BRIAN WILSON: God’s Messenger

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Many people cite Pet Sounds as a landmark Beach Boys album; besides that record, what Beach Boys LP do you feel has been overlooked?
Summer Days and Summer Nights and The Beach Boys Love You are two of my favorites. Summer Days and Summer Nights has a really good horn sound to it, really good rockin’ tracks…really good rock and roll music. The Beach Boys Love You had a lot of really nice stuff on it. “Ding Dang” was my favorite from that. [starts singing “Ding Dang”]. I wrote that with Roger McGuinn. He wrote [starts singing “I love a girl/I love so madly/I treat her so fine”…]. He wrote that. I also like “The Night Was So Young.” “Johnny Carson” is another favorite. It was just a song about Johnny Carson. I used to watch his show all the time.

What songs move you to tears?
When I first heard “Too Much Heaven,” I was very moved by it…the harmonies…and I cried when I heard it. It was emotional for me. It’s like an evergreen; it never grows old in my head. I first heard the Bee Gees music in the ‘60s, early ‘70s. I always liked the Bee Gees very much. “How Deep Is Your Love” is another one that I think is really great…I turn the radio up a little bit when it comes on. Another emotional one for me is Rosemary Clooney’s version of “Come On To My House.” That brought tears to my eyes. I liked her sweet, loving voice. I also liked “Hey There” by Rosemary Clooney. I like The Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes.” A song by The Four Freshmen, “It’s A Blue World,” made me cry. As far as putting together harmonies, they were real influential to me. I learned to make four part harmonies from them. I had to work at it, and I finally got it.

Lastly, can you select a few lesser known Brian Wilson songs that deserve rediscovery?
Yeah, there are a few… “The Night Was So Young,” “Ding Dang” and “Wild Honey.” I also like “I’ll Bet He’s Nice.” That’s a nice one.

Share some brief comments about some of your hits: “Don’t Worry Baby.”
I wrote that with Roger Christian and it took me two days to write it. I started out with the verse idea and then wrote the chorus. It was a very simple and beautiful song. It’s a really heart and soul song, I really did feel that in my heart.

Some say it’s about a car and others say it’s about a girl, who’s right?

It’s both. It’s about a car and a woman.

“The Warmth Of The Sun.”
That song was inspired by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The day he was killed Mike (Love) and I went into my office where I had a piano and wrote a song in his memory. That came quickly.

“Help Me Rhonda.”
We did two versions of “Help Me Rhonda.” We did one with the ukulele and we did one with guitars. We chose to use the guitar version. I heard myself singing lead on it originally and then I turned it over to Al. I produced the Beach Boys so I decided who would sing lead. I just had a sixth sense about who should sing what songs. Some of the songs I wrote specifically for Mike, Al and Carl to sing.

“California Girls.”
I came up the introduction first. I’m still really proud of that introduction. It has a classical feel. I wrote the song “California Girls” in the same key as the introduction. It took me some time. I wanted to write a song that had a traditional country and western left hand piano riff, like an old country song from the early ‘50s. I wanted to get something that had kind of a jumpy feeling to it in the verses.

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  1. This is about the best recent Brian Wilson interview I’ve read! Thank you. You really got him to open up. Nice job.
    It’s interesting to read what he has to say about some of his lesser-known songs, especially Breakaway. I wonder why he doesn’t like his vocal on Surfs Up.

  2. Thank you, Ken, for such good questions. Brian is a national treasure, and hearing him talk about his craft is still inspiring to this day. And I agree with Brian’s assessment of “Wild Honey” being a great song. I had that on a 45, the flip side of “Barbara Ann”, as I recall.

  3. great great interview, you can tell that brian is so relaxed and composed. Loved hearing his upto date take on these fantastic songs .
    Monty Borthwick, Portsmouth, England.

  4. Wow…what an amazingly honest interview! I’ve only just discovered the song “Till I Die” and really like it a lot. It gives this aspiring songwriter something to aspire to…

  5. Thank you so much for this interview. This is the best interview of Brian Wilson I have read. Very insightful – and you asked some great questions. Thanks again.

  6. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the man? How lucky we are to have the combination of a man that sings such great falsetto and writes such fantastic music and produces such great music with his friends and brothers. What harmony! Some of his songs just stop people cold. Right in the middle of a song he’ll change key. Or he’ll take the 3rd and make it the root. Or he’ll draw everything in the song up a half note as in “God only knows.” I knew the beach boys had some great stuff still going one even during early 70’s when metal was getting its due. When you look at the stuff being done today, we listeners are being ripped off. Thank God for Brian, Carl and the boys.

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