Photo courtesy of the artist
The Beach Boys' 'Sail On Sailor' Reframes Two Obscure 1970s Albums. Why Were They Obscure In The First Place?
Popular wisdom dictates that the 1970s saw the Beach Boys' long, slow sunset. But 'Sail On Sailor,' which encompasses two hidden-gem LPs, shows them to be at the top of their game.
Updated Saturday, March 18, 2023, to include information about the "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" tribute special.
The Recording Academy and CBS are honoring the Beach Boys with "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," a star-studded, two-hour tribute special featuring a lineup of heavy hitters, including John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and many more, who will perform all your favorite Beach Boys classics. Learn more about "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" and watch the tribute special on Sunday, April 9, from 8 – 10 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network and live and on demand on Paramount+.
Through the lens of the critical aggregate, the story of America's Band goes something like this: Their imperial phase crescendoed with 1966's Pet Sounds: that album earned five stars across the board, while satellite albums like 1965's Today! and 1967's Wild Honey hover around four.
Which, fair. But here's where it gets strange.
If we're to take the critics at face value, 1971's Surf's Up is just about the final Beach Boys album worth hearing at all. (Their almost outsider-music-strange 1977 fluke The Beach Boys Love You and their polished 2012 reunion album That's Why God Made the Radio are the exceptions that prove the rule.)
A full 10 post-Pet Sounds albums generally earned lukewarm to flat-out scathing reviews. Some of them might be your bag; some might not be. But here's the implication: the Beach Boys' downfall began with 1972's Carl and the Passions — "So Tough" and 1973's Holland. (The Rolling Stone Album Guide gave both two stars, which tracks with the rest.)
Half a century on, it's difficult to listen to either in good faith and believe that to be true. Because whether or not you dig these tunes as much as their early hits and mid-'60s masterworks, the songwriting, performances and production are at a high caliber that's borderline inarguable. This isn't the Beach Boys at a low ebb. It's the Beach Boys at the top of their game.
A new boxed set out Dec. 2 provides just the portal to reexamine these albums — or hear them for the very first time. Containing both remastered albums and a litany of alternate takes and live tracks, Sail On Sailor - 1972 recontextualizes both Holland and Carl and the Passions not as creative drop-offs, but proof they maintained the flame longer than many thought.
The punchy, mid-fi Carl and the Passions — “So Tough” is a sampler platter of eight diverse personalities. (Bruce Johnston, who joined in 1965, had temporarily left the band at this point.) "He Come Down" is an inspired gospel pastiche; "Marcella" is one of their most radiant and infectious rockers; the mystical, intoxicating "All This is That" is like a realm unto itself.
At the top of 1973, they released the mellow, thoughtful Holland. Also featuring South African additions Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, the album may somewhat hinge on two uptempo R&B tracks, "Sail on Sailor" and "Funky Pretty." But it's a top-to-bottom marvel, from the elliptical "Steamboat" to the California Saga suite to Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale), its fantastical bonus EP composed by Brian Wilson.
"There are some great songs on that record," Brian Wilson wrote of Holland in his 2016 memoir. "'Steamboat' kicks ass. I really like 'Only With You' and 'Funky Pretty,' too. It's a damn good record no matter where or how we made it."
That same year, Mike Love dismissed Carl and the Passions in his own memoir, calling it "a disjointed rush job, hastily assembled between live gigs… More than anything, the album emphasized how confused we were about our brand."
But Elton John heard it differently.
"This is an album which I have loved for a long time," John gushed in the liner notes for the album's 2000 reissue. "This album is a step away from Pet Sounds, but still has moments of breathtaking genius and experimentation. When this record was released, I remember how different and fresh it sounded. It still does."
Together, the eclectic, driving Carl and the Passions and misty, faraway Holland act as two sides of the same coin. They are twin portals into the Beach Boys during the pivotal year of 1972, and can also reset fans' understandings of their creative vitality throughout that entire decade.
"It's the culmination of the [album-oriented rock] Beach Boys," says Howie Edelson, the creative consultant to the Beach Boys' Brother Records who played a major role in assembling Sail On Sailor. "They needed a lot of help to be pushed up the hill to become AOR. Because, as you know, Sunflower is this aural delight. But it ain't FM!"
"I'll put Holland alongside any Crosby-Nash album, or any Neil Young, or any Stills, or any Jackson Browne album." Edelson continues to GRAMMY.com. "They're all emanating from the same vibe and process."
But before we understand why the world didn't see it that way, it's worth examining the conditions that led to Carl and the Passions — "So Tough" and Holland.
Igniting A Flame
This era of the Beach Boys is partly defined by two ace South African musicians who had joined their ranks: guitarist Blondie Chaplin and drummer Ricky Fataar.
Carl Wilson had found the pair via their band the Flame; enthused, he asked them to join his band. With original member Dennis Wilson in front of the stage rather than behind the kit due to a serious hand injury, Chaplin and Fataar gave the once-innocent, striped-linen act propulsion and brawn.
"The members they brought on board are from South Africa during apartheid," Jerry Schilling, who managed the Beach Boys in the '70s and '80s and manages them again today, tells GRAMMY.com. "I think that's beautiful. I think that's what music does."
This new formulation of the Beach Boys hit the road hard, in a staggering live run that would crescendo in 1974 — when their Endless Summer compilation rocketed them back into the zeitgeist. "They didn't spend that much time off the road," Edelson says; for a dynamic example of their live prowess during this time, check out their full Carnegie Hall performance from Thanksgiving 1972, featured on Sail On Sailor.
"We can play harder rock than we've ever been able to before with Blondie and Ricky," Mike Love reported at the time, according to the Sail On Sailor liner notes. "Brian is still writing for the group; this is being fused with the new element of creativity within the group from the other fellas. Dennis is into strings and orchestrations; he wants to do classical things."
This quote speaks to the teeming, multifarious nature of the Beach Boys at the time. "It's like three different bands," Edelson observes. "I always think of them as an organization or conglomerate rather than a group."
Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Although Brian Wilson was and is a once-in-a-generation phenom, this "organization" thrived even when he was in the backseat, as a non-proactive member.
"I would say that Brian Wilson — after six years of writing, arranging, performing, producing, playing and singing — downshifted," Edelson says. The music he made was more personal, with less of a frantic need to compete on the Billboard Hot 100.
"He might not have been competitive, but he was just holding his work to another standard," he continues. "There was no product or filler. Everything he created during this period was absolutely authentic. If he didn't end up finishing it, it stayed unfinished."
"We know that Brian Wilson is a genius, and it tells me that a genius like Brian was able to delegate," Schilling says. "He let the band show their talents as well, which is quite amazing."
The various chemical reactions within the expanded band made for startlingly variable music, from the oddly Band-sounding "Hold On Dear Brother" to the luxurious strings of "Cuddle Up" and beyond.
"The band was disjointed, recorded across random studios separate from each other," marvels Joshua Henry, who produces the rediscovered cult singer-songwriter Bill Fay. "Which makes the brilliant moments even more amazing."
This could have led to a behemoth triple album, like George Harrison's All Things Must Pass two years prior. "I thought that Carl and the Passions should have been three separate albums," Carl Wilson later reflected. "I wish that Brian had been strong enough to produce the record, because it could have been an ass-kicking, great record."
In the end, the band had to stuff all of their multitudes into 35 minutes — and instead of a feast, fans got an appetizer plate. "It's a pu pu platter. And a pu pu platter can be a meal, but it's a pretty weird f—ing meal," Edelson quips. "It's like, 'Did you eat?' 'Yeah, I ate, but I didn't really have a meal.'
"And that's the downfall of Carl and the Passions," he says. "It feels as though it's a taster for several large meals that don't come."
A No-Confidence Vote
What else contributed to Carl and the Passions being a flop in the marketplace? For one, the title was confusing to consumers — a tip of the hat to Carl Wilson's leadership, and a casually assembled pre-Beach Boys band. Whatever the motivation, it was released as something of a bonus disc to their masterpiece.
"It did not just come out as Carl and the Passions. You got Carl and the Passions — which didn't even say 'Beach Boys' on it — and Pet Sounds as a double LP," Beach Boys archivist Alan Boyd explains to GRAMMY.com.
As Boyd explains, a settlement with Capitol Records meant the band temporarily retained the rights to their post-1965 albums, so Warner/Reprise released Carl and the Passions as a bundle with Pet Sounds.
"The bright idea was every time they put a new Beach Boys album out, they attached one of the old ones from the late '60s that people didn't get to buy because Capitol didn't promote it or whatever," Boyd says. Mark Linett, who co-produced Sail On Sailor, characterizes it as "the confusion of these two completely disparate records that have no connection."
Edelson posits that Carl and the Passions' release only six months after Surf's Up made it slip through the cracks, and that second disc of live tracks — a la The Byrds' sprawling 1970 album (Untitled) — "would've probably pushed the album into a more positive space."
"I think the artists may have been ahead of the record companies," Schilling admits.
Leaving This Town
For Carl and the Passions' follow-up, the Beach Boys and their pivotal new manager, Jack Reiley, decided to decamp to the Netherlands for a change of scenery. But it wasn't that simple: each member and his family, as well as their staff, had to relocate to a different continent. On top of that, they dismantled and shipped their entire studio.
"Oh, the cost was tremendous," Brian Wilson later recalled, as per the Sail On Sailor liner notes. "I mean, the equipment in the first place cost $190,000 to build. . . it's an elaborate system. But the shipping costs, too, were tremendous to bring back." (Getting the increasingly fragile Brian to commit to the move was a Sisyphean ordeal on its own.)
Given their new, bucolic climes, Carl Wilson predicted they'd make music that would "breathe the atmosphere of this country — peaceful and relaxed."
And it does, sort of. Due to any number of factors associated with being so far from home, Holland swirls with a darker energy — even when it peps up for highlights like the hard-rocking, Chaplin-sung title track, "The Trader" (sung and especially beloved by Carl Wilson) and "California Saga: California."
"It seems like we were writing and singing about a California we were remembering," Brian Wilson wrote in his memoir, "but the truth is we were writing about a California we were imagining."
In the second section of "California Saga," "The Beaks of Eagles," Love recites a moody, primeval poem written by Al Jardine and his first wife, Lynda, based on Robinson Jeffers' poem of the same name.
"Lenin has lived and Jehovah died/ While the mother-eagle hunts the same hills, crying the same beautiful and lonely cry," he intones. And "Only With You" is a stunning piano ballad sung by Carl Wilson, suffused with melancholy and longing.
The 10-minute, six-section bonus EP Mount Vernon and Fairway — named after the location of Mike Love's childhood home in Baldwin Hills — was a burst of invention increasingly uncommon for Wilson at the time. And it bears the influence of Randy Newman's Sail Away, which Wilson clung to like an emotional life raft at the time.
"He's so far away from home. He's in Holland. He's scared and slipping away. He turned 30, and he didn't wear 30 well," Edelson says. And while Sail Away is full of dry, mordant character studies, Edelson thinks Wilson connected more to the Stephen Foster- or George Gershwin-style orchestration, and its portrait of American life — however satirical.
"It was this little piece of this unsophisticated, plain America," he says. "He didn't see all the things that we also saw. He just heard home, and he was a guy who needed home badly on every level."
Wresting The Waters
Although it earned stronger critical marks than Carl and the Passions (Rolling Stone hailed its “occasionally unnerving simplicity of viewpoint as at its frequently ornate perfection), Holland didn’t exactly rocket them back to 1964 fame.
This was despite an ad campaign that quizzically trumpeted a return to fun in the sun: "Holland is the best Beach Boys album in years," it read. "No qualification to that statement — this is music which captures the first freshness of those summer-y surfing days."
One reason why the album didn't do well, Edelson opines, comes down to the visual aspect of both. "The Beach Boys never had great cover art, in an era where you needed to have great cover art," he says, adding drolly: "I mean, Holland is brown. And the other one is just red."
Despite landing a modest FM hit in "Sail On, Sailor" — Holland was basically subsumed in the marketplace the following year by Endless Summer.
"They were the biggest band of '74 without a new album out. It wasn't like they were touring Holland; they were just touring," Edelson says. He evokes the Fab Four's bestselling 1973 greatest-hits compilations: "They could have topped Holland. But it's like the Beatles had gotten back together in '76 and had to top the Red and Blue albums."
Following the Endless Summer surge in interest and popularity was the infamous "Brian's Back!" period. Despite the rapid evolution of the band even with Brian Wilson absent or half-engaged, they hung their destiny on their once-driven leader. Then came the jukebox-like covers album 15 Big Ones, and the strange and handmade Love You.
"They believed, perhaps incorrectly, that by 'going back,' they would be able to finally move forward — e.g. Brian as the taskmasker 'hit machine,' which simply didn't exist anymore. It didn't even exist in 1968 let alone 1976," Edelson says.
"Despite the fantastic publicity and sold-out arenas," he adds, "that creative misstep caused them to lose important FM traction."
The Beach Boys in 1972. Photo courtesy of the artist.
The Beach Boys eventually split into competing and often warring touring factions, commanding what Linett calls "mutual, divergent and, at times, completely incompatible fanbases." The rest is history; today, Mike Love's Beach Boys and Brian Wilson's solo band soldier on in separate markets.
But to get a handle on this heretofore misunderstood chapter in the Book of Beach Boys, a line from Carl and the Passions' benediction "He Come Down" springs to mind.
"Hey-yon-du-coma-nauga-ton means 'Avoid the suffering before it comes,'" Love sings, evoking Sanskrit. "Krishna said a long time ago: 'To let the arrow fly, first pull back the bow.'"
"In other words, you can meditate and dissolve stress within, and have enough effect on the environment to change your trajectory just enough to where there's no terrible collision that's going to screw you up, or your family, or society," Love explained to Edelson during a recent GRAMMY Museum event.
The Beach Boys would go on to suffer much worse calamities than bad reviews — like the deaths of Carl and Dennis Wilson, and Brian's mental state entering freefall before his eventual salvation.
But on Holland and Carl and the Passions, you hear a band riding high, feeling the turbulence, but battening down the hatches and holding on tight. Through restful waters and deep commotion. Feeling frightened, unenlightened. But sailing on.
Photo: Alex Lake | C A Management
Masterful Remixer Giles Martin On The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' The Beatles, Paul McCartney
Ahead of his spectacular, Dolby Atmos-elevated remix of the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' Giles Martin discusses the pressures and jubilation of handling such a precious album.
Bicycle bells, Coca-Cola cans, sleigh bells, water bottles, French horn, Electro-Theremin — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Compared to even ambitious Beatles masterpieces like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, remixing the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is an entirely different beast. While the Fabs' recordings were often deceptively sparse — "Taxman" is guitars, bass, drums and vocals — Pet Sounds is an ocean of eccentric, melancholic, joyful sound.
Astonishingly — by today's standards — the album was initially recorded to a four-track machine. A student of the studio might assume that remixing the such a record would require some form of sacrifice during the remixing process, wherein various elements would have to be buried, or excised, to bring another to the light.
Giles Martin, who has remixed Sgt. Pepper's, The White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be, and Revolver — and now Pet Sounds, for Dolby Atmos — has an incisive answer.
"Will I sacrifice taste or feel for the sake of it being an Atmos mix? If that starts getting compromised, then let's make it mono," two-time GRAMMY winner Martin tells GRAMMY.com. "It doesn't make any sense to affect the integrity of a song for the use of technology. Technology should be there to serve the music, as opposed to the other way around.
"I don't want people to listen to an Atmos mix I've done; I want people to listen to a song," he continues. "My mix is just a small part in the process."
But sitting in complete darkness in a Dolby screening room on Sixth Avenue in New York City, it was difficult to think of Martin's touch as being a "small part."
This version of Pet Sounds was nothing short of revelatory — shining up each Beach Boy's vocals, unburying numberless exotic instruments, mapping the musical elements in physical space. All without compromising Brian Wilson's timbral and harmonic syntheses that characterize this art-rock cornerstone.
Read on for a candid interview with Martin about his remixing philosophy, moving from the Beatles space to the Beach Boys space and what he wants to improve about his methodology — in short, "everything."
The Atmos mix of Pet Sounds is available now on Amazon Music, Tidal and Apple Music; stream it here.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
During Beatles listening events, there's a little bit of tension between yourself and that fan community. This Beach Boys event seemed to possess a completely different energy — less antagonistic, more of a lovefest. What's it been like moving from the Beatles world to the Beach Boys world as per their fan communities?
I don't know — I think that I may not be perceiving it right [laughs].
I never felt that there was a huge amount of antagonism with the Beatles thing. I think to begin with, there was. With the early days of me, certainly, doing Love, ironically, there was a suspicion of what I was up to — what are my motives, and what gives you the right to screw around with these tracks, and who the hell do you think you are, and that sort of thing.
I think there's been a sort of shift in a level of trust, hopefully, that people don't realize that I deliberately do this to try and screw things up.
I was actually more nervous going to a Beach Boys playback than I was going to a Beatles playback. With the Beatles, I kind of know where I am — and regardless of what anyone may think, I probably have more experience on this than most other people do.
The Beach Boys, I don't. It's my first rodeo, if you like, so I was probably a bit more nervous addressing their audience.
"Antagonism" is probably too strong a word. Just a little bit of tension in the air, when somebody's like, "What happened to that guitar squeak at 2:01 on 'Taxman,' Giles? Would you like to explain yourself?"
That always makes me laugh. There are two guys who are those people, and they come and listen in the studios. They came around recently for something, and they were like, "Well, we heard something at this moment."
I'll always listen and respect what they say, but then I'll just go… I do have Paul and Ringo. So they'll just go, "Well, we think it's fine."
I think what you are alluding to is there's a sense of ownership that people have over Beatles music. But I think that's the case with Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys as well.
From a business standpoint, what's it been like docking your spaceship on a new mothership?
I pay no attention to the business side of stuff. It's the same record label, actually — Capitol. I have a really good relationship with them, and they're great.
They know what they're getting themselves into by asking me to do stuff, which means that generally, things will be late; I'll miss deadlines. But they also know that I'll take care. And I think part of my job is, obviously, listening to what people have to say, and listening to and collaborating with other people on this, and doing it.
What role did the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds play in your life up to this point? Obviously, you're steeped in this overall miasma due to your lineage.
It's funny: as I said to my dad <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/george-martin/4663">legendary Beatles producer [George Martin], "It's amazing the work you did." And he was like, "Yeah, but I mean, compared to what Brian Wilson did when he was just on his own — you need to go listen to that." And so I did, and I suppose that there's an otherworldliness to it.
Just as a producer, or someone who loves music, Pet Sounds could not be ignored, because it's so intricate in the way it is, and it's an album that gets better the more you listen to it as well. And I hope that is sustainable in times of TikTok where people only have a short amount of time to pay anything attention.
I suppose that I wouldn't have agreed to do it if it wasn't important to me.You have to give it your all; you have to spend a lot of time listening to this music. It's such an important and influential record — not just for other people, but for me as well.
You mentioned during the listening party that you didn't have to employ the same AI techniques to unglue the tracks as you did on Revolver. Can you elaborate?
I wouldn't say it was unglued. If you imagine on, for instance, "That's Not Me," essentially, the band are kind of on three tracks a lot. So, they're stuck.
And "That's Not Me" has drums, organ, tambourine on one track. So, I can't move the organ or tambourine away from the drums. They have to be on one side. And I have bass and lead guitar on another track, so bass and guitar are going to be in the same place no matter what I do.
But there's an intent with this, where it's unlike having a band like the Beatles. This isn't really a band record; it's more of an orchestral record. It has a backing to it.
There's not really a drum kit on Pet Sounds, per se. There's drums on one or two tracks, but there's not really a drum kit. It's like orchestral percussion. So it's fine having those things glued together. Whereas on something like "Taxman," we have guitar, bass and drums — and only guitar, bass and drums going on for the whole song.
If you want to have a stereo record, you have to separate them — because otherwise, they're just on one side and the vocals on the other side; there's no reality. But with this, you have chunks of musicians in a room, and then you can create this real world around it.
Brian Wilson rightfully soaks up the lion's share of the discourse around Pet Sounds; he crafted the record. But in this process, what did you learn about them as per their group dynamic? You alluded to their vocal precision during the listening event. I love Carl and Bruce's vocals on "God Only Knows." I know that Carl and Dennis played on the record in a limited capacity.
I don't know what I learned that I didn't already know, apart from the fact that — this is what people miss — bands exist with resentment, and everything else. But bands exist because they're human beings in a room. The fact that you don't hear someone doesn't mean that they're not having influence.
With the Beach Boys, obviously, you hear their incredible harmonies. And Brian couldn't have done what he did without having the palette of outstanding musicianship, and the ability for these guys to harmonize and create these vocals that can't exist anywhere else.
So, that's what I suppose you hear. You hear the other members of the band come in on tracks, as you alluded to, and you suddenly think — not that it's a relief, but it's like, Oh my god, this is a band. This isn't just Brian. That's what I took from it.
I could genuinely sit there and think about the Beach Boys on a conceptual level and be entertained for hours. But is there a danger of overthinking an artifact like Pet Sounds? Or is it a fount for infinite analysis and edification?
No, I think you are absolutely right. You can take the fun out of it — and people do frequently — by being too pretentious about things. I find this quite amusing. It's almost like the song becomes the ownership of the journalist — or the expert, if you like — and not the person listening to it.
People are told what to listen to, and what to listen out for, in a sort of educational way: "You don't really understand this." It's that sort of thing: "If only you knew you knew how good this was, you'd be able to like it." That sort of conversation. "Music isn't like how it used to be, because it's not as good as this," and all this sort of conversation.
It's absolutely rubbish. It's like, let people enjoy what they want to enjoy. As long as you're passionate about something, it doesn't make a difference whether you like Megadeth or the Beach Boys.
You recently worked on a refreshed version of Paul McCartney's "Live or Let Die." That song is such a mind movie — and not just because it has James Bond roots. I'm sure you had fun with that one.
It was great. It's a bit like a lot of the projects I do; the expectancy is so vast spread.
It's quite tricky; how do you meet the expectation? Because one thing that mono or stereo or compression gives you, is it gives you loudness. You separate stuff in an immersive soundfield, you have to be careful that you don't start losing impact.
One thing that "Live and Let Die" has is impact. And that's the tricky thing about that song. But I'm really happy. It was actually a big mix to do; I can't lie. It was like, "Oh my god, here we go; I have to be fully qualified to do this mix."
But I'm really happy with it. I can't wait for people to hear it. I think it's super cool.
How do you want to get better at what you do? Where do you want to improve?
Oh, god. "Everywhere" is the answer. I think you are never done. It's only sometimes I hear things back and go, Oh, that actually sounds quite good. Oh, I did that. That's alright. Otherwise, you sort of hate everything.
I nervously watched you [all] through a screen in New York going, Oh my god, it sounds terrible. That's what goes through my head.
You still struggle with that, huh?
Yeah, of course. And then the thing is, I don't think, What if it sounds terrible? because of ego. It's, What if it sounds terrible because you guys really like this record and I need to do it justice? That's what goes through my head.
Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
5 Memorable Highlights From "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys": Weezer, St. Vincent, John Legend & More
Drawing generation-spanning connections, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," which rebroadcasts Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS and is available on demand on Paramount+, was a world-class tribute to America's Band. Here are five highlights.
Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."
"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
That's a wrap on "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," an emotional, star-studded toast to America's Band — as the core lineup of the legendary group bore witness from a balcony.
From its heartfelt speeches and remarks to performances by John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and other heavy hitters, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" served as a towering monument to these leading lights on the occasion of their 60th anniversary.
If you missed the CBS telecast, never fear: the thrilling special is rebroadcasting on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream on demand on Paramount+.
Below are some highlights from the Beach Boys' big night.
Weezer Gave "California Girls" A Shot In The Arm
The Weez was a natural choice for a Beach Boys bash — the GRAMMY winners have worn that influence on their sleeve throughout their career — from the harmony-stuffed Blue Album. to their love letter to the West Coast, the White Album.
And while Fall Out Boy's transmutation of "Do You Wanna Dance" into supercharged pop-punk was a joy, Weezer's version of "California Girls" was satisfying in a different way.
Therein, frontman Rivers Cuomo threaded his chunky power chords into the familiar arrangement masterfully. His head-turning, song-flipping guitar work in the outro was also gracefully executed.
John Legend Sang A Commanding "Sail On Sailor"
The rocking-and-rolling "Sail On Sailor" leads off the Beach Boys' deeply underrated 1973 album Holland. On that cut, the lead vocal isn't taken by an original member, but one of their two South African additions at the time: the brilliant Blondie Chaplin.
Fifty years ago, Chaplin channeled the stouthearted tune through his punchy midrange; John Legend possesses a similar one. In his hustling, wolfish performance at the piano, the 12-time GRAMMY winner gave this dark-horse Beach Boys classic the gusto it deserves.
Brandi Carlile Stunned With A Capella "In My Room" Verse
Nine-time GRAMMY winner Brandi Carlile is an eminent and versatile creative force; it's easy to imagine her nailing almost any song in the Beach Boys’ catalog — even the weird ones.
That said, this was more or less a night of hits — so Carlile took "In My Room" head on, and the results were spectacular. Even better was when the backing band dropped out for a verse, highlighting the song's proto-Pet Sounds solitude and introspection.
"Now it's dark/And I'm alone, but/I won't be afraid," Carlile sang, only joined by two harmonists. Mostly unadorned, she radiated a sense of inner strength.
Norah Jones Gorgeously Pared Back "The Warmth Of The Sun"
"The Warmth of the Sun" has always been a fan favorite for its radiant vocal interplay, but Norah Jones proved it's just as powerful with one voice front and center.
Sure, the nine-time GRAMMY winner had harmonists behind her. But while Brian Wilson shared the spotlight with the other Boys in the original tune, she was front and center, teasing out its mellow, jazzy undercurrents.
St. Vincent & Charlie Puth Plumbed The Atmosphere Of Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys' most famous album by some margin, 1966’s Pet Sounds, was well represented at "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."
Beck performed a witty "Sloop John B"; Mumford & Sons drew hymnal energy from "I Know There's An Answer"; LeAnn Rimes drew lonesome power from "Caroline, No."
But two performances in particular captured the singular atmosphere of the album — whimsical, hopeful, melancholic, longing, sophisticated, strangely exotic. One was Charlie Puth's "Wouldn't It Be Nice," which strapped on the album's aesthetic like a rocket and took off.
The other was St. Vincent’s captivating take on "You Still Believe In Me," which highlighted the harpsichord melody to spectral effect.
Near the end, when the three-time GRAMMY winner launched into the "I wanna cry" outro, it was hard to not get chills — the kind the Beach Boys have given us for 60 years.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
How Brian Wilson Crafted The Beach Boys' Early Sound: A Symphony Of Inspirations, From Boogie-Woogie To Barbershop
Weaving together never-before-synthesized elements, the Beach Boys were a totally singular creation from the jump — and Brian Wilson is the primary man to thank.
Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for <a href="https://www.grammy.com/news/grammy-salute-beach-boys-2023-cbs-how-watch "https://www.grammy.com/news/grammy-salute-beach-boys-2023-cbs-how-watch"">"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."
<a href="https://www.grammy.com/news/grammy-salute-beach-boys-2023-cbs-how-watch "https://www.grammy.com/news/grammy-salute-beach-boys-2023-cbs-how-watch"">"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
Pardon the non-oceanic metaphor, but imagine the Beach Boys' original sound as a pot of stew.
There's a mess of various ingredients, but the taste is unified and comforting. Generally speaking, you don't enjoy this dish — or this band's early hits — on an analytical, academic level; both simply provide a wave of sensation and association. Both just feel good.
Likewise, America's Band’s early sound was singular, a blast of pure feeling. But the veneer of simplicity belies that they drew it from a dizzying number of directions — long before they reached their innovative peak with Pet Sounds and its never-finished follow-up, Smile.
Just unpack "Surfin' USA," generally thought of as simple, straightforward fun: it's a Chuck Berry melody and riff, a surfing lyric and theme, the gleaming harmonies from the Four Freshmen and any number of doo-wop greats. They were all in the public consciousness, but nobody had synthesized them in this particular way until Brian Wilson came along.
To bring up Pet Sounds and Smile again: there's no dearth of reportage, nor musings, on how the Mozart of pop/rock worked his spellbinding magic. But how Wilson managed to craft the Beach Boys' early sound is just as flabbergasting.
For a full-throttle trip through the fruits of that inspiration, look no further "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," a two-hour tribute special featuring a lineup of heavy hitters, including John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and many more. <a href="https://www.grammy.com/news/grammy-salute-beach-boys-2023-cbs-how-watch "https://www.grammy.com/news/grammy-salute-beach-boys-2023-cbs-how-watch"">"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
From the beginning, Wilson connected with the strengths of each member: basso profundo Mike Love's wordplay and swagger; brother Carl's punchy midrange and gleaming guitar; resident folkie Al Jardine's earthiness and likeability; brother Dennis' straightforward attack on the drums, powering the whole operation. (Within a few years of their inception, Dennis would blossom as a lead vocalist and songwriter in his own right.)
How did Wilson and the other Beach Boys absorb the raw ingredients of their sound — surf music, doo-wop, boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues? By having big ears, and bigger imaginations.
Right as he turned double-digits, Wilson began experimenting with various instruments — ukulele, accordion — but the piano was the skeleton key. Brian, Carl and Dennis' infamous-yet-galvanizing father, Murray, was a struggling songwriter who played piano; the family instrument became a tool for Wilson to analyze and dissect what crossed his consciousness on the radio.
"[I] started picking out the melodies of songs that I heard on the radio," Wilson recalled in his 2016 memoir, I Am Brian Wilson, citing tunes by the Chordettes, the Hi-Los, Nat King Cole, and more. Harmony singing soon grabbed his attention. The Four Freshmen were also something of an obsession, particularly for the colors in their harmonies.
"I tried to understand the way their voices were working," he continued. "To take their songs apart like they were clocks and then rebuild them for me and Dennis and Carl." The latter brother connected deeply with Black R&B, like the Penguins and Johnny Otis: "We had never heard anything like it," Wilson wrote. "They were just as sophisticated as the Four Freshmen, but different."
A harbinger of Pet Sounds-era Wilson: Murray would bring tape machines home, and Wilson seized upon their possibilities: not just as a method of getting ideas down, but for overdubbing. In the book, Wilson describes the first "real song" he ever wrote as the still-luminous "Surfer Girl," which drew inspiration from "When You Wish Upon a Star." It's hard to imagine him splicing that DNA without these simple machines.
Dennis, the only surfer in the group, added the ingredient that made everything else pop: his experiences within surf culture. This not only gave the nascent Beach Boys — formerly the Pendletones — a thesis and mission statement. Their embrace of surf culture made the separate components explode into something entirely new.
The rest is history: Wilson rapidly developing into a studio maven far beyond his years, a la Phil Spector; the introduction of avant-garde and classical elements in Pet Sounds and Smile; folk elements undergirding the spectacular Sunflower; Wilson digging into his California roots as an elder statesman on 2008's underrated That Lucky Old Sun.
And none of it would have happened if Wilson hadn't surveyed the ingredients at his disposal, as a very young man— and wove them into a symphony of flavors the world will never forget.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Listen: 50 Essential Songs By The Beach Boys Ahead Of "A GRAMMY Salute" To America's Band
From "Surfin' USA" to "God Only Knows" to "Summer's Gone," here's a 50-song portal into the weird, inventive, and heart-stoppingly gorgeous catalog of the Beach Boys.
Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."
"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
The Beach Boys are arguably still defined by their imperial phase in the 1960s — their string of infectious early hits that dovetailed with the psychedelic era, culminating in masterpieces like "California Girls," all of Pet Sounds, and "Good Vibrations." But that's not the full story.
Indeed, there are pockets of greatness throughout their entire 60-year run. Sure, you've heard "Catch a Wave," but are you hip to "Add Some Music to Your Day," their impossibly lovely gospel song from Sunflower? "Fun, Fun, Fun" is a staple, but have you beheld the head-spinning "Surf's Up," from the aborted Smile album?
Because America's Band's six-decade year voyage — the breadth of it — is about to get its own GRAMMY bash.
Back in April, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," a two-hour tribute special featuring a lineup of heavy hitters, including John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and many more, aired on CBS. “A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will now re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream on demand on Paramount+.
Ahead of this unforgettable special, take a trip through the Beach Boys' career with this 50-song playlist — full of those indelible early hits, mid-period deep cuts and late-career masterpieces. Listen to the playlist in full on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.