(In 1939, just as World War II was beginning in Europe, Tony Asher was born in London. When he was six months old, his family moved to Los Angeles, where he was raised. He began taking piano lessons when he was around twelve and started composing songs immediately. While in college [he's an alumnus of UCLA with a major in journalism], he and a bassist friend played in clubs around town.
After college, he went to work for Carson-Roberts, which Tony describes as "a hot, boutiquey agency that produced an extraordinarily high level of advertising." Among those who worked there with Tony were Terry Gilliam [later of Monty Python and now a major film director] and future movie critic Joel Siegel).
"We all worked on print ads for accounts like Mattel Toys' Barbie." Tony recalls, "Terry was making outlandish videos even then, and it was Joel who named Baskin-Robbins' ice cream sandwiches Chilly Burgers while I was writing the first trade ads for the Beatles. I'd never even heard of them back then."
"When I was in college, I started writing with guys who were very good songwriters--the late Kelly Gordon, who wrote the Sinatra hit 'That's Life' and Tommy Oliver, who was a first-rate arranger and conductor. And Perry Botkin, Jr. who is still a friend. In late 1965, just before I met Brian, I was writing songs by myself and with Kelly and Tommy; at work, I was writing jingles for the agency where you had to get Fram auto filter into the lyric.
"I had met Loren Schwartz when I was in college, and we became pretty close friends right away. The first and only time I met Brian before he called me to work with him was that one time in the studio when I played him a couple of tunes. Loren knew both of us, and I think he mentioned to Brian that I would be a good person for him to write with. I think that's really what convinced Brian to call.”
"After Pet Sounds, I went back to the agency and continued to write songs with many collaborators, including work with Roger Nichols and Paul Williams, four or five songs of which appeared on Roger's A&M album, A Small Circle Of Friends. I wrote the lyric for a song that ended up as an instrumental on Herb Alpert's Eighth."
But his bread and butter continued to be in advertising. "Soon after I got married in 1972, I left Carson-Roberts and formed a company called Producer's Music Service (later Asher/Bahler Associates). Tony's partner John Bahler was a "first call" background singer. "He had a spectacular range," Tony remembers, "and like Brian, he could sing beautiful falsetto stuff. We became good friends, wrote several songs that ended up on the Partridge Family show and on their albums and eventually, we decided to go into the jingle writing and production business." In the 1960s, Tony ran Saul Bass's graphic design firm that specialized in title sequences and marketing campaigns for motion pictures, television programs and the creation of corporate identities and logos. A few years ago, he left the company but he continues to work as a free-lance marketing consultant. Most recently, he and Brian have started writing together again, and the first song of their new collaboration is tentatively titled "Everything I Need.")
TONY: "It was 1965. I was at a studio for a session. I think we were recording some music, or voice-overs for a commercial and I had heard that the Beach Boys were in another studio. During a break, we kind of hung out in the hallway and eventually, sort of snuck into the booth and Brian was in the studio. The Beach Boys weren't recording; it was just Brian, as I recall, doing song demos. He was playing the piano, and eventually, we met.
"I was working at an advertising agency at the time--this was in the '60s so people were pretty loose in the advertising business in those days--and I got this phone call and the voice said, 'This is Brian Wilson.' And I said, 'Yeah, right. This is one of the guys in the office, right?' But it turned out it was, in fact, Brian Wilson. And he wanted to know if I was available to write some songs with him.
"The reason that I thought it was a joke, of course, was because it was such an absurd notion. He didn't really know anything about my writing abilities except that I had-- we had exchanged some ideas on songs when I was in the studio with him. He was playing a song, and then I played a couple of things that I was working on. Apparently, he had some input from some mutual friends about my abilities as a ‘wordsmith.’ as a copywriter and as a lyricist so it wasn't all that absurd. But for me, it seemed like it was out of the blue and it was just quite hard to imagine.
"I hadn't even dared to dream that I would be writing lyrics with somebody like that but in the sense that--the Beach Boys were a group, for me, at that time--I felt about them the same way I would have felt about, let's say, Phil Spector. There were three or four groups, or people who seemed to repeatedly come out not only just with hits...I mean, hits were amazing enough and difficult enough to get-- but the idea of coming out with hits that were so different, each one from the other. Instead of taking a sound or a style or a type of record which was much more common in those days to have a hit and then copy the hit and then copy the copy of the hit, so that you keep hearing these same songs. Some pretty high-quality groups did that kind of thing. And I can remember that the Motown groups had such a cliched kind of sound that you'd hear another song--in fact, one of the groups, the Four Tops, even came out with a song called 'The Same Old Song' and it was a rewrite of their previous hit.
"And I think the reason I had so much regard for the Beach Boys was that you'd hear a record and you wouldn't even know, necessarily, that it was gonna be a Beach Boys record from the first bar or something. And then you'd hear a hook that would knock you out and you'd say, 'God! I don't know who this is gonna be'--it was the first time you'd heard the record--'but this is a smash!' And then it would be the Beach Boys and you'd say, 'God, they've done it again!' So, in that sense, it was a dream come true.
"At that point in time, I didn't understand the degree to which he was not only the most responsible for their records but the only one. Nothing would have ever happened with the Beach Boys if it hadn't been for Brian. We've seen what's happened when he's not there, and that's with them having a running start.
"So, back to early 1966. I took a leave of absence from my job to work with Brian. When I first went to his house, we spent a little time just talking. I don't recall exactly when it came up, but I know we talked about the Beatles' Rubber Soul, which we both thought was incredible, and it was very influential. It wasn't just that it was so completely different musically from anything else out there. I think what it did to Brian was give him the sense that the industry had gone to the next plateau, and he wanted to go there too.
"Anyway, on that first day, he took me into a room that he had set up to listen to tapes and played me some of the tracks that they'd recorded. He explained to me that they had been trying to put together an album for Capitol for quite a while, and they were under some real pressure because they were behind schedule. But they had done some work on it, quite a bit of work on it and there were a number of tracks, some of which had had lyrics written to them and indeed, vocals recorded to them but which, for one reason or another, didn't meet with Brian's expectations. One of the things we listened to, for example, was 'Sloop John B' which was completed-- or-- it's possible that Brian did more work on it after I heard it that time but essentially, it was what it was and what it was going to be.
"There was also 'You Still Believe In Me' which is the one that I know survived. I believe it was called 'In My Childhood' at the time. And Brian never let me hear the lyric to it. I didn't hear the vocals, but I could hear a little bit of some backgrounds and stuff that were leaking through other mikes but I didn't really hear any melody to it. I don't remember if there were any other tracks that survived.
"There was quite a bit of material to listen to. That was a good way to start things off. I mean, it's a great luxury—at least for a lyricist-- to write to tracks because you have a much better sense of what the musical mood of the song is. If you're writing with a person who plays piano and they're sitting at the keyboard playing, they may have a whole different sound in their head from what you have in your head when you hear what they play. And here was a case where--at least in the case of a couple of tracks-- it was real clear what Brian had in mind so it made it, in some ways, a little easier to write to. Although in some ways, it's a little more demanding because you're now having to fit into something that's complete whereas when you're writing lyrics to a song that has no real arrangement done to it yet, theoretically, what you write can influence what that turns out to be.
"A typical writing session would consist of a lot of procrastinating on both my part and Brian's. It's tough to get started because there's this pressure. You realize that as long as you're schmoozing with each other and talking about other stuff, nobody's under any pressure to create greatness. But when you sit down and begin to work, Brian would begin to play and I'd grab a pencil and a pad of paper, there's a certain self-imposed pressure. So we did a lot of starting and stopping, fits and starts.
"When we'd finally get started... I think Brian would play a lick. Maybe there'd be a few notes that he'd been working on for I don't know how long, maybe something he'd had in his head for months, or even years. Or we'd be talking about a record that we had heard that was currently out or had been out recently that had a certain kind of feel to it and then he'd say, 'Oh, you know, here's a feel I love' and then it would start that way. Or maybe he had said, 'I've always wanted to write a song about this kind of subject,’ and that's how 'Caroline, No' came to be written. He was talking about how he'd always wanted to write a song about lost innocence, a young girl who changes as she matures and somehow, something's lost. We'd have that kind of conversation, it would kick something off.
"I don't know if Brian had a sense-- and I suspect he may have-- of sort of-- the overarching kind of concept of the album. I don't mean in terms of what subjects would be covered; that I know didn't exist because we truly spontaneously generated a lot of those songs. Let me say as far as I know, there wasn't a premeditated concept.
But I've read that Brian had a goal in the sense that he really wanted this to be a particular kind of album, and I think 'personal' is a good word because I think that was one of the things he really was after. And there's no doubt that he guided what I did-- in some ways, we guided each other-- but certainly if he had a sense that he wanted it to be a personal, more intimate and sensitive kind of project, he had the capacity in the course of working on songs to choose those things that satisfied those criteria and reject those things that didn't. So the conversation -'Here's the album I want to do. Here's the concept I have for this album.' That never took place. But that's not to say that he didn't have the capacity to steer it in that direction, even unconsciously.
"It felt like we were writing autobiography, but oddly enough, I wouldn't limit it to Brian's autobiography. You see, so much of our conversation as we were working on songs and even as we were just talking and getting to know each other-- had to do with our experiences with women-- in those days, we would have called them girls 'cause we were young in those days. It's not surprising that when you write songs the most common thought that comes to mind is love songs, so while there are certainly other kinds of very legitimate songs to write, we talked a lot about our experiences and feelings about women and the various stages of relationships and so forth. "We spent a good deal of time talking away from the piano or even at the piano about things that were not directly related to getting a song written, but in hindsight, it all had to do with how the songs turned out lyrically. We were working in a somewhat intimate relationship, and I didn't know him at all, so he was finding out who I was, and I was finding out who he was. And among the most revealing conversations we would have would be about girls, women...whoever the Julia Roberts or Demi Moore of the day was. We had seen some girls somewhere, and we would talk about the types we liked. Or an ex-girlfriend...relationships we had once had. Or were having. Talking about how easy it was to meet somebody and fall in love, like the Lovin' Spoonful song, 'Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?' Some people fall in love every minute, and Brian, to a certain extent, did that. But I understood that I wasn't that far behind.
"But he would express an idea which could become the guiding direction for the song. For example, in 'Caroline, No,’ he talked about a young girl who has lost her innocence, but the specific words both in terms of rhyme and being less obvious--that's what I saw as my job. If there was a word he didn't like, I would change it. Or I wouldsay, 'How does this sing?' So he would sing it. Words that have long vowel sounds are much easier to sing, so if it wasn't a word that you could ‘hold out,’ we would try to find an alternative.
"I think that it is true that we traded ideas as the songs evolved. It wasn't ‘Here, I wrote a melody, go write a lyric.’ It was a much more, pardon the word, interactive process. And that was surprising to me, because I had worked with other songwriters, like Roger Nichols, who would play a melody and they were very reluctant to accept changes. Brian was just the opposite.
"In terms of my contribution to the music, he would play me the song and ask me whether I liked it better going up or down. Or he would play two different things. And I might express a preference. Or more often, as we would write, I might sing something he had played, and each time, I would sing it differently. And he would say, 'No, here's how it goes.' He would be trying to get it into my head, and in doing that, he might say, ‘Maybe that's better. Maybe it needs more notes here. Maybe it should go there.’ I wasn't trying to influence him. It was just that he had the melody in his head for, perhaps, a day or two, and I was hearing it for the first time. And I was getting it wrong.
"We both contributed, but the real source of the idea was, I think, emotion and feeling. I can remember in 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' that we'd both had the experience of being too young to have what the rest of the world would call a serious relationship with a girl and yet wanting to be able to have it taken seriously. So that would have come out of a conversation that we would have had. So surely, it was autobiographical from the point
of view of both of us. We were writing about what we both knew and had experienced.
"At the end of a day, I might take stuff home and then sort of polish it. Or maybe add a second verse that you could make a choice from or something like that. That certainly happened a lot, and I would say that probably was the predominant way that it occurred. But I don't want you to get the impression that we never sat down one wrote a song in its entirety during a single session because we did. I think 'God Only Knows' we probably pretty much wrote that way. It's a very short song, first of all; there's not a lot to it. The time on that song was spent arguing the merits of using the word 'God' in a song. But we didn't spend a lot of time writing it. It came pretty quickly. And Brian spent a lot of time working on what ended up being the instrumental parts of that song. But the part that has lyrics really was one of those things that just kinda came out as a whole.
"None of the other songs came quite so easily. I can remember on a number of occasions, as we worked on a song and it began to take form, that Brian said to me, 'Let's see where we are.' Instead of continuing to work on a particular word or phrase or a small section, we would step back and listen to the whole thing again, the way it was so far. And as he would finish singing the lyric, he would look at me and say, ‘This is really different stuff.’
But he was talking about both the melodies and the lyrics. He would suddenly be taken with the fact that this was really a departure for them.
"I didn't feel as strongly about that as he did. I was thinking of it more that we were just writing songs, but he came out of this long experience of working with the Beach Boys and having a certain style of song they did. If I thought about it, I would think ‘it sure isn't surf or car songs.’ but when Brian sang them at the piano, because of his unique voice quality, I could hear them as Beach Boys songs. Brian could make anything sound like the Beach Boys."
IN THE STUDIO
"I really don't remember how long we worked together. I don't even remember the time of year that it was except that I've read what it was. But I don't remember it! It was so-- it may have been that it was just in some ways so dreamlike that I can't really-- I wasn't able to really grasp that. But what is true is that after it was over, I went back to work. And when there were recording sessions, Brian would sometimes let me know. Or he'd want me to hear something that had been done. So we were getting together less often because he was spending more time in the studio. I went to a few sessions; I would have gone to them all if I had been asked to but I was working and I had to be at my job.
"I know the first thing that sticks out in my mind from those sessions were a couple of string dates, because I was always so impressed by the sophistication of the voicings that Brian wrote for strings. At that point, because I'd done a lot of work on commercials, jingles and stuff and I'd also done some other demo dates and so forth with people that I'd written songs with before-- I knew certain truisms about writing for musicians for various kinds of instruments. And one of them is that it's terribly difficult to write for strings, and it's terribly difficult to write for a small number of strings. The fewer strings you have, the harder it is. Because if you've got 40 strings, somebody'll be playing the right notes. But when you've only got 4 or 5 or a small number of voices, everything's audible, and there's nothing to distract people's ear from what you're writing. And you have to be very economical with how you write for small numbers of strings.
"I can remember on 'Don't Talk...' there's that wonderful string section in there and I was just astonished at the sophistication. Not that I didn't think Brian was a sophisticated songwriter, you could hear in his music that he was; but I hadn't been aware of whether he wrote the string parts, for instance, on previous records. I don't think there were a lot of strings on his previous records but when there was orchestration in previous recordings that I had heard on the radio, I didn't really know who had written those things. Some people in those days hired arrangers to do arrangements, and while I had heard that he was making major contributions to those songs, and that he was 'The Guy' as far as the Beach Boys were concerned, I didn't know that he could write for a string quartet or quintet. And it sounds classical, although it has very interesting passing tones. I can remember that so vividly; I just thought ‘this is truly heartbreakingly beautiful stuff.’ It really was. It was just wonderful. And that was really a revelation to me.
"What Brian did was so different from what I had seen happening in the studio. In those days, it was considered hip to do bizarre, unexpected things. People would try whatever they could think of that was unexpected, just for its own sake...spend three days and call in a bunch of oboe players. Try an instrument just because nobody had ever used it, and in the end, it wasn't in the final mix.
"That never happened with Brian. He did the same kind of experimenting, not to see if he could accidentally stumble onto something unique, but he did these unique things because that's what he wanted to hear. And most of the time, it ended up on the record.
"The vocal sessions were a different matter. I think it's generally true that recording sessions for already successful, established artists, particularly in those days, seemed unprofessional. A lot of money got spent and very little got done.
"That was not the case with Brian. As unorganized or even unproductive as he could be in other situations, when he got into a recording session, you had the sense he had ideas that were gonna get away from him if he didn't get 'em done right away. He was willing to have people be relaxed and joke a little bit, but he wanted to get work done. And he sometimes lost his temper just a little bit if Chuck couldn't find a take. Brian wanted to keep things moving. He drove the guys a little, so the tension I felt seemed to come from the fact that he was a taskmaster and he didn't tolerate fooling around. He was short-tempered with them when they couldn't get it done the first time or get it right.
"I couldn't interpret whether there was an ongoing problem within the group, but I did feel there was at least a little tension because this was such a different album for them. I sensed that they believed that a big part of their audience wasn't gonna get it, and I guess they were right. In retrospect, it seems a little bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
THOSE RECORDINGS WERE MADE THIRTY YEARS AGO AND YET THOSE TRACKS MAINTAIN THEIR POWER. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
"It's not unrelated to what I was saying earlier about those people who found a hit sound and then repeated it. When you do that, then you end up--certainly, 10 or 15 years later--with a sound that everybody can nail by saying, 'Yeah! I know exactly when that sound was happening!' But then there are always a handful of people who are doing work that's timeless and the reason for it is, because, first of all, they're not doing the same thing even within one album project so that-- and by the way, the Beach Boys do have some material that you can peg very clearly into particular periods but they got out of that relatively quickly and other groups that didn't get out of it just sort of disappeared, sort of evaporated. You listen to some of Phil Spector's stuff and those tracks too, I think, while they're a little more-- you can sort of pick the time period a little bit more, maybe, than you can with the Pet Sounds album. But the difference is that the experimentation that Brian did with instruments, with Theremins and God knows what else, all the layers of sound that he added allowed for the kind of variety that was not fixed in any period.
"And the songs themselves were--we were less concerned, it seems to me, with writing hit records. We just wanted to write good songs. And you can afford to take that point of view when you've had as many hits as [The Beach Boys] had. I suppose there's a pressure that comes with being a big record act, that you've gotta come out with another hit album; on the other hand, I don't think Brian chose--1 don't think he ever agreed with anything or rejected anything because he thought it was a hit or not a hit. That wasn't the issue with that album. It may have been in other projects that he did and indeed, it wasn't an album that, in its day, had a huge number of radio top ten chart hits. But it was a different kind of album. We were trying to write quality music and I think that has more longevity to it than if you're writing what people are buying today."
LET'S TALK ABOUT THE SONGS YOU CO-WROTE..."WOULDN'T IT BE NICE"
'I love that song, and I love the feel of it, a sort of a bouncy, happy, young-love song. I think it's a great song. And I like the different sections of that song. I responded to that when we were working on it together, when he was composing the musical part of it because the sections to it are quite different, and the changes in tempo in the parts that become legato and so forth. Really is an interesting song in that respect. My son, who is 19, has that song on his list of all-time favorites; it's his girlfriend's and his song. And he didn't choose it, he says, because I wrote it, he just truly loves it. And I think people who are young and in love do respond to that song. Lyrically and musically, it's a very 'up' song in spite of the fact that it talks about things that can't be."
ON "YOU STILL BELIEVE IN ME," ONE OF YOU SPENT A LITTLE TIME INSIDE THE PIANO, PLUCKING THE STRINGS.
"We were trying to do something that would sound sort of, I guess, like a harpsichord but a little more ethereal than that, and I think it was successful, an interesting little part of the song. He was doin' the hard part; he was holding down the right notes. On a piano, if you pluck a string that has the hammers down on it, nobody can really tell, but if you hit the open strings, it sounds good if they're the right open strings. And he made sure they were the right open strings."
"THAT'S NOT ME"
"I've always felt like I'd like a shot at rewriting that song. This is all a criticism of my lyric-writing, by the way; it's a very interesting series of chord changes. It goes in wonderful places that you don't expect it to. But for some reason, I found it very difficult to write to. I've never been quite as satisfied lyrically with it as I would like. It feels, to me, slightly artless. I have a feeling when I listen to the lyric that it still feels and sounds labored like it was not easy and it wasn't. And I think it would be nice if it sounded like it was effortless but it doesn't--to me."
YOU MENTIONED THE CHORD CHANGES. TALK ABOUT BRIAN'S CHORD CHANGES BECAUSE I THINK PEOPLE FEEL THERE'S NOTHING LIKE THEM.
"Well, it's true. I guess, in some ways, it may be that the worst thing that might have happened to Brian Wilson would have been that at some point, somebody would have gotten a hold of him and taught him traditional music theory which might have been just a terrible tragedy because he did things that were just so unexpected but wonderful, just wonderful. And that's one of the things that I really enjoyed, was that first time I'd hear him hunting for a chord change and I'd think 'Man, he's just gone right off the edge because he's not ever gonna get close. He's way out there in some area that's just--he'll never get back. And if he's successful, gets out of there, people are going to say, I've lost my tone center, don't know where the hell I am and stuff. And then, eventually, he'd figure out what it was he wanted to do. A lot of it was just hunting and pecking, the way some of us type.
I would think to myself, ‘This is just not going to work; it's not going to be successful.’ And boy, it would just come together in a way that was just spectacular. And it's very ‘him.’ I mean, it's very Brian Wilson, it's a very Brian Wilson kind of thing, the really unexpected chord change.
"But by the unexpected nature of it, it could draw so much attention to itself. For instance, I'm a Burt Bacharach fan. I think he was and still is a very inventive writer but there are cases where I think he has written stuff that feels like it is intentionally the last thing you'd expect it to do and as such, sometimes it's great but it calls so much attention to itself that it almost sort of destroys the momentum of the song. Brian's, to their credit, never did that."
"DON'T TALK (PUT YOUR HEAD ON MY SHOULDER)"
"It's an interesting notion to sit down and try and write a lyric about not talking. That came out of one of those conversations, where we were talking about dating experiences. These conversations that we'd have would go in funny little directions, and I think at some point we were talking about how wonderful non-verbal communication can be between people. Hard subject to write a song about, but I think we pulled it off. It is a beautiful song. I'm sorry that hasn't been exposed more; I mean, if, for instance, it had either gotten more airplay or if someone else had recorded it and done a really wonderful job of it, which could certainly happen because I think it's a really great song."
THERE'S A PART WHERE BRIAN SINGS 'LISTEN TO MY HEART BEAT' AND THEN, IN ESSENCE, THE ORCHESTRA PLAYS HIS HEARTBEAT. WHEN YOU WERE WRITING THAT SONG BEFORE IT HAD BEEN TRACKED, DO YOU REMEMBER ANY DISCUSSION OF 'OH, WHEN WE GET TO THAT PART, I'M GONNA DO THIS REALLY COOL THING WITH THE ORCHESTRA'?
"I don't remember that but I think-- I'm quite sure that line-- that lyric line was Brian's line, and very well he may have had that in his head when he was writing it. I don't think when he was playing it on the piano-- even if he heard it at that time-- don't think I understood what he was gonna do there."
"LET'S GO AWAY FOR AWHILE" DOESN'T HAVE A LYRIC. DID YOU WRITE ONE FOR IT?
"I don't think so. No."
"GOD ONLY KNOWS"
'God Only Knows' is definitely the song most people I know respond to from the songs that I was involved with on that album. There's something about its simplicity, its naivete, maybe, that people respond to. And it is such a compelling thing to say to someone-- the phrase that implies 'I am who I am because of you' and then it has that wonderful section at the end which everybody-- in its way it's sort of like the ending of 'Hey Jude' or something it's a very different kind of feeling but people--you just almost have to sing along with it. In fact, when you thing-- it's the song itself, so much of the song consists of that repeated ending that I think people almost think of that first when they think of the song. It's a very nice little interweaving of voices. It's a great song. It is one of the great songs, I think. I'm talking about it as--I don't mean to suggest that I wrote one of the great songs, what I mean is, I think it is a great song, musically, and fortunately we were able to write a really compelling lyric to it."
AT THE TIME, WHEN YOU WERE DONE WITH IT, DID YOU KNOW IT WAS SPECIAL?
'I knew that it was a spectacularly beautiful song, so I was worried that the lyric might not be up to the quality of the music 'cause I thought if the lyric is good enough, this can be really a big hit record. I really thought it was going to be everything it was and yet we were taking some real chances with it. First of all, the lyric opens by saying 'I may not always love you' which is a very unusual way to start a love song. I liked that about it a lot. I fought for that. I didn't have a lot of fighting to do, but I would have fought to the mat for that and yet while I would have been fighting for it, I would have been saying to myself, 'God, I hope I'm right about this' because I thought that was a really interesting way to start a love song because I felt that it was paid off by the second part of that lyric which essentially says 'I'll only love you until the sun burns out' kind of thing. 'It's not forever. This is not an all-time thing. One day the sun's gonna burn out and I'm not gonna love you anymore.’ And that was almost a sort of sarcastic way of saying 'I'm gonna love you forever.’ And I liked that. But 1 recognized that there could be people who would hear that and say 'What? Where's that comin' from?"
"That's a song that has a number of little sections to it that are quite different, and it was not one of the easier songs to write on the album. It was, as I recall, a song that 1 wrote quite a lot to, much of which we didn't use. It was sort of a struggle before we got a lyric that Brian was happy with, that Brian and I were both happy with. We went through quite a bit. I think 1 churned out quite a lot of okay-but-not-terrific lyric on that song."
"I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES"
"I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' could be seen as Brian's expressing the fact that he didn't fit in with society as it was going on in those days. I think that's one in which we were aware that that's what we were writing about. I didn't feel that way about myself. I felt I was a reasonably well-integrated person in terms of social interaction, but I could see that could be kind of a personal thing from Brian's point of view. The kinds of conversations we had that gave rise to that song had to do with--they weren't personal. We didn't have conversations in which Brian said, 'God, I can remember as a kid feeling I didn't fit in' or, 'Gosh, I just--I can't--I don't feel comfortable in a crowd.' We didn't have those kinds of conversations. We were talking theoretically about a kid somewhere who wouldn't fit in, but it wasn't autobiographical in the sense that Brian was saying, 'Here are all these feelings I'm having, can you find a way to express them in lyrics?' Those kind of conversations didn't happen.
"In many of the other songs, when Brian would express a feeling, I would say, 'Oh, yes. I've had those feelings' maybe not in the same way or the same degree, but I understood them. But in this one, I didn't relate. It was more trying to interpret what he was feeling than having this joint feeling we were both feeling in our various ways.
"It took courage to some extent for him to do any of this stuff, because he would periodically question whether it was any good. Most artists do that. When you're working on things, there are always those moments when you wake up and think, 'This is terrible!
"We were always questioning whether what we were doing was worthwhile and good, and that comes from the fact that to a certain extent, when you're laying yourself on the line and saying 'Judge what I've done here! And do it on a subject that clearly is focused on some particular insecurity you have—
"I had a feeling that even once it was written that it wouldn't end up on the album. I think in part my feeling about it was that in the end, he would decide it was a statement he wouldn't want to make public. To write, record and release a song like this one takes guts."
"I had always heard it as only Brian singing it. With the other songs, he often played them at the piano with counter melodies and parts that others could sing, but that was never the case with ‘Caroline, No.’ In some ways, it was the least 'Beach Boys' of all the songs we worked on. I don't think it was inferior, but at the time, I did think it was not at the same level of musical integrity as the other songs we were doing. I did like it. It just didn't seem to me to be as sophisticated a song as our other work."
SOMETIME IN THAT PERIOD WHEN YOU WERE WRITING TOGETHER, HE CUT A TRACK FOR "GOOD VIBRATIONS."
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE EARLY VERSIONS OF "GOOD VIBRATIONS"?
"Before the track, it was one of the songs we started working on. I remember hearing this riff that he liked which was--what is the basis of the song. I wrote an entire lyric to it, and it became one of the songs that was completed that could have been chosen for the album but eventually, we didn't really finish it. I think both of us had the sense that it was gonna be something we'd have to work on more and so I think-- I recall sort of understanding that it probably wasn't gonna be on the album and that if it was gonna happen, it would happen because we would get together to work on it some more which we didn't.
"I was there when they brought in the Theremin, and that is a hard instrument to play. The guy was great, but the Theremin itself is unpredictable. You never touch the thing, and it is hard to play in tune. He had to do a number of takes to get it right.
"The first thing he plays is an octave, and it was pretty tough to make it. Brian was so used to having first class musicians who would come in cold and play it right every time, that he was impatient. Not that he didn't respect guy who was more like a scientist than a studio musician. But because of the nature of the instrument, it took this a lot of takes and Brian was sort of rolling his eyes."
30 YEARS AFTER THIS WORK WAS DONE, YOU'RE A BIG PART OF WHAT IS NOW REGARDED TO BE ONE OF THE GREATEST ALBUMS OF THE CENTURY? HOW DOES IT FEEL WHEN PEOPLE COME UP TO YOU AND SAY 'THANK YOU FOR PET SOUNDS?
"It's terrific; I'm delighted that people respond the way they do to it. Of course, the pride is enormous. It's interesting, I guess, because at the time, I can remember thinking 'Gee, 1 wish it had been as successful commercially as some of the immediately previous Beach Boys albums had been And yet, how interesting life is, because as it turns out, in the longer perspective, when it's viewed after this period of time has gone by, I think it probably survives with a greater degree of regard. At that time, for instance, many albums--I don't mean necessarily Beach Boy albums--but other albums at the time where 1 might have said at that moment, 'Gosh, why didn't it do what that album did?' And I can't even remember what that album is. And people have great regard for this album. The longevity of it has really been very fortunate. It didn't all come at once but it's been coming for a long time.
"I'm just so grateful to have been involved in it. You know, you talk about a dream experience. But who would dream that suddenly, you would get a phone call from Brian Wilson. I had never dreamed that dream. But as you can imagine, it is one of the true highlights of my life."