To celebrate the life and work of Hal Blaine, one of the most prolific musicians in pop history, who passed away this week, let’s take a look at just one of the many great record he played drums on.
Unless you’ve got the sort of mildly-obsessive interest in the music industry that people who feel compelled to write about it on Medium have, Hal Blaine might not be a name you instantly recognise.
That’s because he made his name as a session musician. Initially a feature of Phil Spector’s house band, he really came into his own in the 1960s when, as one of what came to be called the Wrecking Crew, a loose grouping of Los Angeles session musicians, he played on some of the biggest records in popular music.
The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, with Phil Spector in the producer’s chair, was an early success and cemented Hal Blaine’s reputation as the drummer people wanted in the studio.
Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Close To You” by the Carpenters were just three of the timeless classics which boasted Hal Blaine on the drums.
So prolific was his work in the studio, that Hal Blaine featured on six consecutive Grammy-winning Records of the Year between 1966 and 1971.
And of course, he played on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”…and many other songs too…for the Beach Boys.
I’ve chosen “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” as you hear a very distinctive Hal Blaine drum note a few bars in to signify the intro was over and it was time for the song itself to come along.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was the lead track on the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” album…Brian Wilson’s masterpiece which didn’t perhaps make the impact on the world of music it deserved on its release back in 1966.
“Pet Sounds” has, however, gone on to collect accolades from everyone who is anyone in the field of popular music in the years since and, amongst other things, inspired the Beatles to create “Sgt Pepper” which is top of many people’s lists of the best albums of all time.
Back in the mid-1960s, “Pet Sounds” might have been a bit of an underground hit, but it undeniably changed the direction of popular music.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is quite a sweet song about a boy and a girl who are looking forward to living a stereotypically nice married life together. Right now they’re not old enough to get married, but they’re looking forward to the day they walk down the aisle together…
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong
In the mid-60s, change was in the air. Kids dreamed of living with the love of their life in a world which chimed more with their values of peace, love and tolerance than their parents’s world of division and discrimination based on the length of someone’s hair or the colour of their skin.
That’s why there’s an innocence to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. These young people are imagining their lives in a world which is quite different to the world they’re living in currently…at least from their perspective. Yet they still have the faith and trust that all the elements they don’t like in the world of their parents will somehow be washed away by the time they start a family of their own.
They dream of being together, living together, sharing their lives with one another…
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is due?
And after having spent the day together
Hold each other close the whole night through
From everything I’ve read, Brian Wilson was very much on the idealistic side of the equation himself. And despite being a musical genius, not necessarily the most worldly of individuals.
I’ve always felt that “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was the closest we ever got to understanding what was going on inside Brian Wilson’s incredibly creative mind.
Like most of us, he wanted to imagine the Hollywood version of love really did exist. Boy meets girl…they’re perfect for one another…they settle down and live happily ever after.
Of course Hollywood and reality don’t often match up and sooner or later there’s heartbreak involved.
In Brian Wilson’s case, the lukewarm critical and commercial reception for “Pet Sounds”, his masterpiece, must have felt like the cruellest sort of heartbreak imaginable.
He poured his heart and soul into the album and did most of it solo — it was largely written and recorded while the rest of the Beach Boys were on tour in Japan. They just added their voices when they got back to the US after Brian Wilson had largely finished his work in the studio.
Brian Wilson’s heartbreak might not have been a romantic heartbreak, but the creative heartbreak from not having his finest work…one of the most astounding albums ever recorded…fully appreciated hit even harder.
He largely disappeared from sight for the following couple of decades while the world took its time to come round to the idea that Brian Wilson’s finest work was, in fact, the work of a genius, and gave it the appreciation it truly deserved.
Living without love…or in Brian Wilson’s case, creative appreciation…is a hard place to be. No wonder “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” ends with…
Wouldn’t it be nice?
You know it seems the more we talk about it
It only makes it worse to live without it
But let’s talk about it
Wouldn’t it be nice?
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Brian Wilson’s contribution to popular music.
But even he couldn’t have made “Pet Sounds”, and tracks like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, still sound like the most perfect pop songs ever written over 50 years after the album was released without some help from the finest musical talent around.
Larry Knechtel provided the iconic piano track. Carol Kaye, who’s thankfully still with us and worth a book all of her own, was on bass. And, of course, the late Hal Blaine took care of the drums.
If you were recording an album in Los Angeles back in the 1960s, those were the people you’d want in the studio with you. Their collective talents created some of the finest records ever recorded.
They recorded the soundtrack for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” for the Beach Boys to lay their vocals on top of, and countless other songs which have become all-time classics in the years since they were released.
And now another member of the team has gone to the great recording studio in the sky. I don’t know who else is in the house band up there, but they’ve just signed a fantastic drummer.
Rest in Peace, Hal Blaine….listen out for his distinctive drums telling you the intro is over and the song about to start. Here’s the Beach Boys with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”…
(And before you ask, no I don’t know what’s going on in this video either…)
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to the track on Spotify, you can find that here… https://open.spotify.com/track/2Gy7qnDwt8Z3MNxqat4CsK