A Day in the Life of a Tree

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"A Day in the Life of a Tree"
Song by The Beach Boys from the album Surf's Up
Released August 30, 1971 (1971-08-30)
Recorded April–July 1971
Brian Wilson's home studio, Los Angeles
Genre Progressive pop
Length 3:07
Label Brother/Reprise
Writer(s)
Producer(s) The Beach Boys
Music sample

"A Day in the Life of a Tree" is a song written by Brian Wilson and Jack Rieley for the American rock band The Beach Boys. It was released on their 1971 album Surf's Up. The lead vocals were performed by Rieley, who was also the Beach Boys' manager at the time.

The song's lyric was inspired by Brian's feelings toward environmental pollution. It was performed live only once by the Beach Boys, at the Long Beach Arena in Long Beach, CA on December 3, 1971. The bandmembers reportedly coaxed Brian out from the side of the stage to play organ while Rieley sang it.[1]

Composition[edit]

According to Rieley,

Brian Wilson and I had been talking a lot about the sorry state of the planet back then. He was filled with questions and we went on for hours about it. Forests were dying, the air had turned brown, the earth's future was beginning to appear hazardous to health. When Brian first played the chords and sang the tentative melody for me, he asked what the song should be about and I suggested a single tree as metaphor for the earth; that single tree as metaphor for more than ecology. I fell in love with the chords at once and loved the swelling tension of that droned bass line; the song seemed to lend itself to the lyrical concept. He went nuts for the lyrics when I showed them to him. Loved 'em, memorized the first verse and was singing around the house. Carl and I were positive that Brian had to sing A Day in the Life of a Tree.[2]

AllMusic interpreted the song's subject to be autobiographical, calling it "one of Brian's most deeply touching and bizarre compositions…lamenting his long life amid the pollution and grime of a city park while the somber tones of a pipe organ build atmosphere."[3]

Recording[edit]

The instrumental track was made in a few days. Rieley has also recounted that on the day they were to record the lead vocal, Rieley was with the engineer in the control room, and Brian and Carl Wilson were in the studio. Brian did a few warm-up takes and then, dramatically animated as was his wont, tore the headphones from his ears and exclaimed that he needed Rieley to help him. Rieley went out into the studio and he pleaded that Brian just wasn't getting the feeling that he intended with the lyric. Brian insisted Rieley show him what to do, and handed Rieley the headphones.

Rieley did about 5 takes of the song. It was after one of those that Wilson burst from the control booth to the studio and, unexpectedly to Rieley, exclaimed that he had just done the final lead vocal. Although he initially presumed it to be "another Brian Wilson cop-out", Carl explained that everybody had agreed Rieley was fit to sing the lead vocal, and had worked out a plan to trick him into singing it.[4]

Stephen Desper recalled that Dennis Wilson was the first to record a lead vocal.[5] Van Dyke Parks sings background vocals. He elaborated to Rolling Stone in 1971:

Van Dyke Parks circa 1967

I went up there to congratulate them on acting like grown-ups. On continuing to push. Then they had me doing a vocal. I liked that song about the tree just fine. I was just called in to do some singing on one line. It worked out well. Of course I had to stumble out of the studio in pitch darkness. Brian turned out all the lights. Had to crawl out of there on the floor, clutching my wife. Most humiliating thing I've ever ... Oh it's a power trip all right. But I can get behind that. I can get behind the way Brian does it. It's funny to watch him when he can't find something he owns. It's cute when he ignores someone else's needs, because he can always plead insanity.[6]

Personnel[edit]

The Beach Boys
Additional musicians

Other musicians[edit]

Neil Young has briefly referred to "A Day in the Life of a Tree", saying "Brian's a genius…[It's a] great song, man."[7] Andrew VanWyngarden, member of MGMT has covered the song in live performances. In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, he stated "It came out of a period when they were doing a lot of drugs. I got to meet Al Jardine, and he told me that no one would sing it because it was too depressing, so the manager guy, Jack Rieley, sang it."[citation needed]

Cover versions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Slowinski, Craig; Shepard, Rob. "Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA - December 3, 1971". The Beach Boys Setlist Archive. 
  2. ^ Jack Rieley's comments & Surf's Up
  3. ^ Bush, John. "Surf's Up review". Allmusic. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Badman, Keith (2004). The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band, on Stage and in the Studio. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-0-87930-818-6. 
  5. ^ Chidester, Brian (March 7, 2014). "Busy Doin' Somethin': Uncovering Brian Wilson's Lost Bedroom Tapes". Paste. Retrieved December 11, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Nolan, Tom (October 28, 1971). "The Beach Boys: A California Saga". Rolling Stone. 
  7. ^ McDonough, Jimmy (2002). Shakey Neil Young's Biography (1st ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 9781400075447.