Brian Wilson's Secret Bedroom Tapes: A Track-by-Track Description
Brian Wilson tallies receipts at his Radiant Radish vitamin store in West Hollywood, 1971
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Music
As described in our recent cover story, it turns out that Brian Wilson - leader of the Beach Boys and notorious recluse during the early 1970s - wasn't just lying around in bed letting his beard grow.
See also: Brian Wilson's Secret Bedroom Tapes
Rather, from 1968-1974 he amassed a huge quantity of songs that fed Beach Boys albums, side projects and his own solo career for many years to come.
The individual tracks comprise the "Bedroom Tapes," as I've defined them.
I was lucky enough to hear most of these tracks, currently being held at the Beach Boys' archive in Burbank and in the hands of Wilson collaborators from the period.
Sadly, many can't be heard by the public - not yet, at least.
Still, they deserve deeper inspection, which you will find below.
Rare 45 sleeve of Brian Wilson A-side from 1968.
Courtesy of the author
Note: A studio was installed in the living room of Wilson's Bel Air mansion in 1967, and was dismantled in 1972. Albums recorded between the summer of 1967 and the spring of 1968 - Smiley Smile, Wild Honey and Friends - were homemade, lo-fi Wilson productions, though they were tracked at Wally Heider Studios and ID Sound, as well as Wilson's home.
His retreat as leader of the Beach Boys seems to have occurred in the summer of '68, following a brief stint in a mental institution, and lasted until 1975, when the band appointed an experimental psychologist to coax him back into official Beach Boys activity. In any case, all of this is to say that the "Bedroom Tapes" moniker represents an era - rather than a specific project.
"I'd Love Just Once to See You" (alternate version) - This newly-unearthed version of the Wild Honey album track boasts an extended tag, whose quirky bounce could mark the onset of the "Bedroom" sound.
"Whistle In" (alternate versions) - Alternately, one could argue that a number of spirited takes of "Whistle In," from summer '67, are characteristic of the way Wilson attached himself to a basic riff and noodled with it endlessly during the 'Bedroom' years.
"Our Happy Home" - By spring 1968, a number of unrealized Friends outtakes were tracked, which too foreshadow the intimacy of Wilson's early '70s stockpile. "Our Happy Home" is a short, bouncy riff that maintains the gentle air of the Friends sessions.
"New Song" - A tape under this label features the slowed-down melody of what later becomes Friends rocker, "Transcendental Meditation"; the bridge to "New Song" is what has long been described by collectors as "Spanish Guitar Song."
"Even Stephen" - This is actually an early version of the Friends cut "Busy Doin' Nothin'," with slightly different lyrics.
"You're As Cool As Can Be" - Another instrumental from the Friends sessions, this time an upbeat, driving melody pounded out by Wilson at the piano.
"All I Wanna Do" (1968 version) - Wilson also cut an early version of the gorgeous Sunflower ballad, "All I Wanna Do," which in '68 featured a sitar, but no lyrics.
"Walkin'" - Versions of "Walkin'" were recorded in 1968 and in '70, both featuring spirited vocals by Brian Wilson. The song has been bootlegged, but never copyrighted. Some believe "Walkin'" was actually written by Al Jardine and only sung by Wilson.
"My Little Red Book" - Wilson's solo piano version of Burt Bacharach's "My Little Red Book" was also tracked during the Friends sessions. It too is long known to Beach Boys fans and bootleg collectors.
"Sail Plane Song" - A strange psychedelic ballad played by Wilson solo at the piano in summer 1968 eventually got transformed by Al Jardine into a full production, retitled "Loop de Loop," during the 1970 Sunflower sessions. Both "Sail Plane Song" and "Loop de Loop" were released in 1998 on the soundtrack to VH1's Beach Boys documentary, Endless Harmony.
"We're Together Again" - This was recorded in the aftermath of Friends and was reissued in 1990 on the Capitol Records two-in-one CD of the Beach Boys' Friends/20-20 albums.
"Old Man River" - A very Friends-esque version of this was issued also on the Friends/20-20 twofer. A slower, more harmonically-complex version, in which session tapes reveal Wilson's then-acute anxiety, came out on the Beach Boys' 2001 rarities collection, Hawthorne, CA. This marks the turning point in Wilson's reduced role in band recordings.
BW's 1969 stand-alone single, "Break Away."
Courtesy of the author
"America, I Know You" - By 1969, Wilson had commenced work on a spoken word album - A World of Peace Must Come - with Stephen Kalinich, a poet who wrote lyrics for several Friends cuts.
"America, I Know You," the album's centerpiece, was, in fact, possibly the truest 'Bedroom' tape in Wilson's oeuvre. The backing track - a gorgeous string arrangement of ascending and descending chords - was tracked at the Wally Heider Studio on August 22, 1969. According to Kalinich, however, the heartfelt reading of the poem was delivered in Wilson's bedroom, where microphones were set up to capture the ambience.
"Break Away" (demo) - The Beach Boys forged ahead without brother Brian. He was replaced largely by Carl Wilson, who took production reigns on 1969's 20-20 (their last album with Capitol Records), 1970's Sunflower (their Warner Bros. debut) and '71's Surf's Up.
Brian did cut a number of new tracks at the time, many of which embody the 'Bedroom' aesthetic at its most pure - sweet melodies set to intimate lyrics and tender falsetto vocals. "Break Away," a 1969 stand-alone single whose lyrics declare Wilson's intent to "do what I want to do," yielded a demo version with Brian Wilson solo vocals. It was released on the soundtrack to Endless Harmony.
"Good Time" (tracking session) - A tracking session for "Good Time" (later issued on the Beach Boys' Love You album in 1977) was recorded in early '70 with either Wilson himself or Beach Boy Bruce Johnston seguing into a brief rendition of the Beatles' "You Never Give Me Your Money."
"Our Sweet Love" (early version) - Wilson's early version of this tender Sunflower ballad features his own solo vocals over a basic piano and drum track, which brother Carl Wilson later fleshed out by adding strings and harmony vocals.
"Add Some Music to Your Day" (alternate versions) - An alternate version of Brian's ode to the spirituality of music boasts slightly different lyrics. There are a number of interesting versions of the Beach Boys working this song out.
"Raspberries, Strawberries" - Also from the Sunflower sessions, this simple cover of the Kingston Trio hit eventually became "At My Window" on the final album. Wilson worked with Al Jardine on an early version of "Raspberries, Strawberries," as well as "Back Home" during the Sunflower sessions.
"Back Home" (1970 versions) - Begun in 1963, Jardine helped Wilson pull this one off the shelf, the duo giving it a flower-power lyrical makeover for both a 1970 demo and full studio production. Al takes the lead on both versions. The full production saw release on the Beach Boys' Made in California boxed set from last year.
"'Til I Die" (demo and alternate version) - A piano demo of this Surf's Up album masterpiece exists in the Beach Boys' vault, as does a full production with the more optimistic lyric "I'll find my way" alternating for what eventually became "I lost my way."
"A Day in the Life of a Tree" (alternate version) - According to the band's engineer Stephen Desper, a version of Brian's eco-conscious ballad, "A Day in the Life of a Tree," was first recorded with brother Dennis Wilson on lead vocals before being replaced by manager Jack Rieley on the final track. This version has yet to surface.
1970's "Sunflower" album -- the Beach Boys' "Abbey Road."
Courtesy of the author
"Where Is She?" - Another sweet Wilson ballad from the Sunflower/Surf's Up sessions, which saw release on last year's Made in California box.
"H.E.L.P. Is on the Way" - A slight novelty song written by Wilson, with Mike Love leads, about the H.E.L.P. health food store on Fairfax and 3rd. It was issued on the '93 Capitol boxed set, Good Vibrations: 30 Years of the Beach Boys.
"Games Two Can Play" - Also a Wilson outtake from the Sunflower/Surf's Up sessions, also issued on the Good Vibrations box.
"I Just Got My Pay" - Yet another Wilson outtake from the Sunflower/Surf's Up sessions, also issued on the Good Vibrations box. None of the above three would be considered major Wilson compositions in any iteration.
"Soulful Old Man Sunshine" - Co-written by Wilson and Rick Henn of the Sunrays, a demo version and a full Beach Boys recording of "Sunshine" were released on Endless Harmony.
"My Solution" - Last but not least from this period, "My Solution" was Wilson's 1970 Halloween novelty, often bootlegged, never officially released.
"What Can the Matter Be?" - This song was tracked in 1969 and it's been said to have been written by Wilson, though according to AFM session logs, every Beach Boy is present on the session except Brian. That doesn't necessarily mean he didn't write it. The 1970 version of "All I Wanna Do," written by Wilson and demo'd in '68, was recorded for the Sunflower album with Wilson completely absent from the final production. Note: A few additional tracks from this era have been recently discovered, but not heard by this author.
"Awake" (demo) - In 1971, Wilson, assisted by songwriter David Sandler, produced the American Spring album with his first wife Marilyn Wilson and sister-in-law, Diane Rovell, on vocals. As a demo for one of the Spring album tracks, Wilson recorded a pitch-perfect piano rendition of "Awake," hitting catastrophically high falsetto notes; the song later appeared on the Spring album with Marilyn and Diane on vocals.
"Tennessee Waltz" is an example of Brian Wilson's mastery of Moog synthesized production.
Courtesy of the author
"Honeycomb" - A cover of the old Jimmy Rodger's song was cut in October '74 with Marilyn on vocals. It features Roy Wood of ELO and Wizzard on the backing track. (Wood also played on the Beach Boys' "It's OK" from the same session.) The former Mrs. Wilson retains the masters to the Spring album, as well as a number of other Brian Wilson tapes from the period.
"Passing By" (new version) - Wilson also labored in 1971-72 with lyricist Stanley Shaprio and songwriter Tandyn Almer to re-write the Friends album for an unrealized A&M Records project. (A&M then owned the publishing to Wilson's '60s catalog, as sold by father Murry Wilson, who needed to fund the final renovations of his tacky home in Redondo Beach.)
According to Shapiro, four tracks were expanded upon and recorded by the trio - "Passing By," "Wake the World," "Be Still" and the title track, "Friends."
"Song to God" - Shapiro also told me the story of the time Dennis Wilson had engineer Stephen Desper queue up a Brian Wilson reel-to-reel labeled "Song to God." According to Shapiro, as the tape ran and Dennis and Desper sat mesmerized, Brian came barreling down from his bedroom, ripped the tape off the playback and yelled, "Don't you ever touch that again! That's between me and God!" As my previous article stated, no tape for this has ever been found.
"Is Jack Rieley Superman?" - Nothing has ever been found in any tape archive on this title, often batted around. Jack Rieley was, again, the manager of the Beach Boys from 1971-73 and the mastermind of their hippie makeover during the era. He also sang on and co-wrote a number of quality tracks with the three Wilson brothers.
"Burlesque" - Wilson/Rieley's "Burlesque" was reportedly an outtake from the Beach Boys' 1972 album, Carl & the Passions - So Tough. So far, nothing on this title has emerged. A 1978 instrumental labeled "Beach Burlesque," however, was tracked during the band's MIU album sessions. It might be the same song, but as of this writing, Rieley, who is currently in a hospital in Berlin, has not been able to confirm it. Beach Boys historian Andrew G. Doe did previously get Rieley to repeat a couplet of the "Burlesque" lyrics: "Tantalation and hot glowing skin/Sun's 'bout to rest."
BW single from 1972's "Carl & the Passion - So Tough" LP.
Courtesy of the author
"Beatrice from Baltimore" - A tapebox for "Beatrice from Baltimore" is in the Beach Boys' vault, though it features no vocals and eventually became, "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone" on Carl & the Passions.
"Rooftop Harry" - The history of this 1972 tape? According to engineer Barry Rudolph, the Beach Boys vaunted into Larabee Studios in West Hollywood after midnight one night and began unloading truckloads of equipment while Wilson sat lotus position in a corner for two hours.
When he awoke, a flurry of action took place on tape, Wilson himself playing piano, electric bass, toy piano and a calliope on "Rooftop Harry," all of which ran through a then-new device called the Countryman Phaser. The results are manic.
"Body Talk" - Another instrumental; it may be a Brian song.
"Sail on, Sailor" (demo) - This 1971 demo of the Beach Boys' 1973 hit single was last heard five years ago by several Beach Boys historians. It was then in the possession of a venerated Beatles collector, who has since disappeared with the tape.
"Spark in the Dark" - In the summer of 1972, the Beach Boys moved their entire entourage (management and family alike) to the Netherlands. There they would record their 19th album, Holland. The studio in Brian's Bel Air mansion was dismantled and shipped overseas, never to be re-installed in his home again.
It should be noted that pieces of the studio were often taken out of Wilson's home when the Beach Boys went on tours from 1969-71 and, in those times, Wilson could not record music with the convenience that marks the 'Bedroom Tapes.' To be certain, the era is more marked by Wilson's oft-reclusive ways and the strangeness of the material recorded than an absolute adherence to recording in his own living room. Case-in-point: Wilson himself went to Sunset Sound in early 1972, before the band moved to Amsterdam, to pound on the organ for over 12 minutes, landing on the melody of what later became "Chain Reaction of Love," a solo Wilson number. In this '72 session, the tape was labeled "Spark in the Dark" - not to be confused with the Holland song, "Funky Pretty," which features the line, "Where's my spark in the dark?"
"Daddy Dear"/"Suzie Cincinnati" - From his cottage in Holland - dubbed "Flowers" - Wilson was recorded by an unnamed guest singing the Danny Kaye hit "Daddy Dear" at the piano. He segues into a quirky version of Al Jardine's "Suzie Cincinnati" for the same guest. A small piece of this was heard in the 2000 A&E biography on Brian Wilson.
Brian Wilson's hand-drawn 45 sleeve for "Mt. Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale in Five Parts)."
Courtesy of the author
"Mt. Vernon and Fairway - Theme"/"A Casual Look" (session) - What Wilson worked on most in Holland was Mt. Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale in Five Parts), session tapes of which attest to Wilson's enthusiasm for the mini-work.
Tracking sessions for its "Theme" reveal him sitting with brother Dennis, reciting some of the fairy tale's narration over a basic piano; he stops to explain its sense of innocence lost as expressed in the metaphor of the transistor radio. Nostalgia eventually gets the best of Wilson, who jumps headlong into a piano version of "A Casual Look," a '50s doo-wop hit that suggests the magic in the music was as much an outgrowth of the transistor era as it was from the Pied Piper himself.
Indeed, the Brian Wilson of 1972 - looking less like a real wizard and more like Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski in bathrobe and beard - recognized in his disintegrated family relationship a mirror of the larger social disintegration of Nixon-era America.
"I'm the Pied Piper" - The Mt. Vernon section known as "I'm the Pied Piper" was also recorded in Holland in a longer version.
"Pa, Let Her Go Out" - Another section from Mt. Vernon - "Better Get Back in Bed" - was recorded in an alternate version titled, "Pa, Let Her Go Out." Carl Wilson sings leads on both. Brother Brian revised the melody in 1976 for a version titled "Lazy Lizzie."
"Patty Cake" - On June 4, 1973, Murry Wilson died. The relationship with his three sons was beyond fractured by the end and Brian himself chose not to attend his father's funeral. He instead flew to New York City with sister-in-law Diane, where the two visited the Bronx Zoo amongst other sightseeing ventures. Wilson wrote a song about the zoo's main attraction, a baby gorilla named Patty Cake.
"The Second (Untitled) Fairy Tale" - Before Murry died, he gave the Beach Boys' official photographer, Ed Roach, a stash of cassette tapes to store. Amongst these was a second fairy tale by Brian Wilson. According to Roach, the recording features Wilson reciting a narrative about two young girls who get lost in the woods on their way to school. Wilson's daughters, Carnie and Wendy, play the roles of the young churls over a cute musical track. Roach says that half a dozen other Brian songs remain in the stash Murry gave him before passing away.
"Won't You Tell Me?" - This is a slightly awkward ballad recorded in 1971 with Brian and Carl on lead vocals. According to Murry's protege Rick Henn, it written by Murry; he'd apparently hoped the Beach Boys might record it.
Brian Wilson (left) plays the Moog synthesizer with his co-producer on the American Spring project, David Sandler (right) on the saxophone.
Courtesy of David Sandler
"Lucy Jones" - By 1974, Wilson finally completed A World of Peace Must Come, the poetry album he'd started with Stephen Kalinich back in 1969; an acetate was made of the entire platter, though no record deal was struck and the album remained unreleased for three decades.
Kalinich, however, began writing Beach Boys songs again with Wilson once the band moved out to Colorado to record with producer Jim Guercio. Among these are the piano demo of "Lucy Jones," on which Wilson shares lead vocals with Kalinich.
"California Feelin'" - Wilson's soaring "California Feelin'" demo was recorded in a single magnificent take, which was released on the Made in California box last year.
"Child of Winter" - Another Wilson/Kalinich number cut at Brother Studio in Santa Monica, which came out as a Christmas '73 single. An early version features Dennis Wilson on lead vocals and Carl Wilson singing the bridge.
"Brian's Jam" - Also cut at Brother, this boasts the basic 1-to-4-up bassline that percolates in Wilson's head throughout '74-75 on versions of "Ding Dang" and "Short'nin Bread" too numerous to count. (Actually, this writer counted five of enough variation to be labeled as interesting.)
"Clangin'" - Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees was another '70s L.A. hellraiser who seems to have had a 'Short'nin' Bread' experience with Brian Wilson. Dolenz wrote about a Brian Wilson/John Lennon/Harry Nilsson meeting in his 1993 autobiography, I'm a Believer, wherein Dolenz has the quartet taking acid at his beach house in Malibu. Accordingly, Wilson plays the same note on the piano over and over; Lennon just stares into the swimming pool. Though no tape exists from this moonlit affair, according to Monkees archivist Andrew Sandoval, Dolenz does have a tape of Wilson and Nilsson jamming together on "Clangin'," another Wilson variation on "Short'nin' Bread."
"Good Timin'" - Later released as the lead single of the Beach Boys' L.A. (Light Album), this was first tracked in Colorado too, but not completed.
"Riding High on the Music" - Co-written by Wilson and Kalinich, no tape has surfaced.
"Grateful Are We for Little Children" - This later became the Wilson solo track "Saturday Morning in the City." It was, once more, co-written with Kalinich in '74 and no tape has surfaced.
By 1975, the Beach Boys were back in Los Angeles and Brian Wilson was back producing an album of oldies titled 15 Big Ones. The album was promoted behind the gimmicky and, by all reports, tragic "Brian Is Back" tour of '76.
Wilson, in fact, never returned to the form that saw him produce groundbreaking works like Pet Sounds and Smile. But, in their wake, he soldiered on and, from 1968-74, left a scattered body of strange, often-brilliant, inimitable music.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.