I’ve been a big Beach Boys fan all my life. That’s probably one of the reasons I’ve felt so at home in the 15 months since I moved to California: I have all of Brian Wilson‘s albums. I feel like I know the place already.
When I went off to college in the fall of 1980, I hung a couple of posters on my dorm room wall, stood back and thought: What I’d really like to have here is a huge poster showing the west coast, showing all the beaches the Beach Boys mention in their classic surfin’ songs from the early 1960s.
It’s now 34 years later and I never managed to find that poster. So, what the hell: I guess I’ll just have to make it myself.
This was yesterday’s Focus page in the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles Register and the Press-Enterprise of Riverside:
As you can see, the huge map I wanted all those years ago runs down the right side of the page. They’re all there — not only are they listed, but I did some research to find out why each was famous.
- From Surfin’ Safari: Huntington, Laguna Malibu, Rincon and Cerro Azul.
- From Surfin’ USA: Del Mar, Haggarty’s, La Jolla, Manhattan, Narrabeen, Pacific Palisades, Redondo Beach, San Onofre, Santa Cruz, Sunset, Swami’s, Trestles, Ventura County Line and Waimea Bay.
- Doheny actually appears in both songs.
- And from Hawaii: Waikiki.
I mention Huntington Beach is known as “Surf City” but I didn’t include Surf City as one of the songs.
Why not? That was not a Beach Boys song — that was Jan & Dean. Brian Wilson wrote much of it, but gave it to Jan & Dean, who finished it off, recorded it — with Brian’s help on the high parts — and rode the song to No. 1. The rest of the Beach Boys were reportedly not happy Brian gave away his first No. 1 single.
I only used the classic Beach Boys songs from 1962 through 1964 or so. They sang about more places in the 1970s and onwards. But hey, I had only one page.
One subtle Easter egg: Instead of dots on the map, I used tiny little 45 rpm records.
The lead art is an outtake from the first album cover photo session Capitol Records held with the Beach Boys in 1962 at Malibu’s Paradise Cove. The session resulted in cover pictures for the group’s first album, Surfin’ Safari and their third album from 1963, Surfer Girl.
The rest of the page is taken up by definitions of terms heard in those classic surfin’ songs from 1962-64.
I was particularly proud of getting a 19-year-old Sally Field into the graphic to illustrate a “Surfer Girl.”
I also tried to work in a little humor here and there.
At the request of our page one editor, Marcia Prouse, I built this for the top of page one of Monday’s Orange County Register to plug my page:
I also built a skybox for the Long Beach Register, but it didn’t get used: The L.A. Kings’ big win in the NHL playoffs knocked me off the page.
Did you spot the Easter egg? No, I didn’t think you would. I meant it to be very, very subtle.
I meant that to be the same surfboard from the Paradise Cove photo shoot.
In the process of working on this surfin’ page, it occurred to me: What would really be a public service is a page explaining all the words used in the Beach Boys old car songs from that same era. The boys sang a lot of them — in fact, they typically turn the songs into one long medley in their concerts. It always brings down the house.
But just what is a “four-speed, dual-quad positraction 409“? Or “a competition clutch with a four-on-the-floor“? Or, for that matter, a “pink slip, daddy“?
So, I decided to go for it. The surfin’ page ran Monday. The car songs page ran in today’s papers.
Again, I did the lingo thing. This was important to include, I thought, because lead singer Mike Love didn’t always pronounce everything properly.
Many, many thanks to Bob Beamesderfer on our copy desk, who is one of the bigger car experts in the building. He carefully read behind me to make sure I didn’t make a fool of myself. I’m pretty good at researching stuff like this, but I don’t know beans about cars.
Or surfing, either, for that matter.
The lead art was from our archives — those are the Beach Boys performing I Get Around on the Ed Sullivan Show in September 1964.
Notice how I labeled each guy. Most casual Beach Boys fans might remember the names “Brian Wilson” or “Mike Love” but they wouldn’t necessarily be able to pick them out of a police lineup.
The purple Deuce Coupe at the bottom of the page was from our archives.
I explained what is a Deuce Coupe, and I referenced the one of the front of the 1963 Little Deuce Coupe album — that picture was an outtake from a photo session that produced a cover photo for Hot Rod magazine in 1961.
The fun part of this page, however, was where I show all the cars the Beach Boys sang about in their songs.
I knew a Sting Ray is a Corvette, and XKE is a Jaguar. And, of course, I was familiar with T-Birds and Hondas. But I had no idea a “409” refers to a Chevy Impala SS. Or that a “Super Stock Dodge” is a souped-up Dodge Dart.
I went through a lot of web sites for these.
Now, any sharp-eyed old-timers out there might have a question at this point: Why did you include Little Old Lady from Pasadena but not Surf City? They were both Jan & Dean songs!
The answer: Little Old Lady from Pasadena was covered by the Beach Boys on their Concert album in 1964. But they never recorded a version of Surf City, despite the fact that Brian helped write it.
Yesterday, my pal Ron Sylvester, editor of the L.A. Register, asked me for a “ribbon” skybox to promote my page in today’s paper. Here’s what I built for him:
Yep. Sometimes, this job is an awful lot of fun, fun, fun.
I first saw the Beach Boys play two back-to-back shows in Atlanta, Ga., in June 1981. Carl Wilson wasn’t there, unfortunately — he had just put out a solo album and was taking a break from the usual grind — but his troubled brothers were.
That’s Brian, the guy who wrote and produced most of their hit songs on the right, approaching the piano. He’s struggled with mental health issues. It’s a miracle, really, that he’s still around and productive.
The third Wilson brother, Dennis, is climbing onto his kit at left.
The Beach Boys’ shows during the early 1980s weren’t superb. But they did play most of their hit songs.
The next summer, I drove back to Atlanta to see two more back-to-back shows. This time, Carl Wilson was there but neither Dennis nor Brian was present.
After the show, my brother and I got a chance to chat a few minutes with Al Jardine. He proved to be a terrific guy — and appreciative of his fans.
In March 1983, I took my girlfriend — Sharon, who I eventually married — to Augusta, Ga., to see the Beach Boys in concert there. The show was less than spectacular. What’s worse, Dennis and lead singer Mike Love got into a fight onstage during the show. I guess it really wasn’t a good introduction to the band for Sharon.
They didn’t allow cameras into the venue, so I didn’t get pictures that time.
Three months later — June 1983 — I caught the Beach Boys again when they played a post- soccer match concert in Charlotte, N.C. They sounded much better. I wish Sharon had seen this show, instead.
Before the concert — while the soccer game was in overtime, in fact — several of the band members came out to watch a little of the action. So yeah, I got to photograph Mike Love up close, as well as chat with him a bit.
While he was signing an autograph for me, I happened to mention that I had bought his solo album, which had come out the year before. Mike looked at me oddly for a long while. For a moment, I wondered if he was afraid I was going to ask him for a refund.
I also got pretty close to Dennis Wilson, here chatting with a couple of members of the backing band.
I thought about approaching him as well but — seeing the beer bottle in his hand and remembering the sad state he was in during the Augusta show — I decided against it.
Six months later, Denny was dead. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
I later dragged Sharon to shows in Athens, Ga. (October 1987), Carowinds amusement park near Charlotte (August 1990) and Carowinds again (July 1991).
In 1993, of course, my daughter was born. Elizabeth grew up listening to Beach Boys whenever we drove around. When she learned to talk, in fact, she insisted their name was “the Barbara-Anns.”
Carl Wilson died of cancer in 1998. The band pretty much broke up. Mike and Bruce Johnston licensed the Beach Boys name from the corporate entity and took to the road. Brian pulled himself out of his funk, issued a remarkable series of solo albums and also went on tour with his own band.
Al Jardine — “Mr. Dependable” — spent some time touring with a band composed of his sons and Brian Wilson’s two daughters, Wendy and Carnie — better known, perhaps, as two-thirds of Wilson Phillips. I took Sharon and Elizabeth to their show in Dubuque, Iowa, in July 1999.
Afterwards, we agreed it was the best Beach Boys show we had ever seen. And Al was the only “Beach Boy” on stage that night. (Go here to read a lengthy review I wrote of that show.)
After that show, I again got a chance to chat with Al. He asked me for suggestions on what other old Beach Boys songs he might play in concert. I named one of my favorites — Steamboat from the 1973 Holland album — but apparently that was a bit obscure, even for Al. He nearly busted a gut laughing.
After that, I pretty much stopped going to Beach Boys shows: With Dennis and Carl dead and with Brian and Al doing their own thing, it just didn’t seem like the Beach Boys, y’know? In April 2002, however, a features editor at the Des Moines Register asked me to review a Beach Boys show for the paper.
Which I did. They sounded terrific. I wrote them up nicely. Later, Scott Totten — a member of the backing band who I had singled out for praise — send me an email thanking me for my review.
Brian’s solo tour came to Virginia Beach a couple of times over the last decade. Each time, I was out of the country doing consulting work.
Two years ago, however, the Beach Boys reunited for a 50th anniversary tour. They played an outdoor amphitheater just a couple of miles from my house in Virginia Beach. I was between assignments, though, and strapped for cash, so I had resigned myself to not going to the show.
Then, my pal Brian Sandford — who’s now the editor of the Nevada Appeal in Carson City, Nev. — stunned me by gifting me tickets.
Which I enjoyed very much.
Not long after I relocated to Southern California, I dragged my wife and daughter out for a Beach Boys road trip. We visited the old Wilson home in Hawthorne, where Brian, Carl and Dennis grew up.
They tore the house down back in the mid-1980s to build I-105 — which is just beyond that hill in the picture. But the city came back in 2005 and put in a nice historical marker on the spot.
Hawthorne, of course, is now more famous for being the home of Elon Musk‘s SpaceX.
While we were there, we took a quick peek at the Fosters Freeze, where Brian and the boys would hang out after school.
We then drove into Hollywood to check out the famous cylindrical home of Capitol Records, for which Brian and the gang made all those great recordings.
And finally, we drove past Western Recording studios, also in Hollywood, where Brian recorded his classic Pet Sounds album.
So this two-day project was truly a labor of love for me.