With the Beach Boys’ fabled Smile finally seeing release last month, music publications have been flush with some of the more famous anecdotes surrounding this legendarily ambitious project. One of the most interesting nuggets: During the writing process for the planned LP, Brian Wilson had a massive sandbox installed in his living room, with a grand piano placed right in the middle of it. He’d sit there, toes in the sand, waiting for inspiration to hit.
The band’s previous album, Pet Sounds, had been such a critical and commercial success that Wilson’s label was bending over backwards to accommodate him in any way they could, in hopes of getting him into the right frame of mind to produce another classic. Crazy? Kind of, but Wilson was a nut. Awesome? I think so.
More is more
Compared to the ways in which many other big-time bands have notoriously indulged themselves for the sake of their art (or just because they could), the sandbox thing is a drip in a bucket. I’m not a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, but the monstrosity that was Rumours fascinates me to no end. Not only was it one of the hugest albums in rock history, but the stories of how out-of-touch with reality the band became after the LP’s success are impressive.
There are a few great Fleetwood Mac documentaries on YouTube that document this period, and it’s amazing to watch a group of people with more money, more freedom, and more fame than they even know what to do with. Mick Fleetwood talks about how they’d get off a plane and there would be 14 limos waiting for them at the airport. 14. They had individual limos for themselves and all of their immediate crew.
When they were recording Tusk, the followup to Rumours, Lindsey Buckingham decided he wanted to get the USC marching band to play on the title track. Their label rented out Dodger Stadium, set up a mobile recording rig, and made it happen. This, along with massive amounts of studio time and other tinkery, led to Tusk costing over a million dollars (in 1979 money) to record. Big-time stuff.
There are tons of other ridiculous and hilarious stories of bands getting away with stuff like this, but these two incidents in particular got me and Chris here at CD Baby talking about how The Era of Rock Extravagance is over, and I think we’ll both miss it. Hearing stories about crazy things rock stars got away with was not only funny, but inspirational in a strange way: That could be me directing the marching band and spending a year holed up in the studio…
What are some of your favorite stories of rock-star extravagance? And do you think the era’s over, or has it just changed?
Brad at CD Baby