The genius Beach Boy auteur…I caught his long-awaited Smile premiere at London’s Royal Festival Hall last month. Twice. It was that good. The long ago shelved album masterpiece that would have given Sgt. Pepper a run for his money—a sophisticated take on Americana pop right on the cusp of avant-garde, melding Charles Ives, the Del Vikings, Penderecki, Woody Woodpecker, Gil Evans, Leroy Anderson, Beethoven, the Four Freshmen, and other influences with Brian’s singular voice(s). He is an absolute American master and a musical treasure (by the by, we share the same birthday, June 20th, along with Eric Dolphy, Peter Gordon, Tim Barnes and other notables).
The parched, painted desert, surreal flipside to Brian Wilson’s sunny California surf optimism. With his Captain Beefheart persona he is one of the most seminal and under-recognized composers in 20th-century music. His lyrics comprise the airiest, most complex poetic wit that puts most the efforts of most other “rock poets” to shame. As Don Van Vliet, his paintings and drawings are elegant and delightful. Another American master who will never ever make PBS or the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame’s final cut.
Robin Williamson and Mike Heron made 3-4 albums in the mid-1960s that exploded the tired British folk idiom and brought in world music, psychedelic and other influences to create some of the most inspired albums ever made. I’d rate their 1967 Elektra album, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion, my number one favorite album of them all. Fantastic, spiritually uplifting music with profound lyrical insights and nary a cliché abounding.
Peter Green—née Peter Greenbaum
The original Fleetwood Mac founder and guitar god. Author of “Black Magic Woman,” better known the world over in its Santana incarnation. Guitar blues beyond just about anything ever laid down anywhere by anyone…B.B. King even acknowledged, “Peter Green is the one.” Wonderful composer of actual songs, not blues jams or pastiches, that incorporated jazz, folk, Vaughan Williams, Latin, and African influences to invoke a primal yearning. The most delicate, passionate feel for string bending and articulation—all the universe in one bent note.
My favorite “classical” composer. The opening bars of Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1. The close of The Lark Ascending. The entirety of Flos Campi and Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Rhapsodic, swooning, otherworldly, folky, mystical…he has it all. To quite Lord Buckley, “When he Laid it down, it Stayed Down.”