Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns
30 Songs That Use Hal Blaine's Iconic "Be My Baby" Beat
From Billy Joel to Bat For Lashes, the Wrecking Crew member's drum-work on the Ronettes' classic single is one of the most beloved and widely imitated beats in rock and pop
Hal Blaine, the legendary session drummer who died last Tuesday at age 90, can lay claim to many records, literally: he played on more than six thousand singles, including 150 that hit the top ten in the U.S. and 40 that reached the top. It’s no wonder that he was the backbone of a cavalcade of musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. Last year he received a Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY, and he got to work with some of the biggest stars in music history: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys.
But his contribution to musical history will inarguably be the four-beat phrase his drums introduced to the pop lexicon: dum…dum-dum…psh. That’s the opening beat to the Ronettes' classic girl-group single "Be My Baby" in 1963, and has gone on to become one of the most beloved and widely imitated beats in rock and pop, up there with the Bo Diddley beat. Below are a mere 30 of some of the most memorable uses of Blaine’s signature drum figure, but there are dozens more.
Jan & Dean, "Dead Man's Curve" (1964)
Before "Leader of the Pack," there was this 1964 single that also concerned a fatal crash, and its tense, busy drums vary the "Be My Baby" sound with more anxious fills akin to Keith Moon or the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" — over a year before either existed.
The Beach Boys, "Don't Worry Baby" (1964)
The sweet, haunted "Don’t Worry Baby" is what happens when one of music’s most beloved geniuses tries to do his own version of "Be My Baby" because he believes it’s the greatest pop song ever made. He doesn’t nick the beat exactly — in 1964, Brian Wilson was a little too square and straightforward for true rhythmic herky-jerk — but he does include the real deal at the very beginning, before taking it, and American pop, somewhere else entirely.
The Four Seasons, "Rag Doll" (1964)
Frankie Valli's 1964 chart-topper may have well been the first big hit to capitalize on Hal Blaine's booming signature, and you can hear how fresh the beat still sounds behind that multilayered vocal swirl and twinkling glockenspiel. Too bad the lyrics are kind of pathetic; Valli basically sings about his crush on a girl who’s too poor for his parents to approve.
The Shangri-Las, "Leader of the Pack" (1964)
Released just a year after "Be My Baby" itself, the Shangri-Las’ fellow classic number-one hit proceeds directly from its source by cutting the snare drum so the tension never gets relieved, a fitting treatment for a teen melodrama in which the motorcycle-driving title crush meets his tragic end.
Badfinger, "Baby Blue" (1971)
One of the first post-Beatles groups, even signing to the Fab Four's own Apple label, Badfinger were more adept at pantomiming legendary pop moves than most, making this beat an easy inclusion to their arsenal.
Billy Joel, "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" (1976)
Megastar and self-identified "melody freak" Joel would go on to do a whole retro tribute to the Four Seasons, Motown and others with 1983's An Innocent Man, but that doesn’t mean he was gonna wait seven years to lob his own "Be My Baby" homage at the charts.
Meat Loaf, "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth" (1977)
Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman's bestselling theater-rock hybrid is mostly remember for taking Springsteen to Broadway four decades before the Boss had the idea, but the Ronettes' earthy, celestial sound is as crucial to E Street as Bob Dylan was, and it’s no surprise that the biggest post-Born to Run album dabbled in their classic beat either.
Hall & Oates, "The Last Time" (1978)
The biggest blue-eyed soul act of all-time were pop virtuosos, of course they were gonna take the "Be My Baby" backbeat for a spin.
The Clash, "The Card Cheat" (1980)
Perhaps the least punk-sounding tune on London Calling, "The Card Cheat" announces its regal grandeur with — what else? — the beat of a pop classic, here refitted for grand piano and even horns.
The Jesus and Mary Chain, "Just Like Honey" (1985)
You could say the Jesus and Mary Chain's overwhelmingly distorted college radio hit repopularized the "Be My Baby" beat's legend entirely, for a new audience of musicians and fans discovering indie and alternative about to be born. But JAMC also loved the beat so much, their cult-hit debut Psychocandy even used it in a second song, "Sowing Seeds."
Depeche Mode, "A Question of Lust" (1986)
A year after the Jesus and Mary Chain made the "Be My Baby" beat cool again to a whole new generation, even the dour princes of synth-pop had to dive in with this clanging 1986 ballad.
Pet Shop Boys, "King's Cross" (1987)
Following in the footsteps of Depeche Mode, the poster boys for percolating synth-pop found away to bring Hal Blaine into the computer age with the airy, hymnlike closer from their 1987 sophomore album, Actually.
The Go-Betweens, "Hope Then Strife" (1987)
It’s telling how many artists utilized the "Be My Baby" beat for an album’s big finish, in this case, the classic Tallulah from Australia’s headiest alternative band, who give Blaine’s beat one of its most elegant treatments, thanks to Amanda Brown's gorgeous oboe.
The Magnetic Fields, "Candy" (1992)
As with a large chunk of auteurs on this list, Stephin Merritt is a songwriter who functions as a human pop database, whether he’s inverting clichés invented by Irving Berlin or indulging in deadpan homage, which he and his then-lead singer Susan Amway did on one of the earliest Magnetic Fields albums with this gender-twisted pill of sugar.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Our Time" (2001)
When Karen O, Nick Zinner, and Brian Chase needed something humungous to close out their opening salvo to the world, what could be more memorable than the melody of "Crimson And Clover" grafted onto the "Be My Baby" drums? Mission accomplished.
Sleater-Kinney, "Oh!" (2002)
Sleater-Kinney’s idea of classic girl-group pop is, of course, much faster and louder than the originals. But you might not even notice that One Beat’s poppiest track, “Oh!” has sped up the “Be My Baby” rhythm into this nervy screwdriver.
The Raveonettes, "Little Animal" (2003)
The most sexually explicit tune in the Raveonettes’ considerably “Be My Baby”-influenced catalogue (Ronnie Spector herself even appeared on 2005’s Pretty in Black) hinges on a line that rhymes with “I guess it’s just my luck” and was their first to actually use the Ronettes’ beat itself, smack in the middle of an entire album composed in the key of B flat major.
Johnny Boy, "You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve" (2004)
This beloved 2004 indie-pop single sounds exactly like one of those contemporaneous dozen-member collectives like I’m From Barcelona or Los Campesinos! except their huge, Spector-esque sound was the work of just two members. And any self-respecting Wall of Sound worshippers are gonna steal from "Be My Baby."
Jens Lekman, "A Higher Power" (2004)
The closing tune on the wry Swedish indie-pop powerhouse’s debut snips the snare from the Ronettes’ template to give boom to a relentless string section and a lyric about two protagonists that make out with plastic bags over their heads until they pass out.
Bat for Lashes, "What’s A Girl To Do?" (2006)
Natasha Khan’s debut single is one of the best-ever uses of Hal Blaine’s magical pound, giving it elements rarely associated with the beat, like an eerie harpsichord and a minor-key chord progression. And the Donnie Darko-tinged video of synchronized bike-riding is even better.
The Shins, "Phantom Limb" (2007)
By the Shins’ third album, Wincing the Night Away, James Mercer was giving his dense and knotty melodies-within-melodies more room to breathe, and the slowed, spacious setting was just perfect for a first single that deployed a tambourine-heavy variation on the world’s most famous beat.
Jay Reatard, "An Ugly Death" (2008)
The late Jay Lindsey wrote songs as tight and propulsive as the best punk with a pile of shambolic hooks that even the best pop isn’t always completely stuffed with, and this Farfisa-crazy 2008 single tips its hat to Hal Blaine before perfectly exemplifying both.
Deerhunter, "Vox Humana" (2008)
One of the least pop-oriented bands on this list, Deerhunter is still a perfect match for a beat that leaves such cavernous air open to fill with hazy instrumental smoke and wispy vocals, in this case Bradford Cox’s monologue operating like a "My Boyfriend’s Back" that stretches out the spoken intro to three minutes.
God Help The Girl, "Perfection As A Hipster" (2009)
If contemporary users of the "Be My Baby" beat have anything in common, it’s that they’re usually pop nerds with one foot in not nostalgia itself but an internalized old-time aesthetic. So you get the fuzzy girl-group pop of the Raveonettes and a surfy variation by Best Coast, and this Belle & Sebastian side project all dusting off classic sounds from long before their late-2000s emergences. The only surprise here is that Stuart Murdoch didn’t use it sooner.
Best Coast, "I Want To" (2010)
Bethany Cosentino’s excellent 2010 debut Crazy for You is soaked in splashy reverb that suits its gorgeous throwback ambitions. Though the molasses-paced "I Want To" is its only track that actually swipes the "Be My Baby" rhythm, you’ll swear you remembered at least six others that did, too, in true Jesus and Mary Chain fashion.
Lykke Li, "Sadness Is a Blessing" (2011)
Swedish electro-pop phenom Lykke Li went back much further for this massively Spectorian single that culminates in one perfect, silly encapsulation of her attitude: "Sadness is my boyfriend / Oh sadness, I’m your girl."
Lady Gaga, "Hair" (2011)
Our reigning pop encyclopedia’s take showcases the drum line's strength as a part rather than the sum of a song’s beat, building from the stop-start tension of "Be My Baby" in the song’s intro to an EDM floor-filler of a chorus and some of the last recorded sax-playing ever by Springsteen’s longtime right-hand big man Clarence Clemons.
Car Seat Headrest, "My Boy" (2011/2018)
In 2011 (and again in 2018), Will Toledo recorded (and rerecorded) his fan-favorite song cycle Twin Fantasy with what else but the biggest beat imaginable to open it up?
Alice Bag, "He's So Sorry" (2016)
Turning one of the more disturbing girl-group tropes on its head, L.A. punk legend Alice Bag released this 2016 song to highlight the domestic violence in famous songs like "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" and "Johnny Get Angry," and she even donned a retro get-up in the video amid disturbing scenes of abuse. Using the "Be My Baby" beat was only natural for a song that ties Phil Spector's best and worst legacies together.
Lana Del Rey feat. The Weeknd, "Lust for Life" (2017)
As with Best Coast or the Raveonettes, it’s somewhat amazing that retro-pop revivalist Lana Del Rey hasn't used Hal Blaine’s signature beat more often, though it’s just too perfect for a song pretty much literally about climbing the Hollywood sign.
Photo: Kelly Samson, Gallery Photography
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Varela Media
Living Legends: Frankie Valli On The Four Seasons' Biggest Hits, Impressing Bob Dylan And Inspiring Billy Joel & Elton John
Between a new box set and a Las Vegas residency, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons aren’t slowing down in 2023. Hear from the falsetto king himself about how hits like “Sherry” and “December, 1963 (Oh What A Night!) came to be — and how they live on.
With one of the most recognizable voices in music, a generation-spanning array of hit songs and a life story that has become stuff of legend, Frankie Valli has staked a claim as one of the music industry's most indelible artists. One of the few acts that steadily navigated from the doo-wop age through the disco era, Valli's improbable trajectory with his group, the Four Seasons, was propeled by a golden ear for hits, aided by the songwriter/producer power duo Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe.
That's not to say the 89-year-old is resting on his laurels. His astounding career is on full, vibrant display in the immense new box set aptly dubbed Working Our Way Back to You — The Ultimate Collection. Consisting of 45 discs of every song Valli and the Four Seasons ever recorded — from beloved hits to deep-cuts, demos and other rarities — the set also includes a biographical book filled to the brim with rare images that track their rise from a fledgling New Jersey singing group to Broadway sensations in the form of Jersey Boys.
In addition, later this month Vailli is heading to Las Vegas for a residency at Westgate Resort and Casino where he and the Four Seasons will be appearing until well into 2024.
Valli spoke to GRAMMY.com about his astounding run of hits, the artists he's influenced, the modern covers of his tracks and how his big year started off with a bang during GRAMMY weekend.
You were a surprise performer at the Clive Davis GRAMMY Gala earlier this year and, in a very special moment, everyone in the audience, from Cardi B to Joni Mitchell, jumped up and sang along with you to "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You." What was that moment like for you?
Oh, it was incredible. I never expected it. When Clive first invited me, he said "I want to invite you to my GRAMMY party, but I want you to do a song." I said, "With the generation gap, should I really do a song?" But I was in shock when everybody stood up to sing along.
It was a really a moment I'll never forget. It's a good thing we have people like Clive who really has an insight on what's happening and where it's going.
That night, the Italian rock band Måneksin covered your song "Beggin'" which was their breakout hit. The band was just the latest in a long line of artists who have covered Four Seasons music, with "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" done by everyone from Lauryn Hill to Shawn Mendes, to name just two examples. What do you think of all of these artists wanting to cover your work?
It's quite complimentary. When you've been around a long time and people find value in what you've done, it just makes you feel good about what you've done.
In your career, you've also covered so many songs from Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" to Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice (It's Alright)." How did you go about choosing which songs to cover, and how would you put your own spin on these classics to make them your own?
It was really more or less music that we listened to and we loved. We tried to pick songs that were very meaningful for us, but the trick was to be able to do them a little differently than they had been done.
We were quite successful with it, we did it with songs like "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" We did a version of "Book of Love" and so many others.
Your version of "Don't Think Twice (It's Alright)" is probably one of the most unusual songs in your vast discography considering its subject matter, your exaggerated falsetto, and those background harmonies. How did that come about? I also understand you heard from Bob Dylan himself about it.
We did it in a very campy way, and it really was quite by accident. I was in a studio, and the guy at the soundboard asked me to sing a little bit to get a level on me. So I was clowning around singing in a falsetto like that.
The next thing I know, the button clicks and I hear [Crewe and Gaudio's] voices saying, "Do it like that." I said, "Do what like what?" They said, "Sing it just the way you're singing it." I said, "Come on, you're kidding!"
We did it and that version of it was a take-off on a singer named Rose Murphy, who had several hits. Many years later, I was shopping at Fred Segal in LA and Bob Dylan came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. We shook hands and he said, "I love the version of 'Don't Think Twice' that you guys did."
Speaking of your singular vocal stylings, I'm wondering how you and the group went about plotting how you'd all harmonize. For example, in a song like "Candy Girl," there's your iconic falsetto, and then suddenly we hear in a very low baritone voice the line "Our love is real!" Is something like that written out? How does it come together in the studio?
It just comes naturally. A lot of credit goes to the fact that we were never chased away from a song because we didn't know what to do with it. We toyed with it until we found what we thought was right for it. There were no direct plans; everything was done from within the group.
Nick Massi had his job doing a lot of the vocal arrangements, and Gaudio did most of them after Nick had left. We worked together until everybody was satisfied with it. Does it fit? Does it work? It's like a puzzle. You don't want to overdo anything, and you don't want to under-do.
So then let's say in a song like "Walk Like A Man" when the harmonies sing that iconic "Oo-Oooo-Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo-Ooooo." Where does that come from?
It comes from Bob Gaudio, who wrote the song to sound like that. The first three songs we did were more like a chant, and that's what we created to make what everybody knows as our sound.
We wanted to be very easily identifiable. If you heard something by us on the radio, you knew that it was us. We were constantly looking for new ways and new things while having fun doing it. We weren't following or listening to anybody else on the radio; we weren't a copycat group.
First of all, I'm a big Billy Joel fan. There isn't anything he's ever done that I haven't liked. My favorite of everything is "Just The Way You Are." It sounds so honest and lyrically it's so right, it had to be a hit.
I loved it. He's another guy who has done very little wrong musically. He's an amazing writer and performer.
You and the group have a lot of name songs: "Sherry," "Marlena," "Dawn." Was that conscious effort, or was it just natural?
It was natural. Bob wrote the songs… He and I have been partners now for over 50 years and he never ceases to amaze me. He's so tuned into everything that's going on, it's really amazing.
Is it true that "Sherry" was originally called "Jackie" in honor of Jackie Kennedy?
No, it was originally called "Perry." Before "Sherry," we weren't signed to a label, so this small independent company owned by a millionaire had a daughter named Perry. And that's what he wanted us to call it, but it was written to be "Sherry" and we just felt very strongly about that and kept it.
What did the owner think of that?
We ended up going with a different company. So we never heard much after that.
One of your biggest hits was "December 1963 (Oh What A Night!)." I always wondered if that was a random date, or if you chose it because that period was a unique moment in history: a month after the Kennedy assassination, but two months before the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan.
It was originally a song with lyrics about the '20s, '30s and '40s. The lyrics were "Flippers flopping on the floor." It was a totally different song. When Bob brought it into the studio, he was disappointed we weren't crazy about it and he wanted to junk the song. We said, "No, you can come up with something better than this," and he rewrote it to fit the time.
Is there one song that you thought should have been bigger than it was?
The funny thing about records during the days when we recorded, and the record business was as big as it was, to become a hit it was important that the record company do the legwork and get radio stations to play it, or try it for two weeks. I thought there was a lot of what we did that was overlooked because the record company wasn't that crazy about it.
For example, I put the single "We're All Alone" out, and the record company didn't want to work it. I did mine with the London Symphony Orchestra. Later, Rita Coolidge came out with the same song and it went to No. 1. Sometimes things like that happen.
A song like "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" was in the can for two or three years. We had to force the record company to release it and hire independent promotion people to work the record and get it on the radio.
"My Eyes Adored You" was recorded for Motown Records and that one was in the can for three years because they weren't too sure about it. Finally, when we left Motown, we asked if we can buy back the track, and they agreed for us to purchase it. We did and we brought it to every record company in the business and they all said no.
Eventually, we found Larry Uttal with a brand new record company, Private Stock Records, and he said, "That'll be my first No. 1 record for my new company." And it was!
From when you first started recording in the early '50s to when "Sherry" hit No. 1 was a period of nine years. That's a long time. Why did you stick with it?
It was always music first. If I had no success at all, I'd probably still be doing music somewhere in New Jersey or New York. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and wanted to be.
At first, I rejected the fact that I might have to do pop music, but as I started to do it and it became successful, I realized it was a music that people could understand. And what are you doing music for? You're doing it for people. Without an audience you wouldn't have anything.
My love of music started out for the very first time with me seeing Frank Sinatra as a boy when my mom took me to the Paramount Theater in New York City. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and I was so inspired; I made up my mind that that's what I wanted to do.
Photo: Alex Lake | C A Management
Masterful Remixer Giles Martin On The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' The Beatles, Paul McCartney
Ahead of his spectacular, Dolby Atmos-elevated remix of the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' Giles Martin discusses the pressures and jubilation of handling such a precious album.
Bicycle bells, Coca-Cola cans, sleigh bells, water bottles, French horn, Electro-Theremin — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Compared to even ambitious Beatles masterpieces like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, remixing the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is an entirely different beast. While the Fabs' recordings were often deceptively sparse — "Taxman" is guitars, bass, drums and vocals — Pet Sounds is an ocean of eccentric, melancholic, joyful sound.
Astonishingly — by today's standards — the album was initially recorded to a four-track machine. A student of the studio might assume that remixing the such a record would require some form of sacrifice during the remixing process, wherein various elements would have to be buried, or excised, to bring another to the light.
Giles Martin, who has remixed Sgt. Pepper's, The White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be, and Revolver — and now Pet Sounds, for Dolby Atmos — has an incisive answer.
"Will I sacrifice taste or feel for the sake of it being an Atmos mix? If that starts getting compromised, then let's make it mono," two-time GRAMMY winner Martin tells GRAMMY.com. "It doesn't make any sense to affect the integrity of a song for the use of technology. Technology should be there to serve the music, as opposed to the other way around.
"I don't want people to listen to an Atmos mix I've done; I want people to listen to a song," he continues. "My mix is just a small part in the process."
But sitting in complete darkness in a Dolby screening room on Sixth Avenue in New York City, it was difficult to think of Martin's touch as being a "small part."
This version of Pet Sounds was nothing short of revelatory — shining up each Beach Boy's vocals, unburying numberless exotic instruments, mapping the musical elements in physical space. All without compromising Brian Wilson's timbral and harmonic syntheses that characterize this art-rock cornerstone.
Read on for a candid interview with Martin about his remixing philosophy, moving from the Beatles space to the Beach Boys space and what he wants to improve about his methodology — in short, "everything."
The Atmos mix of Pet Sounds is available now on Amazon Music, Tidal and Apple Music; stream it here.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
During Beatles listening events, there's a little bit of tension between yourself and that fan community. This Beach Boys event seemed to possess a completely different energy — less antagonistic, more of a lovefest. What's it been like moving from the Beatles world to the Beach Boys world as per their fan communities?
I don't know — I think that I may not be perceiving it right [laughs].
I never felt that there was a huge amount of antagonism with the Beatles thing. I think to begin with, there was. With the early days of me, certainly, doing Love, ironically, there was a suspicion of what I was up to — what are my motives, and what gives you the right to screw around with these tracks, and who the hell do you think you are, and that sort of thing.
I think there's been a sort of shift in a level of trust, hopefully, that people don't realize that I deliberately do this to try and screw things up.
I was actually more nervous going to a Beach Boys playback than I was going to a Beatles playback. With the Beatles, I kind of know where I am — and regardless of what anyone may think, I probably have more experience on this than most other people do.
The Beach Boys, I don't. It's my first rodeo, if you like, so I was probably a bit more nervous addressing their audience.
"Antagonism" is probably too strong a word. Just a little bit of tension in the air, when somebody's like, "What happened to that guitar squeak at 2:01 on 'Taxman,' Giles? Would you like to explain yourself?"
That always makes me laugh. There are two guys who are those people, and they come and listen in the studios. They came around recently for something, and they were like, "Well, we heard something at this moment."
I'll always listen and respect what they say, but then I'll just go… I do have Paul and Ringo. So they'll just go, "Well, we think it's fine."
I think what you are alluding to is there's a sense of ownership that people have over Beatles music. But I think that's the case with Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys as well.
From a business standpoint, what's it been like docking your spaceship on a new mothership?
I pay no attention to the business side of stuff. It's the same record label, actually — Capitol. I have a really good relationship with them, and they're great.
They know what they're getting themselves into by asking me to do stuff, which means that generally, things will be late; I'll miss deadlines. But they also know that I'll take care. And I think part of my job is, obviously, listening to what people have to say, and listening to and collaborating with other people on this, and doing it.
What role did the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds play in your life up to this point? Obviously, you're steeped in this overall miasma due to your lineage.
It's funny: as I said to my dad <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/george-martin/4663">legendary Beatles producer [George Martin], "It's amazing the work you did." And he was like, "Yeah, but I mean, compared to what Brian Wilson did when he was just on his own — you need to go listen to that." And so I did, and I suppose that there's an otherworldliness to it.
Just as a producer, or someone who loves music, Pet Sounds could not be ignored, because it's so intricate in the way it is, and it's an album that gets better the more you listen to it as well. And I hope that is sustainable in times of TikTok where people only have a short amount of time to pay anything attention.
I suppose that I wouldn't have agreed to do it if it wasn't important to me.You have to give it your all; you have to spend a lot of time listening to this music. It's such an important and influential record — not just for other people, but for me as well.
You mentioned during the listening party that you didn't have to employ the same AI techniques to unglue the tracks as you did on Revolver. Can you elaborate?
I wouldn't say it was unglued. If you imagine on, for instance, "That's Not Me," essentially, the band are kind of on three tracks a lot. So, they're stuck.
And "That's Not Me" has drums, organ, tambourine on one track. So, I can't move the organ or tambourine away from the drums. They have to be on one side. And I have bass and lead guitar on another track, so bass and guitar are going to be in the same place no matter what I do.
But there's an intent with this, where it's unlike having a band like the Beatles. This isn't really a band record; it's more of an orchestral record. It has a backing to it.
There's not really a drum kit on Pet Sounds, per se. There's drums on one or two tracks, but there's not really a drum kit. It's like orchestral percussion. So it's fine having those things glued together. Whereas on something like "Taxman," we have guitar, bass and drums — and only guitar, bass and drums going on for the whole song.
If you want to have a stereo record, you have to separate them — because otherwise, they're just on one side and the vocals on the other side; there's no reality. But with this, you have chunks of musicians in a room, and then you can create this real world around it.
Brian Wilson rightfully soaks up the lion's share of the discourse around Pet Sounds; he crafted the record. But in this process, what did you learn about them as per their group dynamic? You alluded to their vocal precision during the listening event. I love Carl and Bruce's vocals on "God Only Knows." I know that Carl and Dennis played on the record in a limited capacity.
I don't know what I learned that I didn't already know, apart from the fact that — this is what people miss — bands exist with resentment, and everything else. But bands exist because they're human beings in a room. The fact that you don't hear someone doesn't mean that they're not having influence.
With the Beach Boys, obviously, you hear their incredible harmonies. And Brian couldn't have done what he did without having the palette of outstanding musicianship, and the ability for these guys to harmonize and create these vocals that can't exist anywhere else.
So, that's what I suppose you hear. You hear the other members of the band come in on tracks, as you alluded to, and you suddenly think — not that it's a relief, but it's like, Oh my god, this is a band. This isn't just Brian. That's what I took from it.
I could genuinely sit there and think about the Beach Boys on a conceptual level and be entertained for hours. But is there a danger of overthinking an artifact like Pet Sounds? Or is it a fount for infinite analysis and edification?
No, I think you are absolutely right. You can take the fun out of it — and people do frequently — by being too pretentious about things. I find this quite amusing. It's almost like the song becomes the ownership of the journalist — or the expert, if you like — and not the person listening to it.
People are told what to listen to, and what to listen out for, in a sort of educational way: "You don't really understand this." It's that sort of thing: "If only you knew you knew how good this was, you'd be able to like it." That sort of conversation. "Music isn't like how it used to be, because it's not as good as this," and all this sort of conversation.
It's absolutely rubbish. It's like, let people enjoy what they want to enjoy. As long as you're passionate about something, it doesn't make a difference whether you like Megadeth or the Beach Boys.
You recently worked on a refreshed version of Paul McCartney's "Live or Let Die." That song is such a mind movie — and not just because it has James Bond roots. I'm sure you had fun with that one.
It was great. It's a bit like a lot of the projects I do; the expectancy is so vast spread.
It's quite tricky; how do you meet the expectation? Because one thing that mono or stereo or compression gives you, is it gives you loudness. You separate stuff in an immersive soundfield, you have to be careful that you don't start losing impact.
One thing that "Live and Let Die" has is impact. And that's the tricky thing about that song. But I'm really happy. It was actually a big mix to do; I can't lie. It was like, "Oh my god, here we go; I have to be fully qualified to do this mix."
But I'm really happy with it. I can't wait for people to hear it. I think it's super cool.
How do you want to get better at what you do? Where do you want to improve?
Oh, god. "Everywhere" is the answer. I think you are never done. It's only sometimes I hear things back and go, Oh, that actually sounds quite good. Oh, I did that. That's alright. Otherwise, you sort of hate everything.
I nervously watched you [all] through a screen in New York going, Oh my god, it sounds terrible. That's what goes through my head.
You still struggle with that, huh?
Yeah, of course. And then the thing is, I don't think, What if it sounds terrible? because of ego. It's, What if it sounds terrible because you guys really like this record and I need to do it justice? That's what goes through my head.