Endless summer of the Beach Boys
In celebration of their 50th anniversary, the surviving members of the Beach Boys reunited to embark on a historic world tour in 2012 and released “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” their first new studio album in two decades.
Resplendent with their signature harmonies and nostalgic, summertime themes, the acclaimed album recalled their glory days and became the legendary group’s highest-charting recording in 37 years.
“It was pretty darn nice,” says Beach Boys co-founder Mike Love about reteaming with bandmates. “Brian (Wilson) and I were in the studio listening to a playback of the song, ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio,’ and we remarked that it’s still like 1965 all over again. The Beach Boys have had different periods of music. In ’62 we had ‘Surfin’ Safari,’ and then by ’65, it was more like ‘California Girls,’ and in ’66 it was ‘Good Vibrations.’ Getting together felt like deja vu and sounded like deja vu. Sadly, we were missing Carl and Dennis (Wilson), who were both huge losses for us, but they live on in the music.”
Last August, the Beach Boys released a career-spanning 174-song box set, “Made in California (1962-2012),” featuring more than 60 previously unreleased tracks.
“The job of putting it together logically and sequentially was almost unachievable,” says Love. “There were different versions and mixes and unfinished ones. It’s for Beach Boys’ aficionados who want to hear the evolution of a group from primitive first efforts to more sophisticated stuff like ‘Pet Sounds.’ “
One of the most successful and important American bands in rock history, the Beach Boys massive popularity began in the early 1960s with a stream of hit teen anthems like “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Surfin USA,” “California Girls” and “I Get Around,” espousing the joys of California’s surf, sun, hot rods and girls.
Largely a family affair, they came together in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, Calif., in 1961. Three brothers, Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, were joined by their cousin, Mike Love, and a friend, Alan Jardine. Bruce Johnston joined the band in 1965.
Beginning their career as the most popular surf band in the nation, the Beach Boys by the mid-’60s had evolved into America’s greatest pop group, rivaling the Beatles for creativity.
Most of the group’s epic music was composed by Brian Wilson, who adapted Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound technique to a series of sublime recordings that culminated in some of the most beautiful songs ever heard in pop music. The increasing complexity and sophistication of the group’s material highlighted Wilson’s sonic perfectionism, and an evolution away from surfing and driving toward deeper, more reflective topics.
This creative maturity fully flowered with the band’s 1966 masterpiece, “Pet Sounds,” praised by Rolling Stone as the second greatest album of all time, after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Initially crafted as an effort to top the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul,” “Pet Sounds,” included the No. 1 single, “Good Vibrations,” hailed by many critics as one of the greatest songs of all time.
Each band was cognizant of the other’s innovative endeavors. “It wasn’t like a contentious rivalry, more like a mutual admiration,” Love explains. “I remember when George Harrison was being interviewed with Paul (McCartney) and Ringo (Starr), and he said, ‘We were just trying to keep up with the Beach Boys.’ There was a creative competition. It was like ‘Rubber Soul’ was really great; OK, here’s this one called ‘Pet Sounds.’ I think the competition enriched both sides of the Atlantic.”
Love would later hang out with the Beatles in the Indian town of Rishikesh in 1968 at an ashram where they all studied transcendental mediation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
“I was the first person to hear Paul play ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ on acoustic guitar,” Love recalls. “I said, ‘What you should do in the middle is talk about all the girls around Russia and Ukraine and Georgia.’ I’ve sung it onstage many times.
“It was a teacher training course, and we did long hours of meditation together. The Beatles had learned mediation in Wales prior to us, and we were taught by the Maharishi in Paris in 1967. The curtain opened, and on one side of the Maharishi was George Harrison and on the other side was John Lennon. It was kind of intimidating. Later in Florida, I was visiting with Paul backstage and he told me, ‘I don’t think it was the lads’ cup of tea,’ meaning to become a teacher of TM. I eventually became a teacher of TM and so did Al Jardine of the Beach Boys.”
The Beach Boys’ hits kept rolling with songs like “Heroes and Villains” and “Do It Again,” and subsequent albums such as “Surf’s Up” and “Holland,” which contained many magical moments and masterpieces like the title track, “Surf’s Up.” In 1988, they returned to the charts with the No. 1 hit “Kokomo,” cocomposed by Love.
Riding on their legendary status through the ’80s and ’90s and into the 21st century, the Beach Boys have maintained their popularity. Since the death of Carl Wilson in early 1998, the band has toured fronted by Love, who legally owns the name, along with Bruce Johnston, and sometimes with John Stamos, who will play their Maui show.
Love, who owned a home in Kipahulu for a while, was mainly the band’s colead singer along with Brian Wilson. He sang the lead on many of the band’s biggest hits, including “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around” and “California Girls.”
As to the performers’ enduring popularity – over the years they produced 36 U.S. Top 40 hits, more than any other American rock band – Love suggests their extraordinary harmonies are a key ingredient.
“When we started making music, it wasn’t to be famous or for the ego, it was for the sheer love of singing those harmonies. At the beginning when we started, my cousin, Brian, and I would sing Everly Brothers’ songs. We’d get my sister to sing along with us to make two parts and three parts. Brian became obsessed with the group, The Four Freshman, who sang real close, four-part harmony. That’s the unique feature that distinguishes the Beach Boys from many other groups, the sophisticated, beautiful harmonies. And there’s no one better than Brian at structuring chord progressions and harmony. So I think it’s the quality of the heart in the music, along with the beautiful harmonies and the sheer joy that some of the themes bring.
“We were in Wichita, Kansas, a couple of weekends ago, and there was a 9-year-old girl with her grandparents in the front row, singing along to just about every song. We brought her onstage to sing ‘Barbara Ann.’ It was the highlight of the show. It was incredible. When people sometimes ask me, ‘Do you get tired of doing shows?’ Not a chance, because there is so much joy that our songs have brought to multiple generations.”
Ultimate Classic Rock magazine recently published a list of the greatest Southern rock songs ever recorded. What topped the list?
It wasn’t Lynard Skynard’s “Free Bird” or the Allman Brothers’ “Rambin’ Man,” but South Carolina’s Marshall Tucker Band and their hit, “Can’t You See.”
“It was kind of unbelievable,” says Marshall Tucker Band lead singer and founding member Doug Gray. “There are so many Lynard Skynard songs that get more airplay than we do. I was surprised but extremely happy.”
With hits such as “Heard it in a Love Song,” “Take the Highway,” “Fire on the Mountain” and “Can’t You See,” Marshall Tucker has weathered decades of musical change and is still going strong, despite the deaths of various original members over the years.
As the only original member, Gray is proud to continue the group’s legacy. “I sang 99 percent of the songs originally,” he notes. “It does feel good being the last, original member. It’s been that way for quite a while. The band now works well together.”
Formed in the cotton mill town of Spartanburg, S.C., in 1972, the group a year later began headlining concerts spurred by the platinum-plus sales of its debut album.
The band’s unique blend of rock, rhythm and blues, jazz, country and gospel reflected the musicians’ varied tastes. “We all had different influences,” Gray explains. “I was into soul music. I was a big James Brown fan. Toy (Caldwell) and I would go to jazz festivals in high school to see Wes Montgomery, Lionel Hampton and Dionne Warwick. And Toy liked more country, and with Jerry (Eubanks) we’d go see Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull). We were a mutual melting pot of individual talent.”
The band’s country rock flavored songs would later prove to be an inspiration to a number of country acts, including Toby Keith, Mark Chesnutt and Garth Brooks, who co-wrote the 1993 Marshall Tucker single, “Walk Outside the Lines.” Their last studio album, “Next Adventure,” was released in 2007. “We’ve got stuff coming up,” he says. “We just finished recording a show in Zurich, Switzerland. Without being in a hurry, we put them out, and for some reason people keep buying them.”
>> The Marshall Tucker Band performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $40, $50 and $55. Call 242-7469.