It was 57 years ago today (April 5th, 1965) that the Beach Boys released “Help Me, Rhonda” as a single. The song was first tracked on January 8th under the title “Help Me, Ronda,” but was not considered a strong enough contender for the group’s new single, losing out to their cover of Bobby Freeman‘s 1958 Top Ten hit “Do You Wanna Dance” as their first single of 1965. The original version of “Help Me, Ronda” was released on the group’s Today! album on March 8th, 1965.
As with many of the Beach Boys’ early singles, “Help Me, Rhonda” was written and produced by Brian Wilson, with lyrics by the group’s frontman, Mike Love. The song was guitarist Al Jardine‘s first shot at a lead vocal on one of their singles. Brian Wilson decided to re-record the song after hearing that his good friend and former songwriting partner Gary Usher was planning to record his own version of it.
On the afternoon of February 24th, the Beach Boys laid down the song’s backing track at Western Recorders in Hollywood with the help of bassist Carole Kaye, pianist Larry Knetchel and guitarist Glen Campbell, who was then touring with the group, having replaced Wilson on the road the previous December.
All five group members — Wilson, Love, Jardine, and Dennis and Carl Wilson — were present at the vocal session that night. Things turned ugly when the Wilson’s father, Murry, who had been fired from managing the group the previous year, crashed the session and attempted to coach their singing. A tape survives among collectors showing an obviously inebriated Murry Wilson urging his sons to “Loosen up, be happy,” then demanding “If you’ve got any guts, let’s hear it!” Things come to a head when Murry, who interrupts take after take, remarks that, “You have to fight for success. . . Success never comes from phony singing.” After several hours, Murry eventually left the group alone to complete the track.
Mike Love says that the hit-making team of he and Brian Wilson would often begin with Wilson only needing help with parts of songs before flowing into a full on collaboration: “I remember so many instances where Brian and I would get together and do some songs. He would be stuck for lyrics and I’d come up with a concept or lyrics. . . So that’s what works, is Brian Wilson and Mike Love together.”
Al Jardine recalled the recording session for the song — and more importantly being entrusted with carrying the lead spot on the band’s latest single: “Oh, I was delighted. I was honored. But the pressure (laughs), the pressure on me was enormous! Everybody in the band — everybody was there listening. But I was honored. I was really thrilled to have that opportunity.”
“Help Me, Rhonda” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at Number 80. On May 29th it knocked the Beatles‘ “Ticket To Ride” from Number One and topped the charts for two weeks. On July 5th the song was featured on the group’s second album of 1965, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!).
Although Al Jardine sang the lead on the single and usually sang the song in concert, over the years both Carl and Dennis Wilson temporally took over lead vocals on the song, with Dennis always leaving his drums to play the grand piano.