Poor Brian Wilson. Deaf in his right ear after his dad Murry had uncharitably clouted him, he suffered more than his siblings at the hands of this hard-to-please man. A somewhat failed song writer (doo-wop songs his ‘speciality’) Murry Wilson was the Beach Boys manager/co-producer/arranger in those heady surf-filled, drag-racing days.
Much like those dads of today who coach frantically from the side of the pitch while their 13 year old chases a ball around, he lived the dream through his sons. He constantly obsessed over every facet of the Beach Boys, from their appearance and stage presentation to the lyrics and songs themselves. A traditionalist, he undoubtedly gave Brian an ear (only one, mind) for a melody, by playing him Gershwin non-stop from an early age. He had him take accordion lessons. He forced him to sing solo in the church. He certainly pushed him in the right direction, as Brian became as obsessive about the power of music as Murry.
Brian was prodigious. He studied vocal group The Four Freshmen, replicated their individual vocal parts on the piano and worked out how to make a group of voices sing in 4 part harmony. From this, The Beach Boys were born and the rest, as you already know, is history. Have a listen to this, but be prepared to sit down and listen closely. You won’t regret it. It’s a complete reel (40 mins) of The Beach Boys recording Help Me, Rhonda. Hot on the heels of I Get Around it would go on to become the group’s second US Number 1, but not before three painstaking recording sessions. The Help Me, Rhonda session available here was recorded probably on the 8th or 19th January 1965, depending on the sources you read, and is famous in Beach Boys circles because the session is constantly interrupted by a menacing Murry, breaking in on the studio microphone and berating the individual members of the group for their sub-standard performances. For the most part he’s right too!
“Brian. Fellas. I have 3000 words to say. Quit screamin’, start singin’ from your hearts, huh? You’re doing fine now, watch your ‘ooohs’, come in on the low notes Mike. Carl -‘oooh’ – you’re ‘eugh!’ Come on! Dennis – you’re flatting. OK Mike. You’re flatting on your high notes. Let’s go. Let’s roll. So you’re big stars. Let’s fight, huh? Let’s fight for success. OK. Let’s go. Now loosen up. Be happy. Forget the people in here……..turn the lights out in this room. Turn the lights out in this room… they see so many people…OK fellas. You got any guts? Let’s hear ’em!”
Brian (from across the room) “Dad. only 82 words.”
Murry “I said 3000. Come on Brian. Knock it off! You guys think you’re good? Let’s go! Let’s go! Fellas. As a team we’re unbeatable. You’re doing wonderful Al. I’ll leave, Brian, if you’re gonna give me a bad time…..”
Brian “I got one ear left and your big mouthed voice is killin’ me!”
Murry “I’m sorry I’m yelling. Loosen up Al, watch your flatting…….”
And on and on and on it goes, between a zillion perfect and not-so perfect short burts of Help Me, Rhonda. Mike is flatting those high notes. Al is flatting those low notes.
“Al. Al! Come in to it. About an inch and three quarters. Or two inches closer. Either sing out louder or come in closer. And e-nun-ci-ate! When you sing ‘Rhonda’ make it sexy and soft. “Rhonda you look so fiiiine!” OK?” At this point you hear an unconvinced “hmmmm” from someone at the microphone.
And still it goes on.
“Brian. Your voice is shrilling through everybody. Carl. We can’t hear Carl. We can hear Dennis but we can’t hear Mike. And we can hardly hear Al.”
At one point Murry points out that “I’m a genius too, Brian!” Incredible! This is history in the making and we’re party to it. Incredible! Something recorded 45 years ago exists in the quality it does. What strikes me most about listening to the tape is that although Murry clearly likes the sound of his own voice and isn’t shy of pointing out the group’s failures, the group themselves know when a take has been a bad take. They don’t need Murry to tell them. You can hear them berate one another for being flat, quiet, missing their intro, whatever.
Brian actually appears in control of everything, despite his Dad’s close attentions. The session ends with Brian and Murry having a quiet arguement, Brian asking for an atmosphere of calmness, “are you going now?”, Murry commenting that “just because you’ve had a big hit…”. Brian puts up with his dad pretty well. This time. But no wonder it was only a few short months until he’d be watching TV and playing piano in a sandpit in his living room……..
Murry died in 1973. They say the devil has all the best tunes. I believe Murry is rearranging them as you read this.
Glen Campbell plays on this session. You’ll hear a wee bit of noodling and strumming throughout. That’s him!