The weather is so dominant a topic of conversation with the crossing guard that a strong interest in meteorology ought to be a prerequisite for the job. Still, there are days—like today—when it would be plain ungrateful not to say out loud, “What a beautiful day!”
The Beach Boys have spent half a century trying, explicitly or otherwise, to get that feeling into song. What began as poetry soon passed into cliché, then into a cottage industry and a vehicle for self-mythologizing (this would be neither the first nor last BB song to quote a previous BB hit), and finally exists as a sort of pure musical reflex. Originality is no longer a criteria; the Beach Boys own this territory, with greater (see the miracle of That’s Why God Made the Radio) and lesser (present case) results.
For long swaths of their career the Boys presumed (hoped?) that the sound of their voices was enough. They didn’t really need to deliver the songs so long as they delivered the sound. Sometimes it was enough, but not really here. This is just barely a song: It needs one more hook, or bridge, or perhaps an actual idea beyond the title phrase. No doubt it would have had one of these things had Brian Wilson, who had a knack for making even awful songs work somehow (c.f., MIU Album), been involved. And no doubt this is why it didn’t make the cut for LA (Light) Album and showed up on the soundtrack of a dreadful movie (“A puerile exploitation of one very thin joke during 98 very long minutes.”—Roger Ebert) before finally showing up on this odd compilation covering a very odd period of the Beach Boys career. Whether that title, Ten Years of Harmony, was sadly-wide-of-the-mark wishful thinking or simply marketing doublespeak I’ll leave up to you.
And yet, with Carl’s voice silent now for 15 years, how good it is to hear him. It’s almost enough.
Capitol’s “Capitol of the World” series comprised some 250 titles from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s. The Strangelovian series logo hints at the sort of global domination that was all the rage at the time, but really these albums are simply cheap and easy plunderings of the back catalogs of overseas labels passed off as exotica. Not there’s anything wrong with that. Charles Trenet cannot be repackaged too much, and Christmas in Sweden is too precious a cultural artifact in my family circle to ever make light of. Still, for every genuinely interesting release—Fats Waller in London; ragas by Ravi Shankar—there are dozens of recordings made in beer halls, at polka festivals, or pulled from the EMI vaults of those dark, pre–Mersey Beat days: Norrie Paramour’s Moods, International Vibrations!by Ray Martin and the Piccadilly Strings, Rockin’ Violinsby Eric Jupp.
Based on the wacky FADOS! logo on the back cover, the designer seems to have thought fado was a dance craze like MAMBO! or CHA CHA CHA! rather than an indigenous Portuguese music that revolves around the emotion of saudade, which loosely translates as longing or melancholy. And the less said about the “Hello, Portuguese sailor!” cover, the better.
Of Max, all the album says is that he “got his start, at 15, at the Hotel Bela Vista in Funchal.” The title of this song means “And I Do Not Want,” and it ends with a gorgeous Beatlesque chord.
After supper I take the dog for a walk. He is young, and he his willful, and he has just started marking, so smells are very important to him. And, with a singularity of purpose few can match, he pulls.
There is a small wood near our house that fills with snow in the winter. In March, when the thaw comes, it empties and sends a stream meandering down the street. So when the dog pulls, he pulls me across this stream and through puddles.
Now it is just light enough after supper that these puddles are not pools of ink but mirrors showing clouds and stars and yellow lights of dusk. And I wonder, does he notice this, does he think he is walking across a wet sky?
And so “Waters of March” comes to mind. After Tom Jobim and Elis Regina’s joyous, untouchable original, my favorite version is this wisely faithful cover by Cibo Matto and Sean Lennon. The song suits their homemade aesthetic warmly, and they don’t English the lyrics. Some things are simply better, or more wonderfully inscrutable, in Portuguese.
Someone, I forget who, observed that both Jobim and Brian Wilson wrote water music, inspired by the beach, the surf, and the cultures—in Hawthorne or Ipanema—that grew up near the ocean. I was about to extend that idea to this song, and to waters created by the thaw, when I remember that in Brazil, March marks the end of summer and not the beginning of spring.
I’m not sure, when it’s sung in Portuguese, it makes any difference.
Nothing at all creepy about a father and daughter singing about incipient adultery. Yet the clavinet somehow takes the funkiness of the situation, makes it literal, and all moral queasiness is banished: Alchemy.
And put your hands together for the Ovation Records logo. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.