Thinking Out Loud

September 4, 2008

Music That Takes You Back to Another Time and Place

Filed under: Church, music — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 pm

If you’re not old enough that The Beach Boys were part of your musical education, or you don’t know what that “thing” is in the picture above*, feel free to skip this section.

Every six months or so — provided I decide that it’s worth the bother — I get into a mood and start spinning some of the music from my past which only exists on vinyl records.   Usually, I’m in a really good mood after.   So one time a few years back, I asked Mrs. W. what it is about this music that produces a different response in me than I get, for example, in the middle of a worship service.   She replied using a word that had somehow previously escaped my working vocabulary set.   She said that those songs are ‘evocative.’

Unless I’m misreading my dictionary, this is true because many of these songs have an association with a previous time in my life, where I was, what I was doing, that sort of thing.   But certainly many praise and worship songs can be equally ‘evocative’ of time spent in God’s presence, not to mention where I was when I first heard those songs.

Instead, I think these songs do something for me because of unique features of rhythm, melody and harmony — it’s the whole sound that’s evocative — and when it comes to harmony, nothing does it for me like the layered, textured sound of The Beach Boys.   For that reason, I’m a huge fan of Brian Wilson’s 2003 album Smile, which is why this week I headed straight to the music store to get his new album That Lucky Old Sun.

I’m not going to do a record review here; I just want to make some observations.   This is an album in a style about which we would normally say, “they don’t make albums like that anymore.”  But as Mrs. W. so succinctly observed, “Yes, but they do.”  Or rather, Brian Wilson does.  Whatever was “in the water” when the Beach Boys recorded classics such as the Surf’s Up album over a generation ago, Brian has tapped into it once more to create music that is entirely its own genre.  If you’re a young musician reading this who somehow skipped the disclaimer in the first paragraph, don’t ever think that all the melody lines have been crafted, all the rhythms have been exploited, all the chord progressions have been sequenced, or even that all the chords themselves have been played.

By the way, I have no idea what the lyrics are about.   I wasn’t listening to them.  That will come later, on the third or fourth time through, or when I’m not driving and can read the lyric booklet.   My listening today was all about the sound, that distinctive southern California beach music that defines the 1960s in places like Malibu and Venice Beach; in the same way the distinctive Motown sound defines the 1960s in places like Detroit, Lansing, Flint or Dearborn, Michigan; or anywhere else that the music might have been playing above the noise of a General Motors assembly line.

(Is there something else at play here?  Could the driving Motor City rhythm of a song like “You Can’t Hurry Love” have become the musical association connected to the excitement of Huntington Beach, CA?   And the beauty of “Good Vibrations” have been something we linked to African Americans struggling to make ends meet in the factories of east Michigan?   Is it association or something more intrinsic?)

If you’ve haven’t, I’d say buy Smile before you consider That Lucky Old Sun. but I was in no way disappointed.  Instead, as a Christian — this is a Christian blog after all — I just wish there was Christian music that was ‘evocative’ in the same way; or at least captured the rhythm and energy of a good Motown song, or the beauty and complexity of a southern California beach sound.   Then again, I don’t know that I see the latter working on Sunday morning at 11:00.   Well, maybe if we all wore sandals, shorts and shirts with flowers and palm trees.

*It’s a 45-rpm record adaptor.  You see, records all had different sized holes…why are you laughing?  No, I’m serious…see, there were 7-inch records, they played at 45 RPM and there were 12-inch records that played at 33 1/3 RPM.   What?   No, I don’t know what the 1/3rd was for.   Anyway the little records had the big holes, except in the U.K. and Europe.  Stop laughing.   No I’m serious… so you had to buy these little plastic things that would — stop looking at me like that — oh, never mind…

1 Comment »

  1. Great review

    Comment by The Captain — September 7, 2008 @ 11:57 pm

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