How did The Beach Boys get so good at harmonising? Great vocal stacking in rock music is certainly nothing new, and bands like The Beatles, The Eagles, Queen, and Fleetwood Mac built their reputations around their unique blending of voices.
But The Beach Boys were different. Instead of three part harmony, they did five part harmony. Instead of a single take, they did multiple overdubs of the same part. Instead of each part moving up or down at the same time, vocal lines often hopped between intervals and in between other vocal lines. Brian Wilson was obsessed with the way The Four Freshman were able to weave in and out of each others’ lines, and he brought the same sensibility to The Beach Boys.
Wilson’s love of the Wall of Sound production technique also helped distinguish their unique sonic qualities. Heavy slabs of reverb were applied to the final tapes, and the band members would frequently step inside of echo chambers in order to allow their voices to sound like they were coming off of mountaintops. Their Barbershop quintet origins could become heavily psychedelic thanks to overdubs and effects, all of which gave The Beach Boys one of the most unique sounds in pop music.
When stepping up to the microphone, the order generally went like this: Mike Love took the bass harmony, then Dennis Wilson on the baritone line. The lowest tenor part went to Al Jardine, with Carl Wilson taking the next one up. Finally, Brian Wilson handled the high falsetto line. Although they didn’t always strictly adhere to the formula (Love’s lead melody often meant Dennis took the bass, the addition of David Marks and Bruce Johnston gave them more tenors to account for), more often than not, this is what the classic Beach Boys harmony stack was.
That’s what it is for ‘In My Room’, which actually works in reverse to how the band usually built harmonies. This time, Brian’s high melody comes in first, followed by Carl’s part just below him. Jardine comes in next to complete the standard three part harmony, with Love and Dennis working the lower vocal lines as the song continues to unfold. The fact that three of the members were brothers (the other two being a cousin and a closer friend since childhood) meant that they all shared a similar tonal quality, creating a seamless blend of voices.
Of all The Beach Boys songs, ‘In My Room’ is perhaps the most traditional: shades of Barbershop and classical harmony mix with strong doo-wop influences to create their own sun-soaked version of a standard late 1950s and early ’60s ballad. Starting as early as ‘I Get Around’, Brian began experimenting with the traditional harmony stack and static vocal lines. But in terms of pure, unadorned Beach Boys harmonies, it’s hard to beat ‘In My Room’ for pure beauty.
Check out the isolated vocals for ‘In My Room’ down below.