BRIAN WILSON: God’s Messenger

“When I Grow Up (To Be A Man).”
“When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” was inspired about what it was gonna be like to grow up. Will I like the things then as I did now? I wrote that in my early twenties. As I look back on that I am happy with my life now and I didn’t think I would be.

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“Please Let Me Wonder.”
I wrote that at my apartment in West Hollywood. As soon as I finished I felt I had to record it so I called up my engineer, Chuck Britz, and woke him up. “Please Let Me Wonder” was recorded at 3:30 in the morning. I drove to the studio in the middle of the night and recorded it. That song was done as tribute to Phil Spector’s music. It definitely a good straight ahead feel to it.

“God Only Knows.”
Tony Asher and I tried to write something very spiritually. It’s got a melody similar to the song (recites lyric to “The Sound Of Music”), “I hear the sound of music…” (Sings lyrics to “God Only Knows”) “I may not always love you…” It was similar to it. Tony came up with the title “God Only Knows.” I was scared they’d ban playing it on the radio because of the title but they didn’t.

I was writing more in a soul/r&b bag. The horns were conceived as a Phil Spector kind of a horn thing. “Darlin’ was for Three Dog Night (Author’s note: the band was called Redwood at the time) They recorded it and said, “No, you can have it” so I gave it to Carl to sing. That song took about a week to write.

“Do It Again”
“Do It Again” was written at Mike’s house in Beverly Hills. He and I wrote that song together in about 45 minutes. It came very fast. He came up with that lyric so fast I couldn’t believe it.

“This Whole World.”
“This Whole World” was written in about an hour-and-a-half. One night about two-in-the-morning I got up and went to my white Baldwin organ and I was playing around and thinking about the love of this whole world and that’s what inspired me to write the song.

I wrote it with my father. He heard Joey Bishop say on TV, “We’ve got to breakaway but we’ll be right back.” And that’s how he got the idea for a song called “Breakaway.” He wrote some of the music but I wrote most of it and he wrote most of the lyrics. That’s a beautiful song. I think it might be one of my most underrated songs.

“Surf’s Up.”
That was written with Van Dyke Parks in 1966 and it was done on drugs. We took speed pills. “Surf’s Up” was probably the worst vocal I ever sang.

“‘Til I Die.”
That was written to try and tell people how small I felt. “Til I Die” was more or less an achievement in sound. That song was recorded in 1970. After it was done I took a certain part of where I was singing and I made a mono tape loop and put my voice on the tape loop. I sent the loop into an echo chamber. I went into the echo chamber and listened to my voice in a circle and walked out of there in another world.


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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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