January 8, 1965: The Beach Boys enter the studio to record what will become their second number one hit, Help Me Rhonda. Well into the session, a drunken Murry Wilson (Brian, Carl and Dennis' Dad) arrives and proceeds to commandeer the session with psychodrama, scat singing and weepy, abusive melodrama.
The session tape captured it all, and versions of these tapes have been floating around bootlegs for years. The fact that the tapes survived is itself surprising - you can hear Brian and Murry fighting over the tape recorder controls at the 35:30 mark of the full version, Murry wanting to stop the recording, with Brian ultimately keeping the tape rolling. And it's a good thing that Brian won out, because this audio verifies many of the Murry Wilson horror stories described in the Steven Gaines book, Heroes and Villains: The True Story of The Beach Boys.
Here's the full 40 minute version of the Help Me Ronda sessions for you completionists: (MP3), and here's a twelve minute edit I did for other attention-challenged people such as myself: (MP3). Recently, Listener Jeff alerted me to Peter Bagge's four-part animated Murry Wilson flash series, which Icebox put out in 2001. Here are all four installments as Shockwave 3.0 files: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
Listening back to the full Help Me Ronda sessions again, I'm struck by how sane Brian sounds when compared to Murry, and how mature and patient he is for a 22 old standing up to his abusive, alcoholic father. After listening in on this session, It's easy to see why the Beach Boys eventually purchased Murry a fake audio console for their sessions, so he could twiddle knobs to his heart's delight without destroying anything.
Both the Help Me Rhonda tapes and the Peter Bagge cartoons delve into some of Murry's legendary abuse of Brian. On the tape, you can hear Brian deflating Murry (for a split second) by reminding him that Brian was deaf in one ear from one of Murry's blows to his head. The famous eyeball removal is portrayed only in the cartoon (and in the Gaines book). Murry reportedly removed his glass eye and made Brian stare into his empty eye socket. That was when Murry was too busy to make Brian shit on a paper plate in front of the whole family.
Murry so destroyed this recording session that The Beach Boys re-recorded the entire song several weeks later (also re-spelling the name Ronda as Rhonda), and it was that later version which became the hit single version, which was also released on the LP Summer Days (and Summer Nights). The inferior version heard on this session was released as Help Me Ronda on the album The Beach Boys Today! The drunken, sync-o-pated version that Murry tried so hard to create was not to be.
Murry utters his immortal line "Brian, I'm a Genius, Too" at the 30:55 mark of the full session.
Thanks to Jeff, Andy and Dave the Spazz.