The Story Behind “Wendy” by The Beach Boys and How It Was Brian Wilson’s Attempt to “Flatter” The Four Seasons

A continuing theme throughout Brian Wilson’s career has been family. Comprised of three brothers, a cousin, and a high school classmate, The Beach Boys rocketed to stardom in the early ’60s by singing about cars, girls, and the summer sun. Wilson’s father, Murry, a songwriter, producer, and music publisher, acted as the band’s first manager and helped secure their recording contract with Capitol Records. Wilson’s daughters, Carnie and Wendy, went on to be two-thirds of Wilson Phillips, who scored big hits in the ’90s.

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Meanwhile, Wilson’s Uncle Charlie taught him how to play boogie-woogie piano, and the teenager would routinely work out the vocal parts of Four Freshmen records on the keyboard after school. Family get-togethers, particularly around Christmas time, would involve singing. Brian’s younger brothers, Dennis and Carl, would join cousins Mike and Maureen Love in singing the vocal parts laid out by the aspiring arranger. Those events were the foundation of what would become the signature Beach Boys sound.

A local hit with a song called “Surfin'” led to national success with “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” The Beach Boys recorded and released songs as fast as possible, chasing the next big hit. After several hit albums, the band released All Summer Long, including their first American No. 1 single, “I Get Around.” Another song on the album garnered enough radio play to reach the charts, even though it was never officially released as a single. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Wendy” by The Beach Boys.

The Four Seasons

People often cite the back-and-forth competition/rivalry between The Beatles and The Beach Boys, but Brian Wilson was also paying attention to another group consistently on the charts at the time, The Four Seasons. Just as The Beach Boys burst onto the scene in Southern California, The Four Seasons were charting the same course but from Newark, New Jersey. Producer/songwriter Bob Crewe worked with the East Coast quartet and had success with “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Rag Doll.”

Brian Wilson wanted to pay homage to their harmony style after including “Surfers Rule” on their 1963 Surfer Girl album, where the closing lines included a jab at the group, Surfers rule, Four Seasons, you better believe it. The following year, the Jersey Boys responded with “No Surfin’ Today” on their Born to Wander album. In 2007, Brian told author Harvey Kubernik the song “Wendy” was not written about his daughter Wendy, who was born much later. Instead, he said, “It was an attempt to flatter The Four Seasons. I wanted to try and imitate The Four Seasons in a way they would like to hear it. ‘Cause I like Bob Crewe and the way they do their vocals.”

Wendy, Wendy, what went wrong? Oh, so wrong
We went together for so long
I never thought a guy could cry
‘Til you made it with another guy
Oh, Wendy, Wendy left me alone (hurts so bad)

An Album Cut

The opening guitar/bass/drums introduction to the song is by design. Wilson wanted to musically reflect the narrator’s fumbling for just the right words to express his feelings about losing his girl’s love. She’s leaving him for another, whose future looks awful dim, causing him to hurt so bad. The band performed “Wendy” on The Ed Sullivan Show along with its current single, “I Get Around.” Enough radio stations played the album cut to push “Wendy” to No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The singer wrote about the experience in his 2016 autobiography, I Am Brian Wilson: “When we played ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Wendy’ on Ed Sullivan in September, that cinched it. We were in striped shirts and white pants, an outfit that would become kind of like our uniform. It was The Beach Boys’ equivalent of The Beatles’ mop tops. That’s how we were remembered. The stage was a trip. Someone had the idea of putting roadsters next to us. We played around them. I couldn’t really absorb any of it then because I was performing, but I have seen it since. I’ve always loved the way the girls screamed when they showed a closeup of Dennis at the drums.”

Wendy, Wendy, don’t lose your head
(Lose your head)
Wendy don’t believe a word he says, ooh ooh
I can’t picture you with him
His future looks awful dim
Oh, Wendy, Wendy left me alone (hurts so bad)

Boom! to Bang!

In 2000, guitarist/vocalist Al Jardine told Goldmine magazine, “We did ‘Wendy’ in 10 minutes, and it was like ‘Boom!’ That was a big song. [Brian] stopped doing one thing and went right to that, and it was like, ‘Bang!’ Come to think of it, maybe the track took 10 minutes to do, and then the vocal track didn’t take much longer. We laughed a lot in the studio. They were great times.”

I thought we had our love down pat
Guess I was wrong
The farthest thing from my mind
Was the day that I’d wake up to find
My Wendy, Wendy left me alone

Drummer Dennis Wilson died tragically in 1983 when he drowned at Marina Del Rey. The rear cover of 1964’s All Summer Long featured personal messages from each Beach Boy. Dennis left a remarkably prophetic one, “They say I live a fast life. Maybe I just like a fast life driving my Stingray and XKE, playing my drums, and meeting so many girls and guys (especially girls). I wouldn’t give up this life for anything in the world. It won’t last forever, either, but the memories will.”

Wendy, Wendy left me alone (hurts so bad)
Wendy, Wendy left me alone (hurts so bad)
Wendy, Wendy left me alone

“East Meets West”

In September 1984, The Four Seasons and The Beach Boys teamed up to release “East Meets West,” the flip side to The Four Seasons’ “Rhapsody.” On “East Meets West,” Brian sings on the outro, Two different drummers, playing side by side … You know the best of them will survive.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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