Friday, July 4, 2008

The Beach Boys: 1973-1976

Here's a song that probably gets played more today as a Classic Rock hit than it did when it was first released. SAIL ON SAILOR couldn't muster a ranking higher than #79 when it was first released as a single in 1973. Trying to breath new life into the band, THE BEACH BOYS hired BLONDIE CHAPLIN and RICKY FATAAR from the South African group THE FLAME. (Ironically, nobody seemed to notice ... or even care ... that "America's Band" was now not only no longer a "family" act but was also an integrated outfit! Sadly, in the scheme of things, they were considered musically irrelevant.) CARL WILSON had discovered THE FLAME and signed them to a BROTHER RECORDS recording contract. Although THE FLAME's album ALSO tanked, I can't imagine a better vocal than BLONDIE CHAPLIN's on SAIL ON SAILOR. In 1975, after THE BEACH BOYS were hot again (thanks, in large part, to the Capitol Records reissue of some of their classic '60's tracks on a 2-record compilation set entitled ENDLESS SUMMER, a Number #1 album), SAIL ON SAILOR was re-released as a single. This time, it fared a little better, peaking at #49. Amazingly, SURFIN' USA, a 1963 track that Capitol re-released as a single at the same time (cashing in on their ENDLESS SUMMER success) bested this release, peaking at #36 on the Billboard Chart.

The highlight from an otherwise average Beach Boys album, Sail On Sailor was the best cut from Holland. At this point in their career, the Boys were being hoodwinked by a slick, fabricating writer by the name of Jack Rieley. Rieley claimed to have won both Peabody and Pulitzer prizes for his journalism work, and proceeded to ingratiate himself with Brian and the rest of the group. He was put in charge of their public relations at a salary of $600.00 a week. Rieley, deciding that he and The Beach Boys would flourish in new surroundings, convinced the group to pack it all up, lock, stock, barrel, and families, and move to Holland. Brian, at this time, was pretty far gone in his drug usage. Van Dyke Parks, Brian's frequent collaborator, asked Brian to sit down and write a song worthy of including on the Beach Boys Holland album, After several pleas from Brian to have Parks' hypnotize him, he managed to write an incredible song. He tinkered around with it to the point that the rest of the group took the song and did not allow Brian into the studio to finish it. The song credits Brian, Tandyn Almer and Van Dyke Parks as composers, with lyric credit given to Jack Rieley and Ray Kennedy. No one, to this day, has any idea what contribution Kennedy made to the song. Blondie Chaplin sang a great lead vocal, and despite decent airplay, it only peaked at # 79. Interestingly, released again a year later, it would reach # 49 on Billboard.
-- Frannie

According to the STEVEN GAINES book HEROES AND VILLAINS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE BEACH BOYS, there is actually a cassette tape that exists of VAN DYKE PARKS trying to get BRIAN to write a song. The dialogue is hysterical!

BRIAN (in a low, plaintive voice): Hypnotize me, Van Dyke.
VAN DYKE: Cut the shit, Brian. You're a songwriter ... that's what you do ... and I want you to sit down and write a song for me.
BRIAN: Hypnotize me, Van Dyke. Make me believe I'm not crazy. Convince me I'm not crazy.
VAN DYKE: Cut the shit, Brian, and play the tune.
BRIAN: What's the name of the tune?
VAN DYKE: Sail On Sailor.

And, with that, Brian sat down and wrote SAIL ON SAILOR in about twenty minutes!!!

Regarding HOLLAND: The addition of JACK RIELEY as their new manager did not sit well with all of the members of the band. With DENNIS WILSON already out of commission with a broken hand, 40% of the regular recording band disappeared when BRUCE JOHNSTON quit over a lack of trust in Rieley. JOHNSTON had been a BEACH BOYS fixture since joining the band in the Summer of 1965, just in time to add his vocals to the #3 Hit CALIFORNIA GIRLS. This turn of events is what prompted the band to add BLONDIE CHAPLIN and RICKY FATAAR from THE FLAME. The BRIAN WILSON composition, SAIL ON SAILOR, was a last minute addition to the HOLLAND album. Incredibly, new manager JACK RIELEY had convinced the band that, due to their enormous popularity in Europe, they should move to Holland! Even more incredibly, they did it!!! Without any real forethought into living accommodations or booking recording time in advance, THE BEACH BOYS and their families were soon renting eleven different houses within a 50 mile radius of Amsterdam. When they realized that all of the studio time was already booked and, therefore, unavailable, they decided to build their OWN studio in a converted barn in Baambrugge. Word was dispatched back to California to dismantle the recording studio in Brian's home and ship it over to Holland! According to the STEVEN GAINES book HEROES AND VILLAINS, assemblers worked around the clock, packing each component in crates that cost about $5000 a piece to ship to Amsterdam. These crates filled nearly every one of the four flights per day from Los Angeles to Amsterdam. Some of the pieces were so heavy that they actually cracked the tarmac when unloading in Holland ... in all, the component parts weighed nearly 7500 pounds! When the pieces were finally reassembled in Holland, nothing worked! Engineers were then flown over from California and worked eighteen hours a day for four and a half weeks to get the equipment ready for their first recording session. After canceling weeks of tour dates overseas to get the studio built and the album recorded, Warner Brothers once again announced that they hated the final product. And, once again, they turned to VAN DYKE PARKS, who had saved the SURF'S UP album. This time, PARKS went to BRIAN and told him he had to write a hit song. After five days of arguing over what the song should be about, Parks threw out a title: SAIL ON SAILOR. Amazingly, Brian smiled and, within twenty minutes, wrote the signature tune. After eight months in Holland (and an untold incredible expense), the group packed things up and headed back home. It was later learned that pretty much MOST of what JACK RIELEY had to say about himself wasn't exactly the truth. Upon his first introduction to the band, he told them about his winning the Peabody Award for NBC News. He also claimed to have been Executive Administrator to the Democratic Party of the State of Delaware and, as such, a close personal friend of Robert Kennedy. (In fact, when new member RICKY FATAAR was having immigration problems, RIELEY was able to offer a personal letter from Kennedy welcoming him to the United States.) One day at lunch, Rieley was paged and, after taking a phone call, came back to the table and announced that he had just won The Pulitzer Prize for Journalism as the Bureau Chief of NBC-TV in Puerto Rico. When a member of the band's staff found a stack of Robert Kennedy's stationery in Rieley's desk drawer, suspicions were raised as to the authenticity of the letter used in Fataar's immigration proceedings. Shortly thereafter, an investigation proved that not only had Jack Rieley never won a Pulitzer Price or a Peabody Award, but he had never even worked for NBC News! After Rieley's dismissal, BRUCE JOHNSTON was convinced to rejoin the band ... and he and MIKE LOVE are still touring as THE BEACH BOYS to this day.

DON'T IT MAKE YOU WONDER???: This BOBBY KENNEDY story has been circulating for years and is recounted in both the above mentioned HEROES AND VILLAINS book and again in the AMERICAN BAND video. If BOBBY KENNEDY was assassinated in 1968, why would ANYONE believe a letter was supposedly written and signed by him in 1973 ... even if it WAS on his stationery?!?!?!?

COMPETING WITH THEIR PAST: Several times during THE BEACH BOYS' career, their past caught up with them. Being SUCH an innovative band in the early '60's wound up being a huge cross to bear. As early as 1966, while BRIAN was producing the landmark album PET SOUNDS, considered by many critics to be one of the finest albums ever made (in fact, PAUL McCARTNEY has said that PET SOUNDS served as the inspiration for THE BEATLES to do the SGT. PEPPER album ... it raised the bar of what an LP could be), CAPTIOL RECORDS released the BEST OF THE BEACH BOYS album just six weeks after PET SOUNDS first hit the charts. Truthfully, PET SOUNDS took a little getting used to ... even the band members weren't sure BRIAN was headed in the right direction. GOOD VIBRATIONS, released at the end of 1966, was a production masterpiece, taking months to record, spread over several different studios at a then unheard of cost of over $50,000. Now he was pushing the avant-garde, sophisticated sounds of PET SOUNDS on a band that made their name singing about chicks, surfing, chicks, cars and chicks! They readily admitted that they didn't "get" this new sound and were afraid releasing PET SOUNDS would be career suicide. Likewise, the public was not quite ready to accept and adapt to this new sound. Instead of giving the LP a chance, Capitol jumped the gun and released their first Greatest Hits package, effectively killing the sales of their newest release. Ultimately, THE BEST OF THE BEACH BOYS peaked at #8, sold over two million copies, and stayed on the charts for over a year and a half. PET SOUNDS spent a week at #10 and then spiraled down the chart after the GH album was released. In 1974 it would happen again. After low-charting albums like SUNFLOWER, SURF'S UP, CARL AND THE PASSIONS: SO TOUGH and HOLLAND, Capitol Records put together a 2-Record Compilation called ENDLESS SUMMER and watched it go straight to #1 on the LP Charts. In fact, it stayed on the chart for over three years! It also sparked a renewed interest in the band, albeit for the happy California sounds of the past, and introduced the group to a whole new generation of fans. They became a huge concert draw but had to rely on performing the songs that made them famous to sustain any interest with their audience. (Ironically, as part of their separation package with Capitol Records, THE BEACH BOYS retained the rights to their PET SOUNDS album. In an effort to boost sales, Warner Brothers released CARL AND THE PASSIONS: SO TOUGH as a 2-Record Set coupled with the PET SOUNDS LP. It may have helped ... the LP went to #50 on the Billboard Album Chart.) In 1981, THE BEACH BOYS MEDLEY single was released, featuring pieces of the hits GOOD VIBRATIONS, HELP ME RHONDA, I GET AROUND, SHUT DOWN, SURFIN' SAFARI, BARBARA ANN, SURFIN' USA and FUN FUN FUN ala the success of STARS ON 45's BEATLES-medley. It shot up to #8 on the Cash Box Chart, their first Top Ten single since their remake of the CHUCK BERRY classic ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC in 1976. Each time, the music of THE BEACH BOYS reached a new generation of fans, proving again that this music is timeless. However, it also stifled any chances of their new music earning a chance to be listened to. A re-release of SURFIN' USA as a single in 1974 (on the heels of the ENDLESS SUMMER LP success) earned them another Top 40 Hit, while a GREAT song like SAIL ON SAILOR would only peak at #79. Too bad we couldn't accept BOTH generations of the band ... as this series has shown, some really good music went unnoticed and unappreciated.

IRONICALLY: Ironically, while never really diminishing in popularity overseas, THE BEACH BOYS couldn't buy a hit here in the States. Yet, in 1974, ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE named them GROUP OF THE YEAR. Concerts at the BIG SUR FESTIVAL, LA's WHISKEY A GO-GO and a FILLMORE EAST appearance with (believe it or not) THE GRATEFUL DEAD ... along with critically acclaimed album reviews (despite the fact that nobody was actually BUYING their albums), earned them this coveted award. Soon, a campaign to bring BRIAN back was all over the industry and, in 1976, THE BEACH BOYS were back on the charts with a Top 5 single. ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC, the CHUCK BERRY '50's chestnut (which had also been covered by THE BEATLES in 1965) came from their 15 BIG ONES album, and pretty soon, The Boys Were Back In Town. A follow-up single, IT'S OK, went to #29. A beautiful ballad from that LP, EVERYONE'S IN LOVE WITH YOU (written by MIKE LOVE), garnered quite a bit of Soft Rock ariplay that summer, and was released as the B-Side of their next single. Although it didn't chart (and neither did the designated A-Side, SUSIE CINCINNATI, a track that dates back to the ADD SOME MUSIC TO YOUR DAY recording sessions), it's a song that deserved to be heard.