Here homes the sun, the Byrds are singing, I can hear music,…
WHAT A BEAUTIFUL NOISE
by Norman Warwick
Here Comes The Sun is a pretty ubiquitous song played live, or blasted out through speakers, in every bar here on Lanzarote and, as that neat little guitar pick opens the song, we who live here sit back smugly and remind ourselves that every day is summer on the island. Although these are uncertain times I write this in the middle of June with covid regulations due to be lifted in the UK on the 21st of this month, So, there is reason for optimism and coincidentally we were drinking a pint at the Mia bar in Playa Blanca yesterday, where a few of the earliest returning tourists could be seen, and out of the speakers came that guitar run doo da doo doo,…..it seems like years since its been here !
It had been something of a surprise that George Harrison had turned out to be a gifted song-writer in a group that already had Lennon and McCartney, though not necessarily in that order. This was yet one more song to add to a catalogue that earned millions in royalties, though even that was not enough to convince a later singer writer, Gary Hall. Whilst writing songs that admittedly feature higher on my playlists than do those of The Beatles young Gary also found time to publish a book called Living Life Without Loving The Beatles: A Survivor´s Guide.
This book is a satirical and sometimes surreal self-help guide, which as well as challenging the orthodox perception of the Beatles’ status, presents an oppressed minority with a complete defence strategy for dealing with any Fab Four fans reluctant to give peace a chance. By breaking Beatles’ fans down into seven key groups, the author offers an invaluable insight into the mind-set of each individual strain. Why would anyone claim to enjoy the Beatles’ music? What’s in it for them? Once you learn to identify which fan type is harassing you, simply follow the advice suggested in this book for dealing with that particular strain, and before you can say Pet Sounds, the fan will be retreating in defeat. The ground-breaking research expounded in these pages is also recommended reading for any form of Fab Four fan, who may be interested in learning how to distinguish between articulate, cutting edge rock ‘n’ roll and bombastic bubblegum claptrap.
Still, this isn´t the time for division, this is time for unity. The doors are being opened, we are free to step outside,….listen, The Byrds are singing,…..sssh
According to issue 10 of Crawdaddy in 1967, ´a girl, listening to the Byrds’ version of Mr. Tambourine Man, a girl who loved Bob Dylan, once said, I don’t like it because it sounds like church music. Meaning she didn’t like it because she didn’t like church music.
In that article, by Sandy Pearlman, and re-published recently in Paste magazine, the writer said she realized that, ´being a Dylan fan in the spring of ’65, the girl was probably a word freak who didn’t have a notion in the world about the Byrds and their formal problem. I, on the other hand, thought the Byrds just sort of sounded generally mysterious. Anyway, I really was surprised by them. And this was before I knew much about what the Byrds had to do with magic, science, and religion. Or much about the Byrds’ peculiar favourite form. And long before the Byrds appeared to become really self-conscious about what they were doing.
The Byrds have real formal constancy. From time immemorial they have grounded their music in what are—or what seem to be—obviously regular rhythmic patterns. It is out of this ground that all developments and variations seem to rise—as it were—to the surface. This sound is dense, but not obviously and impressively complicated. That is, it is very coherent. It works because of its unity, not out of an accumulation of contrasting effects such as volume changes or syncopations. Here the contrasts inherent in any rhythmic pattern are not at all emphasized. The changes in the basic rhythmic patterns are not necessarily gradual but rather non-dramatic. The Byrds’ music is not at all progressive. In comparison to, say, the Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, or the Yardbirds, it’s awfully calm. It doesn’t go anywhere. The resolutions are not dramatic. They don’t obviously end anything. Instead, they are cyclical. But the cycles aren’t closed. It’s clear that they could quite probably go on for far too long. It’s really nice that the Byrds should stop only when somebody decides to do it. Not when it’s necessary. The great Byrds challenge the tradition of the fade-out by making it into a mere decision rather than a matter of pleasure, logic, or endurance.
The Byrds are eclectic. That’s what the guy on the back of their second album said. (“This album is eclectic?) But the prominence of the form undermines our knowing anything about all that. When the Byrds got started, somebody (in Hit Parader, I think) said that their first album was very nice, but it all sounded the same. Now we are up to taking that. It’s become a virtue. What started out as a folk-rock style on the first album has been turned, via repetition, into a form. The formal structure of a constant rhythmic ground can overcome any material. The rhythmic ground is so dependable that once, when lying on a cliff overlooking the Long Island
Sound, not so far from where Walt Whitman did it, I thought I heard the earth turning beneath my head and it reminded me of—of all things—the Byrds. That is, the Byrds’ music has that sort of dependable self-energizing kineticism. It doesn’t go anywhere. But it never comes to rest. Turn! Turn! Turn! And that’s very strange and also very sad.
The latest works of the Byrds are on this album, ironically titled Younger Than Yesterday, on which the Byrds give us magic, science, religion, psychedelic sounds, lots of electronic stuff and technological tongues, love songs, Dylan (who could have been influenced by Whitman, right), rock ‘n’ roll, science fiction, some Southern California local lore, an African trumpet guy, a country and western guitar guy, a little bit of raga, and so forth. They refer to all sorts of people including their older selves, and yet after a while it winds up sounding pretty close. Even the abundant amazing sounds are far too amazing to remain that way for long. They make themselves very familiar. That’s how strong the form is. Unique to rock, the Byrds are so formalistic that even when they do something new it’s hard to tell.
But the Byrds are conscious not only of their peculiar form but also of their own place in the rock firmament. Everybody knows that the Byrds are an odd case. After all, only the Byrds, amongst modern rock stars, have managed to change their status from stardom to cultural heroism. That is, as one 45 after another didn’t make it, their quality still kept up. And this maintained the fierce loyalty of the small hard core of several hundred thousand knowing fans. Not enough to make them traditional rock stars—a category wherein the charisma depends upon the quantity—but enough to keep their name in circulation. And so when the Byrds recorded “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” there was some real irony at work. They went to the trouble of building in the screaming—but who could possibly scream at the Byrds? That’s just not their thing. But recent live performances of this song have further complicated the irony. The Byrds have sounded so bad live that they might as well be in the Stones/Beatles/Herman category. In other words, everybody knows that they could do it well live, if only because lots of folks have seen them do it well. But recently they haven’t bothered. The performance quality has become gratuitous. It’s as if you couldn’t hear them. Because of which it wasn’t worth trying on their part. Except that you can hear them—since nobody screams. And so when an audience refuses to cooperate by screaming, they just ruin everything.
CTA-102 moves the science fiction of the 5-D album out into the whole universe. It contains probably the first instance of star-noise in rock. Some people with a Platonic bend tend to regard this song as a fusion of inner and outer space. God only knows. But this is one of those songs wherein so many of the big Byrds themes are brought together: Magic, Science, Science Fiction, Flying Saucers, Technology. So self-conscious were the Byrds that CTA-102 makes the most bizarre use of the Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star tune since Mozart’s Variations on Ah
Vous Dirai-je Maman, K. 265.
The pure monotony of much of it is also noteworthy. The Byrds are so self-conscious that they refute the supposed obligation to be interesting—or at least amusing—and surpass even their own “Lear Jet Song” by presenting many seconds of merely monotonous sounds: i.e. the star noise and the space freak’s speech. And all this coated with technological sounds, electronically modified, produced, distorted or filtered sounds, Bizarro or real star noises, not-so-obviously melodic guitar playing—all culminating in those merely monotonous sounds which constitute a technological anti-tongue.
In terms of an essentially formal self-consciousness, the album’s high point is the really tired My Back Pages. First of all, My Back Pages immediately follows the much too freaky and overly mysterious Mind Garden. As Mind Garden ends with a spectacular technological tongue which is disqualified just because it is one among too many, on comes My Back
Pages, sounding as if we had always known it. The contrast is magnificent. Mind Garden is the pigeon for My Back Pages. Significantly, this song is one of the Byrds’ lately numerous hits-that-failed. It seems to have what De Chirico called ´The Lassitude of the Infinite´ about it. Some girl once said that only the guitar break betrays it as brand new. But it still sounds-—with its excessively deliberate pacing—infinitely weary. They are only grinding it out. But make no mistake, this is the most purely formal thing on the album. It is all form, structure, habit. Very archetypical. Imagine the Byrds at this stage of the game, on their fourth album, called Younger Than Yesterday, doing Dylan. And Dylan off of Another Side of Bob Dylan at that. It’s like déja vu. The song is so immediately overfamiliar that that constant rhythmic form is very visible. Here overfamiliarity insures the music and the words failing to get in the way of the form. Why, you can almost hear the earth turning.
The rest of the album continues the mastery of form over an eclectic variety of styles. It is as if the Byrds had developed a modular concept, whereby things could be ´formalized´ or plugged into the form. Now the country-and-western-like Time Between, and Girl Who Had No Name, and Have You Seen Her Face, as well as the awfully mysterious Renaissance Fair and Everybody’s Been Burned, can all be subjected. Thoughts And Words, which is equally mysterious, uses its seeming over-similarity to middle-period Beatlism to lull us into a sense of comfortable familiarity, which only serves to make it more mysterious, because of the tension between its seeming familiarity and its form. And last, but not least, there is Why, the point at which the Byrds refused to maintain their tradition of ending at least one side with an obvious joke, such as Oh! Susannah, or We’ll Meet Again, or The Lear Jet Song. Why also represents the pulling in of the raga horns from the flashy/spectacular of the earlier flipside version to the merely pleasant plausibility of the present one. At last the form has triumphed over both the urge to laugh, and the urge to display´.
I found much to laugh at, and laugh with, in the above review when re-reading it recently but whether the intent was to denigrate The Byrds or to delight in them, the fact is that as we step out of our year- long lockdown, The Byrds are still singing on Spotify and playlists in all our bars, and listen, not only The Byrds,….in the distance, quiet, ….I can hear music. It’s the Beach Boys.
I found myself remembering another Paste interview published ten years ago, celebrating their ´comeback album´.
´If there was ever a fitting time for The Beach Boys to throw in the towel, it was 2011—following the release of The SMILE Sessions, the landmark, oft-bootlegged leftovers from Brian Wilson and company’s unfinished ‘60s masterwork. Instead, they went in the exact opposite direction: The group’s surviving members (Wilson; vocalists Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston; original guitarist David Marks) built on the momentum of that long-awaited release, reuniting for a 50th anniversary tour.
That reunion is nothing short of a pop music miracle: Wilson hadn’t performed live with the band since 1996, and the years since have brought several heavily publicized lawsuits over song`-writing credits and usage of The Beach Boys name. But virtually no one (including The Beach Boys themselves) could have predicted the release of That’s Why God Made the Radio, their 29th studio album (and first batch of new material since 1992), let alone that it would be their best work since the ‘70s.
That´s why god But make no mistake: While Radio does find the good ol’ boys harmonizing together again (with a subtle sweetness that effortlessly recalls their glory days), it’s a Beach Boys album only because Wilson willed it to be. The seeds of most tracks date back over a decade, to a series of fruitful sessions between Wilson and producer-instrumentalist Joe Thomas, who originally collaborated with Wilson on his 1998 solo album, Imagination. A stand-out from those hours and hours of recordings was a mid-tempo, ‘50s-styled ditty called That’s Why God Made the Radiobut instead of using the track as a springboard into a new solo album, Wilson shelved it away with an unselfish (and lofty) pride, claiming its potential could only be realized with his Beach Boys band-mates.
Wilson’s intuition was spot-on: “Radio” is a gorgeous, windows-down gem that blends the optimistic summer time spirit of their early hits with the maestro’s trademark compositional genius. Though its lyrics are corny, its chorus is spine-tingling—filled with flowing chord changes and spiraling, SMiLE-esque melodic grace. Even better is wordless opener Think About the Days, which unfurls an exquisite, glistening web of harmonies over a melancholy piano figure, harkening back to SMiLE’s enchanted opener, Our Prayer.
It’s a mesmerizing opening one-two punch, which only makes the album’s eventual descent into Kokomo territory (S & D note; that provided the album´s only hit) even more disheartening. It’s a gradual fall: The Mike Love-assisted Isn’t It Time is ridiculously dated, particularly in the lyrics department (and the obtrusive ´Look at me—I’m not old-fashioned´ programmed percussion isn’t helping whatsoever), but I’ll be hot-damned if it isn’t catchy. But there’s virtually no merit in the washed-up vibes of Spring Vacation, with its references to ´cruisin’ the town, diggin’ the scene” and bluesy, lame-o John Mayer d-side arrangement. Love’s cringe-inducing lyrics are among the worst in the band’s career, peaking in self-referential nausea with, ´As for the past, it’s all behind us / Happier now, look where life finds us / Singing our songs is enough reason / Harmony, boys, is what we believe in / Some said it wouldn’t last / All we can say is we’re still having a blast´. (We get it, Mike—it’s not about the money.)
In a way, it’s easy to wonder how great Radio could have been without Love’s obtrusive Surf’s up! energy: Ultimately, he serves as the album’s executive producer, which probably just means he was there to ensure the album didn’t get too “artsy-fartsy.” While all members sound terrific behind the microphone, particularly when the harmonies are at their thickest, Love’s lead turns on the god-awful Daybreak Over the Ocean and Beaches in Mind are excruciatingly over-played in their winky retro-ness and, quite frankly, an embarrassment.
But just when you’re ready to write off Radio completely, it closes with a four-song stretch (part of a supposed long-form suite that remains, as of today, unfinished) that rivals anything in the group’s post-Pet Sounds repertoire. There’s the wistful, intricate Strange World; the absolutely stunning ballads From There to Back Again (which features particularly intricate harmonic development, lovely flute runs, and a stand-out lead vocal from Al Jardine) and Pacific Coast Highway (with Wilson sounding as passionate and clear-eyed as he has in years); and the reflective, meditative closer Summer’s Gone, which was originally intended to serve as the final track on the final Beach Boys album. It’s an unexpected perfection, with “ooh-aah” harmonies gliding underneath a symphonic, Pet Sounds-styled instrumental sweep´.
So, Here Comes The Sun, I thought as I stepped back into reality, only to have that thought de-bunked by Gary Hall´s begrudging look at The Beatles, though in doing so he steered my son towards finding new ´old´ music. I could definitely hear the ´The Beatles and The Byrds and The Beach Boys humming´ as I stepped out through my front door. Crawdaddy might have clipped my wings and prevented free flight with The Byrds but I said I Can Hear Music because the Beach Boys had once said it a single they released when they were everybody´s favourite boy band, even before boy bands had been invented. The single was released in 1969 and somehow, more than fifty years , still captured the moment as I stepped out into some kind of normality again after covid.
In writing this article, though I have been distracted by the thoughts of others and was beginning to doubt my own optimism. Maybe the music I remembered wasn´t really all it was cracked up to be. The narrative lines of others can play havoc with our senses of chronology but I remain pretty sure that when I say I Can Hear Music what I have in mind is a Beautiful Noise.
In fact a new bio-musical based on the career of Neil Diamond, who wrote and recorded Beautiful Noise will soon head to Broadway and is likely to become one of the first post-covid Broadway triumphs. The show, too will be called A Beautiful Noise as a nod to the singer-songwriter’s 1976 album. The musical is set to run for four weeks in Boston during summer 2022, before moving the production to New York.
A Beautiful Noise will cover Diamond’s upbringing in Brooklyn, his rise to stardom in the seventies, and the later decades of his career.
Diamond is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of fame and a multi-Grammy winner.
The pandemic had delayed the show that was first announced back in 2019. Now, though, casting details and ticketing information for A Beautiful Noise are expected to be released shortly.
This news is so good (so good, so good!) Producers Ken Davenport and Bob Gaudio announced today that the previously untitled Broadway-bound new musical that will tell the incredible life story of legendary singer-songwriter Neil Diamond, now has its name – A Beautiful Noise – and will have its world premiere at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre next summer with performances for this strictly limited four-week engagement starting Tuesday, June 21, 2022 and playing through Sunday, July 17, 2022. The news marks the first new show to announce an engagement at this legendary theatre since the pandemic forced the shutdown of live entertainment.
Diamond said, “I’ve had the joy of coming to Boston on countless occasions, but one of the most special was my 2013 trip to Fenway where I had the honor of being part of a moment of relief, unity, strength, and love. Next summer, when A Beautiful Noise has its first performance at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, and we’re all able to safely be in the same space together, experiencing the thrill of live theater, I imagine those same emotions will wash over me and the entire audience. Relief… Unity… Strength… Love… I can’t wait to share that experience.”
In addition, Olivier Award® winner and four-time Tony Award® nominee Steven Hoggett (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Once, Black Watch) will choreograph A Beautiful Noise. Hogget joins four-time Academy Award®-nominee Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour, The Theory of Everything), who is penning the book, and Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening).
Long loved by Boston, Diamond first played Revere, MA, in 1967 and he has subsequently played Boston and surrounding areas almost 40 times, visiting the city in each decade of his 50+ years of performing.
His iconic song “Sweet Caroline” has become an anthem to Red Sox fans where at every home game an eighth-inning sing-along takes place at Fenway Park. The song’s connection to Boston was seared into the hearts of millions when, in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 Marathon Bombing, teams around the Major Leagues played the song to show solidarity with the city while at Fenway, Diamond himself took to the field to sing an emotional rendition of 1969 classic.
With his first break into song-writing in the sixties and his meteoric rise in the seventies, and plenty of crushing disappointments and heart-stopping triumphs along the way, Neil Diamond has maintained an almost unthinkable level of superstardom for five straight decades. How did a poor, Jewish kid from Brooklyn become one of the most universally adored showmen of all time? There’s only one way to that story: a musical set to his era of genre and generation- defining smash hits that entranced the world.
In its storied history, the Emerson Colonial Theatre has debuted such seminal Broadway shows as Anything Goes, Porgy and Bess, Oklahoma!, Born Yesterday, Follies, A Little Night Music, Grand Hotel, and La Cage aux Folles, among others. Reviving a great theatrical tradition, Ambassador Theatre Group‘s newly restored Emerson Colonial Theatre officially re-opened its doors in July 2018 and has hosted the pre-Broadway world premieres of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, David Byrne‘s American Utopia, and Plaza Suite starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker.
With past and the future so clearly separated by the covid period we will no doubt create a new modernity by pouring new wine from old bottles.
In the words of the late songwriter, Bill Morrissey, ´Come on world, bring it on´.