2019 American Music Awards

The Beach Boys: Fun, Fun, Fun At 50

The Beach Boys have turned the group's golden anniversary into an extended period of good vibrations for fans, and for the band itself.

The group is marking the milestone with a long-awaited reunion of surviving members Mike Love and Bruce Johnston - mainstays who keep the Beach Boys consistently on the road - with Love's cousin Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks.

After things kicked off with a galvanizing performance at the 54th annual Grammy Awards in February, the 50th-anniversary reunion tour began April 24 in Tucson, Ariz., and continues through mid-July in the United States before heading to Europe, Asia and Australia.

The Beach Boys also hit the studio together for "That's Why God Made the Radio," due June 5 on Capitol/EMI. The first single/title track shipped to radio at the start of the tour after an April 25 premiere on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning."

The anniversary has also put EMI's catalog division into high gear, with a planned new greatest-hits package due later in the year and other vault-raiding treats on the horizon. And a media assault includes everything from a magazine/CD hits package called a 'Zine-Pak available at Walmart to a PBS documentary that will air, appropriately enough, on July 4 and another TV special - most likely a network one - in the fall.

So the surf is definitely up for the band that turned beaches, highways, convertibles and, of course, girls (California and otherwise) into part of the worldwide pop culture vernacular.

"I did not think, even in my greatest fantasy, this would happen," Johnston says. "Especially coming from the world of rock'n'roll - you just don't have 50 years. Tony Bennett certainly does, and B.B. King. So all of a sudden - and the [Rolling] Stones are going to find this out - you're actually going to celebrate 50 years, and we can do it.

"That's been the impetus to get everybody to talk about it and do it. Nobody was enemies. Everyone's had fake judo fights over the years, but there's a lot of padding, so no one got hurt. The part that you think would be difficult, to turn the friendship light back on and then get back into the music, that was pretty easy. People just fall right back to their original parts.

"When we walked into where we were going to rehearse for the Grammys, after the first time we ran through 'Good Vibrations,' I knew this whole thing was going to work."

EMI senior VP of catalog Jane Ventom adds that the Beach Boys' 50th merits treatment as a major event on all fronts. "It's one of our most iconic American bands," Ventom says. "It's a real gift in having such a wealth of catalog we can work with, and then also having the opportunity to work a new album. It's all very exciting."

The statistics certainly speak to the Beach Boys' achievements during the past half-century. The group has sold 14 million albums and 5.9 million digital songs during the Nielsen SoundScan era. After cracking the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time with "Surfin' Safari" in 1962, the group has notched more than 30 top 40 hits - including the chart-toppers "I Get Around," "Help Me, Rhonda," "Good Vibrations" and 1988's "Kokomo" from the "Cocktail" film soundtrack. The 22-year gap between the last two even set a Billboard chart record, and Love is hoping that "That's Why God Made the Radio" will surpass that mark.

"Can you imagine if we got a No. 1 record in 2012? Oh, that would be something," he says.

Along with that commercial success has come critical acclaim. The 1966 release "Pet Sounds" is recognized as one of the greatest albums in pop music. In 1988, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, in 2001, received a Grammy lifetime achievement award.

In recent years, while the other Beach Boys have been sailing on their own - Wilson and Jardine with solo careers, Marks playing music and battling hepatitis C - Love and Johnston have been feeling the, well, love on the road thanks to the enduring appeal of the band's decades-old hits.

"It feels pretty amazing to still have our music on radio and in films and people coming to see us five decades after we started. It feels pretty darn nice, actually," Love says. "We go to Europe-France, Spain, Ireland and England and Finland . . . and it's amazing, the enthusiasm of the audiences overseas. The beat, the sound, the whole feeling of the music generates such a great response. And then at a fair in Wisconsin, in the heartland of America, it's sold out to the max and everyone's singing along there, too.

"It happens all the time, and all over the place. But I'm being honest when I say that it's truly amazing to sit back and consider. We never could have premeditated such a thing."

What's the secret? "It's uplifting and it's positive," says Love, who co-wrote many of the Beach Boys' hits with Wilson after each grew up in Hawthorne, Calif., households where singing was a family tradition and where the group, originally called the Pendletones, channeled a love of early rock and Four Freshmen harmonies into its own unique sound.

"We're not dwelling on problems and the obvious problems of life," Love adds. "We get a little melancholy sometimes, like 'In My Room' or 'The Warmth of the Sun,' but by and large our music is known for its upbeat psychology. It's fun, and it's kind of a relief to all the problems that one can otherwise face in life."

The Beach Boys, of course, have had their problems through the years - Wilson's emotional breakdown in the mid-'60s that forced him off the road (though it gave him plenty of time to exercise his studio genius), the tyrannical reign of his father and original band manager Murry Wilson, the late Dennis Wilson's substance addictions, Carl Wilson's death from brain and lung cancer and assorted infighting and legalities that have been well-documented.

Time, however, has allowed wounds to heal and perspective to be gained, though all parties acknowledge that pulling the various parts of the Beach Boys together required careful handling.

"There's a lot of factions," says PBS "Soundstage" producer Joe Thomas, a longtime friend and collaborator of Brian Wilson's who refers to himself as the "quarterback" or "facilitator" of the reunion project. "The thing people have to realize is this not only involves the Beach Boys who are living. It also involves the estates of Carl Wilson and Dennis and royalty accounts and all of that. The Beach Boys live on not only physically but also with monetary implications. It's still a band."

EMI North America executive VP of marketing and promotion Greg Thompson says that the idea of potent new Beach Boys music "has been really exciting. We realized they were really ready to do this, and they were figuring out how to get in a room together and heal some wounds and celebrate an incredible story with a new album and a tour and all these things going on around the 50th anniversary. It was pretty amazing, and we definitely wanted to be a part of it."

Thomas, who became friendly with Wilson as neighbors in suburban Chicago during the mid-'90s, was designated the project's point man by the various Beach Boys' management factions. "I would not go away," Thomas says with a laugh, "and I think I'm equally trusted, or distrusted, by everybody. I kind of move slowly between all the different members. I'm not saying they agree with me all the time, but hopefully they think their voices are heard. That's the most important thing."

Thomas is quick to point out that "the band loves each other. It really is a tight-knit family group. Over the years things have happened . . . gosh, the stories are endless, and it wears on everybody. But right now everything is really wonderful."

Thomas is serving as the fulcrum for a dream team consortium that includes Elliott Lott, president of the group's Brother Records label, and Jean Sievers, Wilson's manager who's also handling publicity, as well as Tony Dimitriades of East End Management and veteran attorney John Branca. Former Warner Bros. executive Diarmuid Quinn was brought in to consult on a variety of digital initiatives, while Don Maggi of Thomas' "Soundstage" team coordinated premium VIP ticket experiences that include meals, souvenirs and meet-and-greets with the band, which Thomas says "have consistently sold out across the board."

The reunion has certainly galvanized the ticket-buying market accustomed to the Love-Johnston Beach Boys as an annual rite. "The vibe is great," says Adam Schneider, senior VP of events and booking for Palace Sports & Entertainment, whose DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, Mich., has hosted more than 50 Beach Boys shows since 1972. "This tour has been set up perfectly . . . and the addition of Brian Wilson and the others is incredibly impactful. It's a big show."

Capitol/EMI, meanwhile, is hoping for similar excitement for "That's Why God Made the Radio." Johnston says it "reminds me of our 'Sunflower' album" from 1970 but adds that "this album has elements of . . . everything. There's a lot of what you'd hope to hear from Brian [Wilson] on there. It's not a quilt or a potluck dinner; it's not like, 'OK, everybody show up with your songs.' It's not one of those kinds of albums. There's a lot of Brian in there, and Mike. It's just nice to know there is a Mike Love and a Brian Wilson still around to write together."

Thomas says Wilson initially wanted to call the album "Summer's Gone," an indication it would be the final Beach Boys album - or at least his last one with the band. But after tracking 27 songs in California and Nashville, with Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter playing on some, the name was changed and he has hopes the songs left off the set - including those with Carl Wilson's demo vocals as well as an unreleased Dennis Wilson composition - will ultimately surface in some way.

"The public will dictate how much Beach Boys product is going to come out," Thomas says. "If the public has an appetite for this record and it's successful and [the band] can feel that, there's no reason these guys won't continue."

The label, meanwhile, is gearing up to sell what it knows is coming, with tight collaboration between the new music and catalog divisions. "We very much worked as one team to come together and build a campaign where you could tell the story of the Beach Boys with their catalog while introducing the new album," EMI's Ventom says. "It's very important to the band that they do have this new album, and that's what our focus is as well as the iconic history of the actual catalog."

Capitol/EMI will follow up "That's Why God Made the Radio" with a new greatest-hits package slated for a fourth-quarter release. Ventom says the company used fan research to create an "innovative product suite" that will include a standard edition as well as a deluxe two-disc set that Thomas says might feature some of the additional material recorded during the "That's Why God Made the Radio" sessions. Ventom says a "very deluxe, limited-edition career boxed set" will come later in the year as well.

"We're using customer insight and catering to the fans," Ventom says. "We found when we did the 'SMiLe' boxed set toward the end of [2011] that we had great traction with the fans through an online [peer-to-peer] campaign by offering something you could not get in stores," ranging from special packaging to "some unreleased, potentially never-before-heard material, real nuggets the core consumer really wants."

If part of that desire is for more of the Beach Boys reunion, however, Johnston cautions fans not to hold their breath. "I don't think that will happen. It's going to be one special tour and that's it," he says. "It's with Al and Dave and Brian, so it makes it really kind of special. We'll just enjoy it while it lasts."


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