In January 1965, Al Jardine was recording the lead vocals for the next Beach Boys hit, “Help Me, Rhonda,” when Murry Wilson began to interrupt the session with unsolicited advice. “Enunciate,” implored Wilson, the father of Beach Boys Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson. “When you say, ‘Rhonda,’ make it sexy and soft.”
As outtakes reveal, Murry Wilson continued to chime in with comments that increasingly peeved band leader Brian Wilson.
“Brian, I’m a genius, too — let’s go,” Murry Wilson said.
“When you guys get too much money, you start thinking you’re going to make everything a hit.”
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“So you’re big stars — let’s fight. Let’s fight for success.”
The behind-the-scenes banter not only offered a glimpse into the Beach Boys’ recording process. But it also offered Beach Boys fans a glimpse into the Wilsons’ childhood, growing up with what has been described as a domineering and abusive father, which likely contributed to Brian’s nervous breakdown.
“He had some problems with his dad,” said Jardine, who will perform in Paso Robles with Wilson this weekend. “His dad was a failed songwriter — that’s the problem. So you had the problem with the frustrated songwriter dealing with his genius son. So I’m sure that caused the tension and what ended up being a conflict during the recording of ‘Help Me, Rhonda.’”
While Brian wrote “Help Me, Rhonda” with cousin Mike Love, Jardine was selected to sing it.
“It just hit my range,” Jardine said. “We’d all sit around the piano, and Brian understood who was best in what particular range for what kind of song. I was happy to do it. It was quite a session.”
While the “Rhonda” outtakes seem to confirm the stories of Brian Wilson’s difficulties with his father, Jardine said the experience wasn’t all bad.
“Actually, Murry was quite helpful,” he said. “He was trying to help me articulate a little bit.”
Murry, who once managed the band, has been castigated through the years. But Jon Stebbins, a local author who has penned several books about the Beach Boys, said Murry does deserve credit for some of the band’s early success, including their signing with Capitol Records.
“Murry was essential to the Beach Boys rise to fame,” he said. “For all the negatives — and there’s a long list of them — he was definitely the advocate they needed at the beginning and definitely pushed them through.”
“Help Me, Rhonda” would eventually become the second No. 1 single for the group. A slew of other hits would follow as the Beach Boys combined impressive vocal harmonies and complex arrangements with lyrics that tapped into a “Gidget”-inspired, fun-in-the-sun California ideal.
While songs like “Good Vibrations,” “I Get Around” and “God Only Knows” were smash hits that inspired acts like the Beatles, around the time the band recorded “Pet Sounds” — its magnum opus from 1966 — Brian Wilson began to suffer from psychological problems caused by career stress, drug use and his upbringing. And as he struggled to overcome his issues — including the nervous breakdown in 1964 — by the late ’60s, the quickly evolving music scene seemed to bypass the group, which was relegated to nostalgia.
“It kind of feels like, culturally, the Beach Boys got left in the dust right around that time,” said Stebbins, whose latest book is “The Beach Boys in Concert” with Ian Rusten. “And I think now, after the fact, people have gone back and analyzed how things evolved in music, and they get a lot more credit than they did at the time. At the time, they were a fad, and the fad was surfing and hot rodding and fun and the beach.”
Although audiences preferred to remember the Beach Boys for classics like “Surfer Girl” and “Surfin’ USA,” in the early ’70s, albums like “Surf’s Up” and “Holland” showed the group had grown.
“It was a different direction, and we all participated more as producers and writers as we began to mature a little bit as musicians and writers,” Jardine said.
The Jardine-written “California Saga: California” from 1973 included a reference to Morro Bay while lauding the state with poetic lyrics.
“That was my version of ‘California Girls,’ really,” he said. “But rather than an ode to girls, it was an ode to the natural beauty of our environment.”
Jardine, who also wrote a song titled “San Simeon” on his 2010 album “A Postcard from California,” has lived in Big Sur since the early 1970s.
“It’s a tremendous natural beauty that we have here,” he said. “It’s an adventure to drive Highway 1 from L.A. to Monterey and all those great stops in between.”
While famous musicians occasionally drop by his Big Sur studio — the Red Hot Chili Peppers rehearsed for their 2011 album “I’m With You” there, in between surf sessions —Jardine is happy to continue performing with Brian Wilson, who had famously stopped touring with the Beach Boys after his nervous breakdown. “Brian’s well, he’s looking good, and he’s enjoying the shows,” Jardine said. While Brian Wilson’s mental health has long been part of the Beach Boys lore — and the focus of the upcoming biopic “Love and Mercy” starring John Cusack — in recent years, he has returned to performing live. He has even come to terms with his late father, telling the UK newspaper The Independent that Murry Wilson gave the group ambition.
“I’m pleased he pushed us, because it was such a relief to know there was someone as strong as my dad to keep things going,” he said in 2004.
In 2012, the surviving Beach Boys — Brian Wilson, Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, reunited for a successful 50th anniversary tour and album. Although Brian Wilson and Jardine wanted to continue the reunion, Love, who owns the rights to tour as the Beach Boys, did not.
“Mike wants to go out on his own,” Jardine said. “He doesn’t really want to work with us, let’s put it that way.”
For many years, Stebbins said, Love toured as the Beach Boys. But once Brian Wilson decided to tour again, he said, that posed a problem.
“Since Carl died in the late ’90s, Mike has basically been the man,” Stebbins said. “He runs the operations, and he runs the show. And I think for the 50th anniversary tour, he had to step back.”
When the surviving Beach Boys were together, Stebbins said, it was Brian Wilson — the mastermind behind the group — who won the biggest applause.
“Night after night after night after night, Mike is making less money getting reminded that Brian is more popular than him,” Stebbins said. “And he has to answer to people instead of calling all the shots himself.”