Thursday, July 16, 2009

East Coast vs. West Coast (The Beach Boys vs. The Velvet Underground)

The East Coast vs. West Coast feud has been going on forever. The biggest controversy came when I told college friends in the Midwest that I was moving to Los Angeles. I heard a lot of “LA’s a shithole” and “LA sucks” and “Why would you want to move there?” and “LA’s not a real city.” All the cool kids were moving to New York City or Chicago. [On a side note, a number of those cool kids have since relocated to Los Angeles.]

There was also that whole Biggie and Tupac thing. Remember that?

Anyway…I occasionally read New York based blogs (like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan) and sometimes pick up on a weird New York City vs. Southern California bias. In a series of posts I’m going to attempt to get to the bottom of this controversy. I’ll compare bands from each location and eventually, once I’ve exhausted these comparisons, I’ll come to the definitive answer: New York or LA?

To kick things off, I want to compare the quintessential band from each place. It might sound difficult to come up with the quintessential New York band or LA band, but it’s actually quite simple….


Popularity: The Beach Boys have had 36 Top 40 hits in the U.S. and according to Billboard (factoring in singles and albums) is the top selling American band of all time. The Velvet Underground’s highest chart position was #171 (for The Velvet Underground and Nico). Edge: The Beach Boys

But this competition isn’t about mainstream popularity or chart success, so let’s dig a little deeper….

Songs / Songwriting: These are two of the greatest bands of all time, so both have more than their share of classics. In terms of sheer volume, VU only had four studio albums (ignoring VU the album) and around 60 songs while the Beach Boys had 25 studio albums and a few hundred songs. If you were doing a ratio of good/bad songs, VU would come out the winners (55% of those songs are at least very good). But that's too easy. How many all time classics did Lou Reed/VU write? Do you put "Sweet Jane" on that list? How about "I'm Waiting for the Man"? "There She Goes Again?" It's debatable. How do you even choose a VU best of? - definitely more of an album band. But consider The Beach Boys for a second. "California Girls," "Little Deuce Coupe," "Good Vibrations," and "God Only Knows," only scratches the surface. What about "Heroes and Villains," "Forever," "Feel Flows," "Surf's Up" or "Sail on Sailor" for f's sake? Brian brought in a lot of guest lyricists, but that's not enough to sway me. Edge: The Beach Boys

Musicianship: For only really releasing four studio albums, The Velvet Underground covered a tremendous amount of ground. They were an extremely versatile band able to improvise and move seamlessly between genres. That said, a lot of it was pretty sloppy (especially if you listen to a lot of the live albums). The Beach Boys went about things in a different way. On their best records they had really complex arrangements that were performed by session musicians. And of course Brian Wilson retired from live performances for long stretches of time. Edge: The Velvet Underground (John Cale and Lou Reed was an innovative guitarist)

Production: I'm sure some of you will argue for the charm/simplicity of VU, but Brian Wilson was a master in the studio. Edge: The Beach Boys

Originality: Believe it or not Lou Reed and Brian Wilson were both born in 1942 (Reed's actually a few months older). From their first recorded work, The Velvet Underground were groundbreaking. On the other hand, The Beach Boys started out emulating The Four Freshman and surf music (in their defense, they started a few years before VU). So the obvious answer is VU, right? Hang on a second, what about Pet Sounds? When you blow John Lennon and Paul McCartney's minds you're on to something. So it's closer than some probably care to admit. Edge: The Velvet Underground

Cool Factor: Do you prefer black leather jackets or Hawaiian shirt? OK, it's not quite that simple. The Velvet Underground wrote about trannys, heroin and S&M. The Beach Boys wrote about love, school pride and surfing (I'm ignoring Smile and Wild Honey for simplicity's sake). The Velvet Underground knew Warhol and The Beach Boys knew Manson. Both bands battled the drug demons; are you an LSD guy or a cocaine gal? Edge: The Velvet Underground (the Mike Love factor)

Legacy: In mainstream culture it's the Beach Boys. On the fringe it's The Velvet Underground. Edge: This category's a toss up.

Verdict: The Beach Boys. Like the cities they personify, these bands represent very different ideals. The Velvet Underground is urban, sleek, sophisticated and dangerous while the Beach Boys are all American, sunshine and good times. Dig just a tiny bit beneath the surface and it's all bullshit...

Stay tuned for future installments of East Coast vs. West Coast.

And tune in to from Noon to 2:00 PM this Friday for the Sinking Radio show. I've requested a very uncharacteristic Beach Boys' song.


silawe said...

You gave too much edge to VU.

Beach Boys are #!.

Anonymous said...

VU is #1 times infinity!

Steven said...

This is going to be a great series of posts, Duke. I'm really looking forward to them.

ringhoff said...

I think the photos you used sum it up. Playing with goats VS fagging off with Andy Warhol. GOATS WIN!

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows that fagging off with Warhol is the key to great songwriting.

Satisfied '75 said...

i like VU better, but I do love the boyz

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? You actually believe the Beach Boys can be compared to the Velvets? Oh man, the west coast can't fall into the ocean fast enough.

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Valerio Benedetto said...

I love the Velvet but too like the Beach Boys

Valerio Benedetto said...

I love the Velvet but too like the Beach Boys