This post contains independently chosen affiliate links. See full affiliate disclosure.
Artist: The Regents
Writer: Fred Fassert
Label: Cousins Records
Barbara Ann is one of the most recognizable Beach Boys songs. It may even be the song many think of when they think of the Beach Boys, although purists might object. But Babara Ann wasn’t original to the group. It was first recorded in 1958 by a doo-wop group called The Regents (formerly The Desires). They were unable to get a recording contract, so they disbanded. But, around three years later, Cousins Records became interested in the song after hearing a recording of it by another group, the Consorts. The Regents reformed and the song was released in 1961 to become a big hit.
Fred Fassert, the writer of the song, wasn’t actually in The Regents, his brother Chuck was. Fred wrote the song about his sister, Barbara Ann Fassert and then his brother Chuck recorded the song with his group. When it was finally released it went to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It performed even better on the R&B charts, for some hard to discern reason.
It was so successful that the small record label Cousins Records leased it to the much larger Gee Records. The Regents eventually recorded a Barbara Ann album.
Although Babara-Ann (she spelled it with a hyphen) was the star of the song, Peggy Sue and Betty Lou are also mentioned, of course. This original version is much tamer than the Beach Boys’ cover.
The Beach Boys’ decision to do the song was born of necessity. They needed an album and simply had no material. Brian Wilson was immersed in his master-work, Pet Sounds and there was no new material to use. They could have done a greatest hits album or a live album but instead, they decided to do a bit of each. The album Beach Boys Party! was done live in the studio. It included an acoustic medley of some hits, and some covers of some of their favorite artist, including Bob Dylan, The Everly Brothers, and a selection of Doo Woop groups. The Regents’ song Babara Ann was the last song on the album and it became one of their most iconic. The liveness and ‘party’ atmosphere is apparent. You can even hear comments being made, such as “Scratch it, Carl, scratch it.” and “Hal and his famous ashtray,” to Carl Wilson and drummer Hal Blaine, respectively.
Incidentally, Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean actually sang the lead with Brian Wilson on the song, although he was never credited due to contractual obligations. Brian Wilson had co-written their first hit a few years earlier, Surf City as well as helping with another of their hits, Dead Man’s Curve. Brian Wilson can be heard thanking Dean at the end of the song.
The Beach Boys version of Babara Ann reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1966. A re-release of the song in 1975 failed to chart. The Regents version was included in the movie American Graffiti in 1973.
The Regents had one other hit with Runaround, which reached no. 28 later the same year that Babara Ann charted.