Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 143
Fri. June 21, 2013
The Beach Boys
Music was one way, my parents taught me, the sounds of joy and happiness. I can remember all of us sitting around the record player, spinning The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, singing along with Mami as our Papi read the paper. In our family, no matter what the mood, music always brought us together.
Thankfully, we were not the only ones. It seems that sound of music also brought together music creators like The Beach Boys. Dennis described it like this, “The one thing that kept our family together was the music. The only thing that our family would share emotionally was to have our dad cry over something the kids did with music.” Dennis would know; the only thing that would ever stop the Wilson Brothers, Brian, Carl and Dennis, along with Al Jardine and cousin Mike Love from bickering would be while harmonizing together in front of microphones in the recording studio. No other song captures the mighty unity of the harmonizing Beach Boys other than the acapella beauty that is “Our Prayer”
In an interview with Magnet Magazine, Brian Wilson admitted, “We prayed that we would bring into existence an album that would make people feel love.” It’s no coincidence; “Our Prayer” began as the opening piece in Brian Wilson’s Teenage Symphony to God. It’s the perfect introduction to Brian Wilson’s Smile. I hear this vocal plea to the heavens. In that same Magnet Interview, Wilson said this about “Our Prayer,” “That’s got to be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever written. Beautiful Harmonies.”
How could you disagree? It’s those heaven sent harmonies brought to life by Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al, Mike and Bruce Johnston in the 1969 overdub sessions that made me a believer in The Beach Boys and more importantly brought “Our Prayer” to life. In their book, Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis: Essays in Musical Analysis, John Covach and Graeme M. Boone, described “Our Prayer” as, “An exquisite exercise of harmonic virtuosity and a sixty-five second wordless vocalize in a vaguely sacred acapella style, was actually recorded in 1966, with some additional finishing vocals added two years later.”
Three years after Smile was rejected by the band, The Beach Boys wanted to release two songs, “Cabinessence” and “Our Prayer” from Brian’s opus on their 1969 album 20/20. Peter Ames Carlin described the behind the scenes struggle between Carl and Brian, in his book Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, when he wrote, “Carl had dug the songs out of the group’s vault, mostly to give Brian a larger presence on the album. But Brian had complained bitterly about this violation of the stillborn Smile and then refused to participate in the vocal session Carl scheduled to add an extra layer to “Prayer.” “He was superstitious about those tunes,” Desper remembers. “He’d leave the house when the guys were working on them. He didn’t want anything to do with them, really.” Could you blame Brian Wilson’s hesitation in working with his band of brothers that originally dismissed his masterpiece of Smile as acid alliteration?
Far from being a breathless acid trip mantra, Brian Wilson talked about the inspiration for “Our Prayer” when he explained, “I was sitting at my piano thinking about holy music. I poked around for some simple but moving chords. Later I sat down and wrote “Our Prayer” in sections. The boys were overtaken by the arrangement. I taught it to them in sections, the way I usually do. The purity of the blending of the voices made the listeners feel spiritual. I was definitely into rock church music.” This wasn’t the first time Wilson was using his music to talk to God. Brian has said, “I believe that music is God’s voice” and he felt divine inspiration while he was creating Pet Sounds. Whatever, Brian’s intention or spiritual aspirations, “Our Prayer” remains a reflection of the harmonic love of Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al, Bruce and Mike.
In Domenic Priore’s Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Masterpiece, Wilson describes his wish for “Our Prayer” as “I hope you get a feeling of love.” In our family, the sound of love comes through the vinyl when we play our favorite music. You can understand, listening to The Beach Boys and their exquisite vocals, how their harmonies would unite the bickering band and bring them back together while recording timeless songs like “Our Prayer.”
We are hoping to send good vibes and well wishes with this vocal prayer from The Beach Boys to our Uncle Patrick. Patrickl grew up right near The Wilson Brother’s birthplace of Hawthorne, CA and has remained one of the biggest Beach Boys fans in Southern California. Our uncle is recovering just out of the hospital and—Patrick, today, we dedicate “Our Prayer” to you. Get well soon!