Rio Grande (song)

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"Rio Grande"
Song by Brian Wilson
from the album Brian Wilson
ReleasedJuly 12, 1988
GenreProgressive pop[1]
LabelSire/Reprise/Warner Bros. Records (25669)
Songwriter(s)Brian Wilson, Andy Paley
Producer(s)Andy Paley, Lenny Waronker
Audio sample
"Rio Grande"

"Rio Grande" is a psychedelic western saga co-written by Brian Wilson and Andy Paley and co-produced by Brian Wilson and Lenny Waronker for Brian Wilson's first solo album.[2] Its modular set of movements hearkened back to the style that Brian Wilson used during the "Good Vibrations"/Smile era with musique concrète. "Rio Grande" was evidence that he could still create brilliant, pictorial landscapes of music similar to Smile whenever he had the freedom, confidence, and courage to do so.[3] It is the longest piece of music in the Brian Wilson catalogue at eight minutes and 12 seconds.

Although it did not contain Van Dyke Parks' imagery or have the out-of-the-box, ambitious enlightenment of the Smile-era work, it gave Brian Wilson the progressive relativity of a genuine comeback album. Mostly, "Rio Grande" unmasked a notion of the old Brian Wilson and helped bridge a gap between the original Smile and the long-awaited, eventual 2004 release of Smile.

Creation of "Rio Grande"[edit]

Waronker and Seymour Stein, the President of Sire Records, encouraged Wilson to make an impressionistic collage that had made Smile an interesting listening experience. Eugene Landy suggested to Brian to make a suite about the development of an individual. However, it was Lenny Waronker who insinuated to Brian to undertake a more complex, revealing, and provisional composition with an Old West theme [4] inspired by the Howard Hawks film Red River and also the movie Rio Grande. A Hawaiian theme was also being considered at the time but was dropped in favor of a Western theme. Work on "Rio Grande" began on October 1, 1987, which happened at the same time as a Los Angeles earthquake. A similar concept being worked on during the same period involved "Saturday Morning in the City" and "Saturday Evening in the City" about describing an ordinary Californian suburban weekend but was soon dropped. Early titles before "Rio Grande" was chosen included 'Baby, Child, Adult,' 'Child, Adult, and Parent,' and "Life's Suite." The lyrics of "Life's Suite" (pun intended), written by Landy, were brought in at the last moment and were rejected out of hand by Waronker.

Relation to Smile[edit]

The idea of "Rio Grande" was conceived as far back as 1970 when Waronker came by Brian's Bellagio mansion with Brian playing him the basic melody of "Cool, Cool Water."[citation needed]Waronker got the notion if he ever got the chance to produce him; he would want a synthesis of the commercial "Good Vibrations" combined with the pacific "Cool, Cool Water" leading to "Rio Grande" years later.[citation needed]Its different "feels" and movements relate specifically to "Cabin Essence", "Cool, Cool Water", and most of all, "Heroes and Villains." [5] The mosaic suite could easily be compared to the Who's "A Quick One While He's Away" and "Rael" as a mini-rock opera.[citation needed]It also would easily have been perfect for the unrealized Americana theme on the original Smile.[citation needed]The ending of the short snippet of "Walk On By" on the Friends/20/20 two-fer is reminiscent of "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" which later showed up in the middle of Part C of "Rio Grande" (see below).[citation needed]"Rio Grande" was recorded in sections at different studios across Los Angeles to sound like one cohesive work like earlier Smile recordings.[citation needed]


Part A: (0:01–0:57 minutes)[edit]

The first part, Part A, starts off with calliope-like music similar to the "Fire" music he had created 20 years before. The Baystate Bluegrass Band contributed to the suite as well as other different groups as stated above. 'Ride 'Em Cowboy' is repeated in a chant similar to his work on Smile (e.g. "You're Welcome", "With Me Tonight"). It segues into Part B with a steam engine whistle similar to the ending of "Roll Plymouth Rock" on the 2004 Smile.

Part B: (0:58–2:42)[edit]

Part B is the main theme of "Rio Grande" like an old cowboy song sung by Gene Autry or Roy Rogers. It has a riff similar to one from The Beach Boys' "That Same Song." Part B is meta-physical and autobiographical in the sense of the 'river-as-allegory-of-life' idea, and the main character 'would swim the river but can't.' The Rio Grande also takes him on an adventure or journey like a Lewis and Clark expedition. It evokes images of Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, and Hopalong Cassidy as well as other iconic Western figures and makes explicit reference to the Cherokee Trail. In an earlier version of "Rio Grande", Part B included "Cool, Cool Guy" but was left out in the released version.

Part C: (2:43–3:56)[edit]

In Part C, the listener is taken to what sounds like a campfire vignette before being interrupted by a Native American rain dance followed by thunder and rain. The wordless vocal lines are similar to the "Fire" music from Smile.

Part D: (3:57–6:11)[edit]

"Take Me Home" is the name of Part D, in which the music slows down to a dream-like state where the main character is thinking about his girl who on the other side.[6] It sounds like a variation of Part B before ending with a vocal segue.

Part E: (6:12–7:02)[edit]

Part E is the profound "Night Bloomin' Jasmine" section, which was written in 1979. It was one of a short list of songs or pieces by Wilson written in a minor key. An early version was recorded in 1982 with brother Dennis at the infamous "hamburger sessions" and/or "cocaine sessions."[7] The odd 'Get A Job' interlude in the early version was excluded from the final version.

Part F: (7:03–8:12)[edit]

The music in the last section is a reprise of Part B, bringing the journey full-circle in which the main character experienced one man out in the wilderness against nature, the old west, and the great outdoors. Like the opposites in Smile such as "Heroes and Villains" and 'Lost & Found' in Cabin Essence,[8] opposites exist in "Rio Grande." These include: big man against little man, cowboy against Indian, and all men against nature. The opus closes with a thick, heavy drum being slammed.


  1. ^ Wilker, Deborah (July 29, 1988). "Brian Wilson`s Album A Comeback Triumph". The Sun Sentinel.
  2. ^ The True and Objective List of the Best 100 Albums of This Generation (1985-2005)
  3. ^ / Brian Wilson's Wave Archived 2006-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Brian Wilson | album reviews |
  5. ^ Rio Grande by Brian Wilson Songfacts
  6. ^ Heroes and Villains
  7. ^ Night Blooming
  8. ^ The Opposites