Beach Boys Rock the Grammy Museum

Becky Sapp
From left: Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston onstage at the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live.

The legendary L.A. group christens a yearlong exhibit with stories and songs, capped by a 20-minute acoustic performance featuring three No. 1 singles.

You could almost feel the sunshine and hear the surf Tuesday night as the Grammy Museum christened a groovy new Beach Boys exhibit and the reunited group gathered for a Q&A and acoustic performance.

It’s fitting that The Beach Boys would have a significant presence at a music museum in Los Angeles, given that the band pretty much put Southern California on the musical map a half-century ago. Their undeniable influence on pre-Beatles pop music – and, equally as significant, pop culture – is as enduring as the songs themselves.

The evening began with the presentation of a plaque commemorating 2003’s Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys being certified as triple-platinum (see photo below) – hardly an insignificant feat in the Download Era. As Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston posed for photos and gave some interviews, guests perused the voluminous artifacts in the year-long exhibit called “Good Vibrations: 50 Years of The Beach Boys.”

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Among the original LPs and 45s, early Wilson family photos, fan club membership card, hand-printed lyrics and such, three entries stand way out: The instantly recognizable surfboard from the Surfer Girl and Surfin’ Safari album covers; a framed display of the Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album jackets, the former signed by Paul McCartney (“This is my favourite,” he wrote) and the latter by Wilson, along with an all-smiles photo of the two rock legends taken in 2004; and a high school essay by a 17-year-old Wilson dated Oct. 26, 1959, and titled “My Philosophy,” which contains the passage: “I don’t want to settle with a mediocre life, but make a home for myself in my life’s work, which I hope will be music.”

Later, the group assembled onstage in the Clive Davis Theatre for a Q&A with Grammy Museum exec director – and unapologetic major Beach Boys fan – Bob Santelli. The session was casual but informative and entertaining, often punctuated by laughter from the crowd and onstage.

Discussing the band’s early influences, Love said, “The chorus of ‘Kokomo’ comes from ‘Smokey Joe’s Café,’ ” referring to the Mike Leiber-Jerry Stoller classic recorded in 1955 by L.A.-based vocal group The Robins (which later would morph into Rock and Roll Half of Famers The Coasters). Love punctuated the similarity by singing a little of “Smokey Joe’s” and morphing it into the Beach Boys 1988 comeback hit from the Tom Cruise film Cocktail. The song went all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — a full 22 years after the group’s previous chart-topper, “Good Vibrations.”

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Love was the comic relief all night, with well-timed deadpan-delivery lines. In a later discussion of “Kokomo,” he noted that he wrote the lyrics and John Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas  came up with the melody. “We were up for the Grammy for ‘Good Vibrations’ [in 1967], but we lost to ‘Monday, Monday’ – so it was a case of, ‘If you can’t beat ’em… .’ ” Earlier, as Johnston discussed how his band The Rip Chords glommed on to The Beach Boys sound circa 1963, Love cut in: “Call ’em the Rip-Offs.” And during the Q&A with audience members, a guy mentioned how much he loved “In My Room.” Johnston recalled: “We made a mistake one night -- we sang ‘In My Room’ at a federal penitentiary.” Love quickly added, “We followed it with ‘Break Away.’ ”

But Love also shared some touching memories. “Brian and I have been singing together since childhood,” he said of his cousin, who was seated next to him and with whom he has shared no shortage of trying times. “The first recollection I have of Brian is sitting on Grandma Wilson’s knee singing ‘Danny Boy’ – and charming the birds out of the trees.”

Santelli’s timeline of Marks’ and Jardine’s early days “replacing each other” in the band led to a funny exchange. Marks, the Wilsons’ younger neighbor who sang with the family in the pre-Beach Boys days and later on the band’s albums and tours in 1962-63, lamented that he missed the October 1961 session that led to the group’s first record. “I was absent during the recording of ‘Surfin,’ ” he said. “I was in school. I was 10.” (Actually 13, but the line drew a big laugh.) Jardine, who did sing on the record, chimed in: “Thank you for that erudite and totally confusing timeline. Was it total bullshit?”

Wilson acknowledged the influence of The Beatles – particularly Rubber Soul – on The Beach Boys, who’d had nine Top 10 hits by the time that landmark album came out in December 1965. “Mike and I were a little envious about the British Invasion trip,” Wilson said. “And we said, ‘Well, we better get serious about this.’ And then we made some pretty good records.”

Love added that, in the wake of one of those pretty good records, “Good Vibrations,” The Beach Boys were voted the No. 1 group of 1966 – in England, followed by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

(Above, from left: Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Brian Wilson, David Marks and Al Jardine receive a commemorative plaque in front of the new Beach Boys exhibit at the Grammy Museum.)

Wilson and Love’s songwriting prowess was a recurring theme during the Q&A. “You’ve got two of the greatest songwriters in the world in front of you, guys,” Johnston said from the stage. (Love weighed in with, “This coming from the guy who has the Grammy for ‘I Write the Songs.’ ”) Marks added soon after, “A hundred years from now, Brian and Mike are gonna go down in history with Gershwin and those guys.”

When Santelli brought up some of the band members’ solo work, Jardine all but bristled, turning the focus back to the group. “The Beach Boys are the real deal -- what we want to do and what we’ll continue to do.”

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But of course the real highlight Tuesday was a 20-minute acoustic performance. The Boys ran through “Surfer Girl,” “California Girls” (the second-verse “ooh-wah ooh-wahs” were particularly moving), “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Kokomo” and – with the crowd of 200 standing – “I Get Around.”

It’s was memorable ending to a memorable night. But something Wilson said near the end of the Q&A was perhaps the most intriguing, especially given Love’s announcement this week that he plans to keep touring with his iteration of The Beach Boys -- sans Wilson, Jardine and Marks -- after the final two reunion shows in London next week. Asked what’s on his bucket list, Wilson drew the loudest cheer of the evening when he replied, “I wouldn’t mind getting together with Mike and the guys and recording an exciting rock ’n’ roll album.”

Yes, please.

(Below: Watch The Beach Boys – including the late Carl Wilson on guitar and Dennis Wilson on drums – performing “I Get Around” on The T.A.M.I. Show, recorded in October 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and a clip of Dick Clark interviewing the group on American Bandstand earlier that year.)