Sep 272013

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

The Beach Boys have one of the most interesting fan bases in the history of rock music. Not only are they one of the most popular bands, they also have one of the biggest cult followings, and with few exceptions, each side has little patience for what the other side adores. For every fan who cranks up “Surfin’ USA” on their car radio, there’s another fan sitting in a darkened den, studying the nuances of “H.E.L.P. Is On The Way,” Brian Wilson’s paean to vegetarianism. They do have one thing in common, though – they both think Brian Wilson is some kind of genius.

Caroline Now! is a 2000 tribute album to the songs of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys – some songs are Wilson originals performed by other artists; others are Beach Boy songs written by other members of the band. “The aim at the outset,” writes Andrew Thomas in the liner notes, “was to produce a different kind of ‘tribute’ album – one that would shy away from the obvious song choices and delve into the treasure trove that is Brian Wilson’s ‘undiscovered’ work.” Indeed, almost all of the two dozen songs are on the obscure side; only five of them were written before “Good Vibrations,” the band’s critical and commercial peak.

What becomes clear over the length of the album is how devoted these artists are to Wilson’s music. A lot of care went into these covers, and the results lead one to hope that the songs will no longer be thought of as underappreciated. Here are five of them.

Kle – Rainbow Eyes (Brian Wilson cover)

“Rainbow Eyes” was scheduled to be on Sweet Insanity, the planned follow-up to Brian’s 1988 solo album, but court cases and lawsuits buried Sweet‘s release, and the song didn’t appear until 2004’s Gettin’ in Over My Head, years after it showed up on Caroline Now!. Plucked from obscurity (and soon to return there), Kle gives this song a vocal as light and sweet as the scent of lilacs, only much longer lasting.

Katrina Mitchell & Bill Wells – Wind Chimes (The Beach Boys cover)

“I had some wind chimes and they were beautiful and Carl said, ‘Why don’t you write a song about them?’ And I said, ‘Well I’ll try,’ and so I did.” Brian makes it sound so easy, doesn’t he? This version, with head Pastel Katrina Mitchell’s vocals and Bill Wells’s piano, was cut in one take; where the original has an airy feel, this one has more of a sense of water to it.

Eugene Kelly – Lady (Dennis Wilson cover)

Over the years since his passing, Dennis Wilson’s star has grown brighter and brighter, to the point that many now consider him to have been as much of a musical genius as his brother. You can hear that genius beginning to emerge from its chrysalis in his 1968 song “Lady,” released as the B-side of a single, done in collaboration with Rambo, a.k.a. Daryl Dragon, a.k.a. the Captain of “and Tennille” fame. (The 1971 cover by Spring, retitled “Fallin’ In Love,” is also worth a listen.) This cover comes from Eugene Kelly, of the Cobain-beloved Vaselines, and has the same ocean roar sound of a conch shell pressed to your ear.

The Pearlfishers – Go Away Boy (The Honeys cover)

“Go Away Boy” was an old Brian song that didn’t make an official appearance until 1982, when the Honeys (featuring Brian’s first wife, Marilyn) recorded it for their Ecstasy album. The Pearlfishers wipe out the ’80s sound, keep the genders unchanged, and come up with one of the album’s brightest highlights and biggest revelations.

Eric Matthews – Lonely Sea (The Beach Boys cover)

The oldest song on Caroline Now!, “Lonely Sea” was written in 1962, more than half a century ago. Its beauty and its sentiments, however, are ageless. Eric Matthews’ cover brings out all all the melancholy in Brian’s original, making for a cover that offers its listeners the best kind of sadness – the kind that doesn’t weigh you down, but rather, washes you clean.

Caroline Now! is available in its entirety on iTunes and Amazon.

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