Two months ago, we presented Part 1 of our feature interview with Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Mike Love of the Beach Boys as part of our special theme issue greard around the release of their career-spanning new box set Made in California.
Part 2 followed in September, and now it’s time to wrap it all up.
Here’s Part 3, the finale of the three-part joint interview.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Take us through the Holland period where you were writing songs that were celebrating California history – but not the sun, surf and cars ethos of the early Beach Boys songs.
Al Jardine: Yeah, that was something completely different. It was a reflection of the lifestyle of the Central coast of California. It’s like a little bio-pic of central coast of California circa (John) Steinbeck era and maybe before. But in my mind’s eye it was about discovery. California is so diverse and it has so many different kinds of history that The Beach Boys celebrated…primarily the Southern California lifestyle of the ‘60s. So I just took another step and after I moved up to this area, I discovered a whole different California. I became enamored of the whole scene. I enjoy history and put it to a Beach Boy kind of rhythm, kind of a California Girls feel. Also, being in Holland, we were all homesick as hell. By the time we mixed it down, we were just salivating to go home.
Brian just walked into the studio and began singing (sings line from California Saga) “On my way to sunny California…” he just laid that thing in there and immediately lifted our spirits because we knew we were going home. It was rough being in Holland. We were working 24/7 in a small homemade rebuilt piece meal little studio in a garage next to a cow pasture (laughs). Yeah, it was rough. We didn’t even have the correct electricity; it was 50 cycles as opposed to 60 cycles so that kind of affected the sound of our equipment. It was a mixed blessing.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Mike, in 1970 Bruce spoke about the problem with how the public perceived the band as “Surfing Doris Days”. The music you were creating during this period stands among the band’s most artistic and forward thinking. How did you work to counter-attack that problem and do you think that perception affected how those records were ultimately embraced by the public?
Mike Love: When the Vietnam war was heating up in the late ‘60s and everybody was concerned about their draft status—Carl received a draft notice and he became a conscientious objector and that led to us playing a lot of prisons and hospitals as part of his community service—Capitol Records would be promoting us at the number one surfing group in the U.S.A. That’s what Bruce meant by that remark and it was irrelevant.
At the same time, we’d done Good Vibrations which is one of the more avant-garde classic psychedelic songs. It was both avant-garde and commercially successful, mystical and poetic. I dictated the words to my then wife Suzanne on the way to the session. I didn’t say “Don’t f#@k with the formula”.
I like to be creative and artistic but I also like to be successful and that’s the beauty of Good Vibrations. It was as avant-garde as you could ever hope to be.
It was a classic arrangement and so unique and brilliant musically – but also because it was so unique and such a departure musically, I literally had the thought that this was gonna be kind of challenging for some of the fans in mid-America. But I know that everybody can relate to boy and girl (recites), “I’m picking up good vibrations, she’s giving me excitations…”
So for Capitol to say that we were the number one surfing group in the U.S.A. was a bit passé at that point. That didn’t help how the pubic perceived us. It didn’t reflect the evolution and progression musically, lyrically or conceptually of what we were into starting with Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile and onward. But I wouldn’t place the blame fully on the label. Had we had our stuff together, we would have been able to handle it better. I was in India at the teacher’s training program with the Maharishi in February/March of 1968 and had a conversation one night with Paul McCartney on the roof of this building.
He said, “Mike, you really ought to take more care with your album covers.”
Here’s the mastermind of Sgt. Pepper and that brilliant album cover they did with the costumes and the various people, Gandhi and whomever, and our Pet Sounds album cover was a photograph taken of us at the San Diego petting zoo.
When he said we needed to take more care with our album covers, I said, “You’re absolutely right, but we’ve always felt what went inside the sleeve was more important so it was like a touché moment. It’s kind of intimidating when Sir Paul says that. He was trying to be helpful and advise us. We being the boys next door from Southern California we weren’t as together as The Beatles were in showing the evolution of the band. If we had proper management and PR savvy, I don’t think the world and Capitol Records would have perceived us that way.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Explain how the addition of Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar to the band in the early ‘70s changed the sound of the band live.
Mike Love: The live version of Wild Honey on the box with Blondie singing lead vocals is mystical. He was an amazing guitarist and singer and Ricky was an amazing drummer. I think the songs took on different forms live in that time period because Carl’s appreciation for guitar, he really resonated with Blondie. Blondie’s version of Wild Honey and later Sail on Sailor made things really rock and roll.
The Beach Boys were always a rock and roll group but when Blondie and Ricky came on board that showed a harder edge to what we were doing. There was a lot more hard core rock and roll going on. Dennis had his issues with alcohol and drugs at the time and he’d put his hand through a plate glass window and cut his hand so it was hard for him to hold drum sticks. Ricky took over and did a great job. That’s when Dennis would go out to the front of the stage and sing You Are So Beautiful and we’d back him up.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Blondie and Ricky took part in the albums Carl and the Passions and Holland which added another dimension to the band’s ever evolving sound in the studio as well.
Al Jardine: Absolutely. They were a big help. I think they brought in a certain amount of spirit. So, they were hungry and they were good. Ricky is a fabulous percussionist, drummer, tarp set player. He’s also a multi-instrumentalist. He played flute and steel guitar on the trilogy, California Saga so he did all those effects. He added a little musical dimension to the band. Blondie as a singer on Sail On, Sailor I mean, holy Toledo! (laughs)
He sang that so well plus he did a lot of the high parts on that record. He was singing a good deal of the tenor parts, a lot of the full voice high parts long with us. Brian was being pretty reclusive; he didn’t enter the picture until later in the project so Blondie took on quite a load.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Al, you co-wrote Good Time with Brian, which is a highlight from Love You and also featured on the box set.
Al Jardine: I like that one a lot. It wasn’t originally meant to go on Love You; it was meant for an earlier album. Brian and I were just goofing around in his living room and came up with the song. (sings song)..”My girlfriend Betty she’s always ready to help me in any way…” The Beach Boys Love You was the most amazing recording. In a way it was Carl’s tribute to Brian. The title of that album is really The Beach Boys Love Brian. Carl wanted Brian to feel appreciated. Hew had the most to do with that album, him and Dennis, paying tribute to their brother. The mini-moogs are all over the place. I’ll Bet He’s Nice was great with Dennis singing a Brian song.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Mike, throughout the Beach Boys career, you’ve always been extremely driven and emboldened by a strong work ethic.
Mike Love: Last year I was doing a meet and greet with some people and they said, “What you guys do is really hard”, meaning the traveling and the performances. I said, “Oh no, what my dad and my grandfather did, that was hard.” They were sheet metal workers and my dad would get up at five in the morning to take a shower and be out the door being six. He’d work six days a week, sometimes seven. That was hard work. Hard work has never bothered me. I inherited my work ethic particularly from my father.
I was also captain of my cross country team. I’d get up and run five miles in the morning before breakfast and then work out in the afternoon with the rest of the team. Nobody ever beat me on my team. I guess it was training for a long career. I’ve always felt like if you make a commitment to something you have to stick with it. Like for instance. I started meditating for the first time in December of 1967 and there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t meditated. When others were going through their drug phase, I was going through the whole mediation thing. My priority at that time was to work on my consciousness and not pollute it with street drugs.
I think that gave me not only the perspective but the fortitude and stability and the strength to go through all the problems that have presented themselves in the band, whether it was ego, drugs or the tragic deaths of Dennis and Carl. All were terrible to deal with but TM helped me get through it. I don’t think there’s a way in the world I could have survived this type of experience, business issues, personal issues, relationship issues, and band issues. There’s a lot to cope with in life and the meditation has been a lifesaver as well as a life enhancer.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Mike, tell us the story being your song Brian’s Back, it was originally recorded for a solo albums of yours that was shelved? The sentiment was nice and overly optimistic, was Brian really truly back?
Mike Love: It wasn’t too early to say Brian was back. (recites lyrics)…”They say that Brian is back, well I’ve known him for oh so long, they’re saying Brian is back, I never knew that he was gone.” There was a Brian’s Back campaign at the label but to me he’d never really gone away. Since he was a kid he always had such a beautiful voice. As kids we’d do two and three part harmonies on Everly Brothers songs and doo-wop songs.
Brian’s Back was a beautiful and heartfelt song about the love I had for my cousin who I grew up with and did all these great things together.
He’d been under the tutelage of Dr. Eugene Landy who got him into shape to work on the 15 Big Ones album, which consisted of a bunch of covers and also some originals like It’s OK and Everyone’s in Love with You which was about Maharishi. It was about love of a different kind. I was into pursuing mediation and to become a teacher of mediation and others were following other paths to put it mildly. In the 15 Big Ones period, the song It’s OK should have been a huge hit. That should have been an early summer single but they didn’t put it out because our cover of Chuck Berry’s Rock and Roll Music was still doing well on the charts and they didn’t want it to conflict with its success. So we missed the window of opportunity for what I think could have been a much bigger hit that it turned out to be.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Mike, another unreleased track on the box is your self-penned Goin’ to the Beach, circa the 1979 Keepin’ the Summer Alive sessions.
Mike Love: We’re doing it in our encores. Playing that song is like going back in time but it’s fresh and new too. It’s upbeat and says it like it is. It’s an encapsulation of everything the Beach Boys are about in the first five years of our existence. I had totally forgotten I wrote it. That’s what happens when you wire three to four hundred songs. (laughs) When I heard it, I said, “That’s me, alright!” That’s a good one.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Listening to the entire box set, one comes away particularly impressed by Dennis’s contributions. Did the band undervalue him?
I totally underestimated Dennis. I thought he was one of those drummers who hung around musicians and I was so wrong.
We always expected Brian to come up with the magic and there was Dennis learning keyboards all by himself, just watching and learning. We all were exposed to brilliant things that went down but he started writing his own original music which unfortunately got eclipsed by us because we were always looking for that next hit. Well, he didn’t write hits, he wrote anthems. He’s like the Wagner of the Beach Boys. He was on a whole other level that I didn’t even recognize. He was under a shadow but should have had his own solo career a lot sooner because frankly The Beach Boys model didn’t’ work for him anymore. We became this big harmony group and he was a solo star who never got a chance to shine. He ran out of time.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Mike, you co-wrote songs with Dennis and a few of them appear on the box including Sound of Free and a live version of Only with You taped at Carnegie Hall in 1972.
Mike Love: Dennis did some very beautiful and emotional things. The only time we really didn’t get along was when drugs entered the picture—when it was L.S.D., when it was heroin, when it was cocaine, when it was alcohol.
The main problem I had with Dennis was when he was doing such serious drinking and drugging. When people go down that path their personalities change.
Dennis was a pretty damn good drummer. When he was clear and sober, he was great. But when he was all messed up with alcohol and drugs he was not and it hurt the group. I cared about him and also didn’t want to see the group go down the tubes. If you’re trying to do your best musically and someone is experiencing issues that bring the whole group down and jeopardize their very existence, then the rest of us have to rally and say, “Okay, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our families and the public to maintain a certain standard.“ That’s when we had to tell Dennis, “Go to rehab, get yourself together.”
He’d go to rehab for one night and then check out. For a few years it was a big challenge for all of us and it all stemmed from drugs and alcohol. That’s where the schism is. As far as a person, he was very generous. Musically, the girls loved him. He was energetic. Before he got into drugs, we had a real camaraderie in terms of “We’re gonna kick ass at this concert!”
Rock Cellar Magazine: Dennis was a multi-faceted artist, he wasn’t just a macho, rough and raucous hell-raiser, his songs expressed an emotional fragility and vulnerability.
Mike Love: Absolutely. The rough and raucous thing came as a result of a defense mechanism for having a father who was really abusive. All children are sensitive and the Wilson brothers happened to have a real tough childhood because of Murry Wilson, fortunately their mother, my aunt Audree was a real sweetheart. Everybody loved her and she was the softness to Murry’s hellacious hardness. So it affected each one of the boys in a different way.
Rock Cellar Magazine: From the beginning of the band to his tragic passing, is it safe to say Carl’s role in the band, besides his immeasurable gifts as a singer/musicians/writer, was that of a mediator and the glue that kept it all together?
Al Jardine: You’re right. Carl was the voice and the glue that held it all together as far as I was concerned ‘cause Brian handed off a lot of parts to Carl. Brian, being the introvert that he is, decided early on that he wasn’t going to be going on the road, unbeknownst to the rest of us. He wasn’t going to be traveling so he began to design parts for all of us. Carl seemed to get the rich parts. Carl and I were always locked in harmonies, the lower two thirds. Carl would be on the bottom, I’d be in the middle and Brian would be on the top. Mike, of course, was the baritone.
On the road Brian would systematically deal out lead singing parts to the various guys and Carl would get some of the richer parts, some of the great ones like God Only Knows, Good Vibrations. Brian would sing those to us on the piano and we’d hear them singing it and go, “Wow, that’s gonna be a great lead for you Brian” and he’d say, “This one’s for Carl” or ‘”This one’s for Al”’ because he’d given so many to Mike that it was getting unbalanced, really unbalanced.
The Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) album was Carl’s first lead with Girl Don’t Tell Me. That was a seminal moment for him. My first lead was actually on the Christmas album, a song called Christmas Day which I still love to this day. My second lead I think was Then I Kissed Her. Losing Carl, his voice left a gigantic hole in the harmonies. Carl brought integrity to the band. He was our truth. He was like pure consciousness. When you spoke to Carl you just went for the black and white of it. He was a very black and white kind of guy, which didn’t always serve him very well, to be honest with you.
Sometimes you can’t be in this world, sometimes you have to compromise just to get things accomplished.
Carl was a perfectionist and he fought for total honesty and integrity in music and he felt that there was no other way. Sometimes we’d have disagreements how to get to the end but we always got there with respect for each other.
Rock Cellar Magazine: With a group known for its harmony and its disharmony, when getting own to the business of recording or playing live, the band delivered. How were you able to push that aside for the sake of doing good work?
Mike Love: Growing up, our childhood home located at Mount Vernon and Fairway which Brian made up a song about, was the place where all the hurts and issues were set aside in favor of getting together for holidays or special occasions with our family and the Wilsons’ family and raising a joyful noise, which meant singing together. After the Christmas carols were done, Brian and I would peel off and go upstairs and see if we could get Carl’s attention to sing either a Four Freshmen or Everly Brothers song; Sometimes Audree (Wilson) would sit in, sometimes my sister Maureen would sit in.
Dennis couldn’t care less about the music at the time and Carl was reluctant because he was so young. We’re talking 1955, 1956, 1957. That was the environment, complete family harmony.
Was there disharmony in terms of personalities that clashed? Yeah, there were sometimes but the thing that people may forget is the story of The Beach Boys isn’t the story of those kinds of things. That’s kind of yellow journalism.
The story of The Beach Boys is what did they do musically and this box says it. It shows off the depth and breadth of the music and some of the greatest highs in the music industry and shows a range you’d be hard-pressed to emulate. (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: In 1993, the Beach Boys embarked an ambitious “Unplugged” tour, which I understand was an idea of yours, some of those tracks are included on the box set. How did that come together?
Al Jardine: I just thought, why not do an “Unplugged” tour and hear the vocals for a change, just primarily the singing? It really worked well. We wanted to play some of our lesser heard but artistic songs like All This is That. It seemed like a lot of big bands were unplugging at that time so we just had a fun time doing it. We rehearsed up in my barn in Big Sur and it was a fun time.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Pet Sounds is hailed as a landmark Beach Boys album, besides that record, what Beach Boys LP do you feel has been overlooked?
Brian Wilson: Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) and The Beach Boys Love You are two of my favorites. Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) has a really good horn sound to it, really good rockin’ tracks, really good rock and roll music. The Beach Boys Love You had a lot of really nice stuff on it. Ding Dang was my favorite from that. (starts singing Ding Dang). I wrote that with Roger McGuinn. He wrote (starts singing “I love a girl, I love so madly I treat her so fine…) he wrote that. I also like The Night Was So Young. Johnny Carson is another favorite. It was just a song about Johnny Carson. I used to watch his show all the time.
Mike Love: I’m really partial to Wild Honey. Brian wanted to do an R&B inspired album and that was our take on that. I really dig the way Carl sang Stevie Wonder’s I Was Made to Love Her, that was a great recording. Also on that album is Darlin and Wild Honey was another great one. We were recording that album at Brian’s studio in Bel Air and I went into the kitchen to make some tea and loomed up in the cupboard and I looked up and there was a jar of wild honey.
Brian owned a health food store at the time, Radiant Radish. I saw the wild honey and said, “That’s a great title for a song.” The studio track was pumpin’ and really goin on in the studio. I actually wrote the song thinking if Stevie Wonder as a young guy were telling his mother that he was in love with this chick and he didn’t care what his mother said, he’s gonna go for it with this girl and the girl was the wild honey. Surfers used to call girls at the beach “honeys” and we used that in Surfin’ Safari (recites lyrics) “Early in the morning we’ll be starting out, some honeys will be coming along.” In fact, that’s why Marilyn (Wilson), Diane (Rovell) and Ginger (Blake) named their group The Honeys. So when I wrote the lyrics for Wild Honey I was thinking’ salacious thoughts.
Al Jardine: The Beach Boys Love You album. It’s got all these wonderful songs. I didn’t have that much to do with it. I remember watching the brothers work on it. I sang a lead on Honking Down the Highway which is one of my favorite songs. (Recites lyrics) “Honking down the gosh darn highway…” It’s so innocent. It’s like, “Wow, where did that come from?” I really like Airplane and Johnny Carson. The TM Song, that goofy song should have been on that album instead of 15 Big Ones. There are some songs that didn’t make the album that are really good. One of those is called Still I Dream of It that Brian wrote for Frank Sinatra. Sinatra should have recorded it. It was so Sinatra it’s ridiculous. But it was probably some business manager BS about the publishing.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Pick a song by each member of Beach Boys that you feel is their best vocal showcase.
Brian Wilson: When we sang together, it was the best you could imagine, the greatest background singers. I’ll pick Carl on Darlin’, Mike on California Girls, and Dennis on Do You Wanna Dance and Al Jardine with Then I Kissed Her. Al is a great singer, very underrated and he didn’t get that many leads to sing in the group.” And as for me, I’ll choose Surfer Girl, the bridge to that is beautiful.
Mike Love: Don’t Worry Baby is an amazing Brian vocal along with falsetto part on the end of Fun Fun Fun, for Carl I’d choose Good Vibrations, Cottonfields for Al, which days a lot about his folk influences. I’d agree with Brian about his choice for Dennis’ best vocal, from a fun standpoint I’ll pick Do You Wanna Dance. Bruce did an amazing job on Disney Girls and for me because of the connection, the appreciation and the knowledge gained from the Maharishi I’d pick All This is That.
Al Jardine: Long Promised Road for Carl, Dennis I’ll Bet He’s Nice, for Mike I like the California Saga: Big Sur song, Disney Girls for Bruce without a doubt, and Brian I’ll pick Surf’s Up. I like my part in Their Hearts Were Full of Spring.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Any final thoughts?
Mike Love: Music is blessing, whether you’re a professional or amateur, listener or performer. Music is a blessing in life. We are so blessed and so fortunate to do what we’ve done with The Beach Boys. To make what was a family pursuit become a career, a career that’s lasted for five decades now is pretty miraculous.