June 22, 2003

Various Artists "Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions"

Brian Wilson is a name that means much, yet conjurs up tragedy, illness and miraculous rebirth. His talent was pretty much recognized from day one; "Surfin'" was all people needed to prove that Brian was indeed a brilliant young man. When he lost it 1967, he really lost it--and has never fully recovered, though he is in much, much better health. During his heyday, though, any new Beach Boys record was assured of success. His track record speaks for itself; nearly 20 albums during the 1960s (!!) and tons of hit singles. Heck, you probably know a few of 'em by heart--that's how well-loved his music is.

It's also a known fact that Wilson was obsessed with the obsessive producer Phil Spector. Unlike Spector, Wilson's own productions were secondary to his own career. Also, unlike Spector, almost everything that Wilson produced..failed. Miserably. None of his would-be hits ever even came CLOSE to being hits. As shocking as it may seem, it's not for a lack of quality talent, nor is it for a lack of quality Wilson production, and it's CERTAINLY not for a lack of quality material. Why did these songs fail? I can't tell you.

Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Produtions gathers up many of Wilson's more notable production efforts--all of which are extremely rare, by the way--though the extensive liner notes statses that they would have loved to included all of his productions but couldn't get the legal clearance to do so. Bummer. Thus, songs such as "I Do" by Bob & Sheri or his Jan & Dean productions (the only hits he produced, but this outside production isn't quite the same as the rest of his outside projects) don't appear here. (Maybe there will be a volume two of this series, or at least an appended version of this record?)

Of course, it's fascinating to note that many of his productions were of girl singers. He was obviously envious of Spector's sound--which, more often than not, featured girl singer--and it seems as if he wanted his own prestigious girl group or singer. One of his first productions, before he was even really an established artist, was a one-off called Rachel & The Revolvers. "The Revo-lution" practically a rip-off of Little Eva's "Loco-motion," and though the song's not that great, it's certainly got a red-hot dance rhythm and beat. If the experiment failed, at least he couldn't be accused of not trying.

He did find a girl group of his own, The Honeys. Of course, the Honeys were the band of his wife, Marilyn Rovell, and many of their singles are found on here. He shows his more traditional side on one of their first sides, a bizarre yet interesting song entitled "Surfin' Down the Swanee River." Their other singles were also fine, especially their late 60s side "Goodnight My Love"/"Tonight You Belong To Me" (a wonderful production and a nice slice of Bacharach pop), as well as their 1971 single as American Spring "Shyin' Away"/"Fallin' In Love," which is also a wonderfully-produced number. "Fallin' In Love" is also worth noting as one of brother Dennis Wilson's most beautiful compositions.

Most of the songs on Pet Projects are Honeys related, but there are some other, really fine recordings as well. Personally, I'm fond of the Sharon Marie sides. Sharon Marie was a two-single wonder by a girl probably only got a record deal through her relationship with Mike Love. Still, "Run-Around Lover" is an excellent song; it's puzzling why her husky voice and the red-hot production didn't at least see some chart action. Her other songs are good to OK, but it's worth noting that "Thinkin' About You Baby," a side from 1964, was rewritten a few years later as one of the Beach Boys' last excellent singles, "Darlin'." "Pamela Jean" by The Survivors--which is actually Brian and friends--had actually appeared in different form (mainly a different set of lyrics) on Little Deuce Coupe as "Car Crazy Cutie."

Then there's The Laughing Gravy, which is something I'd never heard about. This was a version of the Smiley Smile track performed by Jan & Dean's Dean Torrence and Brian, recorded after Jan Berry was nearly killed in a car accident. I never knew it existed, and it's actually a really fun track--highlighting the humor that got lost as Brian slipped out of reality into his drug-induced state

. It wasn't uncommon for Brian to turn around and thank his friends by giving them songs or recording with them; his work with Gary Usher is pretty good, if not a little dated, as is the Paul Petersen "She Rides With Me." The one track I most looked forward to hearing on Pet Projects was Glen Campbell's long-lost single "Guess I'm Dumb." It's a missing link for those who are interested in the Brian Wilson saga; though the production is surprisingly flat, it is a MOST complex song; perhaps his most complex composition up to that time, and its lyrics? Well, you don't have to be Dr. Landy to realize they are a sure sign of a young man in need of...well, some simple guidence.

Pet Projects is a magical (if not a little sad) collection. It's full of great liner notes, wonderful pictures of many of the ultra-rare singles and the artists, and it's just a well-done compilation. If anything, it will leave you wondering why these releases failed, and it will leave you asking further questions. Was Brian's collaborations with female singers an attempt for him to develop an outlet for his more feminine side? Did Brian use these other people as an experiment for ideas, regardless of whether or not anyone heard them? Were these failures the outlet for his lesser songs, allowing the Beach Boys to have nothing but hits? Did producing outside artists and experimenting with these ideas make him a better producer? The world--and quite possibly Brian himself--will never know. Still, the evidence is stunning. Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions is essential for all fans of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.

--Joseph Kyle

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