Wouldn't It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds

Wouldn't It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613738375
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/01/2016
Edition description: Revised edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 811,960
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Charles L. Granata is a record and radio producer, music historian, and author of the award-winning Sessions with Sinatra as well as numerous essays on popular music and the history of sound recording. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Livingston, New Jersey. Tony Asher is a lyricist who collaborated with Brian Wilson on Pet Sounds. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Wouldn't It Be Nice

Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds

By Charles L. Granata

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2017 Charles L. Granata
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61373-840-5


early history

As far back as I can remember, there's been music in my life.

Brian Wilson

Without Brian, there wouldn't have been any Beach Boys.

Recording engineer Chuck Britz

Some people would say that the Beach Boys were born on Labor Day weekend, 1961, when three brothers, one cousin, and a friend rented the equipment required to make their first demo recording. Others might contend that the group didn't emerge until "Surfin' USA" — their first big hit — entered the number three spot on the Billboard charts in 1963. Then again, a convincing argument could be made that the fate of the band was sealed with the birth of Brian Douglas Wilson on Saturday, June 20, 1942.

In reality, it all began with a radio.

"In junior high school Brian would eat dinner, and he'd go into his room and that radio would be on constantly," his mother Audree explained. "I remember [Brian's father] Murry once saying to me, 'Do you think we should worry about him?' I said, 'No. He's just loving the music.'"

Music — and the tiny transistor radio he kept hidden under his pillow at night — became Brian's constant companions, exposing the boy to a wide variety of genres and styles. "My favorite [station] was KFWB in Hollywood," Brian said. "Every record had something you would listen to; every record had some kind of twist in it that gave you that feelin', and you'd say, 'Oh, man.' You'd go to the piano and say, 'Now, how did they do that?' You'd start learning about it — it's an education. Anybody with a good ear [was] gonna pick up on those records."

Brian's passion delighted his parents, and it was a rare day that Murry — an aspiring songwriter — didn't hammer out his latest creation on the family's piano for Brian's entertainment. For her part, Audree shared her small record collection with her son, beaming when he begged to hear Glenn Miller's big band rendition of "Rhapsody in Blue."

The Wilson Family

In the early 1940s, the Wilsons lived in a small house at 3701 West 119th Street in Hawthorne, California, an inland town off the Pacific coast area known as South Bay. Hawthorne was a blue-collar town, and Murry tried hard to provide a comfortable life for his family, who also benefited from the support of various relatives scattered throughout the area. Brian forged a special relationship with Audree's father, who, until his death in 1948, would take the boy on explorative flights in his single-engine prop plane. The family was also close to Audree's sister Glee Love, who lived in nearby View Park with her husband Milton and their six children: Michael, Stanley, Stephen, Maureen, Marjorie, and Stephanie.

By the end of 1946, the Wilson family included two more children: Dennis (born on December 4, 1944) and Carl (born on December 21, 1946). All three of the Wilson boys were gregarious and athletic, and they engaged in the harmless pranks typical of boys their age. From a distance, the Wilsons appeared to be a happy family who enjoyed the idyllic environs that southern California had to offer. In reality, relations within the family unit were neither healthy nor respectful.

As a father, Murry Wilson was an inscrutable failure. While he appeared to be a strict disciplinarian who wanted the best for his children, he was a ruthless egomaniac whose parenting philosophy was skewed by his own experience as the child of an abusive, alcoholic father. Life in the Wilson house wasn't easy, and each of the boys dealt with the dysfunction differently.

Carl, who died of lung cancer at age fifty-one on February 6, 1998, was the least affected by his father's misdeeds, and emerged as the family mediator.

Dennis, the rebellious middle child, endured the most punishment. As a youngster he was beaten frequently, and he responded to provocation with a quick temper and fists. Throughout his life, Dennis seethed with anger, and the physical confrontations between father and son lasted well into adulthood. Dennis was the first of the brothers to experiment with alcohol and other drugs; after two decades of reckless behavior exacerbated by chronic substance abuse, he drowned in a drunken stupor on December 28, 1983, in Marina del Rey, California. He was thirty-nine.

Brian suffered, too. While his wounds were more psychological than physical, Murry didn't refrain from hitting him. One of Brian's most vivid childhood memories is of his father slapping the side of his head — a punishment that he once blamed for the deafness in his right ear.

Music in the Air

To compensate for his lack of emotional intelligence, Murry indulged his boys with music: pianos, a Hammond organ for the family room, and lessons all around. When the Four Freshmen performed at the Crescendo, the man who mercilessly belittled his children struggled to find the money to buy tickets so Brian could attend.

Murry was difficult, but listening to and writing music was one of the few things that tempered his coarseness. He was particularly proud when pop arranger Jimmy Haskell recorded two of his songs, "Fiesta Day Polka" and "Hide My Tears," in the early 1950s. Later, the Bachelors recorded his inane "Two-Step Side-Step," which was subsequently featured by Lawrence Welk and his orchestra on a radio program originating from Santa Monica's Aragon Ballroom. But as hard as he tried, his songs were just too schmaltzy for the rapidly evolving pop market, and except for a few tunes issued as 78-rpm singles, Murry's music went unnoticed.

At home, music became Murry's sole emotional connection to his children — a rare gift bestowed with unrestricted love. "I remember that music was always present," Carl told journalist Geoffrey Himes in 1983. "We always had a couple of pianos and a jukebox in the house. We had a garage that my dad fixed up into a den. We'd all get around the piano; my mom would play, and later Brian started to play. By age 10, he was already playing great boogie-woogie piano!"

Brian also sang in the choir at Inglewood Covenant Church, where the director discovered that, even with his hearing loss, the boy had perfect pitch. He blended nicely with the main choir, and his clear soprano voice projected beautifully when he sang solo. While it was apparent that he was the one blessed with an ear for music, Brian encouraged Dennis and Carl to join him in singing hymns. "The three brothers used to harmonize in bed," Brian remembered. "We'd all sleep in the same room. We used to sing this song, 'Come Down, Come Down from the Ivory Tower.' We developed a little blend, which aided us when we started getting into the Beach Boys stuff."

Music became Brian's escape. He mastered and outgrew his child-sized accordion, and when the family budget precluded the purchase of a larger one, he turned to the family piano, spending hours picking out his favorite tunes by ear. He was a good listener with an interest in a wide variety of music; among his favorite artists were Roy Rogers, Carl Perkins, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Henry Mancini, and Rosemary Clooney.

Brian's tastes were also genteel; he revered George Gershwin, as well as the cultivated sound of the top male jazz vocal quartet of the day: the Four Freshmen. Like "Rhapsody in Blue," the Freshmen remained a constant favorite of Brian's and they provided the leitmotif of Brian's musical life.

His interest in the group was obsessive, and no afternoon was complete without a stop at Melody Music or Lishon's Record Store in Hawthorne, where he could sit in a listening booth for hours auditioning the latest Four Freshmen records. The sessions became Brian's musical primer — the best investment his afterschool-job money could buy.

Brian once explained how the abuse he suffered made him turn inward, and how he used music and the Four Freshmen to learn the art of vocal arranging. "Because my dad was so cruel to me, I turned to music," he said. "That was the only friend that I had; I turned to music as a companion. I would get home from high school — in my eleventh year of high school — and go to the kitchen, get some milk or orange juice, and go right downstairs to my bedroom where I had my hi-fi set, piano and my Hammond organ. I'd throw on a Four Freshmen record, and pick up where I'd left off the day before. The whole point is that I never quit! I got the whole arrangement done — verbatim — from their record [until] I knew that what was on my piano was exactly [what was] on their record. I knew it, 'cause I could hear it."

"As a twelve-year-old, he was heavy into the jazz vocals of the Four Freshmen," Carl Wilson said. "He would listen to their records and play the harmonies on the piano. What he would do is sit at the piano and figure out each part. Then he would teach Mom and me a part. He would sing the third part, record the three of us singing together, and then he would sing to the playback to hear the fourth part."

The Wilson family sing-alongs helped unite the family, which often included the Love clan. "We loved all the songs with falsetto and bass parts," says Mike Love. "Songs like 'Speedo' by the Cadillacs, and 'Hully Gully' by the Olympics were among our favorites. I would sing the bass, Brian the high, and Carl the middle part. Maureen or my Aunt Audree would take up the fourth part. It was always a search to find the person to sing that fourth part with us. It wasn't a formal group at the time — it was just me and Brian getting together at his house or mine."

The formation of the Beach Boys sprang from these impromptu gatherings. The main proponents of the idea were Brian and his high school football teammate Al Jardine. Born in Lima, Ohio, on September 3, 1942, Jardine moved to Hawthorne as a youngster and was the starting fullback on the high school football team. An avid Kingston Trio fan, Jardine sang with the Islanders, a local folk group. He and Brian became friends during the 1957 football season, and they rekindled their friendship at El Camino College in 1960.

Seeking members for their group, Brian and Al turned to Carl Wilson, who, in addition to playing guitar, had a mellifluous vocal tone similar to Brian's. They also invited Mike Love, who had a knack for writing lyrics. At the time, Love — who had recently married — was supporting himself by pumping gas at a local filling station. He was also spending an increasing amount of time fishing at Redondo Beach with his cousin Dennis, who raved about the surfers invading the Manhattan Beach coastline.

Surf's Up

Although Brian hadn't considered including him in the band, Audree intervened, and Dennis — the least musically inclined Wilson brother — was welcomed to the fold. At the time, Brian didn't realize that his brother's all-consuming habit, surfing, would provide a foundation from which the band could spring. As Carl remembered, Dennis's passion inspired the group's identity and their earliest songs. "Dennis was the only real surfer in the group," he explained. "I tried it, but I was never good, so I gave it up. Dennis was really living it — it was his life.

"Brian drew on Dennis's experiences. I remember Brian drilling Dennis on what was going on — really pumping him for the terminology. Dennis was the embodiment of the Beach Boys; he lived what we were singing about. If it hadn't been for Dennis, the group wouldn't have happened in the same way. I mean, we could have gotten it from magazines like everyone else did, but Dennis was out there doing it. He made it true."

The Southern California surf scene that attracted Dennis was a fascinating phenomenon: a rare moment in cultural history that affected everything from music and fashion to travel and lexicon. Introduced to the West Coast in 1907 by Irish-Hawaiian surfer George Freeth, the fad exploded in the late 1950s, spilling into every aspect of the Southern California lifestyle.

"Surf culture was a burgeoning Southern California trend that was taking hold in all areas of pop culture: it affected the way people dressed, the vernacular (surf lingo and slang), cars — everything," says 1960s pop culture historian Hal Lifson, author of Hal Lifson's 1966. "Music became a big part of that subculture. The Southern California music scene consisted of groups like the Challengers, the Tornadoes, and the Ventures — it wasn't four guys in Brooklyn standing around a garbage can warming their hands over a fire, singing doo-wop songs."

Surf music's blistering arrival came in late 1959 via the renegade Dick Dale, better known as the "King of the Surf Guitar." Dale produced a guitar sound unlike any other, and his regional hits "Miserlou" and "Surf Beat" were seminal recordings that helped to establish the genre. For Dale, power was everything: playing live at venues such as the Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa peninsula in Newport Beach, California, he cranked the volume up mercilessly, creating a passionate frenzy among his audience. Under the guitarist's hand, amplifiers burned up and speakers blew out. "The feeling that I was trying to exert through my music was a feeling of vibration and pulsification. I wanted to match the feeling that I had while I was surfing, and I couldn't get that feeling by singing," Dale told surf music expert John Blair. "There was a tremendous amount of power I felt while surfing, and the feeling of power was simply transferred from myself into my guitar when I was playing. I wanted to make the sound harder and more powerful."

The raw punch of Dale's sound wasn't lost on Carl, who strove to emulate his style. Dennis, totally absorbed in the surf scene, enthusiastically shared tales about his surfer friends, the girls on the beach, and the throaty roar of the musical sounds he was hearing on the coastline with big brother Brian.

Dennis's gushing convinced Brian that following the surf craze might be the way to go. He gathered everyone together to work out some original songs. "Sometime in late August 1961, my brothers Carl and Dennis, my cousin Mike, and our friend Al Jardine and I sat in our den trying to write a song about surfing," Brian explained in 1964. "Actually, Mike and I ended up writing the song several days later. It was called 'Surfin'.' We really didn't accomplish much that night, but it was probably the most significant evening in our whole lives — it was the first group gathering of what is now known as the Beach Boys."

The Beach Boys

The band's debut came over the 1961 Labor Day weekend. With Audree and Murry Wilson away on vacation, the boys let loose. Fueled by Dennis's prodding (plus two hundred dollars left by Murry for essentials, and some additional funding from Al's mom, Virginia Jardine), Brian and Al rented the instruments, amplifiers, and microphones needed to record "Surfin'."

For three days, the quintet (along with thirteen-year-old neighbor David Marks), recorded take after take on Brian's reel-to-reel tape recorder. Murry arrived home and exploded upon learning that the boys had squandered the money. But the music worked its magic, and he softened upon hearing the song, sheepishly admitting "they were on to something." To show his support, he arranged for a demo session at the home studio of his music publisher and friend, Hite Morgan of Guild Music.

Using an Ampex 200 tape machine, Morgan recorded "Surfin'," and the boys' rendition of two Morgan family ballads: "Luau" (penned by son Bruce) and "Lavender" (written by wife Dorinda) on September 15, 1961. The instrumentation was sparse, the vocals handled by Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al Jardine, and Mike Love, who sang to Carl's lone acoustic guitar. Pleased with the results, Morgan scheduled additional time at World Pacific Studios in Hollywood. The October 3 session yielded additional takes of "Surfin'" and "Luau." Believing that "Surfin'" could be a hit, Morgan arranged to have it issued as a single on Herb Newman's Candix Records.

The group elected to call themselves the Pendletones, in honor of Dick Dale's Del-Tones and the Pendleton shirts that were popular with the surf crowd. At the last minute, however, a conflict with another band using that name forced a change. As a substitute, record distributor Russ Regan came up with "the Beach Boys." "Surfin'" was released on December 8, 1961, and Newman immediately delivered a copy to KFWB radio, where it was quickly voted the station's top single in a listener poll.

Within three weeks, "Surfin'" shot to number 33 on KFWB's "Fabulous Forty" playlist; it stayed there for three months, topping out at number 3. In early 1962 the song emerged in the 118th spot on a list of records bubbling under Billboard's Hot 100. Then the last week of January saw Cashbox magazine select the platter as the Hit Pick of the Week. The Beach Boys were stunned. "Dennis was so thrilled, because he was living it," Carl said. "He went to school and his friends said, 'We were on our way home from the beach, totally exhausted from riding the waves all day. We heard your record come on, and it turned us on so much that we went back to the beach!'"


Excerpted from Wouldn't It Be Nice by Charles L. Granata. Copyright © 2017 Charles L. Granata. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Revised Edition vi

Foreword Tony Asher xiii

Preface xviii

Early History 1

Fresh Sounds 14

Turning Points 24

Writing the Album 49

The Making of Pet Sounds 93

Pet Sounds Arrives 167

Brian's In-Between Years (1967-1990) 186

Small Steps (The 1990s) 201

Pet Sounds Revisited (1990-2002) 205

The Legend Lives On 219

Epilogue 224

An Interview Mark Linett 230

Acknowledgments 244

Selected Bibliography 251

Lyric Credits and Permissions 254

Index 256

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Wouldn't It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been eyeing this title since it was announced, and lo and behold I found a copy of the British version at HMV in London while on a business trip (it has the same cover but a different title). I read it on the trip home and though I was familar with Granata's work (from his book on Frank Sinatra), I was awed by its thorough analysis of how Brian Wilson made the best music of his life. As a musician, I appreciated the lucid 'start to finish' description of how Pet Sounds came to be, and the detailed information provided by the writers and musicians. Although I am familiar with the story (what musician isn't?) no one book has ever brought the whole story together as Mr. Granata has here. Beach Boys devotees will be familiar with the Pet Sounds Sessions CD set, and while the booklets included in that set were revealing they pale in comparison to the cohesive story found in this book. Instead of doing what the editors did on the Pet Sounds box set (simply reprinting every interview with every musician - ad nauseum repetitions and verbal stumblings included), the author has selected the most salient points and emphasized them with pertinent quotes that support each topic he discusses. With major commentary from lyricist Tony Asher and others who participated in the sessions, Granata's fresh approach results in one of the most compelling and enjoyable reads on Brian Wilson and his music. Unlike other Beach Boys books that reflect way too much of the writer's self-absorption (the horrid 'Add Some Music to Your Day') or ones that concentrate more on the sensational aspect of the Beach Boys ('Heroes and Villains'), this one hits the mark squarely in the center, focusing on Brian's genius, and how he managed to make his musical ideas a reality. My only gripe is that I wished Granata had included more of the technical details relating to recording and the studios that Brian used. Kudos to Charles Granata for FINALLY bringing disparate elements of the Pet Sounds story together in a readable and erudite volume. This is destined to become THE word on what is definitley the ultimate musician's album. I agree wholeheartedly with Bruce Johnston, who is quoted on the cover: this book is 'Intelligently researched and beautifully written.' in a nut shell: musicians and Brian Wilson fans will LOVE it.