percy Sledge, who should be remembered for more than his mammoth hit “When A Man Loves A Woman.”

The Brilliance of The Wrecking Crew

The session musicians were the unsung heroes of the early days of rock and roll, often breathing life into the hit records that made up the soundtrack of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  The singers were the stars who got all the glory and attention, while the people who provided the backing music that drove the songs remained relatively faceless.  What audiences did not realize was that it was mainly only a small group of highly talented musicians that were behind most of the big hits of the era, a loose collective that would become known as “the Wrecking Crew.”  They were never a formal group, but together they played on hundreds of songs and provided the instrumentals for stars like The Righteous Brothers, Sonny & Cher, The Ronettes, and more.  To be sure, most people realized at least in the backs of their minds that someone was playing on those records, but they almost certainly did not know that these same musicians were also laying down the tracks for the albums of other touring bands, like The Beach Boys.

These fantastic musicians are finally getting some long-overdue recognition with the release of the documentary “The Wrecking Crew”, a project that has been years in the making and is finally seeing a release in theaters and online.  The film was directed by the son of one of the Wrecking Crew’s guitarists, Tommy Tedesco, and features interviews not only with several of the members of the “group” but with many of the artists and producers as well.  And of course the movie is filled with tons of great music, a veritable jukebox of legendary songs that you had no idea had this common connection.

The film does an excellent job of providing excellent insights into the dynamics of the music industry at the time as well as the recording process, especially the mechanics that went into creating Phil Spector’s famed “Wall of Sound.”  We get a chance to see the insides of his legendary recording studio, and see how all the musicians would crowd together in the same tight space with dozens of microphones perched all over the place. One of the nuggets that we learn is that an essential component to the sessions was running the musicians through hours and hours of takes, so that in the end the feel had just the right amount of looseness and raggedness to feel effortless.  It was also fascinating to learn that although most of these musicians are expertly trained in jazz, they earned their places in the Wrecking Crew because unlike the previous generation they were willing to work on this “dumbed-down” form of music; many of the musicians successfully make the argument that it really was not much of an artistic sacrifice at all, that “work was work” and that they still performed at the highest level.

Along with various great moments from Tommy Tedesco, the documentary provides multiple in-depth looks at other performers, including the legendary drummer Hal Blaine and the brilliant bassist Carol Kaye.  I always love learning about the work of Blaine, especially his memorable performance on the classic “Be My Baby”, and he is an especially engaging presence in the film.  I would have preferred an even more extensive look at the song which features the most memorable drum intro of all-time, but then again the story of its recording could probably fill up an entire documentary on its own (for some additional information, here’s a great article that provides even more details about the recording of the song).  The interviews with Kaye are also a highlight, as not only does she pick up her bass and shows an example of how the Wrecking Crew would come up with their own arrangements from what was written, she also illuminates some of the intra-group dynamics, including the fact that she was treated as “one of the guys” as a fellow musician.

“The Wrecking Crew” does have some flaws, namely that for the most part it lacks a definite structure and a sense of flow, and is more of a hodgepodge of engaging anecdotes.  To be fair, other recent music documentaries suffer from this problem, most notably recent Best Documentary winner “20 Feet From Stardom.”  But the passion is apparent on the screen, and the numerous wonderful stories that the performers provide make it a film worth watching for any music fan.

The Best Songs That Use Sleigh Bells

It’s time once again for another list, but this time we have one that’s a bit more season-appropriate.  Rust Is Just Right is ready to present to you the somewhat-definitive list of the “10 Best Songs That Use Sleigh Bells” that are in no way affiliated with Christmas.

10.  Death Cab for Cutie – “You Can Do Better Than Me”.  A selection that implies “we needed one more song to fill out this list” in more ways than one.

9. Grizzly Bear – “Ready, Able”.  A lot of people love this single off the excellent album Veckatimest, but it always felt a little incomplete for me.  But Grizzly Bear gets this spot because they often use a lot of unique percussion to great effect and should get credit for that effort, and I am at least certain that sleigh bells make an appearance (even if it’s a faint one) in this particular song.

8. Wilco – “Outta Mind (Outta Site)”.  While the raucous “Outtaside (Outta Mind)” has a nifty video, it’s the stripped-down reprise that’s augmented by the cheerful sound of sleigh bells.

7. The Replacements – “Kiss Me On The Bus”.  One of the highlights of the classic album Tim, you can hear the sleigh bells make their appearance on the final chorus, providing an intriguing color to the music.

6. Eric B. and Rakim – “Microphone Fiend”.  Built on a sample of Average White Band’s “Schoolboy Crush”, this is one of the landmark singles from the Golden Age of Hip-Hop and still sounds great today.  Always good to hear a smooth operator operating correctly.

5. The Walkmen – “Nightingales”.  The Walkmen were definitely not strangers to the allure of the sleigh bells, sprinkling their sound throughout their career, most notably on multiple songs from the beloved Bows + Arrows.  But we’re going to give the honor to this lovely track from their swan song Heaven, since it includes moments where the sleigh bells are given their time to shine.

4. The Hives – “Walk Idiot Walk”.  What should a band do as a follow-up for their huge break into the American charts?  If you’re The Hives, you write a single that uses the sleigh bells to keep time in the chorus for no particular reason.  If anything, it at least gives some insight to the casual listener that The Hives are willing to look outside the box of traditional garage rock sounds.  It’s too bad that Tyrannosaurus Hives has been neglected over the years, since it’s a fantastic album.

3. The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”.  When you fill out your sound with a hundred-piece orchestra, you’re bound to have someone playing sleigh bells for some songs.  We’re going to go with one of the most beautiful songs in the deep catalog of the Beach Boys with this one.

2. Radiohead – “Airbag”.  Radiohead kicks off one of the defining albums of the 90’s with the sound of sleigh bells over sliced-up drum tracks, adding a touch of humanity to an opus about the haunting alienation of technology.  In a song about being miraculously saved from a car wreck, are we to assume that Santa was the savior?

1. The Stooges – “I Wanna Be Your Dog”

I don’t think there’s any argument here with this choice for the top spot.  Once you notice that insistent sleigh bells part chugging along with the rest of those buzzsaw guitars and ramshackle drums, it’s hard to get out of your head, and it adds a strange psychedelic element to the entire enterprise.

So there you have it–the greatest non-traditional Christmas song is “I Wanna Be Your Dog”.  Be sure to include it in your setlist tonight when you’re out caroling!

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 17 Edition)

Some #longreads as you try to figure out a Halloween costume…

It’s the 30th anniversary of The Replacements’ classic album Let It Be, and Consequence of Sound has an all-star roundtable of musicians and writers to discuss the legendary record.  While I personally disagree with the title of the piece (I prefer Tim, though it’s a close battle), I nevertheless agree with the general sentiment that this is an album that merits reflection.

We here at Rust Is Just Right are big fans of Pearl Jam, and it’s not only because of their music.  Over the years, we’ve read several stories that show just how great these guys are as people, and this one of a promise fulfilled to a fan 22 years later is a great example of how much the band appreciates their fans.  In addition, check out this tribute that the band did in remembrance of Ikey Owens.

In this piece for the AV Club, Sean O’Neal examines what makes the memorable riff from David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” so brilliant, and would be worth reading for the additional background information from Bowie linked to in the piece.  Elsewhere on the site, Noel Murray writer contributes to the “Primer” feature with a guide to The Beach Boys, an endeavor we fully support.

Mark Lanegan shows off a bit of his sense of humor in this fun interview with Diffuser, as he releases a new solo album once again.

Pitchfork talks to Dhani Harrison about the elusive qualities of his father’s guitar style, as well as other musicians who provide insight into the subtleties that made George’s guitar-playing so timeless.

And finally, if you’re desperate for a hate-read this weekend, there’s this New York Times piece where the online equivalent of the asshole at the record store who sneers at whatever you purchased bemoans what streaming has done in diminishing the effort to be an elitist douchebag.  However, I did enjoy the auto-generated Spotify playlist that was juxtaposed next to his rant.

Feats of Strength: The Olivia Tremor Control

Now that summer has officially arrived, I’ve been in the mood for some bright and happy music, driving me to root through my collection for something that could be considered along the lines of the “aural equivalent to sunshine”.  One of the first songs that comes to my mind that fits this exacting criteria is “Hideway” from The Olivia Tremor Control.  And with the upcoming release from the side project Circulatory System, now is the perfect time to explore their style in greater detail.  Like many of their Elephant 6 compatriots, The Olivia Tremor Control were experts mining all the possibilities of lo-fi production, proving that a limited recording budget shouldn’t limit a band’s ambition and scope.  However, the band was in a class of its own in creating a full symphonic sound from a bare-bones orchestra.

On the surface, “Hideway” is a really uplifting and pleasant song, filled with tons of catchy hooks and memorable melodies (for example, I find myself singing those delightful horn parts days later).  The band is really able to sell what in less delicate hands could be a corny message; “I know some kind of rain will fall, but it can’t rain everyday” would fit perfectly on a motivational poster, but the band is able to overcome any possible cynical response due to their sincere conviction that comes through in their singing.  Even the darker imagery in some of the other lines take on a more positive glow, due to the overall message of triumph over adversity.  So when I say “on the surface”, I’m not claiming there’s a subtle, sinister current lurking beneath in the subtext; instead, I’m referring to the many layers of the music itself.

It’s on this track that you can really feel the influence of The Beach Boys on the band’s sound, specifically the careful orchestration of songs like “Good Vibrations”.  On the first few listens, you pick up on the easy-going guitar, the perfectly accented horn lines, and the gorgeous vocal harmonies.  With additional listens though, you can find dozens of layers of instrumental tracks.  There are multiple guitar, keyboard, glockenspiel, horn, and percussion tracks filtering in and out, and the band makes perfect use of the stereo setup by placing specific lines in different speakers.  On one listen, you may notice that in the chorus, there’s a backing guitar line that plays a quickly-repeating-single-note figure that provides a slight push to the beat, in contrast to the easygoing verses before.  On another, you may notice that in the bridge there’s two separate keyboard parts, one running up and down an arpeggiated scale figure, and the other providing short staccato bursts.  Listen again, and you’ll notice wood percussion and bells that mirror melody lines from the vocals and horns.

Each listen brings out dozens of new details, but that alone isn’t what’s commendable about the music.  It’s the fact that at no point does the abundance of instruments and melodies feel overbearing in any way.  At its heart, there is still a great summer song that’s appreciable even on a superficial level, and diving deeper into the nooks and crannies of the music doesn’t overwhelm this basic fact.  Even when identifying specific trees, you never feel as if you’re losing sight of the forest.

The I had the privilege of seeing the band live during its short reunion tour, and it gave me a new-found appreciation of the collaborative nature of the group.  While the group is driven by its two leads Bill Doss and Will Hart, you could sense the joy of each other musician who would join in and play their small part, knowing that while it may seem minor from a distance, each part was a key component to the song.  This goes to the other subtle strength of the song, that the band was able to convey the same intricacy and detail that would be found in a 100 piece orchestra with just a few friends joining along on whatever instruments they found handy.  It’s this quality that made The Olivia Tremor Control one of the most significant bands of the 90’s, and how their music still seems fresh today.