March 13, 2015
Guests: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil - Hal Blaine
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Today's guests, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, have been a songwriting team, as well as husband and wife, for more than 50 years. Their hits include "On Broadway," "Uptown," "Only In America," "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" and this song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELIN'")
THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS: (Singing) You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips. And there's tenderness like before in your fingertips. You're trying hard not to show it, but baby, baby I know it. You lost that lovin' feelin', whoa, that lovin' feelin'. You lose that lovin' feelin'. Now it's gone, gone, gone - whoa.
BIANCULLI: When Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil teamed up in the early '60s, they were staff writers for a music publishing company owned by Don Kirshner. They were among the famed Brill Building songwriters, a group that also included Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Neil Sedaka. Unlike many songwriters of the '60s, Mann and Weil survived in the British invasion. They were still writing songs when Terry Gross spoke with them in 2000. Today, their younger selves are portrayed in the current Broadway musical "Beautiful" about Carole King. And Cynthia Weil has just written a novel drawing on her Brill Building experiences called "I'm Glad I Did." But long before any of that, Mann and Weil were songwriters. And at the end of 1999, their "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" was the most-performed song of the century in the BMI publishing catalog.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELIN'")
THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS: (Singing) Baby, baby, I beg you please, please. I need your love. I need your love. Well, bring it on back.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, welcome to FRESH AIR.
BARRY MANN: Oh, thank you.
CYNTHIA WEIL: Thank you.
GROSS: Barry Mann, let me ask you first. What's happening in the melody of that song? Is there anything that you worked on that is particularly interesting to describe?
MANN: Oh, I don't know if it would be interesting now, but when we wrote the song, it was very - it was a very different first time. That middle part of the song, the, you know, kind of the soulful part, had never been done before. And also at the time, the record ran long, which for nowadays, it's really short (laughter). It ran over three minutes. And so Phil Spector produced the record even though it was - I think it was two - he put 2:58 on it even though I think it ran around 3:10 or so. So that's about the only difference I can talk about now.
GROSS: Oh, so he lied about the length so DJs could play it.
GROSS: Cynthia Weil, what was the part of the lyric that came to you first that you built everything else around?
WEIL: You know, Barry started playing that opening melody, and I'm not sure which one of us - as a matter of fact, I think it was Barry who came up with the opening line, you never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips. And it just seemed to flow. And when we hit the chorus, one of us - I think it was me - sang that you've lost that lovin' feelin'. And we weren't even thinking of using it as the real title. I mean, in those days, we used to write a song and kind of just fill it up with any words just so we'd remember it, and we used to call that a dummy title or a dummy lyric. And that was our dummy lyric. And then we wrote a verse and a chorus, and we called Phil. And we played it for him, and he said, that's not the dummy lyric, that's the lyric.
MANN: That's the title, definitely.
GROSS: So were you writing the song on assignment? Were you writing it for The Righteous Brothers?
WEIL: When we wrote the song, they weren't that crazy about it (laughter).
MANN: Well, when I sang it - I loved The Everly Brothers at the time, and I sounded like The Everly Brothers. So when I sang it to Bill and Bobby, they said, you know, it sounds really good, very good for The Everly Brothers. And another thing that happened is that at the time, you know, the records that they had been putting out, they both sang together, and this one, Bill Medley had the lead. So Bobby said, well, what am I going to do while he sings? And I think Phil Spector says, well, you'll be walking to the bank.
MANN: So that's...
WEIL: Phil was quite confident in his abilities (laughter).
GROSS: Give us a sense of the process. When you became a songwriting team, were you assigned which singers you would be writing for back when you were working for Don Kirshner?
MANN: It went both ways. We could just sit and write a song or there were assignments. The Drifters would be up, say, as a group, and everybody at Aldon Music would want to write for The Drifters. But at the same time, there were songs we just sat down to write. When we originally - Cynthia and I wrote the original - there was an original version of "On Broadway." And I always had the concept to try to write a Gershwin-esque kind of contemporary song, and that's basically how "On Broadway" was written, the reason for it. Again, there was no specific artist in mind. So it happened all different ways.
GROSS: OK, let's stick with "On Broadway" for a minute.
GROSS: This was a big hit for The Drifters. You had nobody particular in mind when you wrote it. Did The Drifters have the first recording of it?
MANN: Yes. Oh, no, they didn't.
WEIL: Well, they had the first recording that was released, but...
MANN: Released, yeah.
WEIL: ...It actually - Carole and Gerry were recording a group, right?
GROSS: This is Carole King and Gerry Goffin?
MANN: Carole King, yeah.
MANN: But also, the - Phil Spector cut our original version of "On Broadway" with, I think, The Crystals.
MANN: He never completed it. As a matter of fact, I have it at home. I should've brought it here. It would've been very interesting to hear.
GROSS: Now, how did that version compare to the one The Drifters did?
MANN: Melodically, it was very, very close. The opening line - if I - it was - instead of, (singing) they say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, ours was, (singing) they say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. Bright is very Gershwin-y - kind of, you know, kind of more of a bluesy note. And so it was changed. If I remember, Mike Stoller suggested that we change it. And also, we didn't modulate three times, and that was a very good suggestion. And then lyrically, there was a different lyrical perspective. You can talk about it, Cynthia, if you want.
WEIL: Well, I think we had written it for a girl group, so it was about a girl coming to New York and dreaming of Broadway and stardom. And it was much more kind of escape from a small town and I'm going to make it. And when we met with Jerry and Mike and played this for them, they said, you know, we're doing The Drifters, so it would need a whole other perspective. And you can go home and do it yourself, or you can write it with us. And these guys were our idols. We thought they were great and it would be a fantastic opportunity to work with them. So we ended up reworking the song together.
MANN: Which was...
WEIL: And it was really - it was like going to songwriting school, working with Jerry Leiber is - for me as a lyricist.
MANN: Like I say, they have very - two different approaches, lyrically. Cynthia's much more organized. She would want to write the first verse, make sure it's completed and go to the chorus.
WEIL: Yeah, I'd stay on that second line. If I couldn't get it, I'd be there for months, you know?
MANN: And she...
WEIL: I wouldn't move. And Jerry just kind of jumped around and showed me that you can, you know, go different places and move things around. (Laughter) You don't have to be so rigid.
MANN: Yeah, it was a very exciting experience.
GROSS: Why don't we hear The Drifters' recording of "On Broadway," the song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil?
MANN: And Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
WEIL: And Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON BROADWAY")
THE DRIFTERS: (Singing) They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. They say there's always magic in the air. But when you're walking down the street and you ain't had enough to eat, the glitter rubs right off, and you're nowhere. They say the girls are something else on Broadway, but looking at them just gives me the blues 'cause how're you going to make some time when all you got is one thin dime? And one thin dime won't even shine your shoes. They say that I won't last too long on Broadway.
GROSS: Now, Barry Mann, before we heard this, you mentioned that - I think it was Leiber and Stoller suggested adding the modulations. We just heard one of those key changes. What does that kind of key change do to the emotional quality of a song?
MANN: Well, especially in that song, it really works because that song is basically one melody. It's a verse that's repeated three times. So it would really get very boring to just do the same melody three times in the same key. So that really uplifted the song.
BIANCULLI: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil speaking to Terry Gross in 2000 - more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES")
THE DRIFTERS: (Singing) Oh, Saturday night at the movies - who cares what picture you see? When you're hugging with your baby...
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2000 interview with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: One of the types of groups that you worked for was the girl groups. You wrote a few girl group hits, including a couple for The Crystals: "Uptown" and "He's Sure The Boy I Love." Were there any considerations lyrically writing for the girl groups? Was there a certain type of lyric, certain type of song?
WEIL: I somehow felt that my girls group lyrics - except for "Walking In The Rain," which was really adolescent (laughter) - were - they were just a little sharper. I mean, "Uptown" certainly is not a girls group song.
MANN: You just wrote a song.
WEIL: It's really - it's sung by a girls group, but I just don't think that I was really a good girls group songwriter.
MANN: And if I could just kind of interject, when I first started writing with Cynthia, first she showed me some of her lyrics, and I really like them a lot. And what I saw in them was this - there was kind of a - they were very - had a show quality to them. There was a sophistication. And I really thought that that sophistication combined with rock 'n roll would be very fresh. And I think Cynthia always has kept that kind of sophistication unless she really had to go sideways, just like "Walking In The Rain." And it was a great combination.
GROSS: Well, "Uptown" kind of tells a story. What's the story it tells?
WEIL: Well, it really tells a story of a man who, because of his race, is regarded one way in the workplace and then another way with his friends and family and the woman who loves him. That song had a story to it also in that when we had written it and Phil had recorded it, I think there were a couple of notes that Phil had changed because the singer couldn't hit them. And we went nuts (laughter), you know? We were so young and insane that those things really mattered, and one note could drive both of us over the edge. And we begged him to come in and record it again with another singer that we had found who happened to be Carole King and Gerry Goffin's babysitter named Eva.
GROSS: Oh, Little Eva...
MANN: That's right.
WEIL: (Laughter) Little, so...
GROSS: ...who did "The Loco-Motion."
MANN: That's right.
WEIL: Exactly, so before Little Eva did "The Loco-Motion," we dragged her into a studio with Phil, and it was the first time she'd ever been on mic, and Phil was driving her crazy. And she didn't realize that when she was on the mic, even if we weren't recording you could hear what she was saying in the control booth. And so she was ranting about hating Phil during the whole thing.
WEIL: And he was enjoying it so much. And when she finished, we realized that Phil had made the better record anyway, and he really just was humoring us to do this. It was very sweet of him to do it.
MANN: He was humoring us and torturing her (laughter).
WEIL: (Laughter) Yes, exactly. But then Eva of course went on to become Little Eva.
GROSS: Well, let's hear The Crystals' hit version of "Uptown."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTOWN")
THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) He gets up each morning and he goes downtown, where everyone's his boss and he's lost in an angry land. He's a little mad. But then, he comes uptown each evenin' to my tenement. Uptown, where folks don't have to pay much rent. And when he's there with me, he can see that he's everything. Then he's tall. He don't crawl. He's a king. Downtown, he's just one of a million guys. He don't get no breaks and he takes all they got to give 'cause he's got to live. But then, he comes uptown where he can hold his head up high. Uptown, he knows that I'll be standing by. And when I take his hand, there's no man who could put him down. The world is sweet. It's at his feet when he's uptown. Whoa...
GROSS: That's "Uptown," written by my guests Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Was it Phil Spector who came up with that real Latin-sounding instrumentation, the castanets and...?
WEIL: Yes, uh-huh. That was Phil.
MANN: Yeah, yeah, that's...
GROSS: Now, let me ask you about another song that you wrote, "Only In America." And Jay & The Americans had the hit of this. I understand the original version was actually written for The Drifters.
MANN: It was, and it was recorded by The Drifters. But then when they tried - they brought these around to disc jockeys, the black disc jockeys, they wouldn't play it because they felt that with the lyric was a lie. You know, and very interesting, this little, quick concept that we almost did - it wasn't really serious - but we almost wrote it the opposite way. And I would've loved to have done it. And that pair was like, (singing) only - instead of (singing) only in America, where they preach the Golden Rule, do they start to march when my kids try to go to school. Only in America, land of opportunity, do they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me - which I thought was really very - it was sort of harsh, but...
WEIL: That was the way we wanted to go. This...
GROSS: So you wanted to go like a civil rights protest song?
WEIL: Exactly, exactly. And Jerry Leiber, who was the voice of reason, said...
MANN: And - yes...
WEIL: ...You'll never get this played. Don't waste your time. We have to think positively, and we have to write it from another viewpoint.
MANN: So basically, if we wrote it from a really white viewpoint, which was, you know, valid for the, you know, someone who was white. And they ended up (unintelligible) taking that Drifters track and putting Jay & The Americans onto that track.
GROSS: So the lyric you ended up with is very kind of positive - (reading) only in America...
GROSS: ...(Reading) land of opportunity...
GROSS: ...(Reading) can a rich girl like you fall for a poor boy like me.
MANN: Yes, yes.
GROSS: So you say that the Jay & The Americans version had The Drifters...
WEIL: But Leiber and Stoller produced both The Drifters and Jay & The Americans. So after they took The Drifters' voices off, they put Jay & The Americans on.
GROSS: I see. How did The Drifters feel when the song was taken away from them because it was felt that a black group really couldn't sing a song about how great America was (laughter)...
MANN: I don't...
GROSS: ...And be believable?
WEIL: I don't know.
WEIL: We never discussed it with them, but I'm sure that they felt a sense of hypocrisy singing the song at the time.
GROSS: OK, well, let's hear the Jay & The Americans' hit version of "Only In America."
>>JAY & THE AMERICANS: (Singing) Only in America can a guy from anywhere go to sleep a pauper and wake up a millionaire. Only in America can a kid without a cent get a break and maybe grow up to be president. Only in America, land of opportunity, yeah, could a classy girl like you fall for a poor boy like me. Only in America can a kid who's washing cars take a giant step and reach right up and touch the stars. Only in America could a dream like this come true, could a guy like me start with nothing and end up with you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONLY IN AMERICA")
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONLY IN AMERICA")
GROSS: Back in the early 60s, when you started writing near the Brill Building, you have - what? - an office in a high-rise building, and you'd come to work each day and sit down in your office and write tunes.
MANN: Not always. Sometimes we would be writing at home, too.
MANN: It was very half and half, yeah.
GROSS: What was your office like? Did it have, like, a typewriter and a piano in it?
WEIL: It just had a piano and a bench and a chair...
MANN: That was it.
WEIL: ...And an ashtray.
MANN: Yeah. Then they'd give us stale bread every once in a while.
WEIL: But, you know, the great thing about coming in to write was that you heard what everybody else was doing because the walls were quite thin. And so we would hear what Goffin and King were pounding out in the cubicle next to us. And it was always inspirational, and it was always - it really kind of fed your creative hungers. And, you know, now, when everybody has their own home studio and we're all kind of isolated, you really have to make an effort to get that input.
GROSS: Wasn't it distracting to hear other people writing?
WEIL: No, not really. You just played louder. That's all (laughter).
GROSS: Now, did you compete with each other about whose song The Drifters would do, like, you know...?
MANN: Oh, incredibly.
MANN: Oh, it was very competitive.
MANN: Yeah, and at the same...
GROSS: What was that process like? How would you try to get The Drifters your song instead of letting Carole King get the next one with them?
WEIL: Well, we really didn't have control over that. Our publisher would have us all writing for - for example, The Drifters - and then he would go over and pitch all the songs. That was Don Kirshner or somebody who worked for him.
MANN: Who was a great publisher. He was an incredible salesman.
WEIL: And so we would just be sitting out, waiting to hear the verdict, you know?
MANN: It got so powerful at that period that - Donny did and that publishing company that - say The Drifters were up. Donny would play them a song, and they would love the song.
WEIL: And he would say, you can only have it if my publishing company gets the B side also, you know?
WEIL: Or gets the next single, or...
MANN: And some record companies would give into that because, you know...
WEIL: They wanted the song so badly.
MANN: That's right.
BIANCULLI: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil speaking to Terry Gross in 2000. Weil's new novel, "I'm Glad I Did," is a fictional work set in the glory days of the Brill Building.
Coming up, a visit with Hal Blaine, one of the subjects of the new music documentary about The Wrecking Crew. And David Edelstein reviews the new film "It Follows." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES")
THE DRIFTERS: (Singing) Well, Saturday night at eight o'clock, I know where I'm gonna go. I'm a gonna pick my baby up, and take her to the picture show. Everybody in the neighborhood is dressing up to be there, too. And we're gonna have a ball just like we always do. Saturday night at the movies. Who cares what picture you see?
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. The new documentary "The Wrecking Crew" tells the story of what may be the most successful group of studio and session musicians in music history. This anonymous collection of players can be heard on many hits of the 1960s and '70s. Songs by such artists as The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Frank Sinatra, Lesley Gore, the Mamas And The Papas, The Monkees and Nat King Cole. The musicians were used by music producer Phil Spector to create his Wall of Sound.
Our next guest, drummer Hal Blaine, is featured in the documentary and is credited for coming up with the group's nickname, The Wrecking Crew. In March, 2000, Hal Blaine was one of the first five sidemen inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's featured on thousands of records and over 40 number one hits. Terry interviewed him in 2001. They started with one of his hits from 1963. That year alone, Hal Blaine played on "Then He Kissed Me," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Another Saturday Night," "Surf City," "Surfer Girl," "Surfin' USA" and this record, which has one of rock 'n' roll's most famous opening drum lines.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE MY BABY")
THE RONETTES: (Singing) The night we met I knew I needed you so. And if I had the chance, I'd never let you go. So won't you say you love me? I'll make you so proud of me. We'll make them turn their heads every place we go. So won't you please be my little baby, say you'll be my darling. Be my baby now, whoa oh, oh, oh. I'll make you happy...
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Hal Blaine, welcome to FRESH AIR.
HAL BLAINE: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Now, is the opening on "Be My Baby" - was that drum line your idea?
BLAINE: You know, this was the beginnings of rock 'n' roll. Somehow, with my experience, I keep thinking that I was an awfully good faker. And it could be that the lick went (imitating "Be My Baby" opening drum beat) with a backbeat (imitating "Be My Baby" backbeat). And at one point, while we were rolling, I may have missed the second beat. So we went (imitating "Be My Baby" opening drumbeat) and it stuck. It became a hook and, of course, one of the most famous hooks in rock 'n' roll.
That also happened to me - just to get off the beaten track - it also happened to me with the Tijuana Brass when we did "A Taste Of Honey." The song (humming "A Taste A Honey" hook) and everybody comes in (imitating "A Taste Of Honey" hook) - well, unfortunately, nobody was coming in together. It was like a train wreck. So at one point, me in my comedic mind, they went (humming "A Taste Of Honey" hook). And I looked at the band, and I started slugging with my bass drum (imitating bass drumbeat). Everybody came in. And once again, that became a major hook for that song. It happened to be my first record of the year.
GROSS: Why don't we hear that part you're talking about?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A TASTE OF HONEY")
GROSS: Hal Blaine, what are some of the other records that had the most memorable beats that you played?
BLAINE: Well, I remember doing a record with Sam Cooke - "Another Saturday Night" it was called. And that was another one with that same drum lick every eight or 16 bars, whatever it was (imitating drumbeat). And all these drum licks kind of became the standard for rock 'n' roll. You know, all the drummers that I've spoken with through the years have told me that they grew up listening to the records that I played on, and that's how they learned. And I grew up listening to Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, and that's how I learned.
GROSS: In fact, I've bet you've been to countless restaurants where people have been playing your rhythms on the table.
BLAINE: That has happened, I guess, in the past, you know? Sometimes I've actually - you know, it's funny you mention that. I've actually turned around to someone and said, do me a favor and let me play the drums.
BLAINE: In a nice way.
GROSS: Right, right.
BLAINE: Where I would explain to them that they were trying to play their fingers along with whatever the music was playing coming out of the speakers in the restaurant. That actually has happened to me, which is kind of funny that you would hit on that.
GROSS: Now, you did a lot of records with Phil Spector, including "Be My Baby."
GROSS: What are some of the things he had you do that other session heads didn't? What was different about working with Phil Spector?
BLAINE: Well, first of all, every Phil Spector session was a party. Everyone on the session - all the guys and girls were the first call people. Everyone wanted to work with Phil Spector because they knew that some kind of a hit record - I mean, it was the talk of the town. Phil Spector was the guy that everyone wanted to see how he worked. He had a big sign on the door that said closed session, and yet anyone who stuck their head in - he'd grab them, and he'd shove them in the studio, and he'd say, Hal, give them a tambourine or a shaker or some claves, some noisemakers. Let him play something.
GROSS: Did Spector hum for you or clap for you the kind of things that he wanted, the sound that he wanted?
BLAINE: Not on - not for drums. Phil used to use me like a racehorse. He would have me sitting there while he rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. He would keep me from rehearsing, and I'd be chomping at the bit. I'd want to play. And finally, he would point to me. He used to be in the booth, and he'd run back and forth. He had a huge window. And he'd run back and forth like he was conducting a symphony. And he'd look at the strings and use certain, you know, symphonic movements or the way a conductor would do.
And he would look at me and he would say, now. And I knew he was saying now, which meant go for it. And I guess I used to go nuts sometimes on those drums because if you listen to some of the fade endings on just about all those records, we used to go into double-times and all kinds of things that were unheard of on records. And everybody would go whacko. And then there was a time when Phil threatened to put out a record or an album of all the fades that we did.
BLAINE: And the fades if - for those who don't know what a fade is, it just means when you hear a record playing and it gets to the end and it gets softer and softer and softer until it's gone. That's called the fade. With Phil, it went on forever. And finally, when everyone had had enough - and I always kind of had that feeling. I knew when it was - I would go into my quarter-note triplets against whatever was being played...
GROSS: Clap a quarter-note triplet for us.
BLAINE: Well, in other words, (clapping drumbeat). It's over. And I go (clapping and imitating drumbeat). So everyone knew here it is. This is it. And Phil would never stop the machine until I played that - those quarter note triplets. So they're on the end of every record.
GROSS: The musicians who you used to play with on rock 'n' roll sessions were known as The Wrecking Crew. Why were they called The Wrecking Crew?
BLAINE: In the late '50s, we started playing rock 'n' roll. A lot of people said it was a dirty word. They didn't want to hear that kind of music. They thought the musicians were just rank amateurs. They had no idea that we were all well-learned and studied musicians with degrees and so forth playing music. And the old-timers, the guys that we kind of replaced, used to say these kids are going to wreck the business. And I just automatically started calling us The Wrecking Crew. And then I became a contractor very early on doing the hiring for the sessions that I was playing on. And I just started - you know, people would call me and they'd say, get your crew together. And I'd say, OK, The Wrecking Crew, here we go. And I'd make calls. Eventually, I had a secretary who made all my calls and so forth. So The Wrecking Crew stuck.
BIANCULLI: Drummer Hal Blaine, member of The Wrecking Crew, speaking with Terry Gross in 2001. More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'")
THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS: (Singing) All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray. I've been for a walk on a winter's day. I've been safe and warm.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD VIBRATIONS")
THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) I'm picking up good vibrations.
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2001 interview with Hal Blaine. He is the drummer for the Wrecking Crew, the session musicians of the '60s and '70s profiled in the new documentary also called "The Wrecking Crew."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: You were the drummer on a lot of the Beach Boys records.
BLAINE: Just about all.
GROSS: But, I think it was Dennis who was actually...
GROSS: ...The drummer with the band. I imagine at the time, nobody knew that he wasn't the drummer on the records.
BLAINE: A lot of people did not know in the early days that Dennis did not play on those things. Sometimes Dennis would come in and overdub with the tambourine or something.
GROSS: So, did Dennis feel bad that instead of him, it was you on the record?
BLAINE: No, no. I'll tell you - I've told this story before - Dennis loved the fact that while I was in the studio in the afternoon making 35, $40 for the afternoon, Dennis, that night, was making 35 or 40,000 on stage. I mean, they were making a lot of money. And he was thrilled that he could just be on his boat. He didn't have to be in the studio. He didn't have to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
GROSS: Well, let me rephrase the question. Did you feel resentful then that he was making all this money on stage and you were making next-to-nothing in the studio?
BLAINE: Not at all because I knew what it was leading to because my phone started ringing off the hook with - from Phil Spector dates and Beach Boy dates.
BLAINE: All of a sudden, I was getting calls for Elvis Presley and Johnny Rivers, and 5th Dimension came along, and Mamas and the Papas. I mean everybody came out of the woodwork.
GROSS: Is there a Beach Boys track that you particularly like your drumming on that we can play?
BLAINE: Well, you know, there are certain songs that'll make you cry. Songs like, "God Only Knows," one of the beautiful songs. "Good Vibrations," of course, was another sort of a trilogy of - Brian put that song together. Sometimes we would do, you know, five minutes on a session and he'd say, thank you. And sometimes we would work for days putting that song together. He just - he used to use little bits and pieces of this, that and the other. I remember that on one of the sessions - and I think it was part of the "Good Vibrations" - Brian wanted something different, a different sound with drums or percussion. We used to drink a lot of orange juice and they came in little small bottles out of a vending machine. And I took three of those bottles, taped them together, cut the tops off to various sizes almost like the tubes on a vibraphone. And there were three different sounds and I used a mallet that would be used on a vibraphone. And I got this knocking sound (imitating knocking sound), three different knocking sounds. And I used it on that section where we were playing (imitating tune of song section). Well, I was playing (imitating knocking sound), different tones.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear that part of "Good Vibrations?" This is Hal Blaine.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD VIBRATIONS")
THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) I, I love the colorful clothes she wears and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair. I hear the sound of a gentle word on the wind that whips her perfume through the air. I'm picking up good vibrations. She's giving me excitations. I'm picking up good vibrations. She's giving me excitations. Good, good, good, good vibrations. Good, good, good, good vibrations. Close my eyes. She's somehow closer now...
GROSS: That was Hal Blaine on drums and percussion. Now, Hal Blaine, we've been talking about your rock 'n' roll sessions. You also worked with Sinatra. Did you have to get a different kind of beat when you were working with Sinatra? As a jazz singer, Sinatra was more behind the beat. Rock 'n' roll tends to be very on the beat.
BLAINE: One of our secrets to rock 'n' roll was learning to lay back. And we used to - in other words, if you were looking at a scale on a ruler, every time your back beat came on - one, two, three, four - every time we'd hit two and four, it would be just, just a hair behind that actual tune four. That was how I got the great feeling going all the time with Joe Osborn, the great bass player. And Larry Knechtel. You know, we were known as the three killers who used to come in and make these like, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," records like that that were just so incredible - all Grammy winners. You mentioned "Be My Baby," (imitating opening tune of song). When I did the record "Strangers In The Night" with Frank, which was record of the year and his only gold single - believe it or not - that went right to number one, I was playing the same beat quietly. (Imitating tune of "Strangers In The Night).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT")
FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Strangers in the night exchanging glances, wondering in the night what were the chances we'd be sharing love before the night was through. Something in your eyes...
GROSS: What was a rehearsal like with Sinatra and what was the recording session like?
BLAINE: Well, generally when you got a Sinatra call, it was a six-hour call. Now, the standard is a three-hour session. With Frank Sinatra, we would have a six-hour doubled session call - three hours, an hour break and then three hours of recording. We would go in for the first three hours and rehearse whatever the song or songs were, to make sure that we absolutely had it down pat. The engineers would go through all the lines to make sure that there were no glitches, no squeaks, no white noise, no red noise. They would go through all the chairs that the strings especially were sitting on, make sure that there were no squeaks, make sure that everyone had the lights on their music stands, no music stand rattles - I mean, it goes on and on and on, because when Frank Sinatra walked in to record, he walked in, he walked around the two, three of us, four of us, said hi, how you doing? Let's make a record. And bang - he was in the vocal booth and we were making a record. No fooling around. No mistakes, no nothing. Rarely did he ask to do a second take. Frank always knew what he was doing. He had rehearsed himself. He knew the songs. And Frank was the kind of guy that (laughter) once he walked out of the vocal booth he'd say, thank you all. He was gone with his entourage. That was it.
GROSS: You've been on about 8,000 different songs that have been recorded. Do you actually remember what you were on, or do you have to like, consult a list to figure out if you were on something?
BLAINE: Well, it depends. Obviously I had all those records of the year, the Grammy winner of the year, and I don't have to think about those records. I know those records backwards. When it comes to certain songs, it was just a blur of so many songs and so many sessions. I don't know, it's very difficult to explain, Terry. I just played what I felt and they let me play. You know, once you kind of make a name for yourself, then when producers would come in they would say, oh Hal, just do your thing, you know, don't worry about it - just whatever you feel. They felt that I would always do the right thing.
BIANCULLI: Drummer Hal Blaine speaking to Terry Gross in 2001. He's featured in the new documentary "The Wrecking Crew," which opens today in theaters in New York and LA, and additional cities in coming weeks. The film also is available now through iTunes and video on-demand. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews a new horror film, "It Follows." This is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. There were reports last spring from the Cannes Film Festival that a low-budget American horror movie with no big-name stars was making audiences scream. The same report came out of the Toronto Film Festival in the fall. That movie was called "It Follows," and it opens in theaters today. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: There are many ways a filmmaker can try to scare an audience - fancy special effects, loud noises, things jumping up, splatter. Or he or she can go for something less concrete - vague outlines, shadows, weird camera angles that play on the fear of the unknown, hints that things aren't what they seem. But after seeing the indie horror film "It Follows," I'm suddenly convinced there's nothing more blood-freezing than a lone figure, clear as day, relatively normal-looking, walking at a moderate pace from way back in the frame towards the front. Forget about what it is and why it's doing what it's doing, what matters is that it follows.
OK, it would help to know why it's doing what it's doing. The lack of motive never stopped "Halloween's" Michael or "Friday The 13th's" Jason. We know that sex has a connection to whatever it is that follows. After a prologue too upsetting to relay and the movie's one hideously gory image, which I'd like to get out of my head somehow, we meet Jay, played by Maika Monroe, a teenage girl in suburban Detroit asking herself the usual teenage-girl questions. A cute guy named Hugh, played by Jake Weary, wants to sleep with her and she's not sure. In a movie theater, he's spooked by something - a girl in a yellow dress, who she doesn't see, and they hurry off. Then they're on a quiet lakefront beach talking. Then they're in his car having sex. Then Jay's world changes forever. Drugged, she wakes up tied to a chair as Hugh paces behind her.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IT FOLLOWS")
JAKE WEARY: (As Hugh) This thing - it's going to follow you. Somebody gave it to me, and I passed it to you back in the car. It could look like someone you know, or it could be a stranger in a crowd, whatever helps it get close to you. It can look like anyone, but there's only one of it.
MAIKA MONROE: (As Jay) Help. Help.
EDELSTEIN: It's possible that the young writer-director, David Robert Mitchell, is serving up nothing more complex than a cautionary tale with a standard reactionary moral - you have casual sex, you die. The idea has certainly powered many a horror picture, some even good. And in this case, there's that added excruciating moral dilemma - that to keep from dying, Jay will have to seduce someone and pass along the curse or whatever it is, but also tell that person what he's in for because if he dies, she's on the hook again. So really, she's always on the hook.
I identified this as an indie horror movie. And its old-fashioned handmade quality and lack of computer-generated effects is a big part of its appeal. Compositions are simple but witty. The quick blur at the top or the side of the screen could be something or nothing. But what it is, it makes you flinch. There's a touch of "Blue Velvet" in how the camera prowls the bland suburban lawns. And a faint suggestion that the thing is linked to urban decay across 8 Mile Road, where Jay, her sister and two friends go to find that guy who passed it to her.
Rich Vreeland's synthesized organ music is just this side of cheesy but so melodic and perfectly calibrated that the cheesiness must be the point. It evokes both John Carpenter's "Halloween" score and the music to the classic micro-budget ghost story, "Carnival Of Souls," in the best possible way. The young actors are usually likable, especially Keir Gilchrist as the nerd who loves Jay so much he volunteers to sleep with her - many times. In fact, the way Jay's sister and friends stick around instead of bolting, makes this an unusually warm chiller. In dank rooms and on dark outdoor porches, the characters huddle in pools of color. But I couldn't help thinking that the thing would be drawn by that light, like an insect.
I'm a lifelong horror freak, and I've rarely been as scared as I was at "It Follows." But it wasn't a fun kind of scared. I felt sick with dread. What makes me recommend it is the ending, which manages to be both inconclusive and conclusive in a way that's unexpectedly moving - at least if you don't think about what follows.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. On the next FRESH AIR, former Congressman Barney Frank talks with us about his life in politics, including the moment he came out to the press. It was something he was ready for.
BARNEY FRANK: And so my explicit answer was - Congressman Frank, are you gay? Answer - yeah, so what?
BIANCULLI: Frank has a new book.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.