|Song by The Beach Boys from the album 20/20|
|Released||February 10, 1969|
Gold Star and Columbia studios
November 20, 1968 ,
Brian Wilson's home studio, California
|Genre||Psychedelic rock, progressive rock, baroque pop|
|Writer||Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks|
|Producer||The Beach Boys|
|20/20 track listing|
|Single by The Beach Boys|
|from the album The Smile Sessions|
|Released||June 15, 2011|
|The Beach Boys singles chronology|
"Cabinessence" (alternately spelled "Cabin Essence") is a song written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks for the American rock band the Beach Boys originally released on their 1969 album 20/20. It was originally conceived for release on the abandoned follow up to Pet Sounds, Smile. The song is noted for the use of the banjo and harmonica as well as percussion in the chorus designed to emulate the sound of workers assembling train tracks.
An instrumental version can be found on the Beach Boys' 1993 Good Vibrations box set. The song was re-recorded by Brian Wilson's band and released on his 2004 version of Smile. A mono mix of the Beach Boys version of the song was prepared in 2011 for The Smile Sessions. This mix was released as a promotional single within the June 2011 issue of Mojo.
"Cabinessence" has received much acclaim over the years as the stand-out track on 20/20. Mojo describes Cabinessence as "Smile in microcosm. Vast in scope, unprecedented in its ambition and as much an unsolved sonic riddle as the album it had been written for, this was the misunderstood masterpiece that caused Mike Love to crack and the project to flounder."
[Cabinessence] was about railroads…and I wondered what the perspective was of the spike. Those Chinese laborers working on the railroads, like they’d be hitting the thing…but looking away too, and noticing, say, a crow flying overhead…the Oriental mind going off on a different track.
Brian Wilson stated that he and Van Dyke Parks wrote the song along with "Heroes and Villains" "Wonderful" and "Surf's Up" in a giant sandbox with a piano in it that Wilson had built in his living room.. "Cabinessence" is noted for being one of a number of Smile tracks which contained lyrics that the other band members did not approve of, being infamously oblique and replete with wordplay. The seemingly-surreal couplet of the closing "Grand Coulee Dam" section are as follows,
Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield
Over and over the thresher and hovers the wheatfield
If the listener rearranges the last half of each line, they get
Over and over the crow cries and hovers the wheatfield
Over and over the thresher uncovers the cornfield
Which makes them much clearer.
Van Dyke Parks also penned more lyrics for Cabinessence not heard on any official release, nor bootlegged. They are unknown to have ever been recorded during tracking sessions.
The song is a waltz in the form of ABABC. All three sections are officially referred to as "Home on the Range", "Who Ran The Iron Horse", "The Grand Coulee Dam," respectively. The chorus features the repeated line, "Who ran the Iron Horse?" over chromatic harmonies.
According to the song's co-writer,
All my life I’ve been fascinated by waltzes. By this album I rolled around to doin’ what I call a rock and roll waltz with "Cabin Essence." The night I cut the instrumental part of it no one could believe that a waltz could rock that hard. I had the 6-string bass player play electric fuzz tones. This got it goin’ good. I was sure that I had recorded the most rockin’ waltz ever recorded.—Brian Wilson, c.1969
According to British rock journalist Nick Kent,
The instrumental track juxtaposed both highly-advanced Western and Eastern musical references. There was the basic Cowboy and Indian thing as well as this indefinable oriental presence osmosing through the lavish arrangement.
The track was largely mixed and completed in December 1966, but lacked a lead vocal. Although the final Smile version would have most likely been released in monoaural sound, the track was eventually released in stereo as "Cabinessence" on their 1969 album 20/20, with a lead vocal overdub by Carl Wilson recorded on November 20, 1968. It was met with interest and praise upon its release in 1969 following "Our Prayer" due to its roots in the much publicized Smile project three years earlier.
[re: "Our Prayer"] The remaking of the song "Cabinessence," all feels of which were recorded in 1966 for inclusion on Smile, was more complicated. Apparently, Brian had done a great deal of preliminary assembly work but had not been able to come up with a consistent plan for final assembly. "Reportedly," writes David Leaf, "there were twenty-five different mixes and combinations of that song all put on separate acetate discs before they put out one version. To add to the confusion, the song in its released form contains portions of 'Who Ran the Iron Horse' and 'The Grand Coolie Dam.' It is true that "Cabinessence" seems lyricially disorganized and more episodic than even the alternate version of "Heroes and Villains," but it does have that aura of manic brilliance that characterized Brian's work before the collapse of Smile, and thus this narration problem is easily forgiven and forgotten The contrast between these songs and Brian's five newly composed songs for 20/20 is stark and poignant.—Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis
An alternate work-in-progress version was described by friend and Smile participant Michael Vosse in 1969.
Van and Brian played us two things they were doing on the album: one was part of the thing that turned into "Cabinessence." This was originally part of "Who Ran the Iron Horse," which was about this Chinese cat working on the railroad; it had the "crow" line in it. And another song, "Bicycle Rider," was to be integrated with it; they thought they'd put together these two separate songs... "Cabinessence" started out as a wholly different trip—Dennis was going to sing it by himself and sound like a funky cat up in the mountains somewhere singing to a chick by a fireplace; very simple—and that's all there was to it. ... The recording of it on 20/20 is new, because before his ear operation about a year ago, Brian could not hear in stereo. In the original, "Who Ran the Iron Horse," he had a very definite visual image in mind of a train in motion, and suddenly he stopped in the middle of the song with the "Grand Coolie" refrain. Back then, there was no voice track on it; I mean, he cut the whole instrumental tracks—it was mixed and done—and he brought it in and played it for me... and I didn't know what it was supposed to be.
A recording session for the "The Grand Coulee Dam" vocal overdubs on December 6, 1966 reportedly saw tensions within the band boil over when Love was instructed by Wilson to sing the song's lyrics. Bemused, Love demanded that Wilson call lyricist Parks to the recording session to explain the meaning of the coda line "Over and over, the crow cries, uncover the cornfield. Over and over, the thresher and plover, the wheatfield". Wilson complied, and asked Parks if he was willing to come down to the studio to sort out Love's complaints. According to Parks,
The only person I had had any interchange with before that was Dennis, who had responded very favorably to 'Heroes and Villains' and 'Surf’s Up.' Based on that, I gathered that the work would be approved. But then, with no warning whatsoever, I got that phone call from Brian. And that’s when the whole house of cards came tumbling down.
Upon arriving at the studio, Love questioned the lyrics reportedly in an aggressive fashion. Unable to come up with an answer that satisfied Love and unwilling to be drawn into an argument about the quality of his work, Parks responded by simply stating he didn't know the meaning of the lyric. Consequently, Parks left the session feeling as though he was intruding on a family feud with roots and motivations that had nothing to do with him, and would eventually leave the project in the spring of 1967. Some consider this to have doomed the album already months overdue, though close to completion. Defending himself in later years, Love has stated:
I think Van Dyke is really talented, brilliant, and fun. He’s got a sense of humor. I ask[ed] Van Dyke Parks, "What the hell does 'Over and over the crow cries, uncover the cornfield' mean?" And he said, "I haven’t a clue, Mike!"…I don’t know if he was saying that just because I was there in his face. But I always liked lyrics that are boy-girl, or made sense, or connected to the mind of people.…And who says I didn't like the words? Just because I said I didn't know what they meant didn't mean I didn't like them. I have zero against Van Dyke Parks. That’s why I said, "What the fuck does that mean?" It's not meant to be an insult. He didn't get insulted. He just said, 'I haven’t a clue!' And it wasn't like I was against his lyrics. But people don’t know the way I think. And they don’t give a fuck about the way I think, either. But that’s okay. I'm a big boy, and I can take that. I was just asking: What did it mean?
During the 1990s, Love reportedly asked Parks about the lyrics again. According to Parks, "I was able to tell him, once again, 'I don’t know.' I have no idea what those words mean. I was perhaps thinking of Van Gogh’s wheat field or an idealized agrarian environment. Maybe I meant nothing, but I was trying to follow Brian Wilson's vision at that time."[nb 1]
- The Beach Boys
- Brian Wilson – vocals
- Carl Wilson – guitar, lead vocal
- Dennis Wilson – vocals
- Mike Love – lead vocal
- Al Jardine – vocals
- Additional musicians
- Jimmy Bond, Jr. – upright bass
- James Burton – dobro
- Jesse Ehrlich – cello
- Carl Fortina – accordion
- Jim Gordon – drums (on early takes), tambourine with a stick
- Armand Kaproff – cello
- Carol Kaye – banjo
- Jay Migliori – saxophone
- Oliver Mitchell – trumpet
- Tommy Morgan – harmonicas
- Van Dyke Parks – upright piano
- Bill Pitman – guitar
- Lyle Ritz – upright bass
- Tommy Tedesco – guitar, bouzouki
- The New York Times: Parks recalls he saw Love one final time when Melcher called him to Monterey to play synthesizer on the Beach Boys' final album, recorded without Brian, 1992's dreadful Summer in Paradise. A neighbor offered to fly the musician to Monterey in his one-engine plane if Parks agreed to cover gas and other expenses. When he got there, Love was meditating in Melcher's living room. "For the first time in 30 years, he was able to ask me directly, once again, 'What do those lyrics -- Over and over the crow flies, uncover the cornfield -- mean?'" Parks said about that meeting in '95. "And I was able to tell him, once again, 'I don't know.' I have no idea what those words mean. I was perhaps thinking of Van Gogh's wheat field or an idealized agrarian environment. Maybe I meant nothing, but I was trying to follow Brian Wilson's vision at that time." Parks says Love asked if he could fly back to L.A. in the plane with him. "We had a nice chat and he insisted that he wanted to split the cost of the flight with me, so he gave me a card with his number on it. The next morning, I called to discover it was a disconnected number. And that was the last time I saw Mike Love."
- Covach 1997.
- "The 50 Greatest Beach Boys Songs". Mojo Magazine. June 2012.
- Preiss 1979.
- Kent 1975.
- Nolan 1971.
- Frank Holmes (Endless Summer Quarterly, March 1997)
- Leaf, David. "Friends / 20/20 liner notes".
- Badman 2004, p. 188.
- Vosse, Michael (April 14th, 1969). "Michael Vosse Talks About Smile". Fusion.
- Carlin 2006, p. 116.
- Carlin 2006, p. 117.
- Carlin 2006, pp. 117, 119.
- Carlin 2006, p. 313.
- The New York Times. April 6, 2000.
- Carlin, Peter Ames (July 25, 2006). Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Rodale. ISBN 978-1-59486-320-2. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
- Covach, John (October 28, 1997). Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-535662-5. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
- Nolan, Tom (October 28, 1971). "The Beach Boys: A California Saga". Rolling Stone (94).
- Kent, Nick (1975). "Brian Wilson: The Last Beach Movie". New Musical Express.
- Preiss, Byron (1979). The Beach Boys. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-27398-7. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
- Badman, Keith (2004). The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band, on Stage and in the Studio. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-0-87930-818-6. Retrieved August 2, 2013.