Everyone knows and loves the Beach Boys. For five-plus decades their music has touched the lives of generations of pop fans. The combination of Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine and Mike Love (and later Bruce Johnston) proved magical, selling over 100 million records. Their songs are the soundtrack to your life, your dad’s life and, if he was cool, your granddad’s life.
The band continued for decades despite Brain Wilson’s battles with mental illness and the deaths of both Dennis Wilson (drowned in 1983) and Carl Wilson (died of lung cancer in 1998). But Al Jardine was there the entire time. And in a band led by a songwriting genius like Brian Wilson, it’s easy to be overshadowed. But that’s him singing lead on “Help Me Rhonda.”
After a 50th anniversary in 2012, the band split into two separate, occcasionally warring, factions with Mr. Love and Mr. Johnston maintaining the band’s name, while Brian Wilson and Mr. Jardine tour under Brian Wilson’s name.
Mr. Jardine, who performs in Baltimore as well as Roanoke and Newport News in Virginia next week, spoke about his legendary band’s legacy, the songs he loves (and the one’s he could live without) and what his relationship is like today with his Brian Wilson.
Question: The music you created with The Beach Boys has touched generations. Did you ever imagine it would have such an effect on people?
Answer: No. Never thought that would happen. We started our lives singing songs about surfing. It was just a passing fancy, really. We were just having fun, and it developed into something else.
Q: As a member of the Beach Boys, do you have a favorite song and favorite Beach Boys album?
A: Well, um. Ha! I was just singing the B-side to our first single. A song called “Luau,” that could be my least favorite song. Until you hear Dennis Wilson sing the finishing line to each verse. And then Brian sings the bridge. Then all of a sudden it’s something [else]. I don’t think many people have heard it.
My favorite song would probably be “Heroes & Villains” or “California Girls.” And “Surf’s Up.”
Q: Are there songs in the Beach Boys catalog that you hope to never perform again?
A: Yeah, one we own the publishing to. That when Wild Honey Orchestra performed it, it sounded pretty good. It’s called “Bluebirds Over the Mountain.” It’s an Ersel Hickey song from the ‘50s, if you can believe that name.
We thought we were gonna be smart and rerecord it as a Beach Boys song. Biggest mistake we ever made. A real clunker. As an instrumental it sounded great, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to sing it. Unless you’re Ersel Hickey.
Q: Where is Ersel Hickey these days?
A: Probably not with us anymore. It was a No. 1 record for him in 1959.
[Hickey died in 2004.]
(Singing) “Bluebirds Over the mountain. Seagulls over the sea. Bring my baby to me.” Ah man! Anyway … .
Q: When young artists meet you, what is the most common thing they say to you?
A: I’m really not sure. Artists, you say? Usually that they really enjoyed singing with me.
Q: Musically, the Beach Boys continue, but you are no longer part of the band. Do you still work with Brian Wilson?
A: I’m just with Brian. We can relate.
Q: Was it imposable to keep the band together?
A: Politically or musically?
Q: I would imagine a little bit of both.
A: Musically we’re quite different. The two bands are quite different. Brian’s band is really an amazing bunch of players. And singers also. They are pretty much on automatic. Brian and I can relax and enjoy it a little bit when we play.
Mike’s band is pretty much the same. There are a lot of vets in there. I know he’s got lot of people he depends on. I know he enjoys it a lot. You can tell.
Q: You have known Brian Wilson since you guys were kids. How is the relationship these days?
A: It’s really good. We always have a few laughs, sit around and do small talk, reminisce about stuff. It’s just nice. He says to me all the time, “You’re the best songwriter in the world!” I say, “No you are!”
Q: Who do you think is the best songwriter of the two of you?
A: He wins, hands down. I have written some songs that are very close to his heart that he really appreciates. A couple of them that have pulled him out of a few scrapes.
He likes the one I did based on Bach. The bridge is one of his favorite musical moments. Of course he has only written some of the best bridges in the world. For me that’s quite a compliment. There are just certain things that he sees differently than most of us.
For me that was very special, that bridge. It’s called “Lady London.” That’s the name of the song.
Q: Do you have a favorite bridge of his?
A: When I hear “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” that bridge. The whole world of music comes through from me when I hear that.