When Ace asked me to tell you about their new BRIAN WILSON: PET PROJECTS CD, I thought I'd go in search of some background colour in order to gain a livelier understanding of the whole surfing genre. A trip to California was out of the question. Ace's budget wouldn't stretch that far. Instead, I was given Truro on the Cornish Riviera as a more feasible option. You'll love it there," I was assured, "it'll be virtual reality - the perfect place for re-living the 'California Myth' that Brian wrote and sang about all those years ago." Humm.
Ace's 'mother hen' and doughty production manager, Carol Fawcett, made me a nice packed lunch (neatly crammed into a Tupperware container) and a flask of coffee and off I went. It only took a couple of hours by train. En route, I discovered that Carol had even slipped a couple of Wagon Wheels into the top pocket of my anorak. Yummy!
Well, like old Tom Jones in the Green Green Grass Of Home, I stepped off the train but, unlike Tom, there was no-one there to meet me and I was left to make my own way down to the shore. It didn't seem at all like Huntingdon Beach. Or Waimea Bay or Pomona. Or any of the other places you heard about in those old surfing songs. I'd read about the new breed of young British surfers who seemingly flocked to these shores to 'catch a wave' but on a cold January morning, all I could see was an elderly couple walking an arthritic beagle along the deserted beach. And where was Candy Johnson or any of those other interchangeable blonde babes seen shimmying in the sand in all those Beach Party movies? My only companion was a seagull the size of an albatross making a beady-eyed play for the last of my corned beef sandwiches. By now, I was beginning to wish I'd stayed at home with a cold beer and my newly arrived copy of PET PROJECTS on the player. After all, Brian never went anywhere near a surf board except in the publicity shots.
A few hours later I was salivating over the cover, which has the exact period look of one of those Capitol label Surfing/Hot Rod LPs from the mid-60s. However, as the shrink-wrap on Ace's CDs doesn't come with a peelable strip, it can take as long as five minutes to get at the contents. You can pick at the cellophane with your teeth, scratch at it, or try and to tease it apart by massaging it 'Uri Geller-style' with your thumbs. An Ace spokesperson told me "... this is a not unintentional manufacturing implementation designed to heighten to the last minute, the sense of anticipation that accompanies every new release". Blimey, talk about gimmicks! But I know what they mean - it's like opening a batch of Christmas presents once a month. And, unlike some presents, PET PROJECTS is one CD that everyone would wish to own.
Once he began to receive recognition within the industry as the inspirational force behind the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson sought wider acceptance for his talent and was soon busy producing other acts on the side. He was particularly influenced by Phil Spector who was hitting his stride with studio-contrived mega-hits such as Da Doo Ron Ron and Be My Baby. PET PROJECTS concentrates exclusively on these extra-curricular songs and productions.
In the spring of 1963, Brain persuaded Capitol to sign the Honeys as part of a marketing strategy aimed at exploiting the burgeoning Surf-Hot Rod craze, which the Beach Boys had kicked off single-handedly. Most of the singles Brian cut with the trio over the next decade as well as a couple of later sides by two of the girls (as American Spring) can be heard here.
Brian also produced two exquisite 45s by Sharon Marie (purportedly Mike Love's then current flame) including Thinkin' About You Baby, which, with amended lyrics and a new title, Darlin', became a hit for the Beach Boys four years later. Sharon Marie vanished from the radar and it's likely that her two Capitol 45s were a pleasant diversion for a young life that found fulfilment elsewhere.
Other highlights include the legendary Pamela Jean by the Survivors, a one-off featuring Brian and three of his (non-Beach Boy) buddies in the Dion & The Belmonts mode. It slipped onto the market around the time the Beatles broke through in the States with I Want To Hold Your Hand and was almost immediately overtaken by events.
There's also Glen Campbell's beauteous Guess I'm Dumb and both sides of Gary Usher's solo vocal 45, Sacramento c/w That's The Way I Feel, which is as infectious as it is rare. Then there is the legendary Rachel & The Revolvers rarity, The Revo-Lution c/w Number One, co-produced by Usher and Brian in August 1962, about the time the Beach Boys first made the US Top 20 with Surfin' Safari. Brian and Gary paid a black vocalist named Betty Willis a set fee to lay down the vocal posing as 'Rachel'.
Individually, these records go for a fortune on the collector's market on the rare occasions they turn up. Collectively, they're priceless. A copy of a long-deleted Japanese CD modelled along similar lines recently fetched $237 on E-Bay. PET PROJECTS will cost you a fraction of that and it's state of the art. Every title is taken from the original masters and has a colourful 20 page booklet action-packed with rare photos and an engrossing essay by Rob Finnis. Though they weren't hits and make a stark counterpoint to the world beating triumphs of the Beach Boys, the songs on PET PROJECTS bear the unmistakable mark of Brian Wilson - pop genius.
By Gary Bax