Heading to Rosemont Friday night for one of the final full performances of the seminal Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, I spoke with Brian Wilson about the importance of being on the road in 2017 and the love he hopes fans take from his music…
The Pet Sounds 50th anniversary tour began in March of 2016 as a showcase for Brian Wilson’s final full performances of the classic Beach Boys album.
Featuring 185 dates in 26 countries, ranging anywhere from Japan to the United Arab Emirates, it’s a schedule that would be grueling for any artist.
But at 75 years of age, and notoriously wary of both traveling and performing, it belies the importance Brian Wilson clearly feels of bringing the love, hope and positivity fans take from that album across the globe.
“It’s very important,” said the former St. Charles resident of being on tour at this particular point in time performing that particular album. “We like to bring Pet Sounds to people,” he continued.
In 1965, tired of the road, Brian Wilson quit touring with the Beach Boys to focus on his work in the studio. It was an inspired stretch that resulted in the albums The Beach Boys Today!, Summer Days (and Summer Nights!) and Beach Boys’ Party! in the year of 1965 alone, a stretch of creativity and productivity rivaled only by the Beatles (who released Help! and Rubber Soul that same year).
The 1965 albums signaled the beginning of a shift away from the group’s stereotypical beach themed music as Wilson began to experiment with psychedelic drugs, new sounds and deeper, more collaborative lyrics.
From Summer Days (and Summer Nights!), “California Girls” displayed an arsenal of new instrumentation while “Help me Rhonda” embodied the influence of producer Phil Spector and the infamous “wall of sound” created by one of music’s great session bands, “The Wrecking Crew” (who backed Wilson on the track).
Beginning in July of 1965, over the course of nine months spent primarily in studio three at United Western Recorders in Los Angeles, Wilson collaborated with lyricist Tony Asher and The Wrecking Crew crafting what would become his opus.
“It was the first time we ever wandered off into a new direction,” he said of work with The Wrecking Crew on Pet Sounds which solidified the subtle transition that began earlier in the year. “They’re just great musicians – very cooperative and they really play good.”
With a greater emphasis on musical arrangement and vocal harmonies than ever before, Wilson took full advantage of the multi-track studio environment utilizing professional musicians, diverse instrumentation and sound effects to record and produce an album unlike anything anyone had ever heard.
Wilson has claimed that John Lennon told him Pet Sounds was the best album ever made. But, today, as he gets set to begin work on a new “rock and roll album,” it’s a different Beatle he namechecks as an influence. “Paul McCartney and Chuck Berry,” said Wilson matter-of-factly when asked who best represents the sound of rock and roll.
When it comes to the Beatles, the singer, songwriter and producer remains particularly enamored by “Let it Be.” “It’s a really spiritual record,” Wilson explained.
A rock and roll album is a unique undertaking and, as Wilson sets out the framework and inspiration for it, he still understands the best way to make a great one: “The key is to get the right rhythm and right harmony.”
Harmonies quickly became a Beach Boys trademark honed for decades by Wilson who was inspired at a young age by what he was hearing in California in the world around him. “I really liked hearing the singers on the radio: Rosemary Clooney and the Four Freshmen. I’d copy the harmonies!” admitted Wilson excitedly.
As the 50th anniversary tour winds down, Friday night’s concert in Rosemont marks what, at the moment, stands as one of the last ever scheduled performances of the legendary album, with only five shows left following it.
Today, Wilson is joined on stage by former Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.
Jardine, alongside Wilson, co-founded the Beach Boys in 1961 and was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the group in 1988.
While Brian Wilson has participated in timeless musical collaborations with artists like Tony Asher, Van Dyke Parks, The Wrecking Crew and more, he cites Jardine as the easiest to work with, referencing “Help Me Rhonda” as perhaps the most timeless culmination of that partnership. Jardine sang lead on the original recording and the band features it prominently in their current set.
Chaplin recorded and toured with the Rolling Stones for a decade long run starting in 1997 and has worked over the years with artists like Jeff Beck, Paul Butterfield, David Johansen and The Band.
While his days as a Beach Boy in 1972 were brief, it’s a stretch best known for the 1973 hit “Sail on Sailor.” Chaplin handles the lead vocal on it and, as a favorite of Wilson’s, it’s also made its way into the current live set. “It means a lot to me because of the lyrics. Very, very, very good lyrics,” said Wilson of the song’s unrelenting positivity.
Growing up, music was an escape for Brian Wilson, and it’s clear, with everything going on in the world, he recognizes the way it continues to play a similar role for people today.
While the process of recording Pet Sounds may not be a period he’s eager to revisit, Wilson seems to recognize the positive, nostalgic reaction fans have to the album 50 years later and is far more eager to bask in that.
As for what he hopes fans leave with following these final Pet Sounds performances? There’s only one thing.
“I hope they take away a lot of love… A lot of love.”
Love is all you need.
– Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds: The Final Performances
Friday, October 6, 2017
5400 N. River Rd.
Tickets: $39 – $150
Click HERE to purchase tickets