Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The management style of Brian Wilson, circa 1966

If you took my advice and liked the Empoprise-BI Facebook page, you might have seen my share of a Future Vintage video.

There are a number of musical reasons to be fascinated with this, but I was inspired to look at this from a business perspective.

The song "Good Vibrations" was Brian Wilson's finest moment, although he didn't realize it at the time. By this time Wilson had forced his father out of the group's management, had forced himself out of the group's touring unit, and had assembled a crew of musicians and lyricists to help him realize his vision. By the time of "Good Vibrations," most of the Beach Boys themselves (with the exception of Carl Wilson) were not playing the instruments, and Mike Love alternated with others for the lyrical duties (although, as was subsequently noted, Love's contributions may or may have been downplayed at the time).

Wilson did not have complete control - when "Pet Sounds" bombed financially, he had to take a step back - but with "Good Vibrations," he had the opportunity to craft what he hoped would be the perfect single. (After "Good Vibrations," he would try to write a teenage symphony to God.) But this was years before Prince could go into a studio and create an entire album by himself - Brian Wilson needed help to create his vision.

How did he do it?

Take the lyrics, for example. While Mike Love is in some respects a controversial figure (I've even alluded to the controversy myself), he had his own vision of the Beach Boys. By 1966, the band had enjoyed spectacular success with a steady diet of surf, car, and girl tunes. Why rock the boat? Love had a highly negative reaction when he walked in on the final production for "Pet Sounds," much of which had been conceived while the touring unit of the Beach Boys was on the road. Even by the time of "Good Vibrations," Love had his misgivings:

This was before the Summer of Love, but there were definitely psychedelic rumblings on the West Coast. I felt “Good Vibrations” was The Beach Boys’ psychedelic anthem or flower power offering. So I wrote it from that perspective. The track itself was already so avant-garde, especially with the theremin, that I wondered how our fans were going to relate to it. How’s this going to go over in the Midwest or Birmingham? It was such a departure from “Surfin’ USA” or “Help Me Rhonda”.

So I thought the one thing that everyone can relate to is boy-girl. You know, “she’s giving me excitations”. Had that track not had anything to connect to people intellectually or emotionally, then it would have been a brilliant piece of music, but perhaps not gone to No 1.

So Love wasn't completely on board, but as long as he could get his few words in, he was happy (at the time) to go along with his cousin's wild vision.

Meanwhile, Brian had to communicate with the instrumentalists, such as bassist Carol Kaye.

Brian had all the sounds in his head. He knew what he wanted and wrote out the bass parts for me. They were written crudely – it wasn’t the work of an educated person – but we could read it.

Kaye had another observation.

Brian was a really sweet guy, but he could be cocky when he wanted to be. It was that cockiness that comes with youth. But he was sharp, with very good ears. And he was completely engrossed in what he was doing.

At this stage of his career - after his disruptive father had been banished from the studio, and before Brian himself checked out - he was able to inspire both Wrecking Crew members and the band itself to come up with their greatest work.

In that respect, perhaps Wilson DOES belong in business case studies, right along with other mercurial leaders such as Steve Jobs. This statement about business success could just as well be applied to Wilson, especially when you consider that it took time to appreciate Pet Sounds:

The most revolutionary changes in business method alter the world so fundamentally that their insights can appear banal in retrospect. Alongside the bombast and egotism that can characterise business success, this is a reason for the achievements of business pioneers not always being appreciated as they should.

The parallel does not fit perfectly - after all, there were certain people who were calling Wilson a genius even in 1966 - but his contributions to music were certainly better appreciated in hindsight.

Even by Mike Love.
blog comments powered by Disqus