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I am the unknown Beach Boy

By music editor Nicky Liar

Posted August 20, 2012
beach boys pet sounds nicky liar
The Beach Boys: Drugged-up pigeon fanciers more like. (Check bottom for credit)

The Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds is one of the defining records of the 1960s. And it's all thanks to Nicky Liar.

Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys is one of my top 10 favourite albums.

The groundbreaking fusion of diverse instruments and styles made it somewhat unique in its day and it is still considered by many to be one of the most important records ever made.

However, it is a little known fact that I am the unknown Beach Boy.

Although never credited or even mentioned in the history of the Beach Boys, I believe I had an influence on the outcome of this masterpiece.

For example, if you listen carefully you can hear me doing a clog dance in God Only Knows.

Similarly, under the influence of some strong acid, I can be briefly heard clucking like a chicken in the chorus of I Just Wasn't Made for These Times.

But that's only a small part of it...

Brian Wilson and I were pen pals in the early 60s, both of us sharing a keen interest in psychedelic drugs and racing pigeons.

I told Brian about a radical feed I was developing for my birds that would sustain them in flight and increase their endurance tenfold.

He seemed fascinated and encouraged me to test it out, even offering to lend me his loft in Los Angeles in which to do so.

I quickly made arrangements and bought a ticket for me and my best birds from Leeds to LAX.

Naturally, I reserved a window seat so the birds could look out and remember the way back.

Thanks to the Valium and free champagne I woke up in Los Angeles in no time.

Brian's wife Marilyn was waiting for me at arrivals, holding a card with my name on it.

She was a pretty little thing but didn't stop talking all the way to the house.

Fortunately, Brian was deaf in one ear so the marriage seemed to thrive as long as she was sat to his right.

I recall fondly a game of domino's whilst stoned on some herbs from Lebanon where Brian and I discussed a song he was writing for the missus called Put Your Head On My Shoulder.

As a joke I suggested he call it Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) due to her incessant prattling.

Nothing more was said until Brian, Tony Asher and myself got together for a session round a giant bong.

We started off with the intention of having a relaxing smoke after a stressful day sunbathing and somehow got talking about Brian's wife.

Inevitably we discussed Brian's song and possible lyrics.

Tony was a real wordsmith, Brian a genius with the music and my niche was being a muse for them, an ideas man if you will.

Through fits of giggles, Brian tried to describe what he wanted the song to say.

It needed to be a tender love song that would transcend the material world while portraying a passion deeper than that of Romeo and Juliet or Dante and Beatrice... man.

With tears in his eyes and an earnest but stoned expression, he went on to say that the words had to subliminally send out the message that she really needed to belt up and take a breath occasionally.

I asked Brian if he'd tried putting a tea towel over her head, like they do with parrots.

With this technique in mind, I suggested a line for the song: "Come here, wear this tea towel and be quiet".

The boys clearly liked it, although for contractual reasons or something Tony eventually modified the line to "Come close, close your eyes and be still".

We all agreed that my version was better but that's rock 'n' roll for you.

Incidentally, I had a similar experience with the Chas and Dave song Rabbit.

But that's another story.

beach boys husky
Frisky: Husky. (Check bottom for credit)

I was also fortunate to get involved in the recording studio; Brian gave me free rein so he could get on with his thinking.

For a change of scene I used to take long walks with his dog Caroline.

She was a beautiful pedigree husky that needed daily exercise or otherwise she got frisky.

I remember one evening when Paul McCartney stopped by for cocktails and nibbles.

Caroline kept jumping up at Paul and grinding certain parts on his Moroccan full-length kaftan.

Brian kept shouting “Caroline, NO!”, which as you will be aware is the title of the last track on the album.

Ironically, the dog barking at the end is not Caroline.

Sadly she was put down prior to the recording.

However, the sound of the train is the same one that hit her.

My involvement with the whole process was sometimes intricate and had no impact on the final record but sometimes really simple things had great importance.

For example, Brian and I were playing Buckaroo between recordings one day when he said he was having trouble naming one of his songs.

He asked me what I'd call it and I said, "God only knows."

The rest is history1.

Oh yes, 1966 was a magical year all right.

California was where it was happening, the sun shone all day, we partied all night and there were 10 chicks for every guy, although I didn't get a sniff.

The only birds I was really interested in were my beautiful racers, Gracie and Eleanor, who by now were well fed and ready to fly the 5,000 miles home.

On a clear April morning, Brian and some of the lads came to see the girls off.

They flew majestically towards the still rising sun, did a fly past and then shot off towards the coast.

I was filled with pride and wished I could fly back with them.

Indeed, this was the catalyst for the track Wouldn't It Be Nice.

You see, at times Brian and I had tried to fly with our birds by launching ourselves from the lower branches of a giant redwood but that was mainly the effects of the acid.

Unlike the birds, my unpatented feed never took off and sadly I never saw Gracie and Eleanor again.

I like to think they hooked up with a pelican colony and settled down but in my heart I know they probably drowned.

See also Ralf, Florian and Nicky, posted 2/8/12.


1) Chief hack's note: As a result of Nicky's off-hand remark, the Beach Boys became the first band in the history of rock 'n' roll to release a commercial song with the word 'God' in its title. Amazingly, it could so nearly have been the first commercial song with the words 'How the F--k Should I Know' in its title instead.

Picture credits

Top and thumb: The Beach Boys minus Nicky by Desconocido; rejigged by Ignatius Rake.

Bottom: A Siberian husky by Pamela Carls.

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