Ah... the joys of rock star wives' musical careers... who hasn't thrilled to Seaside Woman
by Linda McCartney
? Who doesn't know every note of every Yoko Ono
album? Well, almost everyone, actually, which is why the American Spring
CD has a banner across the top of the cover saying 'PRODUCED BY BRIAN WILSON
Brian Wilson made several attempts to make his first wife, Marilyn Wilson, into a successful singer, despite her rather obvious handicap of having a rather irritating honking voice. Luckily her sister (and Wilson's sometime mistress) Diane Rovell could sing, and so in the 60s and 80s the two teamed up with Ginger Blake as The Honeys, a female surf music group who allowed Brian to live out his Phil Spector fantasies with songs like The One You Can't Have, Surfin' Down The Swannee River, He's A Doll and Go Away Boy. In the 70s however the two sisters started another project. In the US the duo, and their eponymous album, were known as Spring, elsewhere (due to another band having the same name) both were called American Spring. The current CD release sidesteps the problem by calling the band American Spring and the revised album Spring...Plus.
This album was recorded in 1971, a period of his life where Brian Wilson had very little interest in making music, so while he is credited as a co-producer on most of the tracks, he only fully produced a small number - most of the work was split between Wilson's co-producer David Sandler, regular Beach Boys engineer Steve Desper, and Rick Henn, a musician Brian knew from The Sunrays, a band put together by Brian's father Murry Wilson as a direct competitor for the Beach Boys. Overall, the album sounds like a rip-off of The Carpenters but with very inferior vocals. However, it does have some very interesting material. (NB, the version reviewed here is the CD release, which has additional tracks and is presented in a different order to the vinyl version). Lead vocals by Marilyn Wilson and backing vocals by Diane Rovell except where noted.
Tennessee Waltz is an odd choice of opener, being a simple version of the old classic, without much to commend it.
Thinkin' Bout You Baby is much more interesting. This is a song Brian Wilson and Mike Love originally wrote for another Wilson protegee, Sharon Marie, in the early 60s, before rewriting it as Darlin' on the Wild Honey album in 1968. This version is a touching mid-tempo pop ballad, on which Marilyn actually does quite a good job. Brian Wilson adds backing vocals.
Mama Said is a cover version with little to recommend it.
Superstar is a version of the Leon Russel/Bonnie Bramlett song that was a hit for The Carpenters. This is just a clone of their arrangement, without any substantial differences.
Awake is a touching little ballad, but nothing special.
Sweet Mountain is a Brian Wilson/Dave Sandler song which is unrecorded elsewhere, and as such is the first real reason to get hold of this album. Obviously inspired by Mountain Of Love, this song has a very odd melody, and an almost entirely synthesised backing track, and is one of the very few Brian Wilson songs released during this period. Diane takes the lead, and there is an uncredited male backing vocalist at the end ('It rained on the mountain/sweet mountain of love') who sounds like Wilson at his gruffest, but could well be Jack Rieley (who had a surprisingly simillar voice). A very interesting, and overlooked, track.
Everybody is a cover of the old Tommy Roe song, on which Diane sings lead. One of the better uptempo tracks on the album. Brian Wilson adds backing vocals on this.
This Whole World is one of the biggest disappointments of the album. A version of Brian Wilson's song from the Beach Boys' Sunflower album, this has an added middle eight (an interesting round on the old 'star light/star bright' line), additional lyrics in the last verse ('different kinds of people are the same') and a new tag (a variant on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) but is absolutely destroyed by taking the first half of the song at a horribly slow pace - this was meant to be a pop song!. If the whole song had been done at the tempo of the last verse, this could have been a standout track. As it is, it's horrible. David Sandler adds backing vocals.
Forever is another Sunflower cover. This one works better, for three reasons. Firstly, because the song, by Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson, is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written; Secondly, the original arrangement is copied wholesale; and thirdly Carl Wilson reproduces his backing vocal part from the original, and any track with a Carl Wilson vocal part on is a thing of beauty. This track is the best on the album to this point, but still doesn't compete with the original.
Good Time is a Brian Wilson/Al Jardine track which had been recorded by the Beach Boys for the Landlocked album but hadn't been released (it was later released on The Beach Boys Love You). This version uses the instrumental track and backing vocals from the Boys' version, with Marilyn signing slightly altered lyrics (changing the gender - unfortunately removing the wonderfully dumb line 'My girlfriend Penny, she's kinda skinny/and so she keeps her falsies on'), and with lyrics added to the bridge. A wonderfully fun little track, but not as good as the Beach Boys' version.
Now That Everything's Been Said is a mid-tempo pop song by Carole King, and not particularly impressive. Dave Sandler adds backing vocals.
Down Home is another Carole King song (cowritten with Gerry Goffin) and again is nothing at all special. Jack Rieley adds vocals on the tag.
Shyin' Away is a very interesting pop song written by Sandler, Diane and Marilyn. At least one of them must have had some songwriting talent, as this song is an excellent little girl-group number with an idiosyncratic structure reminiscent of The Kinks' Autumn Almanac
Fallin' In Love is a remake of Dennis Wilson's solo single Lady (with 'baby' substituted for 'lady'). A wonderful Tim Hardin flavoured ballad, Dennis' original is copied note for note here, and given the shameful absence of a CD release for that track, this recording alone makes this CD essential. Diane sings lead.
It's Like Heaven is a song co-written by Brian Wilson and Diane. The kind of minor, playful masterpiece that Wilson can toss off in his sleep, this girl-group pop song has an engaging enough verse, but really comes alive in the middle eight, with a typically engaging Wilson melody. A charming little track, with vocals split between Diane, Marilyn, and Barbara Gaddy.
Had To Phone Ya is another Wilson/Rovell track, later remade by the Beach Boys on the 15 Big Ones album. One of Brian's best 70s songs, both versions are essential - they have different lyrics, and while the production on this version is better, it misses Brian's plaintive 'come on/Come on and answer the phone' tag.
In summary then, as rock wives projects go, this isn't bad at all, and it actually has a couple of very, very good tracks, as well as having some interesting little footnotes to Brian Wilson's career. But the album is only really of interest to Brian Wilson obsessives, and should be approached with caution, to say the least.