Two Fender representatives approach Al Jardine during an interview to talk guitars. They have 1962 reissue Jaguars to give to Jardine and the man who briefly replaced him in the Beach Boys, David Marks, for that day's rehearsal at Center Staging in Burbank, Calif.
"We'll take whatever you have," Jardine tells them. "We were looking for Stratocasters, but we can't find them."
"They're about 100 yards away from here," one of the reps says.
The Beach Boys - Jardine, Marks, Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston - set up camp at the Burbank rehearsal studio in early April to prepare for their 50th-anniversary tour, a high-profile reunion of one of the greatest groups in American pop music.
With a dozen members of Wilson's band and two guys from Love's outfit, the current lineup has learned more than 50 Beach Boys songs for their tour of the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia that runs through August.
The concerts mark the first time in 20 years that Wilson has toured with fellow founding members of the group and coincide with the release of "That's Why God Made the Radio," the first new studio album featuring Wilson, Love, Jardine and Johnston since the "Beach Boys" album in 1985.
The tour and album, in turn, are part of an expansive 50th-anniversary campaign (see story, page 44) to celebrate the legacy of a band that has charted more than 30 top 40 hits on the Billboard 100 and sold 14 million albums and 5.9 million digital songs during the Nielsen SoundScan era.
Hits and sales aside, the group - thanks largely to the songwriting and production genius of Wilson - has long been recognized as a master of American pop music. "What amazing songs," wrote Jon Pareles of the New York Times in the lead sentence of his review of the group's May 8 show at New York's Beacon Theatre.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the Beach Boys in 1988 and the Recording Academy bestowed its lifetime achievement award on the group in 2001.
On the day of this interview, a four-hour rehearsal has been reserved for the ensemble to work on the leadoff single/title track from the new album.
Produced by Wilson and executive-produced by Love, "That's Why God Made the Radio" was recorded at Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles and will be released by Capitol/EMI on June 5.
"Capitol stepped right up to the plate - a lot better than they did the first time around," Johnston says. "I love being signed to a major because you can do things the correct way. I used to be an A&R guy at Columbia Records with Terry Melcher when I was 21 years old and I took all of this for granted. Years fly by and people are making albums on their own and they sell them for $10, and if they sell 10,000 they're happy. I'd rather make $1 an album, sell a million and reach more people."
To promote the album, the band took a trip to Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., to meet and play its new music for iTunes executives. "That was very productive," Jardine says. "We used to go to radio stations and record stores, and here it's all in one place-35%-40% of all the music sales in a place that looks like a new college campus."
The band's 50th-anniversary tour began in Tucson, Ariz., on April 24 and has already included a stop at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, Europe, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia will be visited by year's end (see story, page 56).
The exact moment that the men of the Beach Boys decided to reunite is cloudy - each of them vaguely refers to managers assembling to clear paths - but Jardine did start to express a desire to do a 50th celebration after the band appeared atop the Capitol Records Tower on June 13, 2006, to receive a double-platinum award for the 2003 hits compilation "Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys."
"I don't think we talked about a tour or a record at that time," Love recalls. "But when we got back together the first song we did was 'Do It Again.'"
"Al started the rumor that it would happen a few years ago, so give him credit for perpetuating that," says Marks, who replaced Jardine early on and stayed in the band for a short while upon Jardine's return. He was also in a late-'90s edition of the Beach Boys. "As the rumor built, more and more people said, 'Hey, this can happen.'"
Once together, they decided to include only one new song in their set list and ensure the shows go beyond surf tunes, car songs and "Pet Sounds." They're spanning decades in the show-from "Surfin' Safari" to "Sail On, Sailor" to "Kokomo" to the new record-and along the way including such lesser-known tunes as "Don't Back Down," "Forever" and "All This Is That."
On the day of the interview, Jardine was concerned he didn't have "All This Is That" down properly. "That song's got more chord changes than the Bible has verses," he says before heading off to find an acoustic guitar. "Every bar has most the incredible Beach Boy harmonies. It just goes and goes - it's like a mantra. I really want to play that sucker."
A half-hour later, Jardine had an acoustic in his hands and the chords of "All This Is That" in front of him. Wilson was behind the piano, warming up his fingers, and Johnston was busy changing from a dress shirt for a photo shoot into a T-shirt for rehearsal. Love and Marks were autographing a souvenir surfboard with the Beach Boys logo from the late-'60s formation of their Brother Records. They appeared at ease and ready to go.
It's one thing to say, "Let's kick around the idea of what to do for a 50th anniversary." It's quite another to decide to go on a global concert tour. What made you believe this would be viable?
Brian Wilson: The guys are so rehearsed. They've been on the road for 50 years, and let's just say their chops aren't getting any less. We all have had a lot of practice and we know each other very well and we know each other's parameters.
Mike Love: When we first got back together again we covered ourselves. We did "Do It Again," and Brian comes up to me and says, "How can a 70-year-old sound that good?" Well, I've been practicing. [laughs] He was very complimentary.
Wilson: He sounds as young as he did in 1963.
David Marks: You could tell the chemistry was still there. When we started rehearsals we really did pick up where we left off.
Al Jardine: We all had to give up a lot to be on this tour because we all have our own individual bands. I have a new solo album, David has a new solo album and a wonderful book. So everybody had to give up something to receive. It's the legacy that's important.
At what point did the idea of doing an album kick in?
Love: This band has always been about us singing songs Brian writes, so we sat down to hear songs he had.
Wilson: Michael wrote a song called "Daybreak Over the Ocean" and I wrote "Shelter." Joe Thomas [Wilson's chief songwriting collaborator on the album] and I wrote some songs together in 1998.
Did you each bring in songs, or was this strictly a job for Brian?
Bruce Johnston: Brian had scraps of songs and we've just been shoving them together. It's more Brian-heavy than Al or myself. This band is about the songs Brian wrote with different collaborators.
Love: Brian's mainly carrying the lead on our single "That's Why God Made the Radio." We've all got our parts and when you listen to it all coming back . . .
Wilson: It's like heaven.
Love: Yeah, it's like 1965 again.
Wilson: Actually, it's like revisiting an old town you used to live in 20 years ago.
Is there anything that carries over in your songwriting from your Beach Boys work in the '60s and '70s?
Wilson: I tried to make each guy's part mean something. Writing parts for the five guys, when you put it together, it all means something. Each part is important.
How much of the new album will make it into the live sets?
Love: The album doesn't come out until June 5, so maybe by that time we'll incorporate a song. We've got so many recognizable hits, people are showing up saying, "I want to hear 'God Only Knows,' I want to hear 'Wouldn't It Be Nice,' 'California Girls.'" How are you not going to do those songs?
How many songs are you performing each night?
Marks: We've rehearsed at least 50 songs so far. When we did a two-hour show in England a couple years ago we had 50 songs. Actually, the nightly set list will change according the venue, the appropriateness of certain songs. Some are two minutes long and we do [them] exactly like the records.
Is there much negotiating to get the set list together?
Wilson: It's mostly up to Michael. I just want to make sure I get four or five in there.
Wilson: "Please Let Me Wonder," "This Old World" and a few others. Just enough.
How do you put the list together?
Love: There's a big master list that we put together by saying, "OK, which ones are going to be best for the amphitheaters we're doing this time?" It's a collective thing - Brian's got some leads, Al's got some leads, I've got some leads; Bruce, too.
When Brian mentions "This Whole World," a wonderful song from the overlooked "Sunflower" album in 1970, it seems like you're willing to go beyond the big hits and the songs Brian is known for. How far afield are you going?
Marks: I am hoping to do "Summertime Blues," the Eddie Cochran cover, in the set, which Carl [Wilson] and I did.
Jardine: I want to do an environmental message, but also Mike wants to do one we wrote, "All This Is That," which is kind of a spiritual song. It's all a matter of testing on audiences.
Marks: Yesterday at rehearsal, "Cottonfields" came off really well, so that has been becoming one of my favorites. It's an old Leadbelly song. "Heroes and Villains," all the car and surf songs are coming off nice.
When most people talk about the legacy of the Beach Boys, the conversation focuses on the early singles, and the albums "Pet Sounds" and "Smile." In your opinion, what other works are important for understanding the Beach Boys' legacy?
Jardine: The main thing is that we always had a positive message. The sound of it is positive, the lyrics are positive.
Marks: I send people to the "Surfin' USA" album. It has a lot of instrumentals and that was the roots, the base of the band. It also shows Brian's arranging ability for vocal harmony. The guitars meet Four Freshmen harmonies - that's what hit people and they fell in love with it. No one had ever heard anything like it. I also love Holland, [the 1973 album that includes "Sail On, Sailor"].
Wilson: That's a hard question to answer. "Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)" has a rock'n'roll thing about it.
Love: What album was "Darlin'" on?
Wilson: "Wild Honey."
Love: "Darlin'" and Carl Wilson doing "I Was Made to Love Her" - oh, my gosh.
Wilson: It kicked ass.
Love: That was a cool album to work on. It had an R&B flavor to it. Brian used a theremin on ["Darlin'"] like he did on "Good Vibrations." They were doing the track at his house in Bel-Air and I went into the kitchen to raid the refrigerator and make some tea. Brian had a health food store back then called the Radiant Radish and I look up and see "wild honey," and the track is pumping and I thought, "I'll make up a song called 'Wild Honey.'" So I made it about a girl and this guy - I was even thinking about Stevie Wonder at the time. What would Stevie Wonder say to his mother about a girl that maybe she didn't want him to get involved with, but he says, "Screw it" - he really digs this chick. That was the premise of the song.
Wilson: It came together [snaps his fingers] just like that.
It feels like everyone is in agreement on where the Beach Boys need to go and how you'll get there. Was there anything in particular that got you all on the same page?
Marks: We picked up right where we left off - the chemistry was there. All successful bands have that: When certain people get together there is one certain fantastic thing.
Jardine: And it's built from there.