Holed away in his family’s music room, 18 year-old Brian Wilson, future music genius/visionary of The Beach Boys, is cocooned safely in his private sanctuary, immersed in what would become his life’s quest and salvation: making music.
Made in California, showcasing a beautifully stylish design by Grammy nominated designer Mark London, is an expansive 6-CD career spanning retrospective that was released on August 27th.
The box set, crammed with essential singles, deep album cuts and previously unreleased live and studio tracks, is also augmented by a spectacular yearbook styled book, which culls a dazzling array of rare and previously unseen photographs, vintage ephemera and original Beach Boy album artwork (Surf’s Up). From its extraordinary design to the music in the grooves, this magnificent release offers definitive proof of the enduring glorious legacy of Brian Douglas Wilson, his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston.
From the rudimentary 1960/1961 rehearsal version of what would become their first hit, Surfin’, to Soul Searchin’, the last track to feature the late Carl Wilson, Made in California is manna for Beach Boys fans and serves as a towering monument to 50 years of incomparable musical invention.
RCM was fortunate enough to be granted interviews with Mike Love, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine regarding Made in California and the legacy of the Beach Boys’ music.
**Note Each interview was conducted separately and edited together into this piece for purposes of concision and relevance.**
Rock Cellar: What story does The Beach Boys’ Made in California box set tell?
Mike Love: There are a lot of tributaries of all the different types of American music—folk, R&B, blues, country, doo wop–and you can hear all that on the box set. We’ve dabbled in and have been touched by all kinds of music. The inspiration of the Everly Brothers, doo-wop, blues, rock and roll, jazz, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, The Kingston Trio, that fabric is all part of our sound and you can hear all those influences on the box set.
RCM: Brian, “In My Room” is a special song for you, where was your special room in your house?
Brian Wilson: We had a music room that used to be a garage. My dad turned it into a music room. It didn’t turn into a music room until I was about 14. We had a jukebox in there and there was a piano and a Hammond B-3 organ in there too. Gary (Usher) and I worked in that music room. He was on guitar and I was on piano and we wrote 409 and In My Room.
RCM: Al, it was your love of folk music that provided the spark for The Beach Boys to record “Surfin’.”
Al Jardine: We went into the studio quite early on with the intention of just recording a couple of traditional folk songs. Brian had come up with this tune shortly before going down to the studio, this surfing idea. The surfing idea was actually Dennis’ idea. Brian prepared this track bed called “Surfin’.” I played stand-up bass on it. My mother had to rent the equipment because the Wilsons had gone on vacation to Mexico and the food money was gone. So we had to go and beg, borrow and steal from my mother who came up with three hundred bucks. That was a hell of a lot of money in ’61.
We cut “Surfin’” real quickly. We did it all at one time. We sang and played. We just stood up in front of the microphone and basically played the song for Murry and the publisher and that’s the one they liked. Hite Morgan’s son, Bruce, wrote a song called Luau, which was a cute kind of song. The single was on two labels, X and Candix Records which must have been the same label when you think about it, just two different ways to steal money. They only paid us nine hundred dollars in royalties for the whole thing so they definitely buried a little money.
They probably paid us on the one label, the one that sold the nine hundred dollars worth and kept the other label’s worth somewhere else in a vault. Murry (Wilson) added a hundred dollars to the check to make it an even thousand dollars so we could each get two hundred dollars, which was very nice of him.
RCM: The “Help Me Rhonda” session is circulating in collector’s circles. Looking back, why was the song so problematic to nail a lead vocal?
Al Jardine: Brian had it in his head of it going one way and I had it going another way. It was my first big lead vocal—I had a lead before that—but primarily I’m an “ooh” and “ah” guy. I can nail anything that way but when it comes to rhythms I’m just not as sharp as maybe someone else. What made it problematic for me is “Help Me Rhonda” had a rhythmic movement that I found very difficult and I finally got it. Brian’s dad. Murry was trying to help me but that was like the blind leading the blind. It got very confusing.
RCM: Brian was obviously a gifted songwriter. At what point did you realize that his talent was far greater than you imagined?
Al Jardine: There wasn’t a realization like that at all.
From the very beginning we were challenged by everything we did together with Brian.
We were the messengers. Our first song was a hit and we never stopped to think that it had something to do with the writing. We were so young and taken up in the whole thing that we thought, “Aren’t we great!” Of course, I didn’t think so for very long because I quit the band right after the single because I wanted to finish school. So I wasn’t that taken by it. As a rule, we all felt we contributed something. But as Brian grew and grew and grew, I think we just expected it. We didn’t know any different. We loved everything he did He got a lot of feedback from us. I remember suggesting he put some sevenths into “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and he said, “No, we don’t do sevenths” and brushed it off.
Then I left the band shortly thereafter and when the record came out there were those sevenths all over the place. (laughs) He was totally open to things and we had such a great relationship. He was so pissed at me when I left the band. Man, I’ve never seen him so mad like that or ever again. He doesn’t lose his temper. But I thought I owed it to my parents to finish school. It was like one of those crossroads deals. Brian called me and said, “Please get your butt back here!” By then, I was going “Yeah, that was a dumb move. I’m with you, I’m back for keeps.”
RCM: When Brian was at the top of his game as a producer, what was it like being in the studio working with him?
Al Jardine: He wasn’t a take charge kind of guy outside of the studio but as soon as he got around the piano some electricity happened. I will say he was operating out of pure consciousness as the vedas imply in the “All This is That” statement.
He became one. He tapped into that pure consciousness, no question about it. Somehow something was coming through from the other side or from his inner purity.
He knew exactly what he wanted. It was fantastic. It was like a gift from heaven. Did we appreciate it? Yes, but not as much as we should have probably because there was such a volume of work coming out that it was almost impossible to keep up. Our touring schedule got so heavy. We didn’t really get any rest. It was “Go in the studio and when you’re done get back out on the road.” It was quite a marathon.
RCM: Mike, your collaborations with Brian were extremely successful. Around ’64 when Brian began writing with outside collaborators like Gary Usher and Roger Christian and later with Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks, how did that make you feel, did you ever question him why he was “taking it out of the family” so to speak?
Mike Love: I never had a problem with him working with other writers. If you track the hits, there are a lot of those with a Wilson-Love credit so I’m proud of that.
I was the one who suggested doing a song about a girl who borrows her father’s car and wrote all the words for “Fun Fun Fun” and told Brian it needs to start with a Chuck Berry style guitar intro.
So Carl came up with that, Brian wrote the music, I wrote the lyrics and that was a great collaboration.
Another time I went to the beach with my high school friends and came back and talked to Brian, “We gotta do a song about going back to the beach”, which ironically is the title of the newest gem from the vaults on this box set, and that song turned out to be “Do It Again.”
We sat down at the piano and only took a few minutes to write it and it went to number one in England. Those are two examples of where I suggested concepts for the songs and did the lyrics and Brian did the music. Brian’s falsetto on the end of “Fun Fun Fun” is one of the most euphoric moments in rock and roll. (Laughs) With Van Dyke Parks.
It’s a whole other issue and that involved some heavy drug usage, some serious L.S.D and I didn’t like the impact it had on Brian and therefore the rest of the group.
That kind of involvement coincided with Brian’s period of retreating and extreme mental and emotional challenges for him. Brian told me on the 50th anniversary tour that he was doing L.S.D. when he did “California Girls,” I never knew that. What an amazing track, beautiful arrangement, great harmonies. He had the chorus “I wish they all could be California Girls” but no other lyrics so I went out in the hallway and came up with (recites lyrics) “Well East Coast girls are hip I really dig the styles they wear and Southern girls with the way they talk knock me out when I’m down there…”. So I wrote this poem touching on four corners of the U.S. and then over to Hawaii and all around the world.
Some people misunderstood the meaning of the song that we were saying California girls were the best.
What we were really saying if you listen or read the lyrics, we were appreciating the fact that even though we went all around the world we’d like to bring them all back to California with us.
And in a sense, California is a microcosm of the macrocosm of what’s out there in the world in terms of all the pretty girls. We’ve been all over the world—Japan, Australia, Germany and England—that was the perfect song to encapsulate all the experience. As far as Pet Sounds, Tony Asher did a really great job on the lyrics. I also think Roger Christian was amazing. In addition to being a gear head into cars and hot rods, his lyrics on “The Ballad of Old Betsy,” the sensitivity is really impressive. When we first did that song I’d get choked up, it was so emotional. The music was so fantastic and the harmonies, melody and Brian’s voice. The song is about a car that’s getting a little older and it’s falling apart but you still love it anyway. It could have to do with a couple too, (recites lyrics) “Betsy took some beatings but she never once complained, she may be rusted iron but to me she’s solid gold and I just can’t hold the tears back ‘cause Betsy’s growing old…”
It’s about a car but it’s more than that. It’s good he found Roger Christian because I was not a gear head per se. I came up with the lyrics for “Fun Fun Fun” and did the predominance of the lyric for “I Get Around.” Roger came up with stuff I couldn’t write like on “Shut Down” (recites lyrics)…”The Superstock Dodge is windin’ out in low but my fuel injected Stingray is really startin’ to go. To get the traction I’m ridin’ the clutch. My pressure plate’s burnin’ that machine to much…” He was a great collaborator with Brian on that song, “Little Deuce Coupe,” “The Ballad of Ole Betsy.”
RCM: Brian, when did you first realize you had good voice?
Brian Wilson: I first felt I had a good voice when I was about seventeen or eighteen and was able to sing along well to records by The Four Freshmen. By singing along to those records that’s how I learned how to sing falsetto. I would sing along to songs like “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” “I’ll Remember April” and “Day by Day.” Those were the songs that I sang along to get my voice into shape.
RCM: Growing up, when did it hit you that being a songwriter/musician was the only way to go?
Brian Wilson: When I wrote “Surfer Girl” I liked it so much that I said that I’m gonna keep on writing songs.
Then we wrote “Surfin’” and “Surfin’ Safari” and “409” and “In My Room.” I always worked to try and write better songs because I wanted to impress the other Beach Boys.
I’m embarrassed when people say I’m a “musical genius.” I’m not a musical genius. I just work really hard at what I do.
RCM: Brian, being deaf in one ear, have you managed to not find that to be a liability?
Brian Wilson: When you have a deaf ear like me–my right ear is deaf–your subconscious mind says, “I’m not good enough, I only have one ear.” I think it’s helped me and it screwed up my life up too. When I sing I only hear it on my left side. Being deaf in my right ear has been two things: it’s been a horrible hang up for my ego and my mind and it’s also been a tremendous way to outdo other people because I have this burning desire to want to do something great.
RCM: Brian, over the past 50 years, you’ve worked with a talented coterie of co-writers. Run through the contributions of each starting with Mike Love.
Brian Wilson: Well, Mike had music ideas besides lyrics. So he helped me out with the music and his lyrics were really really creative. Some of my favorite Mike lyrics are “California Girls,” “Good Vibrations” and “Do it Again” was another great one that we wrote. I also like “Warmth of the Sun.” that was a very sweet and sorrowful song.
RCM: How about Gary Usher?
Brian Wilson: I met Gary in 1962. He told me about the New York Brill Building songwriters. He said, “Do you want to try and write a song?” So he started playing his guitar and I started playing piano we played and played for a while and then the melody started to happen and then he and I finished up the melody and the lyrics. That was for the song “409.” What made Gary a good collaborator was he had a good knack for commerciality. He knew what was commercial.
RCM: Roger Christian was a DJ.
Brian Wilson: Yeah, he was disc jockey for the L.A. radio station KFWB. In late ’63 I met him at KFWB and he said, “Hey, I write lyrics about cars, can you add some music to them?” And I said, “Yeah” so that’s how we started writing together and writing those cars songs. He was a good guy to write songs with. He laughed a lot and made it fun for me. Some of the good ones we wrote together were “Shut Down” and “Little Deuce Coupe.”
RCM: Why did you think Tony Asher would be a good songwriting collaborator?
Brian Wilson: We met at the studio and for some reason I felt we could work well together. Turns out I was right too. We wrote some great songs together. We wrote “God Only Knows” and the rest of the songs on the Pet Sounds album. He’s one of my favorite collaborators.
RCM: Van Dyke Parks?
Brian Wilson: I met Van Dyke at a friend of mine’s house in 1965, Strangely enough I was listening to him talk and said, “That guy could write lyrics, I can just tell.” So I asked him and aid, “Do you want to try and write some lyrics with me?” And he said, “Yeah.” So he came over to my house and we sat in a sandbox. I had a sandbox in my house and my piano was sitting in my sandbox and we sat on the bench with our feet in the sand and that made us feel like we were at the beach. I think “Heroes and Villains” was the first song we wrote together. His lyrics were very unique and very poetic.
RCM: Jack Rieley managed the band and also co-wrote songs with the group.
Brian Wilson: Yeah, he was our manager for a while. We all went to Holland and we stayed in Holland for a while. My engineer built a studio there. I wrote some melodies and Jack came up with some great lyrics. One of them was a song called “Funky Pretty.” He also helped co-write “Marcella.” I really love that song because of its sing-along melody (sings “hey hey Marcella…”) I also wrote the Fairytale and Jack narrated it.
RCM: How about Andy Paley, what did he bring to the table?
Brian Wilson: I met Andy through my doctor, Dr. Landy in the early ‘80s. Dr. Landy said, “Why don’t you two get together and write some songs?” And we wrote “Desert Drive” and a song called “Chain Reaction of Love.” Isn’t that a great title? We also wrote “Soul Searchin’,” which turned out good. Andy was a good collaborator because he was able to contribute both music and lyrics.
RCM: Brian, “Back Home” is a song you wrote with Bob Norberg in the early ‘60s.
Brian Wilson: (sings) …”Well I’m going back this summer to Ohio…” I remember asking one of my friends, Bob Norberg, if he liked the melody and he said “Yeah.” So I finished the melody and then I wrote the lyrics. Bob was my roommate in 1963. We lived in an apartment on Crenshaw Boulevard. He was a friend and someone that I bounced ideas off of.
RCM: Brian, back in the day, how would you present songs to the Beach Boys?
Brian Wilson: I had to sit in my room and work for hours and hours on songs and then I would play my songs to Mike, Dennis, Al, and Carl and Bruce to see if they enjoyed it.
Mostly Pet Sounds was an example of something advanced and creative and experimental that I played for them that they didn’t like.
Later on they liked it. But at first when they first heard it they didn’t like it. They thought it was too away from the surf song kind of things. They thought it was too experimental. I thought I said all I could say with the surf songs at that time.
RCM: Brian, in 1963, the Beach Boys released three studio albums, how did you deal with that pressure to deliver so much material?
Brian Wilson: Our record company said, “You guys are really going good, let’s make a bunch of albums” so we made those three albums. It wasn’t hard to keep up that pace because we were young and really into it. Back then, songs were easy to come by unlike today. The songs just flowed and flowed out of me.
RCM: Brian, you’ve repeatedly cited the influence of Phil Spector on your work. Are there any other record producers you looked up to and gleaned inspiration?
Brian Wilson: No, actually just him. He’s my favorite because of his record “Be My Baby.” It was very inspirational for me and helped me learn how to produce records. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve listened to “Be My Baby” and I still love hearing it. For me, the magic of “Be My Baby” is not just Ronnie Spector’s voice, but it’s the way the drums sounded, so “boom, boom!” It’s also the way he combined guitars and piano together to make one sound. Songs like “I Get Around” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” show off some of that inspiration.
RCM: What other Spector songs do you enjoy?
Brian Wilson: I love “Then He Kissed Me,” “River Deep Mountain High,” “Walkin’ in the Rain” and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling.” That one I really like a lot.
RCM: That’s a song you covered during The Beach Boys’ Love You era.
Brian Wilson: I like that song so much I wanted to make a version of it myself.
RCM: How was it decided who would ultimately sing lead vocals on Beach Boys records?
Brian Wilson: I would just choose them appropriately by the sound of their voices and the appropriate melody for their voices.
I decided who would take the lead vocal because I was producer of The Beach Boys.
Some of the songs I wrote specifically for Mike, Carl and Al. I wrote “Darlin'” specifically for Carl and heard his vocal in mind. “Surfin’ Safari” was one I wrote with Mike’s voice in mind. “Help Me Rhonda” was one that I didn’t write with Al in mind. It was for me to sing it but we wound up giving it to Al to sing and he did a great job.
RCM: Mike, “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” is a remarkable song. What inspired the lyrics which touch on youth being fleeting?
Mike Love: If life goes the way it does for the majority of people you’re not always gonna be a young person. You’re gonna grow up, have a family and career and you’re gonna get older, you’re gonna have children and grand children and at some point…the lyric “wont’ last forever” refers to life itself, how little time we all have on earth so it’s kind of sad. I was writing melancholy lyrics in the midst of more up-tempo songs; think about Surfin’ U.S.A., in the midst of that I wrote the lyrics for “The Warmth of the Sun.”
Brian had moved out of his home in Hawthorne to a rented house in Hawthorne and I spent the night at his place, mattresses on the floors and all that. Brian came up with the beautiful haunting melody and the harmonies and I came up with the lyrics.
The melody and mood of “The Warmth of the Sun” was so melancholy. It was written the preceding day, words and music, and we got up to the news that President Kennedy had been taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and that he was dead. It was shocking. We didn’t change the lyric to conform to the event. Within days of that event we went into the studio and recorded it. That session was even more charged with emotion.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The Beach Boys recorded such a wealth of material, some of it finally being released from the vaults. Does it amaze you in today’s climate – where some artists put out one record every three years – the sheer volume of Beach Boys product that came out in the Sixties?
Al Jardine: Yeah, I know, tell me about it. I never slept. It was terrible. The pressure was awful. We were always waking up in the middle of the night and having to go down to the studio at one in the morning. We never had any private life. We were always out doing 150 shows on the road, a hundred days in the studio.
RCM: That’s one of the main reasons Brian stopped touring.
Al Jardine: Oh yeah. He couldn’t take the pace much longer. It was just too much. Brian was under a lot of pressure and he had no time to rest and he also never had a chance to enjoy his achievements. We were always being thrown out there on the road to support the next album. I don’t blame him for not wanting to go out on the road anymore. His dad insisted he stay out on the road and he just couldn’t do it. His Dad was mad at me for coming back into the group.
I was in the band at the inception and then I left and then David Marks joined. Brian stayed home and then David got fired and Brian came back. And then Brian got sick and Glen Campbell came out. Then Glen stopped and Bruce (Johnston) came out. That’s how it worked.
RCM: Brian, how did you come to work with lyricist Tony Asher on Pet Sounds?
Brian Wilson: Tony Asher worked for an advertising agency in Beverly Hills and someone told me he was really good with words. I love to create music but two people are better than one. With two people there can be heart and soul between them. One person can create a song but with two people there can be heart and soul between them, that’s why I’d rather write with a collaborator than write on my own – because a collaborator opens your heart up. A collaborator allows you to bring out something that you couldn’t bring out of yourself.
Lyrics and melody are a marriage. That’s why a collaboration is a marriage and lyrics and melody are a marriage.
RCM: Mike, Pet Sounds is an artistic triumph for the ages. But through the years, it’s been reported that you fought tooth and nail against the direction and that the band was veering into dangerous territory not wanting to screw with the formula.
Mike Love: That’s not true. It’s prevarication. There was a “them and us” kind of situation that evolved because of the drugs and I think that gave rise that that. Alan Jardine, myself and Bruce Johnston did not do drugs and the Wilson brothers got into all kinds of things. At one time on tour we had a smoker’s jet, which was a euphemism for who was smoking hash and pot—and a non-smokers jet. We were still a group but there was definitely a schism there. I didn’t dislike the Pet Sounds material at all. I thought it was brilliant. We all worked on it very assiduously. We did close to 30 takes on one section of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and that’s when I started calling Brian “Dog Ears” because he heard things most humans couldn’t hear. Brian didn’t know what to call the album.
I was in the hallway listening to the train and the sound of a dog barking and said, “What about we call it ‘Pet Sounds’?” and it stuck.
So I named the album and went with Brian to play it for Karl Engemann, who was the A&R guy at Capitol. He was the one who listened to the album politely and said, “Hey gee guys, that’s great but what about you doing something more like ‘California Girls’ or ‘I Get Around’?”
Nobody said, “Don’t f#*k with the formula!” That’s a complete fabrication.
Karl was a devout Mormon and total gentleman and that was the opinion he expressed but he didn’t put it in any salacious terms nor did I. I wouldn’t have gone to that meeting with Brian if I had disliked the album. Capitol didn’t know what to do with it. It was a departure and an evolution in terms of the production. You could hear it coming on California Girls in ’65 and here in ’66 is Pet Sounds. Then the SMiLE album was overlapping and that’s when it got a little crazy. I think there’s a lot of brilliant music on SMiLE. Brian, thankfully, has gone on record saying, “Mike had nothing to do with the shelving of SMiLE” although people have been saying that I didn’t want it to come out. I had nothing to do with that. Brian freaked out on L.S.D. and shelved it.
RCM: After SMiLE was shelved, Brian, while still involved on some level with songwriting/recording, retreated and rest of band really had to step up. With albums like 20/20, Friends, Sunflower and Surf’s Up, was it scary or a welcome opportunity to carry the songwriting/production weight?
Mike Love: There wasn’t fear involved but there were a couple of things going on during the Sunflower period. We ended our deal with Capitol and went to Reprise. We weren’t having the big hit singles but what there was with Brian’s retreat—he was experiencing some serious paranoid-schizophrenic issues but that’s a whole saga in itself with Dr. Landy.
- What that retreat allowed for was the maturity of the other guys in the band, Alan Jardine with California Saga, Take Good Care of Your Feet, Carl with Long Promised Road and Feel Flows, Dennis with Forever, Bruce with Disney Girls.
- The group became more of a democracy in a sense (laughs) where everybody had a voice, not only in terms of singing but also coming up with creative pieces.
RCM: In the ’60s as you were achieving heights of creativity with albums like Pet Sounds and Beach Boys Today, did you ever feel held back by The Beach Boys?
Did you ever think about branching out on your own?
Brian Wilson: No, I’ve never felt creatively stifled by the Beach Boys. I’ve always felt a carte blanche to write and carte blanche to record a song.
RCM: Brian, you’ve cited the Friends album as being a big favorite of yours, why?
Brian Wilson: I think it’s one of our best albums. It had a good folk song vibe.
The songs were written so well and the harmonies were great, especially the harmonies on the song “Friends,” which were fantastic.
I was in a mellow place when we did that album and writing those songs and recording that album took me to another level. I like the songs on it. It was a more relaxed album. I thought the songs were very creative and folky. I like “Busy Doin’ Nothin’.” It has those little clues how to get to my house. I really like Dennis’ songs on that album, “Be Still” and “Little Bird.” Those are very nice songs. It surprised me to see so much soul and inspiration in Dennis. I never motivated Dennis to write, he had his own motivation. I really like Little Bird because of the lyric.
RCM: What are some of your favorite songs Dennis wrote?
Brian Wilson: Oh wow…I think “Little Bird” was one of them. Forever was a really good song. “San Miguel” is another one I like of his. Dennis’ writing was very funky; he was a rock and roll kind of a writer. His roots he learned from The Beach Boys. He watched me produce records and he watched Carl produce and he watched Alan produce and he just got the knack and started producing records.
RCM: Speaking of the Friends album how about the song “Transcendental Meditation”?
Brian Wilson: Yeah, I also like that one. I arranged five horns on that in a very very complex harmony, kind of a like a jazz feeling.
Al Jardine: I thought that was fun but it was a goofy song. There were different cadences in it; it was like a musical exercise. I would like to recut that. I’d go in the studio and do that one again and get it right and have some fun with it.
RCM: Did you get into TM?
Brian Wilson: Did I try meditating? Yeah, it worked for a while and then it stopped working for me. When it worked it was a relaxing experience. It takes some of the stress off your chest.
RCM: Al, with your immersion into TM in 1967, how did that impact on your work as a songwriter and daily life?
Al Jardine: Oh absolutely. I started writing the California Saga trilogy from my practicing TM–going inward, taking the road less traveled by and mediating. It really opened my awareness and my musical chops.
RCM: Did TM help you handle the pressures of fame?
Al Jardine: Oh yeah. We were down on our luck at the time we started getting into TM. Brian had expressed himself completely for five or six years so it was up to the rest of us to pick up the slack. So thanks to that I was able to open up a little and contribute a little bit to our continuing success.
RCM: What are your memories of the Beach Boys tour with the Maharishi in the late ‘60s?
Al Jardine: Looking back, that’s a good example of a marketing failure. There’s a certain way to sell soap but you don’t sell soap with motor oil. But these two ingredients were not palatable to the public.
A surf rock band from the ‘60s touring with one of the great metaphysical heroes of our time. He was our guru. You don’t take your personal religion or that personal side of your life into the public marketplace.
We did a disservice to him and to our audience. The tour ended abruptly.
RCM: Speaking of taking over the creative reins, Carl stepped up in a producer’s role with 20/20, Sunflower and Surf’s Up and delivered some quality work.
Al Jardine: He really came into his own. We had to pick up the slack and he was the most able of all of us to do that. Most of those albums that you mention were spearheaded by Carl leading the charge. Carl was a great musician and had all that talent. He was the whole package, real easy to work with. Never tried to impose himself on anyone and was always open to everybody’s suggestions.
RCM: With so many great harmony singers in the band, was there ever a song that had you stumped in terms of finding the right harmony parts?
Al Jardine: I don’t remember us having to struggle much with anything except back in the ‘60s with one song we never finished called “Tom Dooley.” Brian had come up with an amazing arrangement of that song—a Four Freshmen arrangement–and it was so complicated. Frankly, I think we just ran out of time. We made up for it by recording “Our Prayer,” which was a nice little departure. In terms of harmonies, we never wrote anything down and just did head arrangements, things off the top of our head.
RCM: The Beach Boys were originally slated to play the Monterey Pop Festival but later dropped out. How would things have changed for the band had you played?
Mike Love: Had we caught that wave and played that festival it would have been a good thing for us. We sang the song “Catch a Wave” but we didn’t catch that wave. We let that one go by and that was a pretty significant wave. Carl had received his draft notice and that was freaking him out. Brian was doing drugs. Dennis was drinking and drugging and the band was really dysfunctional.
There were some real challenges going on intramurally. (laughs) We made the decisions that we didn’t have it together enough to go and play the Monterey Pop Festival.
RCM: Mike and Al, you ran into Elvis in the late ‘60s at an L.A. recording studio, what are your memories of that chance encounter?
Al Jardine: Bruce (Johnston) and I met Elvis in the late ‘60s. He was working in the studio across the hall from us at Western. Bruce and I went over and introduced ourselves and he was very delighted to see us. He was trim and great looking, just like his album covers. He hadn’t gone back out on the road yet. We encouraged him to get back to work and he took us up on it.
Mike Love: He was in the big room at Western and had his cape on at the time (laughs). He was preparing to go back out on tour and he was asking us, “Well, what’s it like?” He was a really kind gentleman. He couldn’t have been nicer. He definitely knew who The Beach Boys were.
You couldn’t not be aware of who The Beach Boys in the ‘60s.
We saw him play live in Vegas at The Hilton and he was darn good. I mean, what a voice, he was The King!
RCM: Brian, I understand you met Elvis in the ‘70s?
Brian Wilson: I was recording with Terry Melcher at RCA Victor Records in 1975. We were working on the song “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” Terry said, “Hey, Elvis is in the next studio recording.” That was a big surprise to hear he was in the studio next to me. So I walked into the studio and said, “Hi, I’m Brian Wilson” and he goes, “Hello Duke.” I don’t know why he called me Duke.
I said, “Would you like to hear what I’m doing in the studio?” and he said yes. So we walked over to my studio and listened to what I was doing and then said he had to leave.
It was a thrill to meet him and he was real happy to meet me. I liked Elvis Presley’s songs. I never saw him live. I thought Elvis was a very underrated singer, he was a very good singer. He was more of a star. He was known more for his fame than his voice. I think he deserved more credit for his voice.
RCM: Brian, as a writer, can you recall any songs that you wrote after you were done where you felt “I can’t believe I wrote that!? Where did that come from?”
Brian Wilson: Yeah, when I wrote “Good Vibrations,” I said, “There’s no way I could have written that song!” Then I thought, maybe God wrote it through me. I was also surprised that I wrote a song like “California Girls.” The chord pattern was good and Michael and I wrote some really good lyrics together. The intro is really special. It’s almost like a different piece of the song. I wanted to try something different and it worked. I felt it was a really unique way to express a 12-string guitar that Carl played.
RCM: Al, what inspired you to cover Cotton Fields and why did you think it would work with The Beach Boys? What producer you to recut as a single?
Al Jardine: “Cotton Fields“ was always one of my favorite songs going back to high school. It was a number one song in the folk field back in the ‘60s. My instincts are to write things about going back home. I’m a going home kind of writer; I’m one of those nostalgic writers. Like with “Sloop John B”, (sings lyrics) “Let me go home, I wanna go home..” For some reason, that resonates with me. So along comes Cotton Fields in my head. We’d just had “Sloop” which became a big hit. We went into the studio and cut a version of “Cotton Fields“ that was so outside of my thinking.
It appeared on our 20/20 album. Brian was just goofing off. He doesn’t like folk music and never really has so it just wasn’t his thing and that’s not his fault. I said to him, I don’t like it.” (laughs) So I grabbed Dennis and Carl and said, “Let’s go into the studio and cut it live. I know this sucker is gonna be good.”
So we went back into the studio and took the whole darn band into the studio at Sunset Sound and we cut it live and added a steel guitar player. I thought that would give it that country feel. I love cutting live so it worked out as a performance song. You could feel the energy. Dennis was really drove that one home with his energy. He wanted it to work.
Whenever you get somebody on the team that wants it to succeed, it really helps. Brian always had great ideas but Carl would alas be the guy who delivered the message. He would vet it. If someone in the band vets something then you know it’s good. Dennis vetted “Cotton Fields“ and said, “Let’s do this, this is good.” So that helps. It became a big hit and was number one in a lot of countries and top ten in many more and top zero here in America (laughs). It didn’t even come out a single here. Philosophically, it wasn’t happening here because the hippie movement was so strong at that time. Maybe the rest of the world was more in tune with that song and the hippie culture hadn’t made its way over to Europe and other parts of the world.
RCM: Mike, you’ve always cited Chuck Berry as a pivotal influence on your approach as a lyricist but with a song like “Add Some Music to Your Day” you’re on taking off from Chuck Berry territory and off on a different plane.
Mike Love: My appreciation for lyrics goers back to grade school. I wasn’t interested in mathematics but I was very much interested in literature. I was the most well read child in grade school, junior high and high school. In junior high I had crushes on a few different girls and wrote very romantic poems about them of unrequited love. (laughs) I’ve always had a fondness for lyrics, prose and poetry of various kinds. I would read Olde English going back to Chaucer and Coleridge and American stuff like Emerson so all that rubbed off on me when writing lyrics like “The Warmth of The Sun” wasn’t Chuck Berry. (laughs)
Chuck was so incredibly and beautifully descriptive with the little vignettes, word pictures that came alive and resonated so amazingly well with the masses. That’s what I always admired about that style of writing and always tried to emulate. There’s music that related on an emotional level and the lyrical part that related on the level of the intellect.
RCM: Working with Brian Wilson, one of the world’s greatest songwriters and producers, must have taught you a great deal.
Al Jardine: He taught me everything. People teach by deeds.
You can talk all about schooling and technical expertise and book learning but if you are lucky enough to be around someone who does things, you can learn so much by simply watching and listening.
If I can impart any wisdom from this conversation, it just rubbed off. I mean you just start learning stuff. His greatest talent as a producer was his lack of fear. He’d just go for it. He’d say, “Put fourteen violins on that. (laughs). Add harmonica and trombone.” I just wasn’t afraid to do anything after that. When I saw with a little courage and some ambition you can do it. You just do it.
RCM: By the end of the ‘60s, as Brian became less involved with the recording, the rest of the band really stepped it up creatively, especially on the albums Surf’s Up and Sunflower.
Al Jardine: We were basically his pillars. He was holding us up for all those years and now we were basically holding him up. We were forced to go into a creative hyper speed because Brian was retreating in the opposite direction as fast as we were in the other direction. Brian was retreating as we were accelerating. We were recording right underneath his bedroom and he’d be holed up there sometimes for days. He’d call down every once in a while and say, “Hey, that sounds great!” (laughs) and he’d pop in occasionally and do something or give us ideas.
We were keeping the wheels oiled. What helped a lot was Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker from Warner Brothers Records were so impressed with what we were doing. They were blown away by “Cool, Cool Water“ from Sunflower and told us we were onto something.
RCM: Sunflower is cited by many next to Pet Sounds as the band’s greatest achievement. Indeed, it was a major triumph for the band sans Brian – who was involved on a much lesser scale.
Al Jardine: We started to take over the production. Brian simply wouldn’t come down from his tower anymore. We had to finish a lot of work. “It’s About Time“ was Carl, Dennis and I. That’s a good one, I like that production. That was mostly Dennis and I just helped with the lyrics. Dennis and Carl did the track. It was a very powerful track, it was very well done. “Our Sweet Love“ was one we finished with Brian; he just didn’t want to finish it. So we kind of helped. We became completers of ideas.
We all worked on his songs from time to time and then we’d put them on the shelf. You start a song and put it away, start a song and put it away. It is a very good album. Again, we had some sonic problems but on that album I think we overcame some of the sonic problems. That album was a smattering of different studios, that’s probably why it had an interesting texture.
RCM: How did the band tap into technology as it evolved?
Al Jardine: Basically, what we did was what most other fellow musicians would do, technology would dictate our direction. Every time a new medium developed, for instance, tape recording machines. We’d go and get the latest 8-track or 16-track or 24-track deck and that would give us more latitude with our music to accomplish more things. As for keyboards, there was a lot of stuff being invented—the monophonic keyboards, the Moog synthesizers. Bob Moog invented his big bank of computers that generated one sound and we called that monophonic. The mini-moog became our instrument of choice right around 1970. That was our bass sound for a while during the Sunflower and Surf’s Up era, the moog starts to appear. It’s also used a lot of the Beach Boys Love You album.
Electronic keyboards began to develop a little keyboard called a DX-7 and that was a fascinating little thing. We just thought that was an absolute miracle of technology. In fact, on my latest album, we use a DX-7 on my song “Don’t Fight the Sea.” I like this particular setting called a “wood block.” All of those sounds are so important. In many ways we’ve discovered them and then we’ve lost them. So we’d try and use all those things in our music as well.
RCM: “Don’t Go Near the Water,” a song you co-wrote with Mike Love, was an early example of artists using their art form to educate about ecological concerns.
Al Jardine: I always thought that was a beautiful tune. Daryl Dragon, later best known as part of The Captain and Tennille, was a big part of that song. He assisted me on piano and we worked out kind of a kooky arrangement for it. The lyrics came about due to the concern about using phosphates from detergents that were being introduced into the water systems. So I was thinking, (recites lyrics) “toothpaste and soap make the ocean a bubble bath so let’s avoid an ecological aftermath…” It was a little over the top but it was kind of fun.
Those exact lyrics are quoted in Time magazine during that period to exemplify the concerns about those kinds of things. Shortly thereafter, phosphates were taken out of detergents. It might have been coincidental but it was an amazing thing to happen at that time.
RCM: The idea behind “All This is That,” an underrated studio track from the box set, came from you, what inspired it?
Al Jardine: That was inspired by a Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” It’s a real moving poem about choices, taking gambles rather than going the safe route. Someone turned me onto that poem so I went up on a little road in Big Sur right above my house by the Big Sur River, read it and I really got inspired. Then a lecture by Maharishi infused in me the wisdom of the ancient Veda scriptures, in particular the saying that we are all one.
He put it in the term of the Vedas meaning, “I am that, thou is that, all this is that.” I thought it was amusing at first and then realized how profound it was in its simplicity. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. I thought, ‘What a great chorus that would make.”
Carl really took it to heart and added his own vibration to it at the end with that beautiful, soaring melodic mantra that he sings at the end. Unfortunately, not a lot of people heard the song because it wasn’t the kind of vehicle the Beach Boys are known for. It’s kind of like going into the Pet Sounds or SMiLE territory. No one really understood it was just too ahead of its time but now people are starting to recognize, as they have with Pet Sounds and SMiLE, some of the more esoteric things we’ve done.
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,” “Cotton Fields“ 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.