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Comments/Bruce Johnston

(In 1957, at University High School in West Los Angeles (where his classmates included Jan Berry, Dean Torrence, Arnie Ginsberg, Kim Fowley, Nancy Sinatra and Randy Newman), Bruce Johnston played in a band with Sandy Nelson. For a brief time, that group included Phil Spector on guitar. In the summer of '58, after Spector left to form the Teddy Bears, Bruce and Sandy joined a house band that regularly played at rock shows backing up hit-makers like Ritchie Valens. The first hit record Bruce played on was Nelson's 1959, top-five single "Teen Beat." During the early sixties, while he was at UCLA, he continued to develop his career in the music business, and he ended up co-producing and singing on a Beach Boys sound-alike car song, "Hey Little Cobra," a #4 smash for the Ripchords in 1964. The next year, he became the real thing, joining the Beach Boys in the spring of 1965.

Shortly thereafter, he sang on his first Beach Boys session, "California Girls." Bruce has written such latter-day Beach Boys classics as "Disney Girls" and also produced two Beach Boys albums in the late '70s/early '80s. He is perhaps best known for his Grammy Award-winning composition, "I Write The Songs." A surfer since he was seventeen, he and his children now surf at Rincon in Santa Barbara where he first caught a wave many years ago.)


BRUCE: "Around the time we were recording 'California Girls,' I remember Brian playing us the track for 'Sloop John B.' I was so in awe; it was so great. A few months went by before we recorded the vocals. We cut it just before we went to Japan in January of 1966. While we were there, Brian sent us an acetate of 'Sloop John B' for 'our listening pleasure.’

Notice, I didn't say approval. And it turned out to be ‘listening pleasure.’ It was the final mix where the track drops out, and there are only voices. It was fabulous! When you can do things like that, it really improves the dynamics.

"We were on tour in Japan for two weeks, and on our way home played a concert in Hawaii. Brian had already begun writing and recording tracks for Pet Sounds. I really didn't know who Tony Asher was or how important his co-writing role would become. I met him at the tracking sessions, where he was basically just an observer, so to me, he seemed like a fly on the wall.

"I paid attention to the sessions to a point, but remember, I was young, single and the prestige of even being involved with the Beach Boys was incredible. Because of that, I was meeting a lot of great young ladies, so I wasn't going to invest 48 hours a day in the studio.

"Then, one day, I brought a girl I was dating to the tracking date for 'God Only Knows.' And when I heard that, I realized that this wasn't just another Beach Boys album; this was like in 'Star Wars' … A major hyper-space move on Brian's part. I thought to myself: ‘Hold it. Wait a moment. We're doing something really special.’ And that's when I started paying attention.

"Brian had a rhythm section, accordions, a French horn and a small string section stuffed into a tiny studio. It sounded great, and I got it. That was my big wake-up call. I wasn't thinking commercially. My music soul kicked into high gear. That night, I really knew something special was going on. There was something in the air. And, remember, this was before we really sang anything."


"All the players were in love with this genius. And they knew Brian was a very special soul on the planet Brian's musical vision was really fantastic. I loved being there. He is a very intelligent fellow, and he didn't waste his time in the studio. Brian was certainly capable of doing all the written orchestrations, but he composed music too fast to bother. The end result is the most important thing. Brian would stand there and give everybody separate lines to play, and the musicians would write those parts down. My favorite art is the impressionistic period. And working with Brian was like mixing paint for Renoir.

"In the 4-track days, you had to make your mixing decisions a lot earlier than you do now. Those choices, from an engineering point of view, are locked in and live on tape. You can't take them out later. Unlike today.

"Brian has always been more of an orchestral producer than a real audio technician. At these tracking sessions, Carl was always the sounding board for Brian--a really trusted friend that was his brother. Carl was in awe of his brother's musical explosion, and I think Brian really liked that. Carl was there, playing guitar, and a lot of times, there wasn't room in the studio, so he would play direct in the booth. Dennis was also very supportive of what Brian was trying to accomplish.

“Brian spent a lot of time in the studio, and drummer Hal Blaine would kind of be the foreman. Listen to the session outtakes, and you can hear how Hal would assist the development of the date, working almost as Brian's interpreter, helping to gently crack the whip. Brian would get other keyboard players to play things he would dream up. While Brian was working out on the studio floor, it gave Chuck Britz the time and freedom to give Brian several choices of echo, tape delay and equalization. So when Brian came back in the booth, Chuck would say, ‘What do you think of this sound?’ And Brian would say ‘Great.’ Or not.

"He had a lot of people on this fabulous recording team who were there regularly and they knew what to do. He had the comfort of his brothers, and the expertise of Chuck Britz combined with the simplicity of 4-track.

“Sometimes, there are two definitions of perfect There is 'perfect' and what feels right. And that's the real perfect. If you analyzed it, you would definitely find the mistakes, not unlike finding dust on a Corniche. But you always go for the heart and soul, you go for the feel of it, and that's what Brian did. He might be two takes away from having it technically perfect, and if he did those extra two takes, he would probably be out of business. If you go beyond that to absolute perfect, it's not going to be perfect. It has to have some wonderful flaw that you can find with a high-powered atomic microscope. That gives it a humanity that it wouldn't have otherwise."


"Brian had established the vocal patterns in the early hits, and the great Chuck Britz was really used to how the band sang, what mikes to pick. I just waltzed into what Brian and Chuck pioneered. We sang in a very small room.

That could be part of it, but I don't think that matters as much as how you engineered it."

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" – “I now know why Brian made us re-record this vocally. As big as 'California Girls' was, he was unhappy with our rhythm of singing. And with that high of a standard to get it right, 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' required a lot of perfect vocal rhythm. We re-recorded it at least four times. One time, he had a 4-track Scully [tape recorder] sent to his home, but that didn't really work out.

"We just couldn't think like percussionists and our group vocal rhythm was slightly off when we were first working on the 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' studio vocals. (Luckily, we eventually all got it right.)

I was just so afraid of him yelling at me, that I thought I better sing it right. Brian was a combination of Rachmaninoff and General Patton. He was (brilliantly) brutal in the studio. You can hear him yell, 'No talking' in 'Here Today.' (While we were recording it, it was like) Brian Wilson was the (musical) commander-in-chief of several countries at once."

“You Still Believe In Me” – “Here’s what I remember. After my first tour, when I came off the road with the Beach Boys, Brian had the production hospitality to invite me to sing on 'California Girls' even though he didn't need me.

Similarly, he accommodated six voices on 'You Still Believe In Me' and he really didn't have to. He found a part for each of us in the room, which was really great, because if you think of it, he really only needed four parts. He didn't have to be that kind to me, but while he was training me, he allowed the spotlight to shine on me at the same time."

"That's Not Me"--"That's just an 'ooh and aah' song vocally. That was easy; a gymnastic experience. I'm pretty rangy in my voice. But that was really a song for a lead vocal."

"Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)"--"I think I was in awe of the string arrangement, how so few strings could do so much. He had very small, 'baby' orchestras. He made everything sound like you could set it up in your living room and stand in the middle. And maybe add some echo later. He absolutely under-produced his sweetening.

"He was the kind of guy who makes you think when you walk through a great museum, you're really in your living room. It's very friendly."

"I'm Waiting For The Day"--"Great Brian...beautiful, dumb background parts. The yin-yang works great there. The 'doops' and the 'aahs.' It's kind of like having all the scruffy characters that are in 'Oliver' show up at the Royal Albert Hall. They don't belong but it fits."

"God Only Knows"--"For whatever reason, like 'California Girls' this was recorded over at Columbia Studio A, where the Byrds"Mr. Tambourine Man' was done. Brian really worked a lot on 'God Only Knows', and at one point, he had all the Beach Boys, Terry Melcher and two of the Rovell sisters (Brian's wife Marilyn and her sister Diane) on it. It just got so overloaded; it was nuts. So he was smart enough to peel it all back, and he held voices back to the bridge, me at the top end, Carl in the middle and Brian on the bottom. At that point, Brian's right move was to get subtler. He had a very tender track here. 'God Only Knows' is a very small masterpiece with a major heartbeat, and he was right to peel everybody back and wind up with the three parts. In fact, it's probably the only well-known Beach Boys track that has just three voices on it.

"Anyway, the really cute thing is that at the end of the session, Carl was really fried, and he went home. So Brian...remember, this was 8-track, so, he now has these extra tracks at his disposal. But there were just the two us. So in the fade, he's singing two of the three parts. He sang the top and the bottom part and I sang in the middle."

"I Know There's An Answer"--"Not one of my favorite songs. I remember recording it as 'Hang On To Your Ego,’ and it just never, ever felt right to me either way. I was more interested in the harmonicas and the double bass."

"Here Today"--"Another 'ooh' and 'aah' thing from the band that was actually right for it. There's not a lot of room for the band to do anything other than be quickly orchestral. Brian was smart enough not to overwrite the vocals. He correctly used the vocals as another pad. If he had made the mistake of overwriting the background parts, you would never pay attention to the leads, and we would have gotten in the way."

"I Just Wasn't Made For These Times"--"I am so projected off the planet by Brian's lead singing and the lyrics on this one, that I couldn't recall upon pain of death what our background parts were, because what he did was so fabulous. He obviously chose to 'speak' in key, as opposed to giving us a speech. It's just fantastic."

"Caroline, No"--"I always felt that 'Caroline, No' was the song on which he probably knew...but he didn't know...that the special door that had been open to him was closing. This song isn't about a person; the taproot is a lot deeper with 'Caroline, No

"I regret that the original recording was sped up to make Brian sound younger. I think the original key was G. After four years of big Beach Boys hits, shouldn't you have the right to do it exactly your way? Is this a business decision or a decision of the heart? Don't you deserve for the heart to have the spotlight? Every song doesn't have to be a single. It's not a commercial planet. Purity does prevail once in a while. I do not speak on behalf of the band. I'm just a critic with pitch...0h, and one other thing. I miss Louie and Banana. They were the best dogs.

And they absolutely barked the way they did on Pet Sounds."


"I think that being able to marry his sophisticated orchestral point of view with the writing that Brian did for Pet Sounds was quite an achievement, especially given the way the label marketed the Beach Boys. In the end, I don't think that Brian really lost anybody that had come along for the ride. In my heart of hearts, I think that the reason the album isn't a billion-selling album is simply that the label didn't believe in Brian.

"It never occurred to me that Capitol in America would pat Brian on the back and say 'Nice work' and then put Best Of The Beach Boys out, because from their point of view, The Beach Boys' career was probably already longer than a pop artist's typical life span. I just assumed that the label had enough ears to recognize the growth and translate it to the marketing department, the way Atlantic had done years earlier with The Genius Of Ray Charles. Capitol probably had sales quota problems, and suddenly, here was Brian, threatening their franchise. After 'Little Girl I Once Knew' wasn't a big hit, Capitol made a great judgment and went right for 'Barbara Ann.' A really good call.

"But having had Nat 'King' Cole go from his trio to those big orchestral vocal ballads and all of the different Sinatra records and allowing that to happen, how could Capitol miss Brian's growth? He gave them three hits and creative growth simultaneously, and they turned their back on him by releasing Best Of The Beach Boys Why wouldn't you allocate a massive budget to promote Pet Sounds? This album is timeless and forever, and the label turned it into an ignored step-child."


"It's late May of 1966. I have two copies of Pet Sounds, and I'm at the end of a tour. We're all in love with the Beatles, the Stones, the Who. Jagger paved the way in England for the Beach Boys by getting pirate stations to play 'I Get Around.' In 1964, the band did a successful promo tour of England and Europe, and I know, as a young guy who came up in the business instead of in a band, it seemed to me that it was a great marketing opportunity to go to England, show up at EMI and see what was going on with Pet Sounds. It wasn't out in England yet, but 'Sloop John B' was a hit there already.

"From Chicago, I flew to England. Checked into a suite at this really cool English hotel in the theatre district. Derek Taylor, who was our publicist, writes a synopsis for me of what the London scene is. I call an old school pal, Kim Fowley, who is over there being his wonderful, outrageous self, and I say, 'I'm coming over. Can you be my guide? What's going on and pull me through it.' Thank God he was there. He got the word out that one of the Beach Boys was in town. I never did less than fifteen interviews a day. I never went anyplace. Everybody came to my suite. Keith Moon showed up, and he became my pal. All we did was talk Beach Boys. I played him Pet Sounds. I think he died and went to heaven, before he died and went to heaven.

"Between the interviews, I played everybody Pet Sounds. It got so much publicity it forced EMI to put the album out sooner. Keith Moon graciously included me on some TV interviews, and he was the guy who made contact with Lennon and McCartney on behalf of this Beach Boy thing coming to life. Then, on my last night, there was a party in my suite. I was standing in the hallway outside my room, talking to Keith. Kim said, ‘You better come back into the living room, because two of the Beatles are here and they want to hear Pet Sounds.’

We played it over and over all night. For about four hours. For some reason, there were three Beach Boys or Beatles fans that were there and were playing cards with us and John and Paul. They were absolutely delightful. These were more innocent times.

"What did I deliver to England? Something that was Brian Wilson's best work. It certainly pushed the Beatles over the edge, on a positive level, and made them go beyond Rubber Soul and Revolver to Sgt. Pepper. Did you ever hear the term, 'Don't shoot the messenger'? Sometimes, it goes the other way. I was the ultimate pre-Fed Ex delivery guy, but instead of dropping off the package and leaving, I got some kind of cosmic tip by having the Beatles hang around with me.

"My observation was that these guys could actually put all their brilliant dialogue in the car park overnight and have the good manners and great taste to listen to something that would eventually (other than Buddy Holly and Little Richard) be their guide and inspiration. They were speechless. They absolutely had the good sense to sit there and listen. It was just a portable record player, and they were listening to it in mono. But they weren't judging the fidelity of it; they were listening to the music of it.

"The counterpart of the story is that a year later, I was in a London club called the Speakeasy. Procol Harum had finished performing, it was four in the morning and somebody waltzed in with an acetate of Sgt. Pepper. It was the first time I had heard it. It was a beautiful, inadvertent payback for me. There were definitely two pen-pals [Brian and Paul] going on."


"Listening to the outtakes will be a real education even for us. We can catch up with things we forgot or never heard. Besides being a fan, I'm a double fan."


"Every ten thousand years, you need one of these projects, 36 minutes and you're cool. When I listen to Pet Sounds, I know that 500 years from now, out of all the great Beach Boys stuff, sonically, I get to be part of a legacy. Because right now, from our classical artists, we're playing music that is a few hundred years old. With Pet Sounds, I get to be part of something that will one day be known as 20th century classical music. Maybe I'm just the oboe solo, but that's okay with me. It would take me many lifetimes to achieve what Brian discarded musically."


Parts of the "Vocal Sessions" sections were clarified by Bruce Johnston in February, 2013. Those clarifications are noted in parenthesis. As a rule, AlbumLinerNotes.com doesn't make changes to the original Liner Notes but felt that these changes were appropriate.

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