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Making The Album
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Brian Wilson (1988) R2 79960 Warner Archives/Rhino

This section of the "Brian Wilson" album was not included in either the original Liner Notes or the 2000 reissue. This was taken from a Press Kit from 1988. I purchased it at Rockaway Records in Silverlake, California.

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The Making Of The Album

There’s an old saying that goes: “Nobody wants to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby.” But when an album as important as Brian Wilson comes out, once you’ve heard “the baby,” you’ll want to know how it came to be.

As the album’s executive producer Dr. Eugene Landy explains, the record’s genesis dates back to late 1983 “when Brian and I started writing. The first songs were therapeutic, but very quickly, we were doing real writing together. In 1984, Brian worked on the last Beach Boys album, but it became clear that the Beach Boys didn’t appreciate his gift nor were they able to see that he was back and once again able to take over. When they hired Steve Levine as producer, Brian and I talked it over and decided that it was time for him to pursue his solo career and make a solo album.”

Flashforward to January, 1987. Sire President Seymour Stein recalls meeting Brian. “We needed somebody to introduce Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller at the 2nd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner. At a directors meeting, I suggested that we ask Brian Wilson. Everyone was thrilled by that prospect, because Brian just isn’t seen on stage very much.”

“Brian accepted,” Seymour continues, and that night, “by coincidence, Brian and I gave our speeches back-to-back.” As Seymour watched from the wings, Brian went out to induct Leiber and Stoller. Brian began by singing a verse of “On Broadway,” a moving a cappella vocal that brought tears to the eyes of industry veterans and rock superstars in attendance … an incredibly poignant moment and clearly one of the legitimate highlights of the superstar-studded night.

But more than that, Brian’s heartwarming appearance engendered some serious thinking, particularly from Seymour Stein, who was so determined to make an impression on Brian that he called Andy Paley (once a Sire Records artists and friend) in London for advice. “Andy fed me a bunch of lines, told me what songs to tell Brian I liked, not my obvious favorites like ‘God Only Knows’ but real obscure ones like ‘Male Ego’ (written by Brian and Dr. Landy a few years earlier), and ‘Solar System.’”

Intrigued that anybody in the room had even heard of those songs, Brian invited Seymour to sit down; Seymour’s “shanghai” worked, but only because they discovered a common ground – they both know and love songs of every imaginable vintage. A new friendship was born.

That same evening, another member of the audience, Warner Brothers president Lenny Waronker, allowed a long dormant fantasy to be reactivated. “Brian’s speech was so wonderfully sweet.” Lenny recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘My God, maybe there can be more stuff like he used to do … maybe he should do a record. It was clear that Brian was one the way back; this wasn’t the Brian Wilson of the “Brian’s Back’ hype of 1976.”

Lenny said nothing to anybody about his reverie, just sat back and fondly remembered the long ago time “when I was just starting out as a producer, and Brian was working with my good friend Van Dyke Parks. I loved the things they were working on, like ‘Heroes and Villains’ and ‘Cabin Essence.’ I had never forgotten how great that music was, or how much I loved ‘Cool, Cool Water,’ another incredible piece of music” Brian had recorded when the Beach Boys were signed to Brother/Reprise in 1970.

“Flying back from the Hall of Fame dinner. I was thinking how wonderful it would be if Brian could do a record, and he could do a bunch of things like ‘Cool, Cool Water,’ and we’d get ‘em played on all those wave stations, a new age record with Brian Wilson.”

In the darkened cabin, Lenny looked out the window and then towards the aisle, where he was startled to see Brian Wilson sitting there, headphones in place, playing his portable Casio. Lenny smiled to himself and turned away not wanting to interrupt Brian.

“When I got back to L.A.,” Lenny continues, “Seymour called me and said, in passing, that he was thinking of signing Brian. I said, ‘Great! That’s a brilliant idea. As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking about the same thing.’ And I told Seymour what I thought, about how I wanted to make a record filled with ‘Cool, Cool Water’ type of tracks. And Seymour said, ‘Why don’t we do half songs and half’ what I call ‘arts and crafts.’

“That was the beginning. Seymour, of course, moves much quicker than I do. He picked up the ball and made the deal.”

“About a month after the Hall of Fame dinner,” Seymour recounts, “I went to L.A. to listen to his stockpile of songs and whittled it down to 15-18 really strong ones.” Quickly realizing that Brian had plenty of solid material, Seymour gave the go-ahead. “I had a vision of making an album that would be to the music world what ‘The Miracle Worker’ had been to the screen.”

Seymour’s analogy was appropriate. It was miraculous that Brian Wilson had reached a point where one could seriously talk about him making a solo album. And the credit for that must go to Dr. Landy and Brian. Very simply, psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy was enlisted in 1983 to save Brian’s life; that’s when Dr. Landy and Brian began the hard work of getting back into emotional, physical, intellectual and creative shape so that Brian could enjoy living life and creating.

Having rescued Brian from the brink and understanding that making music was Brian’s raison d’etre, Dr. Landy set out to return Brian to his rightful perch, stop a piano stool in the recording studio. In the 1984 and 1985, collaborating with Dr. Landy and a long-time friend Alexandra Morgan, Brian began writing regularly for the first time since 1976 (the year of Dr. Landy’s initial association with Brian, which resulted in 15 Big Ones.) At the same time, Brian returned to the stage, appearing at selected Beach Boys concerts; Brian also made his performing debut as a solo artist at several charity concerts in the L.A. area.

Throughout that period, Dr. Landy pointed out, Brian continued to write at a prolific rate and very gently, but persistently, Brian was reintroduced to the new technology. “Even if it was just a $15 an hour demo studio, Brian began getting used to the idea of recording again.”

In December of ’86, Brian made his most impressive public appearances to date, singing three songs (and getting two standing ovations) at the National Academy of Songwriters annual salute, and when the Beach Boys celebrated their 25th anniversary with a Hawaiian TV special, Brian topped off the show with a brand new anthem, “The Spirit Of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

So by the time the Hall of Fame dinner invitation came in, Brian’s creative resurgence was well under way. Plenty of songs were on tape; Brian was finally ready to make his first solo album.

But while Brian’s creative confidence had been restored, he was concerned that he would have a tough time dealing with the creative and business aspects of a solo career, so when Dr. Landy suggested that Brian make a solo album, he insisted that Dr. Landy produce it with him. Dr. Landy agreed to be the executive producer. As Brian explained it, Dr. Landy would oversee all the social and business aspects which would allow Brian to concentrate on the musical elements of producing. They also agreed that they would confer with each other and agree on all aspects of the album.

So the night of the Hall of Fame dinner, Seymour Stein, Dr. Eugene Landy and Brian Wilson made a deal. Next step – assemble a studio team. Synthesizer programmer Michael Bernard, discovered by Brian’s musical assistant Andy Dean, was first on board. Sire assigned Andy Paley to be it’s A&R man on the project, and after a number of false starts, engineer Mark Linett took over the board. Working on a regular basis with this team, the Brian lead studio quartet put down a solid dozen songs in April and May of 1987.

Michael Bernard describes a typical day in the studio. “Brian would come in, say ‘Today, we’re recording ‘Nighttime.’ He already had in his head the whole picture of what it was going to be like, and he would put down the different sounds. The way he would go about layering things, his choice of sounds and instrument was different from what I was used to, but it was really interesting to watch him work. Most people put down drums, bass and chords first, but Brian might go from the drums to horns to strings to a lead vocal. One of the first sounds he asked for was a nuclear explosion to put on the beginning of ‘Doin’ Time on Planet Earth.’”

Brian, who was really a novice in synthesizer programming, found an able teacher in Bernard. “I explained to him what could be done, and he got the idea, thought it was neat that you could get any sound you wanted. Just to get him familiar with the synthesizer, I showed him how to do certain things. He has a DX-7 at home, so he was aware of some of the capabilities of the equipment, but I went through my sound library to give him the ideas of the possibilities of it. And as we worked more and more, and he became more familiar with what the sampler could do and what sounds were available, he would go home thinking about those sounds and come in and say, ‘Let’s start off with that saxophone sound we had a week ago.’”

Michael Bernard points out that Brian took the lead. “Brian always had an idea of what he wanted for layering. Once in a while, he would get to a point where he would say, ‘I’ve got another line; I want you to come up with an interesting sounding patch on the keyboard.’ And I would go on my own and try to figure out what might work that Brian would like. That’s where it became difficult because sometimes he would be conventional and other times he would want off-the-wall sounds. Whatever he picked, it came out great.”

Brian’s ability to absorb the new technology was incredibly quick, Bernard notes. “As I was showing him some sounds, he’d go ‘Wait a minute.’ He would hear a line in his head that went with that sound, so he wanted to put that line down on tape right away.”

And Brian’s legendary love of new sounds found new flower in the infinite library of the sampler. “On ‘There’s So Many,’ the part where Brian sings ‘The planets are spinning around.’ He asked me ‘What kind of sound could we put there to give you the feeling that the planets really are spinning around?’ We came up with this light chime which sounds almost like a windchime; it gives a motion effect to the song when you hear it.”

And naturally, from the man who ended his classic Pet Sounds album with barking dogs and a train, non-musical sounds played an important role in this record as Michael Bernard explains. “He really like the sound effects that I could get out of the equipment. On ‘Nightttime,’ for example, he said ‘Do you have any sounds that sound like night?’ I played him the crickets, which he loved and then the frog croaking which he put in. in general, he would ask for sounds that were visual.”

Because Brian had the overview of how he wanted each song to sound, Bernard continues, “usually, Brian would work out his whole thing on tape, and then he would turn around and ask what we thought or ask me to put in a certain kind of sound. In the process, if I got an idea, I could suggest it to him. He was open. The general atmosphere was great. If anybody had an idea … none of that was stifled.”

By the late spring of 1987, most of the album had been cut, but, as Dr. Landy recalls, Brian wasn’t satisfied. Because Brian wanted the record to sound modern, he and Dr. Landy decided to bring in a co-producer, somebody who, as Lenny Waronker put it, “could take what Brian had done to the next level.”

Everybody agreed that the person for the job was Russ Titelman, the Grammy® award winning producer who had worked with Brian in 1965 on “Guess I’m Dumb,” Brian’s best non-Beach Boys production and an important record in that it was foreshadowing of the sound that Brian would use the next year on Pet Sounds.

The scene changed from west to east – New York City, June, 1987. Russ Titelman explains the change in Brian Wilson. “When I had worked with him in ’65, he was completely in control, a creative cornucopia, exploding with all music all the time. He still has all the talent, but he needs a little guidance. He used to be a benevolent dictator in the studio; now, his ideas are great, but he needs someone to help organize those ideas.”

Russ points out that “in the studio, I was just trying to lead him in a direction. For instance, when we did ‘There’s So Many,’ I said to him, ‘Do your harmony thing on this.’ And he went into the studio and did it. That’s how we worked together. My job was to egg him on, make him do stuff that maybe he wouldn’t have done, hope we shared the same taste. In  that way, I was helpful, a catalyst.”

That’s not to say that there weren’t difficult moments in the collaboration. Brian and Dr. Landy hired me, and I did what I had to do. I figured, ‘I’ll be strong and do my job, and if they don’t like it, they can fire me.’ We all know from the end product of what Brian did in the ‘old days’ that he’s a genius. So I wasn’t going to allow anybody except Brian to tell me what to do. I’m single-minded when I get into the studio. When we’re working, I don’t really care about personalities. I just want to get the best record. In certain ways, I don’t really care about how people feel. I was sensitive to Brian’s quirkiness and to his feelings about certain things, but after a point, he knows what’s good and he knows what to do. And I know what to do. We’re both professionals. So if he was going off track, I would say ‘This is no good.’ I was very tough about what I thought, made no bones.”

In June, during their first sessions for the album, Titelman recalls a burst of creative energy. “We did about four or five days of great work. In that first week, we finished ‘There’s So Many,’ added a bridge and did some great vocal stuff on ‘Love And Mercy’ … a tremendous amount of work in a few days. It was so exciting. Brian was ‘on it.’ Once he would get going, it was amazing. I’d say, ‘What do you want to do now?’ He’d say, “Get me a horn sound.’ And he’d play it on the emulator, and it would be really great. Or I’d say, ‘Let’s do the background vocals.’ And he’d say, ‘Give me eight tracks.’ And he’d go out into the studio, and in twenty minutes, he would have all the backgrounds done. It was like the old days when you’d finish a whole record in one day.”

In fact, Brian was on such a roll, Dr. Landy recalls, that “on weekends, while everybody else wanted to rest and enjoy New York City, Brian couldn’t wait to get into the studio. Russ had gotten Brian up-to-date in the studio, and on Sundays, Brian wanted to use his new recording knowledge alone, without anybody around. So Brian went in with just the second engineer. On one Sunday, he cut ‘One For The Boys’ and on another, ‘Walkin’ The Line.’”

Like everybody involved in this record, Russ is a fan of Brian’s Beach Boys work, and what he “loved most on those records was this beautiful counterpoint. Bach-like singing on ‘God Only Knows.’ So when we were doing ‘Love And Mercy,’ I said to Brian, ‘Do ‘God Only Knows’ in here.’ And he’d go out in the studio and off the cuff, off the top of his head, come up with these parts and lay them down. He would double ‘em, and it would sound like the Beach Boys. Same thing happened on ‘Melt Away.’ I was always pushing him to do that; it’s his signature. Once he got going, I tried to stay out of the way because he was just doing his stuff, as brilliant as ever.”

What did Russ Titelman bring to the project? Dr. Eugene Landy explains, “Russ gave Brian a crash course in current studio technology, brought him from four track to forty-eight track. He contemporized what Brian had done in L.A., made it work in today’s terms, made Brian comfortable with the machines, so that by the time we left New York, Brian was able to continue the album at this new, higher level. Russ really contributed a tremendous amount to the artistic success of this album.”

In putting Russ’ work in perspective, Lenny Waronker believes that “Russ did a real good job of helping Brian realize the beauty of his music, helped it stand up. Brian hasn’t done this in a long time, and he needed help with the technology. And where it needed some small fixing, Russ was able to show Brian how to do it in a simple way.”

“What I remember most was what Russ said to me early on. I got a call one night from the studio. Russ was so excited. He just kept repeating. ‘There’s nothing to do here. It’s all Brian. All I have to do is help him in a few areas, but it’s his thing.’ Russ sounded so thrilled, telling me that watching Brian work was like magic, a producer’s dream.”

When Lenny heard the results of all the hard work, “the idea that Brian was able to do this after so much time away was really shocking, beyond what anybody could expect. Brian hadn’t been actively involved in the studio in many years, and he really just needed to get back in shape. By the end of the record, he was moving so quickly, like somebody on an exercise program who’s progressing at a really rapid pace. The whole record-making thing came back to him. In some ways, he’s similar to Prince in that he moves quickly.”

And, to everybody’s pleasure, as Lenny points out, “the songs are as if Brian picked up from Pet Sounds and the best of what followed Pet Sounds, and yet somehow, it sounds like a record that was made today.”

Rejoicing in Brian’s reawakened musical gifts, what probably surprised everybody most was Brian’s lyric writing. Lenny Waronker: “We always knew that he wrote the greatest melodies and was a musical genius, but in fact, the lyrical ideas that he has are very, very good. I never realized that Brian was a real, classic songwriter who, given the chance, somehow comes up with these wonderful touching sounds that are bigger than your average song. And behind each one is some very deep thinking.”

The emotional depth of Brian’s music has always been one of its main attractions, and on the solo albums, many of the lyrics come not just from his feelings but from the intellectual searching that has been part of his recovery. Explaining how they originally collaborated lyrically, Dr. Landy recalls that “when we would write, Brian, Alexandra and I would sit around and have these extraordinary philosophical conversations during which Alexandra and I would find out what was on Brian’s mind. He tends to be more ethereal than people comprehend, and Alexandra was able to take the broader aspects of our philosophy and bring them into concrete form lyrically. Alexandra was always able to express Brian’s point of view, to help him say what he wanted to say and express his ideas coherently and poetically.”

Alexandra Morgan remembers that writing with Brian is full of wonderful moments. “The three of us can be having this terrific discussion on life and love and the heavens above and suddenly, Brian will jump up and say, ‘I’ve got to go to the piano,’ and then he’ll come back in ten or fifteen minutes with the sketch of the song. Like on ‘There’s So Many,’ he had the melody and the line ‘The planets are spinning around.’ Eugene and I took it from there.”

“Because I know Brian so well,” Dr. Landy points out, “I am able to sharpen and bring into focus the lyrical images of his songs, so that the lyrics, while not necessarily written by Brian, accurately reflect his thoughts and feelings. For example, we often talk about fantasy, so it’s natural to put that into ‘There’s So Many.’”

There was no typical songwriting session. “Sometimes,” Dr. Landy notes, “Brian would call, ready to write, and he would say, ‘Give me a title.’ Then, he’d put together a rough lyric, and modem it over to me, and we’d go back and forth. Sometimes, we would write on an airplane, with two headphones hooked into a Casio keyboard.”

Russ Titleman was astounded by both the speed and quality of the lyric writing. “When we were finishing up recording ‘Night Time,’ there was a lyric that wasn’t perfect. I said to Brian, ‘This is kind of weak.’ So he thought for a second and came up with ‘Downtown where the sun beats strong / Eight hours is a little too long.’ And in ‘Melt Away,’ at the last minute, he came up with ‘I feel just like an island / Until I see you smilin’.’ If I said, ‘I think those lines could be better or the vocals could be better,’ Brian would do it on the spot, take ten or fifteen minutes. Always great stuff. Unbelievable.”

The New York sojourn a success, Brian spent the rest of the summer polishing the tracks and vocals, and by September, had just about completed what looked like a very good first solo album.

It was at this point that Lenny Waronker decided to make his presence felt on the creative side. Dr. Landy had invited Lenny to the studio earlier and then Brian re-invited him again, saying “come on in and get your feet wet.” Lenny knew that over twenty years had passed since the world had seriously paid attention to Brian … twenty years had passed since Brian had made an entire album worthy of serious attention. Lenny believed that everybody would ask one question – “Was the album worth the wait?” And that’s why Lenny grew determined to get Brian to compose something unique like “Rio Grande.”

“My background with Brian,” Lenny explains “was loving the musicality of the hits, from ‘Surfer Girl’ to ‘California Girls,’ being amazed by Pet Sounds and the ‘Good Vibrations,’ which was, to me, the best single ever. It broke new ground; it was and is so bold. There are always moments as you grow up in the record business that affect you , and hearing ‘Good Vibrations’ for the first time was one of them. I was stunned by it.”

Because of his creative association in 1966 – 1967 with Van Dyke Parks (Brian’s Smile collaborator), Lenny was exposed to Brian’s singular working process and “was clearly taken by what he was attempting to do on that record. All the unreleased ‘Smile’ things, like the ‘Heroes And Villains’ Indian chanting, inspired ‘Rio Grande’ because I never forgot what I heard twenty years ago.”

In 1970, the Beach Boys were signed to Reprise, and Lenny remembers being knocked out by “Cool Cool Water,” a Smile relic that Brian refashioned for the Sunflower LP. “I just felt,” Lenny emphasizes “that if Brian was going to make a record it would have to include something experimental, like the things he was doing before he went into hibernation. We had to have one.”

What surprised Lenny was that when he approached Brian with the idea of trying something different, “Brian sort of resisted it. I thought it was going to be natural, that he would just go right for it. But, in fact, I think that the times he worked in that style were very painful for him, and he obviously wasn’t anxious to relive them. As a matter of fact, we had a heated conversation. With Brian, a heated conversation is really one-sided, because you’re the one that becomes heated.”

“I was literally begging him to forget the pop ditties and ‘song’ songs. There were different times I talked to Brian about this. Brian would say ‘OK,’ and he would have a concept, like ‘California,’ but when he played it for me, it always ended up being a conventional song.”

Part of the problem was that a record company president had never asked Brian for anything except its. And now Lenny Waronker was trying to convince Brian to take a big creative chance.

“Lenny,” Dr. Landy insists, “should get a major credit for taking a major risk. He said, ‘I want some art.’ He could have had two more songs instead, two more chances at hits, and instead, he demanded that Brian stretch out artistically. ‘Rio Grande’ is 20% of the album, and it isn’t something you can dance to. Lenny should be congratulated for pushing Brian in that direction.”

Brian, whose musical reputation was on the line, calmly recalls that “Lenny wanted me to get a little bit into that kind of Smile bag, and I did. But at first, it was uncomfortable for me.”

It was a pivotal meeting in late September that finally set “Rio Grande” in motion. Around the roaring fireplace at Brentwood’s Country Mart, Lenny Waronker “scolded” Brian. “I said, ‘I’ve had it. I’m not interested in songs. You’ve got to give me a piece of music. You have to try. You have nothing to lose.’

“Brian got flustered, asked for an idea, a thought. I said ‘Write a cowboy song.’ The reason for that was there was virtually no way that could be a typical, conventional song. It forced his hand. It certainly wasn’t an original idea of mine, because ‘Heroes And Villains’ was ‘Cowboys and Indians.’ But it seemed like the only way to get started.

“And then Brian said, ‘Give me a title.’ And I got flustered, because I’m not good at that. So we started flipping through some movie books that I had bought that morning, and I thought of my favorite westerns. ‘Red Rive’ came up, which he liked, and then ‘Rio Grande,’ which he grabbed onto and kept.”

On October 1st, the day a huge earthquake rocked the L.A. area, Brian Wilson with the assistance of Andy Paley began composing “Rio Grande.” Within two weeks, they had the basic musical framework, and then Brian went into the studio to record it. Michael Bernard: “He sat down and played the whole thing, from front to back, just singing and playing his tack piano. Then, we started layering on top of that.”

As Dr. Landy notes, before there was “Rio Grande,” Brian had been working on a piece of music called “Life’s Sweet,” Brian’s take on the cycles of life. Michael Bernard points out that “as it changed from being about life to ‘Rio Grande,’ it started to take on more of a three-dimensional effect. And so Brian asked me about sound effects to set up moods for different parts of the song. He wanted thunder and rain, which I had, but then he wanted separate water drops, a few here and there that you would hear like a big drop of water in a puddle. I went looking through sound effects libraries for those, and I found ‘em.” Before October was over, a rough track had been recorded.

Andy Paley, who co-wrote and co-produced “Rio Grande” with Brian, reveals Brian’s philosophy behind the suite. “Brian was really into writing this as a survival thing, the idea of a little man against the big men and making it on your own … the misunderstandings that must have happened between travelers on the same trail and how scary that must have been.”

Explaining their lyrical method, Andy points out that “Brian loves to play ‘word association.’ He would write a word down and hand me the pad, and I had to write a word down and hand it back to him. We got some phrases from that.”

Naturally, Brian Wilson’s “Rio Grande” isn’t quite the same as the famous river. How did that happen? Andy Paley: “Many times, during the writing, we stopped and said, ‘Were there Cherokees on the Rio Grande?’ Probably not. But we liked the sound of Cherokee, so we used it. We didn’t stop and say, ‘What are we talking about? That never really happened.’ That kind of thinking stifles creativity. We just went along and said that we’ll go back and patch it up later, but later, we heard it and said, ‘Why fix it? It sounds cool.’”

Throughout, Brian’s ability to create mood with music came to the fore, particularly on segments like “Night Bloomin’ Jasmine,” when Brian would just get into a scary mood and write the melody in one take sitting at the keyboard. Lenny Waronker adds that the “Rain Dance” section “has that same kind of funny/scary Hitchcock-type paranoia. The vocal gymnastics, the ascending and descending notes, are all designed to make the listener feel what Brian is feeling, the theme of ‘Rio Grande’ which is all about fear and survival. Brian and Andy wrote the music and lyrics to creat images and emotions that would express Brian’s innermost feelings, the way his best music always has.”

“So, on one hand, you have the lonely traveler, going down the ‘Rio Grande,’ afraid of what might happen to him, and then you finally get to the ‘Take Me Home’ section which is Brian reaching for safety and comfort. So the suite has a story, even though Brian didn’t know for sure where it was leading when he started. He just followed his instincts down the river.”

As Dr. Landy adds, “the original concept of ‘Life’s Sweet’ was to use a river as a metaphor of life. So when Lenny and Brian came up with ‘Rio Grande,’ the same philosophy and feelings behind ‘Life’s Sweet’ were utilized in the writing of ‘Rio Grande.’”

Curiously, as complex as ‘Rio Grande’ sounds, it wasn’t a difficult project for Brian. Lenny Waronker: “It really wasn’t that tough. Brian’s ideas were immediate; it was actually fun. That kind of musical excursion is fun. We don’t get that often nowadays. This is a big canvas, and Brian, who has this incredible gift, has somehow put together a record that pays attention to almost all of the neat things, the different periods in his career, and he’s done it in a modern way, ending up with something that is more than ambitious. I found myself looking forward to going into the studio with him because he moved so quickly.”

“When you’re with somebody who is that inspired, it’s so great. He would say, ‘I’ve got a thought,’ and he’d go out and do it in the studio or use the emulator. Boom! One take. It was a producer’s dream. Here, you’ve got this gigantic talent, and you sit there and say, ‘How about this? How about that?’ And he says, ‘That’s neat,’ and he does it. Boom.

“And on ‘Rio Grande,’ anything that’s not conventional worked so it was tremendous fun for me. I had done enough work with Van Dyke Parks to know some of the tricks he and Brian were messing with – any interesting folk-like instruments … harmonica, accordion, jew’s harp – in fact, anything would work. Brian orchestrated the front of ‘Rio Grande.’ It has everything from water to flutes to oboes, an upright bass, a jug. It’s an incredible orchestra. Probably, if it had been done with real musicians, you would have needed a 20-piece orchestra, and it would have been the most unusual 20-piece you would ever see.

“It was really wonderful to watch, because he did that in ‘the good old days’ with bass harmonica and god knows what kind of clusters. And here we’re seeing him in the studio, and for once, the technology sped everything up. For me, it was this wonderful thing that I dreamed about for so long … watching this guy do his stuff. He didn’t have to communicate his ideas to a player. He just sat at the emulator and did it. It was like magic.”

Brian’s favorite section of “Rio Grande” is “Take Me Home,” and the vocals on that are a good example of the creative interplay that took place between Brian and Lenny.

“I kept wanting to change that section,” Lenny recalls. “Brian was always most comfortable with ‘Take Me Home,’ but I wanted to do something. So I asked him if he could do some harmonies, a big cluster. We already had the background ‘ooo,’ but just one lead voice. I asked him if he could do a two or three-part harmony lead.

“And he figured out this real complex vocal thing that was way beyond what I would have come up with. He sat down at the piano and said, ‘Here’s what I would do.’ And I said, ‘Great,’ as if I knew what the hell I was talking about.’ He went out into the studio and did the four parts, the Four Freshmen. It wasn’t that; it was something else. Whatever it was, I realized that ‘Take Me Home’ was very special.

“I think we needed some sort of repeatability in ‘Rio Grande,’ because it’s pretty zany, and ‘Take Me Home’ give it one hook. You know how every once in a while, we hear a song that has a great hook, and we’d love to hear that hook played over and over again? Forget going back to the verse. Why do we have to wait? Let’s just hear the hook. That’s what ‘Take Me Home’ is. It’s one hook, repeated four times. And what it hopefully does at the moment is drop you into a really neat harmonic place and leave you there for two minutes. And when Brian added those vocals, it seemed to lift not only that section but the entire track.”

As Brian, Lenny and Andy labored in the studio to perfect “Rio Grande,” Jeff Lynne (ELO’s mastermind and architect of George Harrison’s surprising comeback LP) came to L.A. to work with Brian. Brian’s music had been a major influence on Jeff, and when the two of them put their harmonic heads together the result was the wonderful “Let It Shine.”

 By Christmas of ’87, the album had been recorded. After an extended holiday, Brian, Russ Titelman and ace mixer/engineer Hugh Padgham gathered at A&M’s state-of-the-art studios for three weeks of mixing. Afterward, determined to make his first solo album as good as possible, Brian followed up the first mixing sessions with a week of polishing. Because Brian only hears in one ear, he has never before mixed in stereo, and as Brian Wilson is the first stereo album of his career, he wanted to take a little extra time to make sure that certain vocal and instrumental sounds weren’t lost in the mix.

That tweaking done, the album was complete. At long last, in April of ’88, one year after Brian had begun, the album was finished, and everybody sat back to assess their work. Russ Titelman: “It’s truly incredible, a miracle. When Brian was doing it, he loved it. And when he finished, he was elated. When ‘There’s So Many’ was done, he was smiling. And I was so overwhelmed by that cut, I said to him, ‘I just want you to know how great I think it is, how great I think you’re doing and how proud I am of you. I’m proud to be a part of this thing.”

For Lenny Waronker, one of his favorite discoveries was to learn that “Brian really is an artist, a serious artist, very complex, very special. Working with him, I found him as a person to be considerate, kind, always sweet. As a collaborator, he’s incredibly kind and generous. He has a way of taking an idea, no matter whose it is, and bending it in such a way that it works. And he doesn’t even want to take the credit, that’s how generous he is.

“What’s really exciting is I sense that a lot of music is about to come out of him like an oil well that about to blow. And I really think that this record shows he’s doing something special, something that’s missing in today’s music, a unique pattern of colors, sounds that only Brian can make.”

From his point of view, having spent nearly six years working with Brian to bring him to this point, executive producer Dr. Eugene Landy points out that “everyone who worked on this record from the very beginning was very passionate and fully involved. The record has the distinction of so much input from all around, yet the integrity of the music is still 100% Brian Wilson.” Commenting on the creative ups and downs that are a part of any project, Dr. Landy wryly notes that “actually, Brian has been the sanest of us all. Throughout all the business and the bull. Brian has maintained his sense of purpose and come through it for himself and for all of us. Somehow, with our help, Brian has risen above us all and given us a great album.”

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