1965’s “Beach Boys’ Party!” was a rollicking compilation of cover songs; Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys sang tunes by contemporary bands like the Beatles along with doo wop classics. Played on acoustic instruments, the songs seemed to be recorded live at a house party; in fact, the album was recorded in the studio and laughter, hand-claps and chatter were added later for effect. The album yielded one of the Beach Boys’ biggest hits: a cover of the Regents’ “Barbara Ann.”
The “Party!” LP was recorded shortly before the Beach Boys’ masterpiece “Pet Sounds” because of pressure from Capitol Records for a new album. Leader Brian Wilson wanted something that wouldn’t take a lot of time to record but would still manage to be fun: a selection of songs that the group enjoyed while growing up.
Fellow surf rockers Jan & Dean, who were recording in the next studio, were invited to perform on the sessions but their label, Liberty Records, threatened to withhold their royalties if they participated in a Capitol album. That didn’t deter Dean Torrence, who joined in.
Torrence shared lead vocals with Brian Wilson on “Barbara Ann” but Wilson later admitted that in the final mix, Torrence’s voice was made louder than his. Radio programmers began playing “Barbara Ann” directly from the “Party!” album; due to the response, Capitol released it as a single, which became a Top 10 hit.
The roots of the song go back to 1958, when the Desires, a struggling doo wop group from the Bronx, New York, recorded a string of unsuccessful demos at New York’s Regent Sound Studios. Hoping their luck would change, the group changed their name to the Regents.
At one studio session the group had ten minutes to spare, so lead Guy Villari suggested the group record a song frequently used as a warm-up number. Written by tenor Chuck Fassert’s brother Fred, the song was named after their sister: “Barbara-Ann” (hyphenated in the original).
The group decided that of their demos, “Barbara-Ann” had the best chance to become a hit; they brought the song to more than 50 record labels with no success. Discouraged, the Regents broke up at the end of 1958.
Fast forward to 1961. Eddie Jacobucci, younger brother of Regents’ bass man Don Jacobucci, was in a spot. Eddie’s group, the Consorts, was short of original songs. Eddie recalled his brother’s demo of “Barbara-Ann,” which he played for his group.
The Consorts convinced Lou Cicchetti of Cousins Records in the Bronx to let them cut their own version of “Barbara-Ann.” When writer Fred Fassert heard about it, he brought Cicchetti the Regents’ demo; Cicchetti liked it enough to release the Regents’ original as a single.
Fred Fassert quickly went to work finding the members of the Regents. Once re-formed, the Regents recorded “I’m So Lonely” as the B-side to “Barbara-Ann.” Released in March 1961, “Barbara-Ann” was an immediate hit, reaching number 13 on the Billboard pop charts.