Among the night's highlights...
Wilson revealed that his songwriting process begins with chords. “At the piano, I’ll play chords, play, play, play, and then, all of a sudden, the melody comes.” Added Love, his cousin: “No one was more masterful at chord progressions than Brian.”
Wilson was the band’s first drummer, before younger brother Dennis got the gig. He plays snare drum on the Beach Boys’ debut single, 1961’s “Surfin’.” “When I rented the gear, I forgot to rent the sticks,” Jardine recalled. “So in rehearsal, [Brian] used his finger, then I went back and got some brushes.”
The band’s vocal masterwork, “Good Vibrations,” took six months to record. “It was challenging for me to teach the guys,” Wilson said. “It was a little more of a masterpiece.” Joked Jardine: “It felt like six years.” Love dictated the lyrics to his now-ex-wife in the car. “She transcribed them as I was driving to the studio.” Glen Campbell is among the musicians in the famed Wrecking Crew collective who played on the song. “When I heard the final mix, I said, ‘This is either going to be No. 1 or our career is over,’” Johnston said of the kaleidoscopic track. Jardine reminded Wilson that he didn’t want “Good Vibrations” on Pet Sounds, instead wanting to save it for Smile.
Speaking of, Johnston had some thoughts on the band’s great unfinished concept album from the ‘60s, Smile, which Wilson eventually abandoned after it was mired in band discord and studio complications: “I would have made it your solo album on [now defunct classical label] Angel and we would be invited to be the vocalists on it with you because it was way up there in your head. Everything was great.”
The Beach Boys and the Beatles had great respect for each other, deeply influencing each other’s works, but they never collaborated, much to the Beach Boys’ dismay. “I thought we were going to,” Jardine said. “John [Lennon] and George [Harrison] came to my hotel room back in the '60s, and on our way to do a show in Paris, I thought they were going to discuss some music with me, and [instead] they taught me transcendental meditation. That would have been a great collaboration.” Johnston recalled playing Pet Sounds for The Who’s Keith Moon and two of the Beatles, whom he said took the vibe of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” for “Here, There and Everywhere” as they began work on Revolver. Reiner told a story about McCartney walking into a Wilson show just as Wilson started playing “God Only Knows,” which McCartney has said is his favorite song. “I heard he started crying,” Wilson said of a live performance of the song.
After 50 years, the band members are still discovering things about each other. Wilson said that the lovely, melancholy “In My Room,” on 1963’s Surfer Girl, was more reflective of his co-writer Gary Usher’s feelings than his own at the time. “I didn’t know that,” piped up Jardine. “I assumed it was Brian Wilson’s personal story about being secluded and lonely and feeling those feelings we all have.” Johnston revealed that to him, “The most incredible song in the whole catalog from a writing point of view is ‘Warmth of the Sun.’ Perfect song, perfect recording.” Love added: “I went over to Brian’s house. He’d moved out of his family home,” he said of composing the song, which was started the day John F. Kennedy was murdered. “He came up with the haunting melody and I came up with the words. We recorded it maybe a month and a half later. It was mystical. President Kennedy had been assassinated. It was powerful.”
Among the family and friends in attendance to support the band were Brian Wilson’s ex-wife, Marilyn, who told Billboard how much she was enjoying the Beach Boys channel, in part because it was playing songs from The Honeys, her '60s girl group signed to Capitol and produced by Wilson. “Thanks to [SiriusXM senior director of music programming] Lou Simon, I’m hearing our music on the radio in America for the first time. We got played in Europe, but not America.” Also there were Carl Wilson’s sons, Justyn and Jonah, and Blue Note Records head Don Was, who produced I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, the 1995 documentary on Brian Wilson.
The Town Hall begins airing on the Beach Boys’ SiriusXM channel on Aug. 10.
--Additional reporting by Fred Bronson