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HAL2591

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This was done in the same fashion as my 'No Pier Pressure Appreciation Thread'. I hope everyone here will dig out their copy of this album, give it a fresh listen, and write their comments about it below. This is a real shining gem among many albums in Brian’s solo catalog.

[iAAmGTq]

Album released: August 17, 2010

Well, It’s better than sitting on my ass doing nothing,” Brian told writer Peter Ames Carlin when asked about the reason for recording this album. Actually, according to the man himself this is an album that had been on his mind for many, many years. Most of those around Brian, whether family or band members, agreed that Brian was firing on all cylinders when making this album…and it shows.

Rolling Stone magazine review: “The result is Porgy and Bess-meets-Pet Sounds: lovely, weird, subtly psychedelic symphonic lounge music. By the time the album ends with a gorgeous, string-laden rendition of the main theme from "Rhapsody in Blue," you can't help but ask: Is Brian Wilson the baby-boomer George Gershwin? Or was Gershwin the first Beach Boy?”

1. Rhapsody In Blue (Intro).

Brian has said that ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ contains every emotion that he has ever experienced. “To me, Rhapsody in Blue is the song of my life.” he told Mark Dillon (check out Dillon’s book 50 Sides of the Beach Boys, incredible and fun read). According to the story, Brian first heard the song at a very young age, and it helped spark his love for music. He told NPR "My mom and dad took me over to my grandmother's house, and my grandmother put on 'Rhapsody in Blue' for me, and had me lay down by the record player…I just remember I loved it so much, you know? I really did.

Examples of Brian’s sincerity about this music can be found all throughout his career. Five years prior to the making of this album, Brian played a short section from ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ on the piano during the recording of the BWPS documentary.

 

Just like with No Pier Pressure, Brian bookended this album with a prayer of sorts. This cover of ‘Rhapsody’ follows in the same vein as Smile’s ‘Prayer’. A stunningly beautiful a cappella tribute to one of the greatest songs ever written.

2. The Like In I Love You.

One of two songs on the album that Brian shares a writing credit on. At the start of this project, Brian was sent 104 piano demos (each ranging from 50 seconds to a minute and a half long) and he chose two demos to transform into full length songs.

Talking to the LA Times in 2009
, Brian talked about these unfinished compositions: “Wilson said the pieces he's working with are very likely to remain as instrumentals, and that they could easily wind up as three-minute pop songs. But he's also holding open the possibility of expanding them to more substantive pieces.

Wilson said many of them aren't easy to evaluate.

"I can't decipher the verse from the chorus from the bridge," he said, "so I'm going to try to insert some new music into them. I might even write some music for an introduction.”"

‘The Like I Love In You’, originally composed by George Gershwin in 1924 for the musical Lady, Be Good!, was brought back to life in the year 2010. And what life does it have!

3. Summertime.

One of the most covered Gershwin songs of all time (apparently there are 25,000 recordings of this song). Billy Holiday, The ZombiesJanis Joplin, and others have made this song even more prominent to the world throughout the years. Brian brought his own flavor to this song, harmony rich and hauntingly beautiful. A definite favorite of mine from the album.

“I wanted to make it sound like it really was about summertime. I tried to put so much emotion and feeling into it, to really do justice to the music, so people would think, Hey, Wilson really knows what’s going on with Gershwin.” - Brian Wilson

4. I Loves You, Porgy.

This is Brian’s favorite song from the album (tied with ‘Love Is Here To Stay’), and it’s not hard to wonder why.

"I told my orchestrator, would you guys mind if I sang it and assumed the role of a girl? Then the Disney people heard it and said, 'Brian, you're supposed to be a girl,’ I said, 'I don’t care,' so I sang it sweetly.” - Brian Wilson

Randy Lewis of the LA Times: “As a singer best known for white-boy pop-rock, Wilson shows he nevertheless has absorbed the blues inflections that so fascinated Gershwin. He exhibits no qualms about his distaff version of Bess’ showpiece “I Loves You Porgy,” bringing a fetching emotional openness to the lazy-swing jazz-blues arrangement.”

5. I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’.

This is the only full length instrumental on the album, and Brian’s band nails it. The opening is somewhat of a throwback to the intro of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, but from there it turns into a drum heavy, bass harmonica driven track. A definite favorite of mine.

Jazz Times: "Apart from opening and closing snippets of “Rhapsody In Blue,” Wilson chose to make “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” the album’s sole instrumental track, fitting it to a boisterous, hillbilly jug-band arrangement that is pure, unfettered fun."

6. It Ain’t Necessarily So.

The final song in the Porgy and Bess medley from BWRG. The melody of the title words has roots in Judaism, resembling that of a Torah blessing. The booming timpani drums are my favorite part of this song.

7. ’S Wonderful.

You can almost hear Astrud Gilberto singing this song. Brian has always had a passion for bossa nova music. Most recently he wrote and recorded the bossa nova inspired song ‘On The Island’ for his album No Pier Pressure. Brian could’ve been inspired by Joao Gilberto’s 1977 cover of this song, but Brian’s version seems to be totally different while still carrying that bossa nova torch.

8. They Can’t Take That Away From Me.

I first heard this song when I was nine or ten years old. It was a slow rendition, and I absolutely loved it. So, given the fast tempo’d nature of Brian’s version I’m sure when I first heard it I was taken aback a little. Brian proved that he can transform any song into any style he pleases and it'll work perfectly. This song is a testament to that talent.

In a Q&A on Facebook, Brian said that he thought this song would make a good single. I have to agree.

9. Love Is Here To Stay.

Explaining how Brian Wilson listens to no one, Ray Lawlor, who was at the majority of the Gershwin sessions, told a small anecdote about this song: “He was cutting the vocal on "Love is Here to Stay" and it was a beautiful take. I was kind of telling him "Brian you need to double that lead and it will be incredible". He was adamant that no, "it's just right". And of course he was right, it was.”

This is a hidden gem on this album. Brian’s vocal and the instrumental arrangement are stunning. Deep in the mix, you can hear a castanet being played during some parts. Also, a (synth?) theremin is played during the bridge and outro. Rolling Stone got it right when they said this album has a bit of psychedelic in it!

10. I’ve Got A Crush On You.

Damn does Brian’s voice sound good on this one! Highlight for me being Taylor Mill’s harmony parts in the chorus. The string arrangement is top notch as well.

11. I Got Rhythm.

I wanted to make it sound like that guy really loves that galWilson said about ‘I Got Rhythm’. This fun and fast tune seems to take a bit of inspiration from The Happening’s 1967 cover.

12. Someone To Watch Over Me.

The harpsichord and tempo are definitely homages to the Pet Sounds song ‘Caroline, No’, and though an homage, this song has it’s own life. The bass line at the beginning of the song and the string instrument (cello? Violin?) during the bridge are highlights for me.

13. Nothing But Love.

I can only imagine how excited Brian felt hearing this being recorded. Brian Wilson getting to finish a Gershwin composition must have been a dream come true. Back in 2014, Ray Lawlor told a great story about this song:

“It was initially cut as a ballad; something about Paris, and it was not up to par. The next morning, Brian was the first one in the studio, teaching the band essentially an entire rewrite of the song; different tempo, different key. He had consulted with Paul Von Mertens about writing the charts on the overnight for the song, I remember Paul saying to me something to the effect of "you know maybe we're too close, but you forget what a brilliant musician Brian is””

Brian said that this was the hardest song on the album to get just right, “We kept trying to capture the Gershwin feeling and it took us a little bit longer.

‘Nothing But Love’ is my favorite track off this record, and one of my favorite songs of his solo career. Listen to this one with some good headphones. Every vocal, whether lead or backing, sounds perfect. And it doesn’t get much better than the vocals on that bridge!

14. Rhapsody In Blue/Reprise.

A wall-of-Brian backed up by strings is the most fitting way to end this album. Opens and closes with a prayer of sorts, and between those prayers is the proof of months of hard work and dedication from Brian and his band.

“Mark Linett said it was the hardest he had ever seen Brian work, and he absolutely worked his ass off.” - Ray Lawlor

In Conclusion.

It was inevitable that Brian would pay tribute to George and Ira by creating a cover album of harmonious and sonic wonder. Brian’s love of Gershwin followed him to the most momentous moments of his career. Van Dyke Park’s, referring to Smileonce remarkedI think that what Brian wanted me to bring to the project was outside his experience, but part of his deeper experience - really part of where he came in, where we both came in, through Gershwin and so forth. We both saw the same thing, and asked why that shouldn’t be explored, and Smile was clearly an attempt to do that.

Brian created masterpiece after masterpiece during his career thanks to the inspiration from George and Ira Gershwin. It was perfectly fitting that Brian would come full circle and pay tribute. It’s even more special that Brian thought so highly of this project: “This is the most spiritual project I've ever worked on.

Also, have to commend Steve Sterling for the wonderful cover art. Besides No Pier Pressure, it’s probably the best cover art of any Brian Wilson solo album.

Listen to this album on a good pair of headphones if you can - there is so much going on in these songs that it’s easy to overlook without paying close attention.

Write your thoughts below!

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Chris S.

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Reply with quote  #2 
Saw it twice live, once at wolftrap and the other in Connecticut....it amazes me how much instrumentation was used. For instance I never knew a theremin was used on "summertime" until I saw it live...Paul switching frequently from a little tiny harmonica to a bulky bass harmonica...I love the whole album...I think my favorites are summertime, nothing but love, they can't take that away from me and love is here to stay. Really great work by Brian
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Debbie KL

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Reply with quote  #3 
I'll do my usual audiophile, studio engineer knowledge-lacking comments (aside from saying I always was crazy about BW-GG and will happily play it again with new commentary soon).  At least the comments that follow are personal and hopefully entertaining. 

It was during that rather extended tough time when Brian was living in the chauffeur's quarters of the Bel-Air home.  We had been chatting on the phone about how much he loved Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue.  

At one point I wandered around the corner from my W. Hollywood apt to a local antique store on Sunset Blvd. (Hippo-campus, or something like that?) where I ran into (literally) the lovely Suzanne Pleshette (Bob Newhart Show, etc.). She was very sweet, smiling about our collision and I went along to the vinyl records section.  

I actually found a copy of Gershwin at the piano playing "Rhapsody in Blue."  Apparently, it was the first time Brian had a copy of it, as he was close to being in tears when a delivered it to him.  He was absolutely thrilled as we gave it a listen.  If anyone thinks his fondness for Gershwin is over-rated, I can tell you otherwise. 

I'm pretty sure that store is where we later got a Holiday gift for Christine McVie when we were invited to her place for Christmas Eve (with Dennis, of course - so you experts can determine what year it was better than me - 1979-80?).  If not "Hippo-Campus" it was another antique shop nearby.  It was a miniature piano-shaped music box, and I'm embarrassed to say that I don't remember what classical piece it played.  We also got her a rose-glass heart-shaped vase (she and Stevie were into hearts then).  

This is the stuff I write down for others to see before I forget or die.
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HAL2591

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Reply with quote  #4 
Debbie, as always your comments make me truly glad to be apart of a community where stories like that are shared!

Not sure if this is the same version, but here is a recording of George Gershwin playing Rhapsody in Blue on the piano:



I'm happily picturing Brian being thrilled about hearing this version for the first time. It's a really nice rendition.

@Chris S, I'm jealous you got to see it live so many times! I still kick myself for not going to see a show on that tour.

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Debbie KL

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Reply with quote  #5 
That certainly sounds like what we heard - too fast for my taste (apologies to the composer), but I notice how when Brian plays, he normally strikes all the piano keys as Gershwin did when he hit the low notes.  I love that about Brian's playing.  He may not "tickle the ivories" as Gershwin mostly did in this piece, but Brian sure lets them know who's boss, in a wonderful way. 
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Gentizzy

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Reply with quote  #6 
I love this album.
My faves are what Brian indicated as his - I Loves You Porgy and Love is Here to Stay. So soulful and wish he would sing 'sweetly' more often.
I Got Rhythm sounds like how Brian probably would have arranged it if done back in 1964. Wonderful!
The only song I haven't completely gotten into yet is They Can't Take That Away From Me, as it's such a different rhythm from what I've been used to - the way Fred sang it to Ginger back in the day. Brian's version isn't bad, just need to give it a few more listens to reprogram my brain cells a bit.
Thanks for this wonderful thread, from a fellow life-long Gershwin lover.

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Chris S.

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Reply with quote  #7 
I thought the live shows were fantastic, some people thought otherwise....it was a short tour. Again, me being the huge fan of Brian's work loves it....to the casual fan they think beach boys and that's what they wanna hear....which is sad because Brian is a huge universe, there's so much music to delve into.
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thorgil

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Reply with quote  #8 
Thanks a lot, Hal, for this thread. I think BWRG is yet another underrated masterpiece by Brian, among many others. "Nothing But Love" is the shiniest gem there, imho. Of course, he needs good collaborators, and here he adds... nobody less than George and Ira Gershwin to the list. [smile]

I remember listening, around the time BWRG was released, to a long (I mean LONG, like 40 minutes!) radio interview with Brian. I happened to hear it by a lucky chance, so I'm sorry but have no idea what station, channel or people they were. They alternated Q & A with pieces from the album, and the host did a terrific job of it. Brian was in a cheerful mood, EXTREMELY talkative, even gushing at times. When he is in such a mood, he has to be the most charming person in the world.

I am not a native English speaker so had difficulties getting all of it, but I remember particularly fondly an answer Brian gave to the classic question about any embarassment he might have had in singing "I Loves You, Porgy". Brian gave a longer answer than the ones usually reported, but the gist to it was (he actually stated it much better): "So, I should have had a problem because in this song I am a girl singing her love to a guy? What problem?" Sterling Brian: sincere, straightforward, naturally tolerant because he can't even conceive intolerance.

There should be many more people like that. [smile]

P.S.
Rhapsody in Blue is my fav piece of music ever, together with some others. Perfect, abolutely perfect meeting of classical and jazz, with some pop in for good measure. Let's say that there is nothing I like better.
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D.A.N

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Reply with quote  #9 
From a 2012 musical, 'Nice Work If You Can Get It'... the song that 'The Like In I Love You' is based on - with Matthew Broderick (I've posted a Michael Feinstein version a couple of times)



I listened to the Gershwin album a lot when it first came out - helped me through a pretty difficult time healthwise.

We didn't get a full BWRG tour in 2010 but they featured a number of songs from it.
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Debbie KL

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Reply with quote  #10 
Thorgil - If only I did half as well as you when I post here as you do as a non-native English speaker/writer!  And I was born listening to it in an American form.

Thanks for the spectacular recording D.A.N
 


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Ang Jones

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Reply with quote  #11 
Thanks to everyone for the interesting comments. Didn't I read somewhere that Brian played the Stanley Black and London Festival Orchestra version of Rhapsody in Blue obsessively shortly before writing Pet Sounds? Forgive me if I've got that wrong.

I did read that Gershwin was on a 'rattle-ty-bang' train when the whole thing fell into place in his head. It interested me that the train had a role both in Rhapsody in Blue and also SMiLE, also appearing at the end of Pet Sounds in that moment that took everyone's breath away when Pet Sounds was first played live.

Somewhere out there is a version of Cabinessence in which the musicians go seamlessly into Here Come da Honey Man from Porgy & Bess and they fit against each other so well it's like they were made for each other.
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Gretchen

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Reply with quote  #12 
Another great thread. Love the stories from the past, Debbie...and the musical commentary.  I find these perspectives add depth to the music when I listen. Going to give BWRG a focused listen throughout the day today.
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Woodstock

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Reply with quote  #13 
I made that cabinessence - honeyman segue as a nod to the people who thought the latter track was a smile excerpt. It blew my mind the first few times I played it.

Here's a link
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HAL2591

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Reply with quote  #14 
Thanks for linking that, Woodstock! I had forgotten we had put a bit of BWRG into that mix.
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skootz

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Reply with quote  #15 
I Got Plenty o' Nothin reminds me a bit of Tune X...anyone else?
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