The title of Ace Records’ recent collection is Here Today! The Songs of Brian Wilson, after one of those famous Wilson songs off The Beach Boys’ 1966 Pet Sounds. But the fact of the matter is – as this enjoyably diverse set proves over the course of its 25 tracks – Brian Wilson’s music is not only here today, but will be here for many tomorrows.
Unlike Ace’s 2003 volume Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions, this anthology concentrates on Brian as songwriter. But there are a couple of cuts here with his production involvement, as well, most notably the haunting waltz “Time to Get Alone” from Redwood (a.k.a. Three Dog Night) which would appear on The Beach Boys’ 20/20 album. (Unfortunately, the Redwood recording of “Darlin'” has still not surfaced on a release.) The Castells’ delightful “I Do,” which appeared earlier this year on vinyl via Omnivore Recordings’ Sessions ’64!!, also has Brian’s unmistakable production imprimatur.
Naturally, many associates of Wilson and The Beach Boys also appear on Here Today. Darian Sahanaja, Wondermints founder and stalwart of The Brian Wilson Band for more than 15 years, opens the collection with his transcendent period makeover of “Do You Have Any Regrets?” Though the track was written and originally recorded by Wilson for the abortive Sweet Insanity album, there’s nothing insane about Sahanaja’s sweet and pristine 1965-style makeover.
“Help Me, Rhonda” is heard, with some musical and lyrical variations, in a version recorded by The Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher, as Bruce and Terry. With its wailing sax break and insistent piano, it’s quite different than the Beach Boys’ familiar versions; the 1965 recording sat unreleased until 1998. Gary Usher, Brian’s co-writer on numerous songs including “In My Room,” is represented by a number of tracks on Here Today including his production of “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” for The Surfaris. (The Wilson/Mike Love song was then transformed into the public service record “Things Are Changing” by Phil Spector. Also recorded by artists like The Blossoms and The Supremes, “Changing” is featured here by Jay and the Americans.) Usher is also heard fronting his studio-concocted outfit The Super Stocks on the Muscle Beach Party soundtrack tune “My First Love,” and as producer of 11-year old Keith Green’s brash cover of Brian’s sublimely rocking “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” Wrecking Crew veteran pianist and future rock legend Leon Russell provided the grandiose arrangement for Bobby Vee’s altogether credible rendition of “Here Today” which gives this collection its title and proves the former Robert Velline’s great taste in material.
“Here Today” is just one of numerous songs reprised here from the landmark Pet Sounds. Gene and Billy Page provided the slick yet soulful and rhythmic arrangement of “God Only Knows” released in 1975 by Betty Everett. The languid, haunting feel of “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” has made the melody attractive to jazz musicians over the years, and the supreme stylist Carmen McRae was no exception in recognizing the composition’s darkly dramatic beauty. Nick DeCaro, a supreme arranger who moonlighted as a recording artist, gives a late-night vibe to his soft, delicate “Caroline, No” from 1968. Here Today also spotlights a couple recordings of more recent vintage. Kirsty MacColl brings a stately, baroque air to her 1981 recording of “You Still Believe in Me.” Louis Philippe and Dean Brodrick’s “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (1991) is modernized yet faithful. Despite (or perhaps because of) the reverence with which Pet Sounds is held, all of the above recordings show tremendous respect for the shapes and contours of Wilson’s melodies and original arrangements.
Like Bobby Vee at the time of “Here Today,” The Tokens were past their commercial peak when they recorded “Don’t Worry, Baby” in 1970. But the group’s brand of harmony makes for an ebullient version of the song with rewritten lyrics intended to make its story more universal. It’s one of many enjoyable discoveries here. Best of all might be a pair of tunes from 1966 and 1967, respectively. British singer Johnny Wells is heard on “Guess I’m Dumb.” The original 1965 recording for Glen Campbell, written by Brian and Russ Titelman and produced by Brian, might be the best Wilson song largely unknown by the general public – a quintessential melody, arrangement and production. Though lacking the immaculate background vocals of Campbell’s version, Wells’ faithful recording is a fascinating alternative. Peggy March (once “Little” Peggy March of “I Will Follow Him” fame) emphasized the beguiling melody of “Aren’t You Glad,” a track off The Beach Boys’ Wild Honey, in her 1967 recording, with arranger-conductor Al Gorgoni adding delicious Brian Wilson-meets-Burt Bacharach quirkiness.
Though the later Wilson songs make for the more arresting tracks here, there’s plenty of surf-girls-and-cars fun, too, via artists from locales ranging from the U.K. (Tony Rivers and the Castaways’ “The Girl from New York City”) to Philadelphia (The Tymes’ boisterous “Surf City”). Danny Hutton of Redwood and Three Dog Night arranged (and likely provided vocals for) the primitive garage rock-style take on “Farmers’ Daughter” credited to Basil Swift and the Seegrams, and compilers Kingsley Abbott, Mick Patrick and Harvey Williams have also included Wilson-penned cuts by Jan and Dean, The Rally Packs (a.k.a. songwriting duo P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri) and The Hondells.
Of course, the music here can be summed up by two words – “Good Vibrations.” That famous song gets an airing on Here Today, too, courtesy of Hugo Montenegro. The composer-conductor showed off his “moog power” on a groovy recording from, yup, his Good Vibrations album! Here Today includes a full-color, lavishly-illustrated 20-page booklet with track-by-track liner notes from the compilers. Duncan Cowell has splendidly remastered all tracks. With Wilson currently earning rave reviews touring the United States following the acclaimed release of biopic Love and Mercy, the time has never been better to enjoy the sun-kissed sounds of Here Today: The Songs of Brian Wilson. Bring on Volume Two!