Boneyard Media

Charles L. Granata, Wouldn’t It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (2003)


Charles L. Granata’s Wouldn’t It Be Nice is the first of three fairly recent books devoted to Pet Sounds, and if I were Granata, I admit I’d have shied away from the project after having read the very thorough David Leaf booklet that came with the 1997 Pet Sounds Sessions box set. But his book ends up being a worthwhile synthesis of the album’s back story and makes for a more than adequate accounting of the LP’s modern-day canonical status. The author clearly has a deep appreciation for songcraft (this is equally evident in his other writings about Frank Sinatra), and depending on the reader, Granata’s musical analysis – while never completely over the top – will either strengthen or bog down the reading experience. (Only after reading this book, by the way, did I ever see the very specific and now-so-seemingly-obvious influence of Pet Sounds on the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere.”)

Other readers who may find this book a struggle will be folks like myself who endeavor to read every page ever written about the Beach Boys and who will undoubtedly snooze through some of the book’s oft-recycled quotes and anecdotes. My advice to those readers is to stick with it, because there are lots of hidden little gems that will inevitably manifest themselves due to the eyebrow-raising number of authoritative witnesses Granata interviewed. (I like the story of Brian coaxing guitarist Billy Strange, who didn’t own an electric 12-string, to bring along the young son he was babysitting into the studio with him so he could watch his dad lay down the intro to “Sloop John B” on gear that would be provided for him. After laying down the part, Brian sends Strange and Strange Jr. off into the night, saying “don’t forget your guitar and amplifier.”) Wouldn’t It Be Nice is especially recommended for folks who’ve never read anything substantial about the Beach Boys and have little patience for the in-crowd only approach that plenty of rock-crit writing is guilty of.

Sidebar: Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Granata wins a bonus mention and my deepest appreciation for being who I believe is the only Beach Boy author to fully acknowledge the masterful contribution Brian made to Linda Ronstadt’s Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind LP in 1989, the year after his solo debut. He did the vocal arrangement for Jimmy Webb’s “Adios,” which stands among the most beautiful and heartrending tracks he’s ever been associated with. Please indulge me as I revel in Granata’s attention to this criminally overlooked moment:

“Among Brian’s most notable work of the new decade was his 1990 [no, 1989, but you’re forgiven, my son] collaboration with Linda Ronstadt on Jimmy Webb’s ‘Adios.’ Webb marveled at how intact Wilson’s musical acumen was, given the difficulties he’d surmounted. ‘From what I was told, he went in to Skywalker Sound and put on a magic show,’ the songwriter says. ‘It was a real ‘This is how you do a head vocal arrangement‘ demonstration in which he created all of the parts on the spot, laying down one vocal after another. He was in complete control of the situation, and went right through the process from beginning to end. In my estimation, the results were pretty special. I was very happy, and very proud of that meeting, that chance for a brush with greatness. It was a wonderful thing for me and my song.” Well said, Mr. Webb, and well done, Mr. Granata.

posted by Kim Simpson

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