Music is an essential part of any road trip whether you’re driving cross-country or just across town. No one knows this better than Brian Wilson, who guides us through his hometown of Los Angeles from the passenger seat of journalist Jason Fine’s car in American Masters – Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road.
Check out our summer playlist inspired by the film and learn more about the songs that made Wilson one of the most renowned songwriters of the 20th century.
Busy Doin’ Nothin’
Brian Wilson wrote the lyrics to “Busy Doin’ Nothin’,” which include the directions to his house on Bellagio Road where he lived in the 1970s. Wilson’s home recording studio hosted a number of musical guests, including The Mamas and The Papas, Little Richard, Elton John, and Sly from Sly and the Family Stone. If only those walls could talk!
♪ Drive for a couple miles/ You see a sign and turn left, for a couple blocks/ Next is mine, you’ll turn left on a little road… ♪
Long Promised Road
Carl Wilson recorded “Long Promised Road” at Brian Wilson’s Bellagio home studio. Brian contributed vocals for part of the bridge. The song is an anthem to facing challenges and knocking down ‘all the roadblocks’ of life.
♪ But I hit hard at the battle that’s confronting me, yeah /Knock down all the roadblocks a-stumbling me / Throw off all the shackles that are binding me down… ♪
In order to replicate the complex sounds he imagined, Brian Wilson cut together over 70 hours of tape – recorded in four different studios – to form the final track. This was the first time a pop track was pieced together from parts. “Good Vibrations” was also notable for its use of an electro-theremin, which was considered to be groundbreaking in Western pop music.
Brian Wilson wrote “California Girls” a few weeks after he first took LSD. When asked how he came up with the arrangement for “California Girls,” Wilson replied, “I was at the piano, and I was trying not to move my highest fingers and my lowest fingers but make cool geometric patterns with the internal fingers.”
“Caroline, No” is about growing up, losing one’s innocence and reckoning with the adult world. All topics were felt by Wilson in his first marriage. In his notes that accompanied the reissued album, Wilson wrote, “We were young, Marilyn nearing 20 and me closing in on 24, yet I thought we’d lost the innocence of our youth in the heavy seriousness of our lives.”
♪Where did your long hair go?/ Where is the girl I used to know?/ How could you lose that happy glow?/ Oh, Caroline, no ♪
God Only Knows
“God Only Knows” and the other songs on “Pet Sounds” were a significant departure from the Beach Boys’ previous work. Rather than making songs about cars and girls, Wilson was interested in tackling subjects like spirituality, aging and mortality. This was the first song on which Carl Wilson sung lead vocals. Brian was going to do it himself but thought Carl’s more youthful voice would better suit the song.
♪ I may not always love you/ But long as there are stars above you/ You never need to doubt it/ I’ll make you so sure about it/ God only knows what I’d be without you ♪
“Forever” was written by Dennis Wilson and was on The Beach Boys’ 1970 album, “Sunflower.” Brian Wilson described the song as “the most harmonically beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. It’s a rock and roll prayer.”
Originally released on the 1976 Beach Boys album “15 Big Ones,” Brain Wilson re-recorded “It’s O.K.” in 2021 for the soundtrack of the documentary, American Masters – Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road.