THE MAJOR RECORD COMPANIES usually released new titles on Monday, or at least they did in the ’60s. On April 12, 1965, I rushed home from school and ran upstairs to my room and tossed my books on my bed and pulled my money out of my drawer and ran downstairs to the garage and picked up my bike and zoomed off to Joe Nardone’s record shop and bought Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds and all was good good good that Monday!
I was one of the first customers to grab a copy as Howard put the shipment up on the wall for new releases. I had been hearing it on WARM radio (the “Mighty 590”) for weeks and couldn’t wait to make it part of my collection.
With the Byrds, I finally had an American group that I could dig as much as I dug the Kinks and the Dave Clark 5.
I didn’t know then that records were released on Mondays, nor did it ever dawn on me to ask. Joe’s employees, Howard and Ron, were adding inventory daily, so I assumed the records arrived daily.
When a new 45 or LP was due out that I wanted, I just showed up every day and waited for it.
From the moment I got the record home, I played Mr. Tambourine Man over and over and over and then flipped it over and played the other side over and over and over! The record had an effect on me that no previous rock & roll could come close to! And I finally had an American group that I could dig as much as I dug the Kinks and the Dave Clark 5. 1
There were other American groups out there, notably the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons, both of whom I hated. And hated the way only a passionate adolescent music-lover can hate an artist or a record. Fortunately, somewhere along the way, I stopped being an adolescent.
When Sloop John B hit the airwaves in March 1966, I was amazed to find that I didn’t hate it as much as I normally hated a Beach Boys record. Probably because it didn’t have anything to do with waves or cars and I didn’t have to listen to Mike’s nasal lead or Brian’s wimpy falsetto. Little did I know that this record was my gateway drug to a lifetime of addiction to the Beach Boys.
Beach Boys vs Four Seasons
In January 1966, the Four Seasons released Working My Way Back To You and I suddenly found myself liking it! They followed with a string of great records, including Opus 17, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Tell It To The Rain, and the extraordinary Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.
In March 1966, the Beach Boys released Sloop John B and I suddenly found myself liking it! They followed with a string of great records, including Wouldn’t It Be Nice, God Only Knows, and Good Vibrations.
And I liked all of them!
I was hooked!
What was I to do?
These records made me think that maybe I had hated these two groups a wee bit too much, so I revisited their old stuff (used jukebox 45s were a nickel apiece in them days).
Rogan’s book is factually accurate, rarely gets bogged down in trivia, and makes few challengeable statements.
While I became a fan of the Seasons, I had a completely different rapport with the Byrds and the Beach Boys. For the past five decades, they have provided me with countless hours of joy and insight. Knowing their music has made my life richer.
Hell’s Belles, it may have even made me a better human being!
But based on the information that has come forward in various books, I now believe that knowing any of them personally would have been an ordeal.
Which brings me to a pair of mini-reviews of two biographical books. Reviewing books is not something I do often, but I just read these two and they are linked conceptually.
Not such good vibrations
Good Vibrations – My Life As A Beach Boy (Blue Rider Press, 2016 (448 pages) is the autobiography of the lead singer and chief lyricist of the Beach Boys, written with the assistance of James S. Hirsch. 3 This book does not exist so that Love can enlighten readers on aspects of the group’s history or how it made so many wonderful records, although there is some info on both concerns. 2
This book seems to exist for three basic reasons for Mike Love to have done this book:
1. To establish his importance in the Beach Boys’ legacy. 4
2. To get even with his many detractors. 5
3. To prove he’s not an asshole. 6
He accomplishes his first goal handily (although I don’ think any knowledgeable fan or historian doubts his contributions to the success of the Beach Boys).
He sort of accomplishes the second goal, but in doing so he completely undermines the third. 7
My final thought when I finished this book was, I wish Mike had asked me to assist him in writing this book.
Endless accounts of abuse
Johnny Rogan’s Byrds — Requiem For The Timeless, Volume 1 (Rogan House, 2011 (1,216 pages) is a massive biography that focuses on the original 5-member group: Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Jim/Roger McGuinn. Rogan has been communicating and corresponding with them as biographer and friend, so he has a treasure trove of information and opinions through many, many interviews and casual conversations. 9
If you’re a Byrds fan or interested in ’60s rock, this book is fascinating. It’s factually accurate, rarely gets bogged down in trivia, and makes very few challengeable statements. (This alone amazed me.) And Rogan is a very good writer, indeed.
But as a biography of men I admired, it’s tough reading. Sad reading, in fact, with seemingly endless accounts of alcohol abuse, cocaine abuse, and even heroin.
There are also endless accounts of their enormous f*cking egos and their staggering insecurity and immaturity (and it ain’t just Crosby). The crap these guys put each other through can be overwhelming to a casual reader. I was actually angry reading of the many times and many ways they sabotaged themselves through the years, and I’m not even sure the crap has ended between the three surviving members!
My final thought when I finished this book was, When it comes to being an asshole, Mike Love doesn’t hold a candle to these guys!
FEATURED IMAGE: The Byrds in 1965: David Crosby, Gene Clark, Mike Clarke, Chris Hillman, and Jim McGuinn. Ahhh, but they were so much younger then, they’re older than that now.
1 My love for the Byrds is qualified: I love the original group (1965-1967), not the latter-day “Byrds” led by sole original member Roger McGuinn (who is my faveravest guitar player of all time). Them I merely like.
2 I want to acknowledge Mike’s use of irony in selecting Good Vibrations as his title.
3 While reading non-fiction books, I keep a notebook with me to jot down any errors that I find. This includes factual errors, debatable statements, misinterpretations, etc. Reading Love’s book, I filled several pages with notes.
4 Please refer to my own “Mike Love’s Excitations And Good Vibrations” here on Rather Rare Records, where I argue that Love should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of the Beach Boys, and a second and separate time as a co-writer and co-creator of some of the best music of the ’60s.
5 This is not necessarily a bad reason to write such a book—if you can write it and either prove everyone else wrong or not whine while failing to prove everyone else wrong.
6 Love is legendary for responding to Pet Sounds by telling Brian Wilson, “Don’t f*ck with the formula.” Mike denies ever having said it. As this story has been making the rounds for decades, the denial is too late. As Love claims, no one can prove he ever said such a thing, but when dealing with a story this firmly entrenched in history, he sorta has to prove he didn’t say it.
Which, of course, he can’t.
Which, of course, ain’t fair.
From 1962 through 1965, the Beach Boys did have a formula of sorts: extolling the fun and glory of girls on the beach, boys on the waves, and the cars that got them there. That formula made them and their record company and their publishers lots of money. Brian was f*cking with that formula, and potentially f*cking with the livelihoods of a lot of people!
Had I been his co-author, I would have implored Mike to embrace the statement! Explain why it made sense then and how he was right to make it at the time. Then explain how he learned to love the music on Pet Sounds over time.
The book is in roughly chronological order, and throughout Love makes unnecessary derogatory statements about the other Beach Boys. That is, Good Vibrations is filled with bad vibrations.
While searching for a useable photo of the front cover to Love’s book, I came across a review of Love’s book alongside Brian Wilson’s newly published, second authorized autobiography by Jim Sheffield on Rolling Stone’s site:
“If you were hoping either book would make you feel warm and fuzzy about the Beach Boys—well, wouldn’t it be nice? But neither is a watered-down product. Both are full of pain. For Love, the injustice is how the world still feels so much affection for Wilson in all his fragile humanity. I saw a Wilson show this summer where he spaced on the second verse of I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times. He chuckled and said, ‘Oh, I forgot the words.’ The crowd sang it for him until he figured out where to come in for the chorus. It could have been a pitiful moment; instead, it was suffused with warmth. That’s a moment I won’t forget—there isn’t a moment like it in Love’s book. How can such troubled men create such beautiful music? God only knows.”
7 Recommended reading: Paul Bryan’s review of Good Vibrations for GoodReads.
8 Recommended reading: Paul Bryan’s review of Requiem For The Masses for GoodReads.
9 Later recording members of the Byrds include (chronologically) Kevin Kelley, Gram Parsons, Clarence White, John York, Gene Parsons, and Skip Battin.