Beach Boys Regroup in 2012

The final weeks of 2011 have been memorable ones for longtime followers of the Beach Boys. In November, Capital Records released “Smile,” the legendary lost Beach Boys’ album that had remained uncompleted and unavailable for 45 years. Then, last week, it was announced that the surviving members of the group would reunite during 2012 as part of a Beach Boys 50th anniversary celebration, meaning that Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks will share the same stage for the first time in more than a decade. The magnitude of these two events depends on what level of a Beach Boys fan you happen to be. There are the very casual fans, who love the band’s earlier songs (Surfin USA, I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda and California Girls), know little or nothing about “Smile,” and may not be aware that the group’s members have not been together recently. Then you have the more knowledgeable individuals, who heard that Brian Wilson discarded some musical project in the late 1960’s, and know that a Beach Boys concert these days means Mike and Bruce and a bunch of guys you never heard of. And finally, you have the Beach Boy fanatics, who already own bootleg versions of “Smile,” and are skeptical that the five men can get along well enough to make it through the 50 planned dates. In any case, the appearance of “Smile” is a welcome one, while we’ll have to wait and see about the reunion.

It’s never been fully explained why “Smile” was not released in late 1966, as was originally planned, although many reasons have been offered. Brian Wilson, the genius behind the Beach Boys, had conceived the project on the heels of his success with the group’s “Pet Sounds” album, and their most recent single, “Good Vibrations.” Brian, who had stopped touring with the Beach Boys in 1965, had spent much of 1966 in the studio fusing together the hundreds of musical ideas that were rapidly growing inside his head. By early 1967, enough “Smile” material had been recorded to produce an album, but Brian was never quite satisfied with the results, and continued to edit and re-edit many of the completed tracks. By late spring, “Smile” was pretty much abandoned, as Brian decided to concentrate on finishing one song, “Heroes and Villains,” which, along with “Good Vibrations,” was meant to be a centerpiece of the “Smile” album. The disappointing reception to “Heroes and Villains” as a single along with the Beach Boys failure to deliver the much anticipated “Smile” took a heavy toll on the groups career, as critics dismissed them as just another group that couldn’t keep pace with the Beatles. Brian Wilson stepped aside as the leader of the Beach Boys, and would only sporadically contribute to the group for several years.

Even in its unfinished form, “Smile” often lives up to its status as a lost masterpiece. There are beautiful tracks, such as “Wonderful” and “Wind Chimes” that showcase Brian Wilson’s ability to mastermind great harmonies, while songs like “Vegetables” and “Barnyard” reflect an uncharacteristic sense of whimsy. In addition to a slightly version of “Good Vibrations” than most of us are familiar with, the “Smile” CD includes several intriguing fragments of music, several intended to be part of what would have been an extended version of “Heroes and Villains.” When listening to “Smile,” one can’t help but wonder how the album would have been received had it been released in 1967.

Of course, a complete Beach Boys reunion is not possible, as two of the founding members, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson, are now deceased. For many years, Carl was the glue that held the band together, and it was his death that allowed the group to splinter into three separate touring factions. Mike Love, the Beach Boys’ lead singer, obtained the right to perform under the group’s name, while Al Jardine and Brian Wilson tour with their own backup bands under their own names. In 2012, Mike will be 71, while Brian and Al will both turn 70. Since their voices are not what they used to be, it’s my hope that the Beach Boys ask Al’s son Matt and longtime Brian sideman Jeff Foskett to join them onstage to help with the vocals. But regardless of the presentation, I for one will jump at the chance to see the remaining five Beach Boys, as time is definitely running out. But the lineup on stage has never been as important as the timeless joy provided by such songs as “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Fun Fun Fun,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” As Dennis Wilson once said, “none of the Beach Boys are superstars…the music is the superstar.”

Notes: Bruce Johnston has been with the Beach Boys since 1965, as he replaced Brian in the group’s concert lineup. The first person to take Brian’s place in 1965 was Glen Campbell. David Marks joined the group in its very early days, when Al Jardine left during the first year. Marks stayed with the Beach Boys through the first four albums, left in late 1963, shortly after Al was asked to return.

Archie Andrews at 70

I guess some of us age better than others. Although Archie Andrews is a Baby Boomer icon, the fact is the perpetual 17 year old has been a comic book favorite going back to the early days of World War II. Since his 1941 debut, Archie has practically done it all. He has appeared in his own comic book, has been spun off into newspaper comic strips and a Saturday morning television cartoon show, has had a long running radio show, plus a number one hit record. Just about the only thing that Archie has failed to do as we observe the 70th anniversary of his creation is graduate from Riverdale High School…and it doesn’t look like that is going to happen soon, as Archie and the gang have now even gone digital, becoming available through an iPad application as of April 1.

The Archie Andrews character first appeared in Pep Comics #22 on December 22, 1941, a creation of editor/publisher John L. Goldwater, with the story written by Vic Bloom and illustrated by Bob Montana. Although Archie was reportedly inspired by the Andy Hardy films that starred Mickey Rooney, Archie was initially depicted as a 13 year old, who had developed a crush on his new neighbor, Betty Cooper. By the next issue, Archie was transformed into the likeable 17 year old red-head most of us are still familiar with today. Quickly, the “Archie” stories began to expand the number of regular characters, including Archie’s slacker friend “Jughead” Jones, the conceited Reggie Mantle, and the beautiful rich girl, Veronica Lodge. Adult characters also populated the comic book, led by Archie’s parents, Fred and Mary Andrews, Veronica’s father, Hiram Lodge, the local malt shop owner, Pop Tate, and members of Riverdale High School’s faculty, which included Coach Cleets, Miss Grundy and Principal Weatherbee. Although the “Archie” stories have always been a humorous look at the life of an average American teenager, the most common storyline involved the endless love triangle involving Archie, Betty and Veronica. After quickly becoming the dominate feature in Pep Comics, Archie soon got his very own comic book, and eventually, there would be dozens of titles that starred Archie and his friends .By the end of the 1940’s, there was an Archie Andrews radio program, as well as a daily newspaper comic strip.  Began in 1947, the early Archie syndicated comic strips were somewhat risqué compared to the comic book.

It was in the 1950’s that Archie really hit his stride, as his character seemed to fit perfectly into the rock and roll era. This was the Archie many of us remember, with the checkered orange pants, black Riverdale High vest along with the green bowtie. Although the Archie comics centered around teenagers, the core audience was made up of 8-12 year olds like me, who hoped that the stories were an accurate depiction of what we could expect from our own teenage years. I myself couldn’t wait to drive a jalopy, hang out at malt-shops, go to countless sock-hops, and be chased by more than one beautiful girl. No, it never really worked out that way, but maybe that was our own fault, not Archie’s.

Archie’s popularity stayed strong going into the 1960’s, although I was disappointed when he discarded his signature wardrobe for whatever happened to be the current fashion. The Archie comics also followed many of the other noteworthy fads, as Archie got involved in the secret agent craze (The Man From Riverdale) and took his turn as a superhero (Pureheart the Powerful). There were also the giant, 80 page annual Archie seasonal comic books, which included my favorite, “Archie’s Christmas Stocking,” and my younger sisters’ eagerly awaited “Betty and Veronica’s Summer Spectacular,’ which I argue was the inspiration for the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Issue.

In September of 1968, Archie and the gang finally made it to television by way of the animated “Archie Show” which was included in the CBS Saturday morning lineup. Not surprisingly, pop music was incorporated into the half hour cartoon, as Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Betty and Veronica were depicted as having formed a rock group. What was surprising was that one of the featured tunes, “Sugar Sugar,” became the number one song in the nation during 1969.

Through Viet Nam, Watergate, recessions, 9-11 and global warming, Archie has always been there, still the likeable but clumsy 17 year old who still bounces between the two most beautiful girls in Riverdale. In 2010, Archie Andrews was honored by the U.S. Postal Service when they released a stamp which featured Archie, sharing an ice cream soda with his two love interests, Betty and Veronica…well deserved.

Trivia: Jughead’s real name is Forsythe Pendelton Jones III.

Note: It has always been a disappointment to me that Archie never appeared in the form of a live action sitcom. Two pilots were filmed in 1963, one starring Frank Bank, the actor who played “Lumpy Rutherford” on “Leave it to Beaver”…neither made to prime time. My theory (and I could very well be wrong) is that Archie, Jughead and Reggie were too similar to the characters that were already being featured on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”…just a theory.

The Worst TV Show Ever?

It’s natural to engage in discussions regarding which programs deserve consideration as the best show of all time. Although the Daily Planet is always willing to participate in that conversation, we find the search to discover television’s all-time worst program just as intriguing. Of course, determining what qualifies as bad television usually depends on what kind of criteria is being applied. Terrible scripts, bad acting, poor production values and ridiculous storylines can all contribute to making any program a candidate for worst show of all-time, a list that includes such turkeys as “Supertrain” (NBC 1979), “Your in the Picture” (CBS 1960), “The Brady Bunch Hour” (ABC 1976) and “My Mother the Car” (NBC 1965). But if the benchmark is lack of longevity, scathing reviews and extremely negative audience reaction, then the dubious honor of TV’s worst show ever could very well be “Turn-On,” which came and went very quickly in February, 1969.

In terms of ratings, ABC was a distant third to NBC and CBS throughout the late 1960’s, placing only three shows in the Neilson Ratings top 20 during the three seasons prior to the spring of 1969. The running gag was that if the U.S. government was really serious about ending the war in Viet Nam, they would place it on ABC’s primetime schedule, because then it would be over in 13 weeks. Badly in need of a hit, ABC turned to the production team of Ed Friendly and George Schlatter, the two men who had created the wildly successful sketch comedy show, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” for NBC. Friendly and Schlatter newest project, another comedy variety show called “Turn-On,” had already been rejected by CBS and NBC, but ABC, noting “Turn-On’s” similarities to “Laugh-In,” went ahead and penciled “Turn-On” onto its spring 1969 lineup. Although criticized as being an obvious rip-off of “Laugh-In,” “Turn-On had an entirely different look to it. Unlike “Laugh-In,” “Turn-On” did not attempt to simulate a live production, as most of its comic sequences were filmed and contained no laugh track. “Turn-On” was also without a permanent host, as its unique premise was that it was being produced by a computer, which was not the case. But the biggest departure from “Laugh-In,” or any other 1969 comedy came in the form of “Turn-On’s” content. Most of the humor revolved around sex. On Wednesday, February 5, 1969, “Turn-On” made its debut on ABC at 8:30 pm, with Tim Conway as guest host.

“Turn-On” was comprised of roughly two dozen skits, visual images and quickly executed political messages. One segment depicted a beautiful woman about to face a firing squad, with the commander explaining to the girl “this time, it’s we who have a final request.” Another sequence featured comic actor Chuck McCann ripping up and eating an adult men’s magazine. It was material like that caused Cleveland’s ABC affiliate to stop the showing of “Turn-On” 11 minutes into the program. ABC’s switchboard was lit up with hundreds of calls from viewers complaining about the show. The following day, “Turn-On” was savaged by terrible reviews from coast to coast, with some critics calling it offensive, while others just thought it was lousy. Although a second show, to be guest hosted by Robert Culp had already been filmed for a February 12th showing, ABC canceled “Turn-On” after its one and only episode. Because “Turn-On” did not even make it through its only telecast in some cities, and was not even aired in places like Denver, Portland and Seattle, it definitely earns the distinction as having the shortest run it network television history.

As far as “Turn-On” being the worst TV show of all time in terms of quality, that will always be a matter of opinion. As always, readers are invited to submit their own candidates for “worst television show ever.”

Notes: Because of the negative reaction to “Turn-On,” ABC became a bit gun-shy in terms of airing programs that could potentially be considered too provocative or controversial. It was this kind of caution that caused them to reject a sitcom that featured a bigoted lout as its main character. That program, which became “All in the Family,” was a monster hit for CBS.

The (Not So) Great Song Sequels

In the motion picture business, probably the most reliable path to financial success is to produce a sequel to any hit film. Whether it’s “The Godfather”, “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars”, there is nothing more bankable than a follow-up to a major blockbuster. With this in mind, it is surprising to realize that this formula has not worked very well in the world of popular music. One would think that given the number of hit records that have been released during our lifetime, a certain percentage of them would have spawned a successful sequel, but a recent study done by the Daley Planet suggests that this has never been the case. Although our research only covered the golden age of rock and roll (1955-1963), we stand by our conclusion that song sequels have been relatively few in number, and most of those did not come close to matching the popularity of the originals.

Of course, not all songs contain a storyline that can possibly inspire a sequel. “Rock Around the Clock”, “Tutti Frutti” or “Teddy Bear” do not have any elements that make a listener wonder what might have happened next, but plenty of other records do. The first real attempt a song sequel came about in 1959 with the release of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue Got Married” which came almost two years after “Peggy Sue”, which was a huge hit for Holly, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the fall of 1957. Holly’s “Peggy Sue” lyrics suggest that the singer worships the girl, which makes the words to “Peggy Sue Got Married” very depressing. “You recall a girl that’s been in nearly every song…this is what I’ve heard, of course the story could be wrong” explains Holly, as he updates us on his obsession. “She’s the one, I’ve been told…now she’s wearing a band of gold…Peggy Sue got married not along ago.” Released five months after Buddy Holly’s tragic death, “Peggy Sue Got Married’ failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100, establishing the pattern of disappointing results for follow-up single records.

Chuck Berry had a huge hit record in March of 1958 when “Johnny B. Good” made it all the way to #8 on the Billboard charts. The tune tells the story of a country boy whose ability to play a guitar “just like ringing a bell” caused people passing by to say, “oh my that little country boy could play.” The song ends with Johnny’s mother predicting his name would “someday be in lights,” which turns out to be the case in Berry’s 1960 offering, “Bye Bye Johnny.” The sequel describes Johnny’s mother as withdrawing her “money out of the Southern Trust…and put her little boy aboard a Greyhound bus” bound for Hollywood. Unfortunately, “Bye Bye Johnny” flopped as a single, as apparently record buyers were content with Johnny simply sitting “beneath the tree by the railroad track.”

One would think the Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” could not logically spawn a sequel, given the tragic ending. Recorded in 1961, “Big Bad John” tells us all about a huge, soft- spoken miner named John, who was “broad in the should, and narrow at the hip…and everyone knew you didn’t give any lip to Big John.” A brief back story explains that John “came from New Orleans, where he got into a fight over a Cajun Queen”, which resulted in the death of an unnamed Louisiana man. When faulty timber results in a cave-in at the mine, John grabs some sagging timber, and using his incredible strength, produces enough leverage lift the rocks blocking the tunnel, saving 20 men from a would be grave. Before John could make his own escape, the entire mine collapsed, causing everyone to believe “it was the end of the line for Big John.” “Big Bad John” was the #1 record in America in November of 1961, and in 1962, we were shocked to learn that Big John was not yet finished, as Jimmy Dean was back with “The Cajun Queen.” Yes, the same gal who Big John and the Louisiana fellow fought over shows up at John’s mining town shortly after the big man’s demise, stating that she “didn’t come here to argue, or waste anybody’s time…I just come to get my man from your dirty old mine.” Miraculously, Queenie goes down into the mine, locates Big John, and brings him back to life with a kiss. One has to question the amount of effort the other miners must have put forth, given the fact that the Cajin Queen found John so quickly. Never the less, “The Cajun Queen” rose no higher than #22 on the charts.

The rock and roll landscape is littered with one-hit-wonders, a list that includes Marcie Blaine, whose only entry in the top 50 was the smash hit, “Bobby’s Girl,” which reached #3 in the fall of 1962. Marcie sings about how being Bobby’s girl is the most important thing in life to her, and promises that she’ll be a grateful and thankful girl if and when it happens. Sadly, we learned in 1964, that being Bobby’s girl wasn’t all that great. In “Bobby Did,” Marcie Blaine informs us that even though her friends assured her that she did the right thing by dumping him, the truth of the matter is “I didn’t say goodbye…Bobby did.” In any case, “Bobby Did” sold few records, as record buyers in 1964 were much more interested in the Beatles than any updates on Bobby.

Probably the most successful sequel to a #1 record was achieved by Lesley Gore, who, in 1963, followed up the chart topping “It’s My Party” with “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” which climbed all the way to #5 a few months later. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story found in “Its My Party,” where we’re told all about a young lady losing her Johnny to a girl named Judy, all of this taking place at her own birthday party. Fortunately, the score is evened in “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” as Lesley describes seeing Judy and Johnny “kissing at a party…so I kissed some other guy…John jumped up and he hit him…’cause he still loves me, that’s why.” So let me get this straight…not only is Johnny allowed to move effortlessly between two girls, but can also slug guys at parties with no reprisal? I personally think Judy is the real winner here.

Finally, while a few songs inspired sequels, some spawned what was known as an answer song, where a record served more or less as a rebuttal to an earlier release. My favorite in this category is a little known recording that was a response to The Angels monster hit, “My Boyfriend’s Back,” which went to #1 during the summer of 1963. “My Boyfriend’s Back,” is simply a girl, in song, explaining to some hapless guy the amount of trouble he’s in now that her boyfriend is back to punish him for “telling lies that I was untrue.” Well, it turns out that there are two sides to every story, because in Bobby Comstock’s “Your Boyfriend’s Back,” we learn that the female narrator in the first song may not have been so innocent after all. Comstock vows to set the record straight, accusing the girl of “telling lies, trying to put the blame on me…when I tell him, he’ll believe me wait and see”. The girl’s case really seems to dissolve when the male narrator threatens to “prove that you really were untrue…I’ll show him the pictures, and the letters too.” “Your Boyfriend’s Back” never made it into the Billboard Hot 100…if only the record came with those pictures.

I’m guessing all of us can think of a song that, in our minds, called out for a sequel. If I had to choose one, it would have to be “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits. The singer explains how he married the widow next door, who’d been married seven times be, “and every one was an Henry (Henry)…she wouldn’t have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam).” I for one, would have loved to find out how long the poor guy lasted, and how soon there was a Henry IX?

Note: “Bobby Did” was written by Neil Diamond, one of his earliest compositions. No, I don’t believe he includes it in his live shows.