Thursday, June 30, 2005

Of Bally Table Kings and Billy Goats

Last week I bought a couple of new high resolution titles for my collection: The Who's SACD of Tommy and The Beach Boys' (!) DVD-A of Pet Sounds.

TommyI generally knew what to expect from Tommy since I already own it on vinyl, but felt the need to update my crackly record. The surround mix really is a joy because for whatever reason, opening up the sound makes the band seem less processed. Keith Moon's drumming really comes alive on epics like "Underture", and the venerable two-note riff from the ever popular "Pinball Wizard" ferociously spits forth like fire from the mouth of Vermithrax.

We're also introduced to quite a few demos and outtakes. My personal favorites are the tracks near the end, which showcase Townsend playing a number of key tracks with just a guitar. It's amazing how good these tunes are that they are able to hold up so well without the other instruments present.

Pet SoundsPurchasing Pet Sounds, admittedly, was a risky endeavor for me. After all, we're talking about The Beach Boys here, who, no matter how you slice it, are a bit frilly (and the videos on the DVD-A don't exactly disprove me here). But Pet Sounds is considered to be one of the best albums of all time (evar), so the H-Man, in an attempt to become a better musician, picked it up.

I've only given it a few listens, but I can start to see where people are coming from. The arrangements on the album are pretty remarkable considering it came out in 1966. This is all due to taskmaster Brian Wilson pushing his own personal agenda. He was able to carefully layer all sorts of instruments and sounds (bells, dog barks, and even a theramin) into a rhythmic whole, then complement the entire package with the trademark vocal harmonies the group was known for.

What results is a project that at first seems like the simplicity of "Surfin' Safari", but underneath lies some of the weirdness and complexity that Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett would embrace full on for Piper At The Gates of Dawn. Additionally, the DVD-A's liner notes, documentaries, and studio outtakes (especially hearing the harmonies with no music) go a long way towards helping one appreciate the amount of work that went into creating something unique for its time.

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