What a brilliant idea. Gather together as many of Brian Wilson's non-Beach Boys productions as you can onto a CD and sell to a grateful public. As noted in the accompanying booklet, sadly not all of Wilson's productions from the sixties could be included because of the cursed contractual reasons (read: some greedy b*st*rd wanting too much money). But let us not complain because there is more than enough here for us to take pause and give thanks to the mighty Ace label for undertaking this pet project in the first place. The five stars, incidentally, take into account the superb packaging (Ace records really do devote plenty of love and care on all their releases) with its nice retro surf-lp cover and fascinating booklet. To have all these tracks gathered together in one beautifully produced package is a real treat. Some have been available on other re-issues; tracks by Sharon Marie, The Survivors and Gary Usher appeared on the fourth volume of Pebbles in 1979, and 'Guess I'm Dumb' by Glen Campbell is available on The Capitol Years double CD and several of The Honeys tracks have been available on various surf compilations. But it should be noted that all the tracks here are taken from original masters so the sound quality is a distinct improvement on previous incarnations (particularly the less than pristine sound reproduction on the Pebbles LP). Wilson's outside productions are, as one would expect, delicious, like aural candy floss. Naturally most of the tracks were also written, or co-written, by Wilson, and many feature his vocal talents too. While none of them was a chart topping hit, which as we all know is no guarantee of quality anyway, nor by the same token does their obscurity necessarily indicate any overlooked or undiscovered masterpieces, they are never less than enjoyable in their own unpretentious way. Throwaway stuff it may be, but occasionally, with that deft Wilson touch, there's a little magic something to elevate even the most fluffy tune into something a bit special. Take The Honey's 'He's a Doll', a fizzing girl group confection, with excellent harmonies, that has a wonderful hook in the "He's so gorgeous" line in the chorus. Several of the tracks were subsequently re-worked as songs for the Beach Boys ('Thinking about you, baby' became 'Darlin' and 'Pamela Jean' as, er, 'Car Crazy Cutie') but I must say that I prefer these earlier versions. The majority of the examples gathered here lean towards the early BBs style rather than the more ornate Pet Sounds era arrangements. Is that a problem? I don't think so, and there are some later works to balance it out. The aforementioned 'Guess I'm Dumb', for one, is practically a prototype Pet Sounds track and the B-side instrumental, 'After the Game', by The Survivors (i.e. Brian and a few friends) is also a very early pre-echo of the instrumentals from that album. The two tracks by American Spring, who evolved from The Honeys, though dating from 1972, are nice Wilson originals that show what he was capable of even in the midst of psychic meltdown. Otherwise it's joyous, frothy, simple, but never dumb, early-mid sixties surf-pop. If you are in any way a Brian Wilson fan then this album is indispensable, and one that you may find youself playing more often than some of the BB's own offerings. One hopes that the cursed contractual wrangles will ultimately be resolved and that some time in the future more Wilson productions will be able to be released for us to enjoy.
Ace Records have done it again. Not content with their stunning Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll series of CDs; not content with releasing the whole Little Richard Specialty catalogue; not content with their countless other achievements in the name of music, Ace have released what must be the Holy Grail for many Beach Boys and Girl Group collectors - a set of master tape dubs of many of Brian Wilson's non-Beach Boy productions. And there's not a single track in electronically reprocessed stereo. To justify the above remark, I must cast fans' minds back to an LP called "The Brian Wilson Productions", issued on Capitol as part of a boxed set circa 1980. All of the tracks on it were issued as mono singles; Capitol decided that this wasn't 80s enough, and duly reprocessed the tracks. They generally sounded as though they were recorded in Wilson's Bel-Air swimming pool, albeit not as cleanly, and Sharon-Marie suffered terrible sibilance. The release of this CD means an end to these distracting artefacts. Frankly, my copy of "The Brian Wilson Productions" is going in the bin. So, what do you get for your quids? For a start, a beautiful packaging job - those guys at Ace certainly know what they're doing when it comes to packaging; even if the music was rubbish (which, by and large, it isn't), I'd recommend borrowing or buying this CD simply to read the notes and drool over the photographs. Among the 23 tracks on this CD are the sublime "Pray For Surf" and "He's A Doll" by the Honeys, all of whose tracks are in genuine stereo, by the way - purists will moan, but it is a marked improvement on that damned Capitol compilation. The rarely-heard, couldn't-carry-a-tune-in-a-bucket Rachel & The Revolvers are present and correct with their extremely rare Dot single; both sides of the Survivors' single (with the first note clipped, as per the original release); the ubiquitous Glen Campbell with "Guess I'm Dumb", and Gary Usher's two soundalike sides (although it comes as an unexpected surprise when the strings come in on "Sacramento".) In all, a fascinating snapshot of the extra-curricular development of one of American pop's most enigmatic (and talented) producers and arrangers. And let's face it - you're never going to be able to pick up a mint copy of any of the records contained herein for less than the cost of the CD. You owe it to yourself to get a copy.
Brian Wilson produced or co-produced all the Beach Boys albums in all but name up until the Smile debacle and developed over the years into a skilled master producer who could match in his own unique style his contemporary influences and rivals Phil Spector and George Martin. The recording studio became his comfort zone, where he could intuitively use his extremely sensitive musical ear to best advantage, and he found production therapeutic. As well as turning out a couple of albums per year for the Beach Boys he frequently used Gold Star, Western Recorders, Capitol Towers, Columbia and other favourite Los Angeles studios to record other acts and try out songs and ideas. For example, the song Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby, that he produced for Sharon Marie in 1963, four years later later mutated into the Beach Boys hit Darlin'; and The Survivors' instrumental B-side After The Game pre-figured some of the sounds used on Pet Sounds.
Fourteen singles that he produced have been selected for Pet Projects, along with eight of their B-sides and one other stray B-side (Vegetables). Some of these are by Brian's co-songwriting buddy Gary Usher, and the pair sing back-up on some of the others. Several more are by the girl group the Honeys, featuring Marilyn Rovell, who became Brian's wife. The girl group sound gave Brian the opportunity to try out his version of Spector's Wall Of Sound, using many players from the same top session crew that Spector used, though his results could be mixed. He also produced Marilyn and her sister Diane when they became Spring in 1971. Nothing of that enterprise makes it onto Pet Projects but both sides of the single they made as American Spring in 1973 are included.
He also helped out other surf/hot rod acts such as Jan and Dean (although Brian neither surfed or hot-rodded, they were favourite songwriting topics, along with high school and, naturally, girls), helping arrange and produce their number one hit Surf City (unfortunately this and other collaborations such as Drag City are missing from Pet Projects). Dean of Jan and Dean recorded a cover of the Smiley Smile track Vegetables in 1967, with Brian, Marilyn and Diane helping out on vocals, and this came out on the White Whale label credited to Laughing Gravy (the name of Laurel and Hardy's dog in The Chimp). Although this is listed as having been included on the album, the version that actually plays is the 1972 Jan and Dean re-make on United Artists that was on the flipside of Jenny Lee, though it does have Brian Wilson on backing vocals.
Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, Brian Wilson's most accomplished work was with and for the Beach Boys, but these outside interests are a fascinating sideline, fully reflected on this collection despite some curious omissions, and also of historical value since they no doubt helped in developing and enhancing the skills that he employed on masterpieces such as Pet Sounds.
A constant criticism of Brian Wilson's production duties by critics & the artists themselves, was that Wilson was more interested in experimenting with production techniques that creating hits for his stable of artists. This certainly seems the case with the music contained on this CD. Apart from the two American Spring tracks, including an excellent Dennis Wilson composition, most of rest of the songs sound like second rate Phil Spector & would struggle to make filler tracks on The Beach Boys early records. Let's be honest, you are not going to buy this record because it has songs by The Survivors, The Laughing Gravy or Rachel & the Revolvers, but because of Wilson's association with the various project. Out of the 23 songs on this album, there is only one hidden gem, which is a lot of money for quite a small return. So a record for the Wilson purest only, I `d advise you purchase the entire Beach Boy Back catalogue first, even the bad ones.