Brian Wilson's Voice

(1/7) > >>

This board has been known for years to put rumor, innuendo, and general B.S. to rest. There's been speculation for a long time as to the cause of Brian Wilson's dramatic voice change beginning in 1975. A couple of songs recorded in 1974, “California Feeling” and “Child of Winter”, were the last with Brian's high voice still intact, but beginning in the early 70's, it had been getting noticeably weaker.  “Don't You Just Know It” with Jan Berry was a song that was indicative of his high voice starting to go South. His intro line to “California Saga” was not necessarily strong. If you listen to DJ Jim Pewter's interview with Brian in August of 1974, Brian still talked with that recognizable high voice, but the following year it was gone forever, and so were the familiar 60's/70's Beach Boys harmonies. There were glimpses that he could still sing falsetto in 1976, '77, '78 (Airplane, The Night Was So Young, She's Got Rhythm) though it sounded forced. It's been a mystery for years as to why his voice sounded so clear on 'Matchpoint Of Our Love'.

So what caused his vocal chords to deteriorate and his voice to weaken and sound raspy? It's much better now than it was in 1976, and age has something to do with it of course, but there was an abrubt change in the mid-70's. I took the liberty to copy other people's opinions from another board. Some of them made me laugh out loud; I'll reserve comment on which ones as I don't want to offend anyone:

1. Much of that damage was cigarette and drug related.

2. The big damage was done on purpose in 1975.

3. Is was his attempt to sound more manly.

4. Basically, he just started smoking obsessively because he suddenly decided he hated his voice. He was at a phase where he was irrational and the major change happened in a fairly short amount of time.

5. The real damage was done by the cocaine. That's what scorched his vocal chords and did irreparable damage.

6. Bruce (Johnston) has said in the past that he personally believes Brian was trying to sound more like Dennis.

7. Off the top of my head Debbie Keil, and Stephen Kalinich told me the exact same story on it. Brian told me himself that he wanted to sing differently without going into how he achieved it. Cocaine didn't help but the constant cigarettes was the key.

8. It was a very deliberate effort on Brian's part. He may have been crazy, but he was a master of self-destruction. Without the cigarettes and other various drugs, he couldn't have possible sang in such a "manly" tone like he wanted. His voice was too sweet and clear to sound like he wanted to, not to mention he was very embarrassed by his early falsettos for whatever reason. So he took it upon himself to destroy his voice, and succeeded.

9. Cigarettes were the killer. He was doing coke in fairly good quantities before 75' and his voice was fine. As far as I know, he didn't start smoking intensively until 75'. I think he was going for a manly voice.

10. It is well known he was obsessed with Randy Newman's Sail Away album. It could be that he was looking for a Randy Newman style voice, which is rough and much deeper than his....more like Denny's voice.

11. Brian would actually scream himself hoarse to change his voice.

12. We're talking about upwards of 80-100 cigarettes a day. Imagine how having approximately one cigarette every 7-10 minutes would feel (that's assuming Brian was awake for 12 hours a day).

13. The change in Brian's voice in 76 was not due entirely to cigarette or coke- induced vocal cord damage. I believe Brian truly felt his younger falsetto voice no longer was appropriate for a 300+ pound 34 year old man.

14. The clarity of his vice on "Matchpoint" was mainly due to massive studio "trickery". That is, achieved by piecing together several of the best vocal takes. It's a completely different style of singing.

15. I seriously doubt that smoking one year was long enough to do "irreparable" damage.

16. Perhaps it wasn't just the residual effects of tobacco and drug abuse alone which destroyed his voice. Perhaps he really declared war on his voice.

17. Brian wanted to sound like Frank Sinatra, hence the Adult child album and him submitting songs for approval.

18. Brian himself has said he smoked as much as he could during that time. His friends confirm this. He just didn't stop even when eating. He didn't totally succeed. He managed to get some degree of falsetto back in the late '70s and into the '80s, and can still pull it off in the studio.

19. I would bet that (like a lot of things) Brian really regrets what he did to his voice back then.

20. It's not just about the falsetto. That's not what he was trying, alone, to destroy. He was trying to destroy the boyish/effeminate quality which his voice had and the timbre of his voice-falsetto and otherwise.

Truth or bull pucky?  Let's hear your thoughts. What about all the lurkers here? Did he lose his falsetto on purpose or was it involuntary due to cocaine abuse and excessive cigarette smoking? You know coke hits the vocal chords like shrapnel, but others have done massive amounts and were still able to sing well. Sinatra and others (including Carl Wilson) smoked for years and were still able to sound fine – of course they exercised their voices quite a bit where Brian didn't. Could Brian have wiped it out in one year, or was 1975 the culmination of years of drug, drink, and smoke that began in the early 70's and escalated soon after Murry died in June of '73?


"Brian can still sing up there, but it's something of a force of will for him. When Brian decides to sing falsetto, it is “Louder Than God”.
- BW band member.

“I was a little embarrassed about my voice, but everyone kept saying it sounded good so I kept using it."
- Brian Wilson - 1987

“With my high voice taking the place of a girl's voice. I never felt bad or self-conscious about my voice because I can sing high and low both”
- Brian Wilson, 1990 Wild Honey/Friends liner notes.

“I never had a problem with my falsetto.”
- Brian Wilson, August 2007 – Blue board.

Sheriff John Stone:
- Because of the SPEED and DEGREE to which Brian's voice deteriorated, and the fact that it never again resembled his earlier voice, I believe it was mainly due to the cocaine use.

- While Brian may have complained about the "femine" quality of his voice, I never believed that he would intentionally try to ruin it or "sabotage" it. He didn't have to; he was gradually getting "lower" with age anyway. He should've been aware of it, just by listening to his vocals post 1970.

- I don't believe Brian's vocals on MIU were the result of any studio "trickery". If anything, the vocals on that album sound untouched; you can hear some of the warts. Laying off the cigarettes, some return to health, and actually singing more over the previous two years might've helped.

I never under stood why David Crosby's voice stayed relatively intact after the tons of drugs he did. Have you heard Joni Mitchell's vocals lately-cigarettes totally changed her sound-and, of course, she is older but a chain smoker nonetheless-I don't know if there was that much studio "trickery" when MIU was recorded, but I've never understood how Brian could sound so incredibly better after 15 Big Ones-there wasn't alot of time involved between the two albums. What about the theory that Brian sings his best when he's in the mood to do so? ???

Brian really didn't want to be in Fairfield for the sessions - and there is indeed a good degree of studio polish on his vocals. Compare with the lead for "Winter Symphony", recorded at roughly the same time.

Quote from: AGD on November 08, 2007, 11:57:40 pm

Brian really didn't want to be in Fairfield for the sessions - and there is indeed a good degree of studio polish on his vocals. Compare with the lead for "Winter Symphony", recorded at roughly the same time.
[/quote Did pro tools exist at the time of MIU or was the "polish" an earlier technology?


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page