Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, October 27, 2006
      ( 10/27/2006 08:55:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I HEARD THE WORD. WONDERFUL THING! A CHILDREN'S SONG!" – When Blogcritics Publisher Eric Olsen first passed on the word that a CD containing lullaby renditions of Beach Boys songs was being released, my first response was similar to my reaction on learning that ace power-popper Jason Falkner had put out an instrumental collection of Beatles lullabies: "Now there's a waste of listening time . . ."

But the longer I thought about it, the more intrigued I became by the idea. If ever there was a rock-'n'-roll artist suited to the children's tunes approach, it's Brian Wilson. Back in the band's early days (of Summer Days [And Summer Nights]), the guy even capped an album with a crooning goodnight to a girlfriend ("And Your Dreams Come True"), while in the later Brother Records years, his band included a Peter Pan-style storybook 45 ("Mt. Vernon And Fairway (A Fairy Tale)") in the middle of Holland. Even the Boys' wackiest elpee, Love You, included an ambiguous tune aimed at a young child which included the disturbingly memorable entreaty to "pat, pat, pat her on her butt." Who better to be given the nursery instrumental sound than the Beach Boys? I bet Bri was tickled by the idea.

I went to the Baby Rock Records site to see what I could see – and was startled to learn that Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of the Beach Boys was only one of a series of discs devoted to sleepy-time takes on various rockers. Among the others so adapted: Radiohead, Metallica, Tool, Bjork, and Queens of the Stone Age. Clearly, the folks at Baby Rock were going after more than Baby Boomer grandparents, though other sets (Beatles, Eagles, Zep, Floyd) are obviously aimed at the Classic Rock Set. Me, I'm visualizing a former grunge rock mama lightly crooning to her child alongside the Nirvana set that she'd love to "eat your cancer."

When I got the Beach Boys disc, first time through I decided to play "Name That Tune" with myself: plopping the disc into the PT Cruiser stereo and playing it through once without looking at the track listing. Wanted to see how quickly it took me to identify each cut. Tracks one and two were a breeze – "Surfer Girl" and "In My Room" – but instrumentalist/producer Michael Armstrong threw a curve at me with number three, momentarily stumping me with the much more musically elaborate "Surf's Up." A much less familiar track for all but serious Beach Boys fans (perhaps the original's ref to "Frére Jacques" inspired the choice?), think I, as was its follower, an instrumental from Pet Sounds entitled "Let's Go Away for A While." But when Armstrong then included "Our Prayer," the much tossed-around track originally meant to be the opener to Smile, it was clear this set was no mere "Greatest Hits" revamp. Someone at Baby Rock knows and loves their Beach Boys.

Don't think I wanna play the disc again while driving in the car, though, since (per its stated intent) the material's plenty snoozy. Basically comprised of mellotron, vibraphone and glockenspiel – with an occasional bell or otherwise undisruptive sounds added to the mix – the focus here is on softer, slower Beach Boys numbers. No "Fun Fun Fun" or "Shut Down" here, thanx, not even a "Sloop John B." Instead we get "God Only Knows" (featuring a quirky keyboard take on the original's orchestral break and the only hint of harmony vocals on the entire disc) or "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulders." Six of the eleven tracks are from Pet Sounds, in fact, which makes sense since it's often cited as Brian Wilson's most "grown-up" album (if not always the most fun). Still, listening to these pared-down takes on classic pop-rock, I found myself once more appreciating their creator's simple genius (virtually all the tracks on Rockabye are Brian W. compositions). Whether this pleasantly low-key disc will serve as a gateway to future Beach Boys fans is another question, though I suppose it's possible. It got this longtime fan pulling the discs off the shelf once again (first up: the Capitol two-fer, Today! and Summer Days), but since that's something I do every other month or so, anyway, you probably shouldn't make too much of it . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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