1. Run-Around Lover - Sharon Marie (Brian Wilson, Mike Love) Rondor Music (London) Ltd. (P) 1963
2. Thinking ‘Bout You Baby - Sharon Marie (Brian Wilson, Mike Love) Rondor Music (London) Ltd. (P) 1964
3. Pamela Jean - The Survivors (Brian Wilson) The International Music Network Ltd. (P) 1964
4. After The Game - The Survivors (Brian Wilson) The International Music Network Ltd. (P) 1964
5. Sacramento - Gary Usher (Brian Wilson, Gary Usher) Copyright Control (P) 1964
6. That’s The Way I Feel - Gary Usher (Gary Usher) Copyright Control (P) 1964
7. The One You Can’t Have - Gary Usher (Brian Wilson) Beechwood Music Corp (P) 1963
8. Surfin’ Down The Swanee River - The Honeys (Stephen C. Foster Arr. Brian Wilson) Rondor Music (London) Ltd (P) 1963
9. Summertime - Sharon Marie (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Du Bose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward) Warner/Chappell North America (P) 1963
10. Hide Go Seek - The Honeys (Brian Wilson) Screen Gems-EMI Music Inc (P) 1963 11. Shyin’ Away - American Spring (David Sandler, Marilyn Wilson, Diane Rovell) Bri-Mur Pub Co (P) 1973 Licensed from Sony Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd
12. Fallin’ In Love - American Spring (Dennis Wilson) IQ Music Ltd (P) 1973 Licensed from Sony Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd
13. Pray For Surf - The Honeys (Saundra Glantz, Diane Rovell) Cross Music Ltd (P) 1963
14. Shoot The Curl - The Honeys (Saundra Glantz, Diane Rovell) Annabelle Music (P) 1963
15. Vegetables - The Laughing Gravy (Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks) Rondor Music (London) Ltd (P) 1967 Varese Sarabande Productions, Inc.
16. The Revo-Lution - Rachel & The Revolvers (Brian Wilson, Gary Usher) Acuff-Rose Music Ltd (P) 1962 Universal/Island International
17. Number One - Rachel & The Revolvers (Brian Wilson, Gary Usher) Acuff-Rose Music Ltd (P) 1962 Universal/Island International.
18. She Rides With Me - Paul Petersen (Brian Wilson, Roger Christian) EMI Music Pub Ltd (P) 1964 The copyright in this sound recording is owned by EMI Records Ltd 19. Guess I’m Dumb - Glen Campbell (Brian Wilson, Russ Titelman) Ambassador Music Ltd (P) 1965 20. Story Of My Life - Sharon Marie (Brian Wilson, Mike Love) The International Music Network (P) 1964 21. He’s A Doll - The Honeys (Brian Wilson) The International Music Network (P) 1964 Licensed courtesy of Warner Strategic Marketing UK
22. Tonight You Belong To Me - The Honeys (Billy Rose, Lee David) B Feldman & Co Ltd (P) 1969 23. Goodnight My Love - The Honeys (George Motola, John Marascalco) Chappell-Morris Ltd/Hornall Brothers Music Ltd/Carlin Music Corp The Honeys (P) 1969 Except where noted all titles (P) The copyrights in these sound recordings are owned by Capitol Records, Inc. Licensed courtesy of EMI Commercial Markets.
In the beginning Brian Wilson wasn’t that different from any other gauche suburban kid playing out his rock ‘n’ roll fantasies in the comfort of the family home, even though it was more in hope than expectation. At this stage, he was still very much a fan. Then events began to move very rapidly. ‘Surfin’’, the Beach Boys tentative debut 45 on Candix, a small fly-by-night Californian outfit, made the lower reaches of the national chart in late 1961. Early in the following year, they made some self-financed recordings which attracted the interest of Capitol Records, and that summer the Beach Boys reached the US Top 20 with ‘Surfin’ Safari’ c/w ‘409’, a two-sided Surf ‘n’ Hot Rod hit which served as a portent of things to come.
Brian’s mutually destructive relationship with his father, Murry, forms part of Beach Boys folklore. However, in the beginning and throughout 1962-63, it was Murry who provided the impetus and organizational skills, not to mention the wheel-greasing finance, that helped to establish the group as an American institution in the space of 18 months.
Capitol had signed up dozens of untried acts in the late 1950s and early 60s, most of whom sank without trace. It was scattershot record making of the worst kind, a testament to waste, and throughout those years Cpapitol’s A&R and executive staff was constantly being reshuffled in an attempt to create a team which could produce better results in the singles market.
Much of the label’s rock ‘n’ roll output in the late 50s was produced by the company’s country A&R man, Ken Nelson, as an adjunct to his main business of churning out C&W material. Though middle-aged and, by his own admission, not in touch with ‘teenage trends’, he produced major pop hits such as ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ by Gene Vincent and ‘Young Love’ by Sonny James during the initial onslaught of rock ‘n’ roll. He was less successful in later years (“Rock just wasn’t my bag”) and by the early 1960s he was producing exclusively country acts such as Buck Owens and Wanda Jackson. Most of Nelson’s colleagues were also older men, and it wasn’t until Nick Venet joined the company in 1961 that Capitol began to make serious inroads into the pop market.
Venet was born to Greek immigrant parents in Baltimore, Maryland in 1939, “a scruffy person from a scruffy neighbourhood.” Venet’s family were restauranteurs with a sideline in jukeboxes, and this gave him an early grounding in pop music. In 1958, he hitchhiked to Hollywood and hustled his way into the fringes of the music business – or what passed for one in 1950s California – because, as he put it, “I wanted to do something devastating. I wanted to behave as I liked without going to jail; I wanted to do something dishonest – but legal.” Five years and 15 hits later, he was living in the same Hollywood apartment block as Ann-Margret and Pierre Salinger and riding around on motorbikes with people such as Steve McQueen.
Venet was 21 when he joined Capitol’s A&R staff in late 1960. Karl Engemann, another trainee producer also in his 20s, joined around the same time. Both were to figure prominently during the early days of Brian’s career. Venet immediately made his mark by producing three straight hits by the Lettermen, a white vocal trio who went on to achieve lasting popularity as an MOR act. He also produced Capitol’s hot new signing Bobby Darin, a vastly talented entertainer famous for past his such as “Dream Lover” and “Mack The Knife.” Once again, Venet earned his spurs putting Darin on the charts three times in a row with “If A Man Answers”, “You’re The reason I’m Living” and “18 Yellow Roses”, all penned, incidentally, by Darin himself.
Between the Lettermen and Bobby Darin came the Beach Boys, whom Venet very nearly passed over. Precocious, and on top of his game, Venet was understandably cocky. It was Ken Nelson, Murry Wilson’s contact man within the company, who brought them to his attention. A year or two earlier, Nelson might have recorded them himself, but by the early 60s he’d handed over pop production to younger men like Venet and Engemann who was the brother of one of the Lettermen).
“If it wasn’t for me, Nick Venet would never have signed the Beach Boys,” Nelson told me without a trace of conceit. “I’d mentioned Murry Wilson’s boys to him quite a few times but he kept putting it off. He had the stuff lying around on his desk for maybe a few weeks and every so often I’d say to him, ‘when are you going to do something about that Murry Wilson thing?’, because Murry would keep on buggin’ me and in the end I more or less forced Nick’s hand.”
To his credit, once Venet sat down and listened to the acetates of such tunes as ‘409’ and ‘Surfin’ Safari’, he detected the spark of potential and invited Murry Wilson to the Capitol Tower to discuss terms. Brian and his co-writer, Gary Usher, went along too. The two young songwriters were inseparable. Born in San Gabriel, California in 1938, Usher had grown up in New England before moving back to the sunshine state in 1957. Following a spell in the army, Usher worked as a bank teller in Hollywood while trying to break into the music business. One of his uncles, who lived close to the Wilson family in Hawthorne, told him about Brian and the two met for the first time in January 1962.
On 8 August 1962 – the very week ‘Surfin’ Safari’ first entered the national charts – Venet took the Beach Boys into Capitol’s studio and recorded three new Wilson-Usher tunes as potential follow-ups: “Ten Little Indians”, “Chug-A-Lug” and “Baker Man”. Brian had earmarked “Chug-A-Lug” as the A-side because he’d referred to it as such on local radio only three weeks before the session, but in the event Capitol chose “Ten Little Indians” as the next single.
With “Surfin’ Safari” / “409” high on the national charts and the above mentioned follow-up session still a couple of weeks away, Brian and Gary Usher were gripped by a heady sense of exhilaration. It was as though they had entered a brave new world where anything seemed possible. It may have been the happiest summer of Brian’s life. In August, he moved out of this parent’s home and into a small apartment on Crenshaw Boulevard which he shared with Bob Norberg, another one of his acquaintances. “It was a good move for me,” Brian wrote in his autobiography. “He was a struggling songwriter who worked odd jobs. He surfed, had a girlfriend, like to drink beer. Our apartment on 108th and Crenshaw in Inglewood, was strictly no-frills bachelor. Furnishing was simple – carpeting, two mattresses and random junk and the rent was cheap - $150 a month.”
Norberg and Brian had met in the summer of 1962 when the Beach Boys played a campus dance at the University of Southern California. Norberg, a semi-pro musician, and a friend, Sheryl Pomeroy, appeared on the same show, billed as Bob and Sheri. Both Brian and his dad felt the duo had something on the ball and agreed to invest a little time and money promoting them.
In those days, recording and manufacturing costs were so low that an aspiring entrepreneur could cut a session on the cheap, press up a few hundred 45s and set up shop as a record label. In fact, it was common to spend more on ‘promotion’ – usually backhanders to local radio station deejays in return for a few plays – than on the record itself.
The result was “The Surfer Moon”, the now legendary Bob & Sheri single on the homespun Safari label of 3701 W. 119th Street, Hawthorne – the Wilson family’s home address – Brian having written and produced this pretty, if slight, one-off himself. (The Beach Boys later cut “The Surfer Moon” themselves for their third LP, “Surfer Girl”.)
In the early 60s, there was immediacy about the recording process which acted as a creative stimulant for kids on the make like Brian and Usher. A song could be written, recorded, cut onto an acetate and test-marketed by compliant deejays, all within the space of a few days. Emboldened by their success and brimming with enthusiasm, they looked to cut a master outside the Beach Boys aegis.
The vehicle was a song titled “The Revo-Lution” which took its cue from Little Eva’s “Loco-Motion”, one of the mega-hits of the day. They cut the track at Western Studios with session men and cast around for a black female vocalist – any black female vocalist – to put down a vocal.
Someone recommended Betty Willis, eldest sister of Alonzo Willis, a veteran LA doo wop vocalist. His younger sister, Carolyn, was rapidly rising through the ranks of LA’s small coterie of female background singers, stout voiced girls who could be relied upon to flesh out the holes in the flimsiest productions. If the Blossoms, led by Darlene Love, were the A-team, then girls such as Carolyn Willis, Dorothy Berry and Clydie King were the reserve team, the capable but less experienced second stringers. Betty was not officially part of these back-up teams. Her strident gospel-tinged vocals seemed no to find favour with A&R men. Apart from performing as “Rachel” on “The Revo-Lution”, she is know to have made only tow other solo recordings, one in November 1962 for the local Rendezvous label, and the other in 1965, produced by Leon Russell for Phil Spector’s Phi-Dan label.
Another of Usher’s contacts, Russ Regan, a promo-man and occasional recording artist who’d either set up or worked for various one-shot labels on LA’s “Record Row”, brokered a deal which saw “The Revo-Lution” released on the Dot label as by Rachel & The Revolvers on 1 September 1962. Regan secured the publishing rights to the A-side. (Incidentally, Brian, Gary Usher and Carl Wilson are the background vocalists with the non-gender specific sound; the production being so muzzy and indistinct, it’s hard to tell.)
A week after “The Revo-Lution” came out on Dot, Nick Venet summoned the Beach Boys to the Capitol Tower, where they recorded a further eight songs over tow days for their debut LP. Simple backing tracks (drums, bass, guitar) were laid down first, and the vocals superimposed. Venet took a hands-on approach and even participated on a couple of the cuts, “howling” on “Moon Dawg” and mimicking a carnival barker on “County Fair”. Also present was Venet’s younger brother Steve (a producer and songwriter in his own right), whose girlfriend provided the female voice on “County Fair”. Though not without a naïve charm, the album sounded thin and, at times, amateurish; tempos seemed unduly rushed and Denny’s drumming, mostly brush work, rudimentary.
Mike Love: “That first album (“Surfin’ Safari”) was shitty ‘cause Nick Venet was rushing us through in order to get through with the session so he could get to New York and A&R a session with Bobby Darin. He was saying things like, ‘Come on – I have to get out of here and get to New York to cut Bobby’. I mean, he was that blatantly ridiculous about it! Nick Venet cut our first two albums, “Surfin’ USA” being the second, and they were the first and last time we recorded an album with an A&R man from Capitol. After “Surfin’ Safari” became a big hit, Capitol put out a shitty single called ‘Ten Little Indians’ which Venet had done for our first album and it bombed out. Brian took over for the next single, which was ‘Surfin’ USA’ and that became a smash, but Venet still got to do the “Surfin’ USA” album. So Brian cut the first two hits and Venet would A&R all the album tracks which hadn’t been singles. We never cut an album at Capitol again until eighteen albums later on “20/20”.”
After his first few visits to recording studios, Brian came to realize that producing records was an intuitive process as much as a skill. He was further encouraged by the way his ideas and suggestions were implemented at the “Surfin’ Safari” LP sessions, even though Nick Venet was officially in charge.
Unhappy with the poor acoustics of Capitol’s cavernous studios, which had been designed for large scale orchestral recordings back in the mid-1950s, Brian lobbied hard for the right to record the Beach Boys at an independent facility. He especially despaired a the poor bass sound. Back in 1958, the R&B bandleader Johnny Otis had felt the same way about Capitol’s studio, which he once described as an “antiseptic hospital”. Otis made his point by producing his greatest hit, the classic ‘Willie And The Hand Jive’, at a more intimate independent studio.
Understandably, Capitol were extremely reluctant to let Brian record elsewhere but, eventually, a compromise was reached whereby the Beach Boys were permitted to use outside facilities but had to pick up the tab themselves in return for a higher royalty rate, with Capitol retaining ownership of the masters.
“When Brian took over as producer”, Mike Love explained, “we recorded at a place on Sunset Boulevard called Western Recorders and stayed there for two or three years. We left Western about ’65. We went over to Columbia studio for 1965-66. Actually, Brian started going around town to different studios, particularly Goldstar. See, the tracks might sometimes be cut at Goldstar and we’d do the vocals at Columbia or the tracks at Western and the vocals at Columbia. They’d have a nice small room at Western – studio 3. Brian started to be influenced by Phil Spector a lot and he’d use Goldstar for the tracks quite a few times in the early days. ‘Be True To Your School’ was done there, the track, and all of ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ which was Brian’s first real shot at a Phil Spector type thing. Later, a lot of things in the “Pet Sounds’ era were done there.”
Once he began to receive recognition within the industry as the inspirational force behind the Beach Boys, Brian sought wider acceptance for his talents. He was particularly influenced by Phil Spector, who was hitting his stride with studio-contrived mega-hits such as ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and “Be My Baby’. However, unlike Spector, Brian did not see himself as an autocratic Svengali figure. Gauche and eager to impress, he frequently paraded his latest songs and concepts before peers and rivals, often to his disadvantage.
Mike Love: “Brian also co-wrote, helped arrange and produce ‘Surf City’, which was Jan & Dean’s first #1 hit, though he wasn’t given credit. He also did a lot of falsetto vocals for them, like ‘Little Old Lady”. In fact, Jan & Dean tried to get Brian signed to their publishing company, Screen Gems – Columbia in New York, who had Carole King and people, but Brian didn’t want that Tin Pan Alley scene. Brian was real naïve and very helpful. He’s always been very giving and very guileless and other people in this business aren’t always that way, so he would very open-heartedly help anyone out, irrespective of contracts or anything he got disillusioned by it several times, ‘ cause he’s very impulsive. He’d get an idea and he’d sit down and play it for some people and then he’d hear it on somebody else’s record six months later. So he more or less became a recluse because of that. He couldn’t be himself around people so he had to exit.”
Though only a couple of years older than Brian, Phil Spector was 23 going on 40 – streetwise, ruthless, wily, supremely intelligent, angst-ridden, insecure and articulate. A man wise beyond his years, he could outsmart music biz sharks twice his age. Brian was in awe of him and craved Spector’s tacit approval.
The success of “Surfin’ USA” which reached #3 on the charts and spawned a best-selling LP, gave Brian more influence with Capitol. In the spring of 1963, he persuaded an initially skeptical Nick Venet to sign The Honeys as part of a marketing strategy aimed at exploiting the burgeoning Surf ‘n’ Hot Rod craze which the Beach Boys had kicked off virtually single-handedly. (Capitol also signed local ‘surf guitar’ phenomenon Dick Dale and spent tens of thousands of dollars on a national marketing campaign which ultimately failed because Dale’s records didn’t match the hype.)
Comprising two sisters, Diane and Marilyn Rovell, and their cousin, Saundra Glantz (professionally known as Ginger Blake), the Honeys were introduced to Brian by Gary Usher at a Beach Boys gig in Hollywood in late 1962.
“At the intermission, I set down my bass, hopped off the stage, and approached their table,” Brian recalled in his autobiography “Nervous, I wanted to make a cool first impression. Gary stood up, prepared to make introductions, but before he said anything I stumbled over my feet and knocked into Marilyn, spilling her hot chocolate on her leg. She jumped up, startled. I thought I’d blown it. But Marilyn took hold of my arm and laughed. ‘It’s okay,’ she smiled. ‘It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I’m all right.’
“There was a third sister, Barbara, who was younger. The Rovell sisters attended every show that week with Usher and Ginger. After the last night, I invited Marilyn and Diane to my parents’ house, where the instruments were. I had feelings for both girls and couldn’t decide which one I liked better. One day I’d lean toward Diane, and the next I’d think about Marilyn. When they showed up a few days later I learned that Diane actually liked Dennis, while Marilyn set her sights on Carl. Neither of their infatuations lasted as long as my confused feelings did for the sisters.”
Glantz had previously made a solo single as Ginger Blake for Titan, one of a myriad of small independent labels that sprang up in LA during the late 1950s. Usher had made his recording debut for the same label around the same time and got together with Ginger when Titan sent them on the road to promote their respective records in late 1961. Pretty soon they were an item.
Originally a trio before Barbara dropped out of the act, the Rovell sisters had performed at high school assemblies and talent shows making up in enthusiasm what they may have lacked in technique.
Brian envisaged the Honeys as a vehicle for his Phil Spector fantasies although this was not entirely apparent on their first release, which coupled ‘Surfin’ Down The Swanee River’, (Brian’s idiosyncratic adaptation of ‘Swanee River’), with ‘Shoot The Curl’, a tune penned by a couple of the girls themselves. The session was cut at Capitol and Brian was on hand to direct the piano-based arrangement, demonstrating to (pianist) Leon Russell the exact feel he had in mind on ‘Swanee’. Brian also participated in the recording, singing alongside a man named Skip Taylor during the bridge.
Although Nick Venet was credited as the producer on the label copy, the entire project from conception to execution had been Brian’s. Most of those present sensed a potential hit: “We were in the studio that night, me, Brian and Shel Talmy.’ Venet told Stephen McParland. “We were doing ‘Swanee’ and Shel came in and sat in the booth for about an hour…he was starting to lose his sight…And I said, ‘What do you think, Shel?’ He said, “This is a smash. I’ll never get work here. I’m going back to England.”
(Venet was known for having a kind heart. Talmy was among those he’d helped. A sound engineer at Conway Recorders, a popular Hollywood recording studio, Talmy had hatched a plan to go to England and seek production deals on the strength of a largely bogus CV. Venet gave Talmy a stack of Beach Boys and Lou Rawls acetates and told him to pass them off as his own. UK Decca were taken in and by early 1963, Talmy was on his way, churning out a string of hits by the Bachelors, the Kinks and the Who. Venet also gave Kim Fowley, Mike Curb and John Wilskin of Ronny & The Daytonas their start in the business and, apart from the Beach Boys, he also brought Glen Campbell, Lou Rawls and Linda Ronstadt to Capitol.)
When ‘Surfin’ Down The Swanee River’ (which as initially marketed in a picture sleeve, an indication, perhaps, of Capitol’s faith in its potential), failed to ignite, Nick Venet went in without Brian and produced one side of the next Honeys’ record, ‘From Jimmy With Tears.’ Not to be outdone, Brian took the girls into Goldstar studios (birthplace of the Spector sound) and produced ‘The One You Can’t Have’, a powerful Phil Spector sound-alike featuring many of the same musicians heard on Spector classics such as ‘Then He Kissed Me’. Issued back-to-back as the Honey’s next single in the summer of ’63, neither ‘From Jimmy With Tears’ nor “The One You Can’t Have’ attracted sufficient airplay to interest the public.
The Honey’s third Capitol 45, “Pray For Surf” c/w “Hide Go Seek”, (a Brian Wilson/Nick Venet co-production) boasted a far tougher rock sound that their previous 45s, though its progress was curtailed by what Marilyn Wilson (nee Rovell) perceived as some sort of airplay problem.
“Unfortunately, many people felt that using the word ‘pray’ in the title was sacrilegious,” she told Mike McDowell in 1983. “As such, we could not get the record played on KFWB. But it was such a great record! I feel that it could have done a lot better for us had it not been for that one drawback. Unfortunately, it did not do anything.” Ginger Blake: “Brian Wilson was very enthusiastic about it. And to come up against that sort of negative reactions was quite devastating.”
There was nothing phoney or contrived about Brian’s early songs; their beguiling innocence came straight from the heart. Dave Marks, who was a member of the Beach Boys until late 1963, put it very well in 1981: “You listen to those first albums today and they sound campy, corny – but Brian was dead serious. Like the ‘Cuckoo Clock Song’, ‘Chug-A-Lug’, ‘Ten Little Indians’ – he was dead serious about them and that’s what made them work. It wasn’t like Brian was trying to put something over. “Is this commercial? How are we going to trick these turkeys into buying this?” There was no formulating, no plotting or planning. He was just doing what he loved. He told me he wrote about things that turned him on – girls, cars, high school. It’s hard to believe that anyone could be that naïve and honest, but he was. That’s what made those records successful. You can feel the sincerity on them.”
Brian took the girls back into Goldstar in February 1964 and made a last ditch attempt to put the Honeys on the charts with an approximation of the so-called Spector Sound. He was well into his Spector phase by now, having recorded “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” (the Spector-influenced flipside of the Beach Boys ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’) at Goldstar the previous month. Though Brian got a fuller sound out of the session than he had done on the comparatively muted ‘I Do’ by the Castells (from the same period). ‘He’s A Doll’ was scuppered by a release date that coincided with the arrival of full-blow US Beatlemania. Radio plays were hard to come by and finished pressing on the Warner Brothers label barely made it to the shops – most surviving copies of the record are promos.
Brian and Marilyn Rovell were married in LA on 7 December 1964. (The couple had two children, Wendy and Carnie, and separated in 1978.) Although the Honeys occasionally backed up other artists on record, most notably the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, as well as the Gary Usher and Glen Campbell sides heard here, it was Ginger Blake who pursued a professional career as a background vocalist, the Honeys having disbanded in 1964. As wife and sister-in-law as well as session organizers, the Rovell sisters played a continuing part in the Beach Boys story.
In 1968, Brian felt it was time for another try and under his direction, the Honeys made a fourth single for Capitol, “Tonight You Belong To Me” (originally a US hit for the juvenile duo Patience and Prudence back in 1966), coupled with ‘Goodnight My Love’. In 1971, Marilyn and Diane went back into the studio as Spring and cut an LP and a couple of (off-shoot) 45s for United Artists under Brian’s direction, and a year later they made a very fine 45 for Columbia as American Spring.
The critical injuries suffered by Jan Berry in an auto accident in April 1966 effectively brought an end to the lucrative Jan & Dean partnership, although Liberty Records continued to issue masters by the duo from its existing stockpile. With an out of the picture, Dean Torrence continued to experiment in the studio under the Jan & Dean name in a bid to rekindle what interest there remained.
In the summer of 1967, Dean took a shine to “Vegetables”, a track from the Beach Boys’ recently released ‘Smiley Smile’ LP. He cut a basic backing track in the garage studio of a veteran session bassist named Joe Osborn, who also ran his own Magic Lamp label from the same address. (Osborn produced the first Carpenters’ recordings there during the same period.) Torrence then asked Brian, Marilyn and Diane to come over and help arrange and perform the track, which featured all four voices. He then sold the master to White Whale, a LA indie then hot with the Turtles. It was issued as by the Laughing Gravy during the Summer of Love, and has since become a collector’s item.
In August 1963, Nick Venet left Capitol Records to set up his own independent production company (Ben-Ven Productions), and Karl Engemann now became Brian’s contact man within the company. Brian and Mike Love had placed their faith in a new singing discovery, 20 year old Sharon Marie Esparza, who was purportedly Mike’s girlfriend at the time. Brian produced her only two 45s. The first, ‘Run-Around Lover’, came out on Capitol in October 1963; the second, a Wilson-Love song, ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout You, Baby’, was issued in April 1964. Four years later, with amended lyrics and a new title, ‘Darlin’’, it became a hit for the Beach Boys. Sharon Marie quickly vanished from the radar. It’s likely that she never became a professional recording artist and that her two Capitol 45s were a pleasant diversion for a young life that found fulfillment elsewhere.
Until now, the Beach Boys had no domestic challengers other than the 4 Seasons, a much older East Coast group with whom they’d been happy to carve up the spoils. Now, the Beatles and other British bands had altered the balance of favour towards the hot new sounds coming from England. American product had to be exceptional just to get a look in. Understandably, Brian was concerned. “Brian and I actually had a meeting.” Mike Love recalled. “It was alike a battle plan to map out where we were gonna go with the Beach Boys because the scene had got a little keener.”
Brian and Bob Norberg (aka Norman) continued to live together for most of 1963. Whenever Brian came off the road (which wasn’t too often once the hits started rolling in), he and Norberg would pal around with a seemingly random gathering of fellow musos whose common goal was to try and get something going in the studio under Brian’s unspoken leadership. According to Timothy White in The Nearest Faraway Place, “ frequented the car circuit that flowered nightly from the A&W stand on Hawthorne Boulevard to the Wich Stand on Slauson, whose 100-auto parking lot would be filled to capacity with ‘rods swarming with either crew cut surf bohemians and bubble-haired wahines, or broody ‘hodad’ greasers and their snug sweater-cum-capri-pants molls. The Wich Stand was truly the agora of the Southland’s golden teenage city-state, part peerless trading post, body and fender bazaar, and great mosque of the misbegotten, luring a fleet new generation with vanilla Cokes the purchasers could spike, French fries infused with exhaust fumes, and flirts willing to follow through on their winked affirmations.”
Following an abortive session at Western in August 1963, Brian and his buddies – Bob Norberg, Dave Nowlen and Richard Alarian – went into Goldstar and put their voices on ‘Pamela Jean’, a take-off of the white doo wop sound of the early 1960s. The called themselves the Survivors. Brian had written the song at the start of the year but had never recorded it. A few months later he had recycled the melody as ‘Car Crazy Cutie’, a quick filler cut on the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe’ LP, only to revert to the original lyrics when he cut it with the Survivors.
‘Pamela Jean’, which bore similarities to Dion’s ‘Donna The Prima Donna’, slipped unobtrusively onto the market the very week Capitol launched an expensive nationwide campaign promoting the Beatles, whose first Capitol 45 ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ had been released in the US on 26 December 1963. It was almost immediately overtaken by events, its retro sound ignored in the headlong rush for Beatles’ music across America’s Radioland. ‘After The Game’, the wistful instrumental B-side put there to discourage curious dee jays from flipping the record over, anticipating some of the orchestral nuances heard on “Pet Sounds” some two years later. Perhaps ‘Pamela Jean’ had nothing in the grooves for American kids to latch onto in the first place because ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, the next Beach Boys 45, which came out around the same time, became a major hit. That is the way Capitol might have wanted it.
Glen Campbell was born one of 12 children in Billstown, Arkansas in 1936, a place so small Campbell told people he was from Delight four miles away. Raised in poverty, he was taught the guitar by one his uncles and by the age of ten he was a guitar-playing prodigy. Another uncle, Dick Bills, had a band and a radio show in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Campbell moved there when he was 17 and worked the local club and rodeo circuit as a member of Bill’s band. He cut his first two records there for the local Cenego label in 1958.
“I knew I was better than anything I’d heard around Albuquerque,” he later recalled. “I could play things no one else could play. Occasionally, I hear demo things I’d done in the late 50s and early 60s. Boy, I was lightning!”
After moving to LA, Campbell met Eddie Cochran’s manager Jerry Capehart and cut a couple of records, one of which, ‘Turn Around And Look At Me’, became a minor hit in 1961. He also toured and recorded with the Champs, a front name for a constantly evolving studio group who’d recorded the classic “Tequila” three years earlier.
By 1962 Campbell was a fixture on the LA studio scene, so in-demand that he was able to comfortably support a wife and two kids without ever having to leave town or break a sweat, except on the golf course where he’d fit in an early morning round prior to his first session call. Nick Venet signed him to Capitol in 1962 but the company wasn’t sure whether to pitch him at the country or the pop market, an uncertainty reflected in the varied quality of the records he’d made thus far.
When Brian suddenly quit the road, citing nervous exhaustion, in December 1964, Campbell was invited to take his place. Putting is own career on hold – he’d even had his teeth capped in anticipation of stardom – the supremely adjustable Campbell took the gig for a couple of months, not so much for the money (Which wasn’t as much as he’d have earned in the studio), but as a favour to Brian.
Capitol were aware of Campbell’s potential and renewed his contract three years in a row even though he’d not had a major chart record in that time. The quietly ambitious 39 year-old had been passed from one producer to another in a bid to find a winning groove. Now it was Brian’s turn. Taking time off from the “Beach Boys Today” sessions, Brian teamed with lyricist Russ Titelman, of Screen Gems Music, and wrote ‘Guess I’m Dumb’, together with another song, ‘Sheri, She Needs Me’, which Brian cut tracks for but never finished.
“Meeting Brian was part of being at Screen Gems Music, because Brian used to visit Lou Adler all the time in the LA office,” Titelman told Billboard magazine. “I’d be around, too, and so I saw Brian a lot. I also used to go over to Brian’s office, a big office in a bank on the southeast corner of Sunset and Vine where he’d go to write songs. I’d also go over to Brian’s Hollywood apartment, which was spartan to say the least, but he had a piano in there. He loved Jonathan Winters and he used to sit around and recite all the Winters bits and laugh his head off, he could do a real good imitation of Maudie Fricker. It was fun. ‘Sheri, She Needs Me’ was written on the piano at the house of his girlfriend, who became his wife, Marilyn [Rovell]. And ‘Guess I’m Dumb’ was written at Marilyn’s and his apartment.”
‘Guess I’m Dumb’ really had the makings of a hit but, for once, the production wasn’t as radio friendly as it might have been. Campbell’s voice as buried in the mix and the gorgeous topline wasn’t as sharply defined as it might have been. Simply, there weren’t enough highs. It was another producer, Al De Lory, who would finally break Campbell’s duck a year later with a series of heavily orchestrated country-pop classics. Titelman, incidentally, was later to co-produce Brian’s first solo LP.
By the time he first met Brian in early 1962, Gary Usher had already cut a couple of pop 45s for small local labels. He and Brian co-wrote early Beach Boys songs such as ‘409’ and ‘In My Room’ and co-produced ‘The Revo-Lution’ by Rachel & The Revolvers (heard elsewhere on this set), before Murry Wilson, Brian’s overprotective, not to say overbearing, dad began to perceive Usher as an opportunist and squeezed him out of the picture.
Usher shied away from the limelight and chose to work behind the scenes as a writer and producer, churning out dozens of Surf ‘n’ Hot Rod masters by the studio contrived groups for Capitol and other West Coast labels eager to exploit the demand. Later in the 60s, he produced three classic Byrds LPs and the cult studio group Sagittarius for Columbia. However, as a vocalist, Usher was not especially blessed; he sang in a thin, adenoidal tenor with a noticeable lisp, one of the reasons why he preferred to submerge himself within a group format. Brian’s production of ‘Sacramento’ c/w ‘That’s Just The Way I Feel’ was one of his very few solo outings.
By 1963 the Beach Boys were so hot that Brian was frequently inveigled into helping other artists and producers in the studio, most notably Jan & Dean, whose hits ‘Surf City’ and ‘Drag City’ were not published by (the Wilson-owned) Sea of Tunes as one might have supposed, but by Aldon Music, the New York-based hit factory which brought great songwriters such as Barry Mann, Carole King and Neil Sedaka to the fore.
Jan & Dean’s manager, Lou Adler, also ran Aldon’s Hollywood branch office, and had fingers in a lot of other pies. According to Mike Love, Adler flew to New York with Brian in the spring of 1963 and showed him around Aldon’s offices hoping he’d be sufficiently impressed to sign for the company. Murry Wilson was aghast at these developments and, from that point on, ensured that all of Brian’s material was published exclusively by Sea of Tunes and its subsidiary New Executive Music.
A month after the trip, Aldon’s owners sold out to Screen Gems, Columbia/Colpix Records, the recording division of Columbia Pictures. Most of Aldon’s contracted songwriters now went to work for Screen Gems while a number of artists on Colpix’s roster were now placed under Adler’s control. These included winsome Shelley Fabares, a TV actress turned pop star, and her male counterpart, Paul Petersen. Fabares and Petersen had started out as child actors on the Donna Reed Show, which ran in the States from 1958 until 1966. Petersen played Reed’s son, Jeff Stone while Fabares took the roles of his sister.
In a spin-off move, both Petersen and Fabares were promoted as recording artists, and notched up several hits on Colpix between them in 1962-63. By late ’63 Petersen’s recording career was peaking, and Adler sought to restore his fortunes with ‘She Rides With Me’, a car-themed song for which Brian had already fashioned a densely packed backing track at Western. In fact, it was Adler rather than Brian who supervised Petersen’s vocal overdub, resulting in a shared label credit. At the time, Adler was toying with a new studio gimmick that involved feeding vocals through the speaker cabinet of a Leslie organ to create a wavering effect, a technique used on ‘She Rides With Me’ with somewhat mixed results.
“I got a call from Lou Adler on New Years Eve 1963 in Las Vegas,” Petersen told researcher Brian Gari in 1994. “He asked me to come to LA right away to cut a Brian Wilson song. When I got to RCA’s studio, the track had already been cut by Brian. The only people there were Lou and two engineers. Lou rigged up the Leslie organ sound for the vocals, and that was it.” (An Adler-produced Shelley Fabares 45, ‘He Don’t Love Me’, featuring the same Leslie ‘wobble’, came out simultaneously.)
For all the insights and pleasure this CD provides, it is essentially a litany of failure and frustration, a stark counterpoint to the world beating triumphs of the Beach Boys. Yet for all that, it bears the unmistakable mark of Brian Wilson – Pop Genius.
Sources: Mike Love, Nick Venet, Ken Nelson – Interviewed by Rob Finnis Our Favorite Recording Sessions by Stephen J. McParland (California Music PO Box 106, North Strathfield, 2137, New South Wales, Australia, email: firstname.lastname@example.org) The Nearest Faraway Place by Timothy White (Henry Holt & Co, Inc., NY, 1994) Wouldn’t It Be Nice by Brian Wilson (HarperCollins, NY, 1991)
I am grateful to the following for their invaluable assistance: Liz Buckley; Dave Timperley; John Purdue; Bill Inglot; Roger Armstrong; Trevor Churchill; Extra Special thanks to Mick Patrick and Harvey Williams. Memorabilia courtesy of Rob Finnis except where noted Labels courtesy of Harvey Williams and Rob Finnis
Ace Records would have loved to include every gem that Brian Wilson produced in the 60s by artists other than the Beach Boys, but has been limited by contractual constraints.
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