The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: A Musical Fairy Tale – Mt. Vernon and Fairway

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: A Musical Fairy Tale – Mt. Vernon and Fairway

MtVernon_HollandI’m fortunate in that my boss here at Black Gate lets me wander afield from Sherlock Holmes and mystery-related topics. Now, I think I’ve managed to nominally stay within the milieu of Black Gate,  though my Humphrey Bogart – George Raft post might have stretched things a bit (I’ve got a reasonable argument ready!). So, for example, I haven’t written anything (yet…) about my hero, Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Today I’m going to stretch the rubber band a ways.

I think that Brian Wilson, the musical force behind the Beach Boys, is a genius. Before you could find almost any unreleased song on Youtube, I was avidly collecting bootleg albums, then CDs. I probably have a bigger SMiLE collection than anybody else you know.

It’s a rare week that I don’t listen to at least one Beach Boys song. And if you’re my Facebook friend, you’ve almost certainly learned something about their music from my posts (like this one about the Lei’d in Hawaii album). Today, I’m going to bring the Beach Boys to Black Gate: assuming it actually gets posted.

It’s well documented that Brian increasingly withdrew from the band (and for the most part, life…) after the SMiLE album was aborted in 1967. His participation level varied on succeeding albums (Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, 20/20, Sunflower, Surf’s Up and Carl and the Passions: So Tough), but it’s indisputable that he wasn’t running the Beach Boys anymore and his brother Carl was largely filling his shoes.

In the summer of 1972, the entire band, with family and friends, relocated to the Netherlands, recording in a studio that had been sent over from California and rebuilt (yes, the Beach Boys did those kinds of odd things back then). Brian co-wrote only two of the nine songs on the album, and they were late additions to boot.

But Brian’s contribution to the Holland album loomed large – in a way. The record included a bonus EP (any of you youngsters who don’t know what an EP is, go look it up).  You can click here to listen to what we’re going to be talking about.

There was a mansion on a hill

But deep in a secret kingdom Where a young prince lived

He had four sisters and four brothers

The prince had a special bedroom on the ground floor

With a window that looked down into a deep forest

He could see distant lights from other castles in the kingdom

From his window

And so does Jack Reiley, the band’s manager, begin narrating (not singing) Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale). Of course, if you’ve heard Reilly’s singing on A Day in the Life of a Tree, we’re better off with him talking.

Written by Brian with minimal help from brother Carl and Jack Reiley, It remains perhaps the oddest musical piece in the long history of The Beach Boys.

During the day

He went to school

When it became night

He stayed by himself

Usually in his secret hidden bedroom

One night

While nearly everyone was asleep

He took out of the attic a radio

And he decided to listen to it

MtVernon_chiquitaThat’s the Mount Vernon and Fairway Theme. The title came from the intersection that Mike Love and his family lived near when they were all kids. Now, keep in mind this is 1972. We’re talking about those little rectangular transistor radios. This little gem was mine. It was from the Chiquita Banana folks!

Thousands of kids secretly listened to their radios under the sheets when they were supposed to be asleep back then. So, listeners understood about a transistor radio. Well, that first bit segues into I’m the Pied Piper 1 and things start to get weird.

As soon as he turned it on

The wind outside of his room

Stirred up for a few seconds

He thought to himself

“I’ll climb out my window

And go sit out there with my radio”

Out the window he went

Sitting against a small stump

Behind some flowerbeds

The light from his bedroom window he could still see

The music of Bach was playing

OK – it’s nice outside, so he climbs out the window and sits under the stars, with a view of what is probably the soft yellow light of his bedroom. Some Bach drifts through the air. It’s a peaceful scene. Maybe not quite what you’d expect from what seems to be a young boy (Bach?), but that’s fine. Then…

After a while it began to sound distant

As the young prince gazed at this radio on his knee

The music was floating away from his hearing

What could be happening

He took it off of his knee

And put the radio to his ear Nothing


Then the transistor left his hands

And was floating in the mid-air

Two feet off the ground

Quite frankly, this sounds like a drug trip, which Brian took more than his fair share of back in the day. I’ve seen Peanuts episodes where the notes float away from Snoopy or Schroeder. But here we’ve got the music leaving the radio, and the radio no longer playing.

As the prince laughed It suddenly turned around And it was light green phosphorous in color

Except, having purged itself, the radio now starts floating along, a couple feet off of the ground. It turns green and what we seem to have here is a musical will-o’-the-wisp. The will-o’-the wisp is a standard fairy tale trope; it’s not uncommon in Dungeons and Dragons, either. Rarely does it act like a leprechaun and stop at a pot of gold.

Dancing back and forth

The magic transistor Started moving down his path

He could hear the sound out

Like nothing he had ever heard before

The trees were getting closer together

And flowers glowed with tinges of magic light

As he followed thinking to himself “What’s going on?”

The transistor lifted slowly

Up to the top of a little tree

And sat there

While it slowly became louder

To where the prince could hear it clearly

Throughout, Reiley’s narration has been accompanied by original music from Brian. Along with crickets, frogs and other background music.

Fireflies shot across the path in front of the prince

He turned around and couldn’t see the light from his window

There he was watching all alone all by himself

He got a hunch to get back to his room

And he turned and ran right back

So, the prince realized this floating green radio has led him astray. You have to figure he’s suddenly a bit scared and decides to hightail it back to his room (accompanied by the sound of running footsteps). Which leads us to the next portion.

Brian voices the Pied Piper throughout the song, beginning with Better Get Back in Bed

(Pied Piper) (I’d better get back in bed) (Hope I’ll see you again)

(Pied Piper) (I’d better get back in bed) (Hope I’ll see you again)

(Pied Piper) (I’d better get back in bed) (Hope I’ll see you again)

(Pied Piper) (I’ll be running along)

Thirty seconds after he was in bed

He fell back to sleep

The next morning

He had forgotten all about

What had happened the night before

But when night time came once again

His thoughts somehow found their way back

To remembering the fascinating episode of the night before

Most discussion I’ve seen about Mt. Vernon and Fairway acknowledges that it’s odd. But some Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fans really like the music. I’m not quite so much in agreement with them. There are fragments scattered around willy-nilly. However, here at this point, there’s a nice little piece that seems like the kind of thing Brian works a song or section around.

He turned out his bedroom light

And sat in his favorite chair

Thoughts danced in his head for a while

“Suppose I went to check and see if my transistor is still down there” he Said

“I wonder what would happen”

Now the song moves into Magic Transistor Radio.

He sat up in his open window

Looking quietly down at the path

A firefly flew in his room and flew right out again

Down jumped the prince

And he went again to find his radio

(Magic transistor radio)

(Glowing magic transistor radio)

(Glowing magic transistor radio)

As he made his way he could hear something once again

(Glowing magic transistor radio)

There was that transistor up on the same tree

Then from inside of it came a strange voice

It’s a short piece with Mike Love doing the singing. Brian moves front and center for I’m the Pied Piper 2

[Hello I’m the Pied Piper from the far away land of Night]

[Nobody knows anything about my existence]

[I only want to know kids]

[Late at night when people are sleeping]

[I go into their old radios and turn them into magic transistors]

[And fly outside with them]

[I come from such a faraway land of Night]

[That I’m fascinated with the funny music I hear on your radios]

[You are the first to know of me]

[You can’t see me I’m hidden]

[But you can see the green glow I make]

[I heard you laugh last night]

[I figured that you would be amused by me]

[Listen to this]

What in the world? Brian, in some kind of hillbilly voice (and is he yawning?) that’s supposed to be Rumpelstiltskin or something, I guess, reveals that the Pied Piper is inhabiting the radio. I’m gonna say it here: this reads like some pedophile luring kids out of their bedrooms at night. If you’ve ever heard Hey Little Tomboy, it’s not the only instance of concerning behavior from the band.

But we’ll assume the best and treat this like some very strange, drug-induced, musical fairy tale. Which is what I think of it.

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

Then the prince heard something he never knew could be

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

The hidden Pied Piper was laughing

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

As the prince moved his head back and forth with the music going on

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

When the music died down the Piper said that “every night

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

After midnight if you leave on your transistor radio

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

I’ll promise to bring more magic music to you

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

No one” he said “will ever believe you so why tell of me to anyone?

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

You are my only friend of night” said the Pied Piper “and I’ll talk to You again some night”

That little musical refrain in parentheses lies under Reilly’s narration, and it’s neat.

Then the radio was glowing no more

As it fell into the hands of the fascinated prince

He ran back amazed and he hopped right back into bed

That night he dreamt all night Mostly about his radio and his friend the Pied Piper

Another little musical interlude that feels like something from the Surf’s Up era.

The prince did try what the Piper said to do

But for weeks at night

He heard nothing like the music of that magic night

“That Pied Piper must have been joking” he said

“There’s nothing but Bach on this radio

I’m gonna throw it back up in the attic for good”

This he said disbelieving the young prince so loud

That two of his brothers overheard him

The next day those two brothers took the radio from the attic and turned It on

Things are picking up as we move on to Radio King Dom

(Dom dom kingdom)

There it was the music had to be from the Pied Piper himself

(My radio is radiatin’ through the)

(Dom dom kingdom)

(Through the misty night)

(Through the misty night)

(Dom dom kingdom)

(My radio is radiatin’ through the) (Dom dom kingdom)

(Through the misty night)

(Through the misty night)

(Dom dom kingdom)

The prince’s sisters ran in their brother’s room

(My radio is radiatin’ through the)

(Dom dom kingdom)

And they were all dancing and screaming with joy

(Through the misty night)

(Through the misty night)

But the transistor was playing too loud

And their mother heard it

(Dom dom kingdom)

“What are you doing there?

What is that you’re listening too?

Give me that radio at once” she said

We can probably read something into this about the world around Brian, keeping him from making the music he loved and pulling the joy out of being Brian Wilson, songwriter. In fact, I think that’s a key theme at the foundation of this song.

A few days later the king and queen of the castle were invited to a ball

As they were leaving that evening the queen said to the young prince

Who was the eldest of the children

“Take care of the other ones tonight And don’t try to find that radio

We have it hidden away We’ll be home by midnight”

And then she said “goodbye”

The children’s mother left

And the party had begun

And the children looked everywhere High and low

Checking to see if they could find that transistor radio

They couldn’t find it they couldn’t find it

They looked upstairs and downstairs

All through the castle and finally

All of a sudden they heard a sound

What is that sound?

Is it possible

Could it be the Pied Piper himself

Coming out of the magic transistor radio?

Or was it just the wind whistling by the castle window?

No one knows if the mysterious Pied Piper of Night

Was the one who came back to visit the princes and princesses again

But if you have a transistor radio and the lights are all out some night

Don’t be very surprised if it turns to light green

And the whirling magic sound of the Pied Piper comes to visit you

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

(Bow bow)

(I’m the Pied Piper)

(Bow bow bow bow bow)

(In the radio)

And so ends this 12 minute and 15 second piece of Beach Boys recording. It is most certainly a musical fairy tale. Assuming it wasn’t just Brian making stoned music, one can see Brian feeling that music is a magic that comes out of the radio. He’s the Pied Piper, wanting to share the magic with listeners. And he sees the appeal to children. Brian sang about this in Surf’s Up:

I heard the word MtVernon_Cover

Wonderful thing

A children’s song

Child, child, child, child, child

A child is the father of the man

Child, child, child, child, child

A child is the father of the man

A children’s song

Have you listened as they played

Their song is love

And the children know the way

And the queen (the record label, his father Murry, Mike Love, etc) wants to take the music away. In Brian’s case, telling him to quit experimenting and growing and just produce the hits.

I think that’s a reasonable take on this song, but not as accurate as just attributing it to drugs and a weird idea.

You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.

He founded, the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’ and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.

He is an ongoing contributor to The MX Book of New Sherlock Stories series of anthologies, with stories in Volumes III, IV and the upcoming V. 


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Amy Bisson

When I was about 9 years old (many, many years ago), my Dad gave me his old Beach Boys albums: Surfin’ Safari, All Summer Long, and Beach Boys Concert. I’ve loved their music for many years, but have to admit I had never heard of that particular album. Admitedly the only post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys music I’m familiar with is “Kokomo”, but that was only because I was about 15 or 16 when it hit the charts. Fascinating article..

Robert Adam Gilmour

Holland is one of my favourites. It’s one of the first ones I listened to.

[…] I talk about this rather unique piece of Beach Boys history, so head on over to Black Gate and check it out. […]

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