Hal Blaine on 'Good Vibrations'
You're about to see an amazing videoclip of the Beach Boys and members of the Wrecking Crew in the studio in 1966 recording tracks for Good Vibrations. But first, some background.
To this day, the song makes Brian uneasy. As he told me during my interview with him at his home in Los Angeles last year, the song brings back too many jarring memories of the unrealized masterpiece that was Smile.
I spoke with Hal Blaine yesterday after he sent me a link to the video you're about to see. It was uploaded about two weeks ago—a video that's being called Good Vibrations: The Lost Studio Footage...
Here's what Hal had to say about Good Vibrations...
I don't know where that Good Vibrations footage came from. I've never seen it before. Maybe Brian had it and someone got a hold of it. I have no idea.
As a tight-knit group of musicians, we had started in the early '60s making demos—two for $35. We used to call them two-fers." Then we joined the union, and all of a sudden we were making $1,000 a day. That's why we were buying big homes.
We were laying down instrumental tracks for Good Vibrations over seven months. So each day, we were hearing just portions of it, sometimes just four measures. We rarely recorded with the other Beach Boys. It was almost always an instrumental session with just Brian at the piano or on bass. [Pictured: Brian Wilson]
There were times when Brian would ask me to contract for a Good Vibrations session, I'd bring in the guys, and we'd play with Brian for maybe 10 minutes. Brian didn't see music—as fully composed music on paper. He heard and felt it, so there were times when he had to hear what he heard in his head so he could come up with new ideas and make adjustments.
If Brian had a little section of music he wanted to hear, he'd sketch out a chord sheet, run off copies in the secretary's room and hand it out. We'd run it down, and Brian would talk about changing the trumpet to a sax or the sax to a trumpet and other shifts. It was as though he was sculpting a song out of thin air.
I don't remember what Brian was saying to me in the clip. He would often say things like, Let me hear a big smash here" or Do your own thing." Why? We didn't know but it wound up sounding great. Brian often would come over to me in the studio and ask me to help him make a great record, so maybe he was saying something like that to me then.
Brian loved coming up to my house in the Hollywood Hills. I used to live at the corner of Castilian Drive and Outpost Drive. I had a great old Baldwin grand piano in my living room, and Brian sat there and played music with my young daughter Michel on his lap. Brian loved the feeling of home. Eventually, he bought a magnificent home in Bel Air, and the first thing he did was paint his house purple. But the community group there went nuts and made him repaint it.
In the video, I recognize the engineer Val Valentin and Mike Melvoin on the organ. Mike was one of the great keyboard players and composers. He died earlier this year in February. So sad. Carl Wilson is on the electric bass.
Brian would never accept a take until he called me in to hear it back. If I thought it felt good, we had a take. The beat was essential. Remember, most people heard them on the radio but they were made as dance records. The single had to feel solid and make people want to get up and move. That's why people bought them.
When I heard Good Vibrations in its final form, I was amazed. I had heard only pieces over the seven months we recorded. When all the pieces were in place, it was an amazing work by Brian. I spoke with the Beatles soon after the single came out and they went nuts for the song. They couldn't believe it. George Harrison especially."
JazzWax note: For my Wall Street Journal interview with Hal Blaine, go here. For my JazzWax interview, go here.
JazzWax tracks: The Beach Boys Smile—an album assembled last year from the 1966 and '67 master tapes—is available here. Outtakes of Good Vibrations appear on the deluxe edition and the box set.