Sitting at the piano this afternoon, working out the chord changes of a bunch of Brian Wilson songs: “Honkin’ Down The Highway” and “Good Time” and “That’s Why God Made The Radio” and “Solar System.”
Brian Wilson may be my FAVORITE songwriter as composer, above even Lennon-McCartney (because Brian did it on his own) or Billy Strayhorn (because, again, it’s hard to tell at times where Strayhorn ends and Duke begins). All of his songs have UNUSUAL structure, chord changes and modulations. Those elements always take me off in musically unexpected directions, but they feel totally natural, unforced, and easy.
As Marian McPartland said about Strayhorn, “there’s always a train wreck chord in these songs,” a chord that seems to come out of nowhere that just can stop a player dead in his tracks. Brian Wilson’s songs have those “train wreck chords,” but somehow, they never feel out of place, and they always lead you right back to the mainstream of the song.
Plus, it’s almost always rock and roll. Not “pop.” Rock and roll. Brian takes these highfalutin’ musical ideas and applies them to rock and roll songs, and, in doing so, expands the scope and possibilities of the music.
I, for one, am grateful that I live in an age where he’s actively performing and creating new music.