Happy Birthday, Brian Wilson!
Guest Blogger: Ian Rusten is the co-author of The Beach Boys in Concert (along with Jon Stebbins).
The Beach Boys’ leader, Brian Wilson, turns 71 today. For many people that knew him in the darkest period of his life (the late 1970s and early 1980s), the sheer fact that Brian is still alive is something to be celebrated. But, what is more astounding is that Brian has overcome the demons and depression that drove him into years of drug and alcohol addiction and taken back the musical legacy that he created as leader of the Beach Boys in the 1960s. Brian completed a highly successful 50th Anniversary Tour with the surviving Beach Boys last year and recently announced the impending release of his eleventh solo album (the first was in 1988).
In honor of Brian’s birthday, enjoy this excerpt from The Beach Boys In Concert: The Ultimate History of America’s Band On Tour and Onstage by Ian Rusten and Jon Stebbins. The book chronicles in great detail the long stage career of the band Brian created with his brothers, a cousin and a high school friend in 1961. As the excerpt shows, by 1963, Brian, at the ridiculously young age of 21, was already developing into one of the most important composers and producers in the Los Angeles music scene:
“It was soon after their (first) Midwest tour that the group began recording their third album, Surfer Girl. The album was the first on which Brian had complete control with no interference and was listed as producer on the album’s cover. The move to Western (Studios) allowed Brian to keep working on a song until he was satisfied. Late nights in the studio became the norm. According to (Capitol Records Executive) Nick Venet, Brian “was the first guy to do it until it was right. He damned everyone till it was right and then he gave them the record; he took his chances. A lot of us would get chicken after four hours, and say, ‘we’d better get off the tune.’ Brian would hang in there for nine hours, no matter what the cost. I used to think he was crazy, but he was right.” As a result of his growing perfectionism, the Surfer Girl LP also marked the first album on which Brian used outside musicians on several of the tracks. Al Jardine, still not an “official” Beach Boy again, played bass on a few tracks, freeing Brian to play piano. More importantly, Brian had session musician Hal Blaine come in to add drums to “Our Car Club.”
Blaine was a member of the famous “Wrecking Crew” that “Boy-Genius” Phil Spector used to create his famous “Wall of Sound.” If the Four Freshmen were the biggest influence on the development of The Beach Boys vocal style, Phil Spector was the most important influence on Brian as a producer. Spector developed his “Wall of Sound” by combining large numbers of instruments all playing together to create a dense, layered sound. Just as Brian double tracked vocals, Phil would often double or triple a bass part or electric guitar line. As a result, he created an enormous, thunderous sound that overwhelmed the listener. Songs like the Crystals, “There’s No Other like My Baby” and “He’s a Rebel,” were productions, as writer Timothy White described “with an almost preternatural sensory impact…”. Spector’s productions fascinated Brian. When he met Hal Blaine, he pumped him for information about the reclusive “Tycoon of Teen.” Soon, Brian was attending Spector sessions, soaking up how he achieved the dynamic sound on his records. As Brian recalled, “I was unable to really think as a producer up until the time where I really got familiar with Phil Spector’s work…then I started to see the point of making records…You design the experience to be a record rather than just a song…It’s the overall sound, what they’re going to hear and experience in two and a half minutes that counts.” When Spector released the Ronettes “Be My Baby” that summer, Brian became obsessed with the song, playing it over and over again on his turntable, until he knew how every inch of sound on it was made. Brian applied the Spector influence to his own productions, but with a one of a kind Wilson twist, and in the process produced something uniquely his own.
The improvements in production and arrangement were quite noticeable on the Surfer Girl LP. If the (Beach Boys 2nd LP) Surfin’ USA suggested that the Beach Boys might have a future as a surf garage band, the Surfer Girl LP gave notice that the Beach Boys were a fantastic vocal group. The title track contained an incredibly lush aural appeal, soon becoming an evergreen classic. “Catch a Wave,” a new composition written by Brian and Mike, spotlighted Brian’s swooping falsetto, the group’s dynamic harmonies, and Dennis’ thumping drums. As writer Philip Lambert stated, Brian was finally confidant enough to place “total faith in the sound and force of the vocal presentation.” It was clear that Brian’s time listening to the sophisticated jazzy vocals of the Four Freshmen had not been wasted. (Brian’s brother) Carl believed that an important element of their vocal style was the fact that, “Vocals were voiced like horn parts, the way those R&B records made background vocals sound like a sax section. They’re all within the same octave; that’s really the secret to it. We didn’t just duplicate parts; we used a lot of counterpoint, a lot of layered sound.” The Beach Boys vocal style blended especially beautifully on the melancholy “In My Room,” one of Brian’s last collaborations with Gary Usher. The song was one of the first to highlight Brian’s amazing ability to express his deepest feelings within a pop song. With lines like “Now it’s dark and I’m alone, but I won’t be afraid” the song expressed a naked vulnerability that was rare in pop music. Brian’s aching voice seemed tailor made to express such sentiments and his introspective ballads were often the creative highlight of Beach Boys albums.”
The Beach Boys in Concert is an exhilarating day-by-day journey through the triumphs and tribulations of one of rock’s most legendary acts. More than ten years of exhaustive research has produced an unprecedented window into the Beach Boys’ thrilling successes, personal tragedies, inter-band dramas, and globe-trotting, rock-and-roll adventures from 1961 to 2012.
The Beach Boys in Concert is a solidly factual and highly entertaining ride from their humble beginnings of driving to local gigs in their mom’s station wagon to touring the world in private jets with a massive entourage in tow, from nervously playing to a dozen unimpressed Southern California surfers to performing for a half-million worshipping fans on the National Mall. The evolution and growth of an entertainment phenomenon is captured here in a far more detailed way than ever before.
The Beach Boys in Concert is the ultimate document for fans when it comes to the group’s career as concert performers; no other publication comes close to this tome in scope, detail, and definitive quality. Adding to the feast is an extensive collection of unpublished photos and rare memorabilia images that bring fans deeper into the context of any given era covered in the book. This detailed, illustrated 50-year Surfin’ Safari will blow your mind!
Posted on June 20, 2013, in Music Fans and tagged Backbeat Books, brian wilson, brian wilson birthday, excerpt, Ian Rusten, Jon Stebbins, The Beach Boys, The Beach Boys in Concert. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.