April 6: The Beach Boys record “California Girls”

In April, Brian Wilson’s friend from the William Morris Agency, Loren Schwartz, gave him LSD for the first time. In the midst of the trip, Brian suddenly yelled that he was afraid of his parents and fled to his room to hide his head under a pillow. He pulled himself together, though, by riffing off Bach on the piano, an exercise that evolved into the introduction to the Beach Boys’ ultimate anthem “California Girls.” The next day, he tried to recount his trip to his wife Marilyn. He began crying and hugged her, saying, “I saw God and it just blew my mind.”13 She became deeply upset that he was using drugs and moved out, but when he begged her to come back, she returned.

After the trip, Wilson began experiencing auditory hallucinations. “Oh, I knew right from the start something was wrong. I’d taken some psychedelic drugs, and then about a week after that I started hearing voices . . . All day every day, and I can’t get them out. Every few minutes, the voices say something derogatory to me, which discourages me a little bit. But I have to be strong enough to say to them, ‘Hey, would you quit stalking me? Fuck off! Don’t talk to me—leave me alone!’ I have to say these types of things all day long. It’s like a fight . . . I believe they started picking on me because they are jealous.”14

Wilson plowed forward with “California Girls,” recorded on April 6. Both it and “Mr. Tambourine Man” had intros inspired by Bach. Though “Mr. Tambourine Man” wasn’t officially released until six days later, Wilson had probably already heard it. The Byrds’ manager, Terry Melcher, had been in a number of bands with the Beach Boys’ newest member, Bruce Johnston. On April 9, Johnston took over from Campbell as Wilson’s permanent replacement on the road, and would soon be an integral member. (As a thank-you to Campbell for his help, Wilson gave him “Guess I’m Dumb.” Campbell sang over a Wrecking Crew instrumental track had originally been recorded for the Beach Boys. Campbell’s version was released on June 7, and its cinematic orchestration set the blueprint for his future hits.)

The “California Girls” session was Wilson’s favorite of his career, and he thought his intro was the finest piece of music he had written. It was recorded on eight-track, the cutting edge in studio technology at the time. Wilson wanted to create an introductory segment that was completely different from the rest of the song. After Wilson’s intro, Mike Love took it from there with a celebration of all the different types of women the band had met in their travels across the globe. The track made it to No. 3.

 

REFERENCES:

13. Gaines, Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys, 134.
14. Gillian Friedman, “Brian Wilson—A Powerful Interview,” Ability, n.d. 2006.

 

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