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High: Interview with the Three Remaining Original Members of The Beach Boys.

Aired September 14, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET



THE BEACH BOYS, ROCK BAND (singing): I wish they all could be California girls -

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voiceover): It's a tune that took fans around the world by storm in 1965. And a song that would become one of The Beach Boys' most famous. Epitomizing '60s youth culture and the American surf scene, the song "California Girls"' has been counted by "Rolling Stone Magazine" as one of the greatest songs of all time.

And it's one of the rock band's most enduring, even being sung by Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the action blockbuster, "Rush Hour 2".

CHRIS TUCKER, ACTOR: Beach Boys are dope.

JACKIE CHAN, ACTOR: I love Beach Boys.

STOUT (voiceover): 50 years on and 36 U.S. Top 40 hits later, the boys behind "California Girls" are still at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- from Southern California, the original Beach Boys -

STOUT (voiceover): Joining cross-generational crowds with old and new numbers, with production genius, Brian Wilson, again at the keyboards. His cousin and vocalist, Mike Love, belting out familiar tunes. And friend and guitarist Al Jardine strumming the chords.

Though since the band first topped the U.S. charts with this number one hit -

THE BEACH BOYS (singing): -- I get around, from town to town. I'm a real cool head -

STOUT (voiceover): The original five-part crew has been through a little retuning. With the pursuit of solo careers, some unharmonious years, and the deaths of two of their members, the group has endured. Relying on the musical talents of David Marks and Bruce Johnston.

Now, The Boys are back on the road. This week, "Talk Asia" gets exclusive back stage access to founding members Brian, Mike, and Al as they take to the stage in Hong Kong to celebrate 50 years of The Beach Boys.


STOUT: Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, welcome to "Talk Asia".

THE BEACH BOYS: Well thank you. It's good to be on. Pleasure to be here.

STOUT: And congratulations on your 50th anniversary of The Beach Boys.



STOUT: You have your tour right now. How's it going?

LOVE: It's going great. It's amazing. All over Europe and Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong. On to Australia - it's been fabulous.

STOUT: And when you got back together for the new album and the new tour, was the chemistry already there? Was it easy to get back together?



LOVE: Yes. We get a couple phone calls and we were all ready to go.


STOUT: It was that easy?


STOUT: Were there certain songs that all of you agreed, "This has got to make it into the show"?

WILSON: Well yes, like "California Girls" and "Good Vibrations" and "Do It Again" - we all had to, you know, decide on those two.

LOVE: I think "Surfin' USA" is pretty much mandatory at this point.


STOUT: Now, a lot of your "California Girls" are California grandmas right now.

LOVE: You think?

STOUT: I want to talk about your fans. Because there are multiple generations of your fans. Are you seeing three generations of fans at your concerts, now?

LOVE: Maybe three and a half, four. Who knows?

JARDINE: Absolutely.

WILSON: Yes, yes.

LOVE: Well, those started out with us in the '60s, of course, they had children and, as you say, grandchildren. The nice thing about The Beach Boys' music is, it appeals to really, I mean, children as well as, obviously, for those of us who are a little more along in the years. You know, it's more nostalgic for all us, I guess.

STOUT: Let's talk about your new album. It's called "That's Why God Made the Radio". Debuted in the charts, number three. That's got to feel good.

LOVE: Yes, it's great.

JARDINE: Well, yes. No kidding.

LOVE: We want to apologize to Marconi for the title.

STOUT: OK. The inventor of the radio.

LOVE: Yes. Exactly.



STOUT: The title of the album and the song itself, I thought was interesting. Why the radio? Is it a technology that you're nostalgic about?

WILSON: The radio brings happiness to a lot of people. The radio is like one of the best things in the world to do.

JARDINE: It was important to us when we were growing up. And Brian and I used to run home from school to listen to the Top 40 on KFWB in LA to hear our record played. Still the same thing today.

STOUT: You're 70 years old - you're 69, 71, 70 years old. How are you able to capture that purity and bring it to your album?

LOVE: That's just the way we sound. You know, when our voices - Brian knows how to structure our voices where we sound the best. And that's what we did. And we went into the studio and they did the vocals. We all did our respective parts. Listening to it back in the studio, that's what Brian said - it sounded like 1965 again.

JARDINE: We got together and remade "Do It Again" again. For the first time, so that we'd get used to each other's, you know, personalities again and our voices just locked right in. Immediately, around the microphone, we had the sound again. Took about five minutes.

LOVE: Brian says to me at the "Do It Again" recording session, "How does a 70-year-old guy sound that good?" I said, "Well, I've been practicing".


WILSON: For 50 years.

STOUT: You sound really good. And no Auto-Tune.

THE BEACH BOYS: Right. No Auto-Tune.

STOUT: It's your pure sound.

LOVE: Absolutely.


STOUT: And The Beach Boys sound - you have the high voice and the middle voice and you've got the bass. And they all kind of blend together. It's such a distinctive sound. But how do you describe it, yourselves?

WILSON: I would just describe it as "ethereal" and "masculine and feminine put together". Masculine sound and feminine sound all mixed together. That's how I would say it.

JARDINE: The family grew up singing together. Mike's first cousin and Brian's - these are first cousins here. I'm the only outsider, I guess. Dennis and Carl were part of the vocal ensemble at the time. So it has a beautiful family blend, I think. And I'm very fortunate to be a part of that.

STOUT: Al, describe your voice and what it brings to The Beach Boys' sound.

JARDINE: Carl and I were locked in as tenors in between Brian's falsetto and Mike's beautiful baritone, I might add.

WILSON: And Dennis was down below that.

JARDINE: And Dennis had some range in there. So we were very - we just locked in together.

STOUT: Mike, you're sort of Mr. Smooth, suave in your voice stylings.

LOVE: I am?


LOVE: Except for in "Surfin' USA" I get a little excited. "Fun, fun fun" you know. "Surfin' Safari". No, I love singing the bass parts. Always have. We used to study The Four Freshmen. We loved The Everly Brothers and all the Doo Wop groups of - on the radio when we started out.

But Brian developed this affinity - this attraction to the music of The Four Freshmen. This close four-part harmony. The harmony and the blend are the distinctive characteristic of The Beach Boys that separates us from so many others.

STOUT: And Brian, you have this high voice - this falsetto. How did you figure out that you could sing that way?

WILSON: Well, I learned how to sing falsetto from The Four Freshmen. The high singer in The Four Freshmen?

JARDINE: Bob Flanigan.

WILSON: Yes. And I sang along with their records for, like, two years. All the time. And I developed my falsetto. And then I wrote "Surfer Girl". And there was my falsetto.



STOUT: You liked listening to the music, as kids.


STOUT: When did you realize that you wanted to get serious about music?

LOVE: We were asked, originally, to do a folk song. And we said, "Well, we like The Kingston Trio. We like Peter, Paul, and Mary. We like folk music, but we're more into R and B and Rock and Roll. So we came back with a surfing song. Brain and I made it up in the music room at the Wilson's family home.

JARDINE: We actually created our own folk songs, if you think about it. We created a genre of music. American Folk, in a way.

STOUT: And how did this come about? You were just hanging out? We know the two of you are cousins. You're friends. Just hanging out at home and then decided to -

LOVE: We were just living life in Southern California.

JARDINE: These two grew up together and Brian and I went to school together, basically. And Brian invited me to come to the house and meet Mike and his brothers. And the rest is history. And Dennis brought the idea of surfing to us. And they wrote our first song.

WILSON: Mike and I wrote "Surfin'" and it was our - wasn't a real big hit, you know, locally. But -

LOVE: "Surfin' Safari" was better.

WILSON: Then, when "Surfin' USA" hit -

JARDINE: That was the big one.

WILSON: Then, of course, we're, like, on the map.



STOUT: Let's talk about "Fun, Fun, Fun". And you played a big role in that song. Very high-tempoed song.

LOVE: Yes. I remember us leaving Salt Lake City - Brian was still touring with us at that time. And I said, "Brian, we've got to do a song about a girl who borrows the family car and, instead of going to the library, like she says -- ". So I wrote the words and came up with the concept. And Brian came up with the track and the vocal harmonies.

The last part of "Fun, Fun, Fun" - the falsetto part that he hits right at the end - the tail end of the song - is one of the most mind- blowing moments in music, I think. Exhilarating. And, you know, we still do it to this day. It's the final song of our set.


JARDINE: Hello everybody, welcome to Hong Kong, right?




JARDINE: Hello everybody, welcome to Hong Kong, right?

Have a little Egg Fu Yung with us? Reminds me of a song, come to think of it. "Ling Ting Tong". You guys remember that one?

"I went to Chinatown way back in old Hong Kong to get some Egg Fu Yung-". Is that corny enough?

-- all you do is plug it in. That's it.


STOUT: Let's talk about "Pet Sounds". 1966. This is an album when you abandoned the formula - girls, cars, surfing. Was that scary? Because that was a tried and trusted formula that really worked for you.

LOVE: We didn't entirely abandon the girls. Because, in "Wouldn't It Be Nice" -

STOUT: Yes, the girls are still in there.

LOVE: Yes. I mean, the romance. Right?

STOUT: Right.

LOVE: You're attracted to somebody, but you're - if you were a little older, you might be -

STOUT: But the catchy songs about the surfing and the cars -

LOVE: Well, yes.

STOUT: -- it's kind of cast aside.

LOVE: Definitely that. Well, people matured.


LOVE: And we got a little more introspective, I think.

JARDINE: We were touring the hits - our band was very active and we were touring and singing about the cars and the girls and having "Fun, Fun, Fun". He's home in the studio going, "When are those guys getting back? I'm really getting impatient". In fact, he got mad at us. I remember, he got a little upset with us for being gone so long. So he'd be in the studio doing new things, like "Pet Sounds". And we'd come back and have to catch up.

WILSON: When you guys got back, I said, "Here's the new album for you". And they go, "Brian, this isn't commercial". I said, "I know, but we had to grow, musically".


WILSON: That was my main thing. They finally agreed that it was good to grow, musically.

LOVE: Oh, it was great. And we worked on it very hard.

JARDINE: Oh, yes.

LOVE: But Capitol Records really didn't know what to do with it at the time. So it took a while for it to go platinum, but it eventually did.

STOUT: Well, not only platinum. It's considered one of the most landmark albums of all time.

WILSON: It was not really a rock album. It was more of a - what would you call it?

LOVE: I have no idea.

WILSON: It's not rock. Anything but rock.

LOVE: It's a noteworthy Beach Boys album.

JARDINE: I'd compare it to the new album to some degree, Brian. The new album is a theme-oriented album. They're thematical (ph).


JARDINE: They're a complete piece of work all unto themselves. 50 big ones. "Why God Made the Radio" has that same feeling, I think. It evokes a certain feeling of Southern California and those harmonies.

STOUT: Yes, but Brian, when you were producing it, you knew that it was a departure. But did you know that it was going to be such a defining album for The Beach Boys?

WILSON: Well, I knew that it was going to be a great album. I knew that. And I knew that Michael and the guys were going to sound good on their respective cuts that they sang.



STOUT: "Wouldn't It Be Nice" - it's such a sunny - such an optimistic song. What were you aiming for with that song?

LOVE: Well, you know, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" appeals to everybody who's young, who has an attraction for somebody else.


LOVE: "Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long." So long to do what? We don't know. It really does have a mass appeal.

STOUT: Paul McCartney, he said that this album was the inspiration for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". And that's really awesome to hear. That's great. But when you listen to "Sgt. Pepper's", do you hear The Beach Boys?


STOUT: Do you hear your music?

WILSON: Actually, no, there's no real influence. You know.


WILSON: It's an entirely original album like that sound. Two different kinds. One's more of an emotional kind of experience. Another one's a happier experience.

STOUT: And "Pet Sounds" - the title. Why did you choose that as your title?

LOVE: At the end of the record, there's a dog barking and a train -

STOUT: Yes, yes. At the end of "Caroline, No".

LOVE: Well, they didn't have an album title so I said, "Well, how about "Pet Sounds"?"

WILSON: Sounded right to me.

LOVE: It's a double-entendre.

STOUT: Nice. And the album cover? You're at a petting zoo and you're petting goats.

JARDINE: Yes. That was -

STOUT: Should I read into that anything more than that?

JARDINE: That was a step too far. The label didn't get it.


JARDINE: They just didn't get it and we didn't take care of our art very well at the time.

LOVE: I was in India at Maharishi's Place and the Beatles were there. Paul McCartney and I were having a conversation one evening. And he said, "Mike, you really ought to take more care with your album covers".


LOVE: Here's the mastermind of the "Sgt. Pepper" album cover, which is brilliant. And here's a goat's butt on the "Pet Sounds" album - that's where we sign out autographs.

STOUT: Brian, the song on "Pet Sounds" - "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times".

WILSON: Yes, that was kind of like a departure for me. Like a, what? A social statement or some - hey, look, I wish I could find some people to help me out with new places. It was just sort of like a fitting song for the '60s.

STOUT: It was so personal and it's, you know, it's a song about rejection.


STOUT: Was that difficult to produce and to record and put out there and to share to the world?

WILSON: Oh no, it was effortless. Effortless.

STOUT: Yes. And it was during the sessions for "Pet Sounds" when you produced a Beach Boys masterpiece - "Good Vibrations". A production masterpiece.

WILSON: That took us six weeks, actually, to make.

STOUT: Really?

WILSON: We did the background orchestration in five different studios. I can't remember the names of all the studios, but I mean, I'm telling you, it was an event to cut that record.

STOUT: But I mean, if it took just over a month and it's such a complicated song. There's so many layers.

WILSON: Well, the night we cut the vocals at RCA was one of the highlights of my life - teaching the guys the parts and, you know, it was just a departure from anything we'd ever, ever done before. It was probably our masterpiece.

JARDINE: We recorded - Brian was a little more than a month - six weeks. We were recording "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "Good Vibrations", and a host of other songs simultaneously.

WILSON: And "Barbara Ann"

JARDINE: No, a different time. And also, some of the "Smile" stuff we were working on. So we were kind of rotating in and out and listening to stuff and then redoing things endlessly until they were perfect. Because of him. Mr. Perfectionist, here. So, it took more like six months. But anyway -


STOUT: I want to talk about drugs next.

WILSON: Well, I don't know who - first of all, who took drugs? Did you take drugs?




WILSON: Well, we released the original "Smile" album in 2004. But there was, like, an hour and a half to two hours of footage that we didn't use. So, what happened was, my wife and I got together and said, "Look, let's release the unfinished box sets". So we got together. It took us, like two months, you know? Our mix-sound people would, "Hey, Brian, what do you think of this?" "Well, you'd better bring the voice up". You know what I mean? It got a little tedious, you know, back and forth.


STOUT: What were you out to accomplish with "Smile"? Which became famous for being one of the most high-profile unreleased albums of all time. And then, finally released in full in 2011. And tension between the two of you is sighted for the reason why "Smile" was scrapped in the 1960s.


LOVE: That's not accurate.


LOVE: I had nothing to do with that decision. And I participated in the album as much as anybody. We did weird things. We sang on our backs, looking up at the microphones. And, you know, made barnyard sounds and everything else. If you listen to the "Smile" recordings - there's some brilliant tracks. I have exception to some of the lyrics. Because I thought they were a little obtuse. So, that was my only -

STOUT: But there has been, you know, tension over the years. Creative tension, legal tension. Some observers could be watching this interview and saying, "This is incredible to see Brian Wilson and Mike Love sitting next to each other". Is it all water under the bridge? Is everything cool now?

LOVE: The thing is, I was not credited on some of the contributions I made lyrically. And that was a function of Brian's dad eliminating me from writing, like, "California Girls". I wrote all the words for that and other songs as well that I contributed to, was not credited. The only recourse was to, you know, reestablish my credit.

But Brian wanted to rectify it, but he was, at the time, unable to. So I've never had a bad - I mean, if there's an issue, it's not between us, I don't think.

STOUT: And Al, you left the band in the late 1990s.


STOUT: You came back in 2011. So, is everything cool with you and why did you decide to return to the band?

JARDINE: You can't constantly be looking back over your shoulder.


JARDINE: We're looking forward now and we're hopefully going to continue to work together and can create the good vibes, you know. Because it's working. Yes.

STOUT: I want to talk about drugs next. And only because, you know, you were musicians recording in the '60s and '70s. To what degree did drugs influence your work, especially during "Pet Sounds" and "Smile"?

WILSON: Well, I don't know who - first of all, who took drugs? Did you take drugs?

LOVE: Well -


LOVE: I think Alan and myself and Bruce weren't into that. The Wilson brothers did participate a bit.


LOVE: And so there was a dichotomy there.

STOUT: Yes. Brian, you and your brothers -

WILSON: I regret having taken some of the drugs that I took, yes.

STOUT: Yes? What did you take and what impact did it have on your work?

WILSON: Well, we smoked marijuana.


WILSON: To the point where we got lost in the music and we didn't know where the [AUDIO DELETED] we were at.


WILSON: Excuse me. Didn't know where the heck we were at.

JARDINE: And a little of that stuff called LSD.


JARDINE: Which expands your awareness, but at the same time can be kind of precipitous, you know, for Brian. And, you know, he liked to dabble in stuff and it helped him create a greater vision of the music.

STOUT: What is an acid trip like? And how does it translate into making music?

LOVE: I think it's probably different for different people.


JARDINE: That's a heavy question.

WILSON: There would be no way to describe it. You know, no way to describe it.

STOUT: So, Brian, for you, did it unlock your creative potential or do you think you could've done without it?

WILSON: Well, it made me feel self-conscious at the same time as it expanded my awareness. Like, when Mike and I did "California Girls" - that was like an outgrowth of the LSD that I took.


WILSON: So, I mean, it was - it truly is an evergreen, "California Girls".

STOUT: Yes. Do you think you would have been able to produce "California Girls" without the drugs?


STOUT: No. And the negative impact the drugs has had on your life. I mean, you went through years where you didn't produce or record anything. How did you pull through?

WILSON: Well, I went into a doctor's program who turned me on to diet and exercise. I was overweight. I wasn't eating right. I wasn't exercising. And after about six months in that program, I was transformed. Physically transformed in to, you know.

STOUT: How do you produce - do you produce in your head? Do you write it all out on paper?

WILSON: No, I cannot produce in my head. I can only produce and hear the music as it's being recorded. I cannot hear it in my head.

JARDINE: I'd have to differ with you on that. Because I've watched you write out the bass lines before going to the studio.

WILSON: Oh, I can write out lines, but I can't hear them. I can only write them out.

LOVE: The other thing is, Brian was absolutely brilliant at taking and spontaneously creating in the studio. He'd have a group of the best musicians in Hollywood in the studio and he would say, "Do this, do that. Showa (ph) should do this. The guitarist should do that". He would - he's like - we call him "The Stone of the Studio".


LOVE: He was a master at spontaneously dealing out parts and changing things.

STOUT: Did you ever think, I mean, when you were teenagers, that you would still be doing this today?

WILSON: Not really.


LOVE: No, but you know, growing up in a family situation like Brian and I did, first cousins - everybody'd get together for birthdays and Christmas and Thanksgiving. And the older folks would sing their music and the younger folks would sing theirs. And the children just play. And it's kind of like that, in a way. We've gotten older, but we still love music. It's still a big, huge part of our lives.

STOUT: And you do hit those notes. You sound fantastic.

LOVE: Thank you.

JARDINE: Thank you.

STOUT: Mike, Brian, Al, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.

WILSON: Thank you.

JARDINE: Thank you.

LOVE: Thank you, too.