Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

New Beach Boys Documentary Brings Good Vibrations; ‘It’s a Fantastic Thing,’ Says Mike Love

By Michael May 24, 2024

A few days before the release of the documentary The Beach Boys, founding members Mike Love and Al Jardine are sitting in the recording studio at Hollywood’s EastWest Studios, the exact spot where they recorded some of their biggest hits, including their 1966 remake of the Regents’ doo-wop ditty, “Barbara Ann.” 

“[Jan & Dean’s] Dean Torrence comes in. He peeks the door open. ‘Come on in!’,” Jardine recalls from a time nearly 60 years ago, when the studio was called United Western Recorders. Love joins in, ‘’He wasn’t supposed to,” before Jardine picks back up the story. “Dean stands next to Brian [Wilson], because there wasn’t anywhere else to sit anyway, and the two of them joined in on the melody on the high part. When you hear the harmonies on ‘Barbara Ann’ it sounds doubled. That’s because it is doubled. It’s Brian and Dean.’

“Now, wait a minute! They didn’t tell me that story,” interjects Frank Marshall, the Oscar-nominated producer and director who is sitting between the two Rock & Roll Hall of Famers in the studio. Marshall and Thom Zimny co-directed the two-hour documentary on the group that premieres on Disney+ today (May 24). To be fair, not even a 10-hour film could include all the glorious and jagged history of one of the most popular and enduring bands in music. 

The Beach Boys, initially comprised of Jardine, Love and his three first cousins, Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, have charted 55 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 — starting with their first sun-drenched single, “Surfin’,” in 1962, and including four No. 1s: 1964’s “I Get Around,” 1965’s “Help Me, Rhonda,” 1966’s “Good Vibrations” and 1988’s “Kokomo.” 

Along with enduring hits like ““Surfin’ Safari,” “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “California Girls,” the Beach Boys ushered in a fresh wave of sound in the ‘60s that promised no worries as long as the surf was up, the skies were sunny and the hot rods had open roads. The documentary examines the band’s creation in Hawthorne, Calif., and how they became, as the documentary attests, “America’s band” — and have remained so, with their upbeat music spanning more than half a century. 

“Certainly my goal was to find out how it all happened, and to tell the individual stories of each member,” Marshall says. “It’s very complicated. A couple of members come and go and come back. And so it was really a journey for me of exploring how this group came together and what made it tick.” 

In addition to Love and Jardine, the film includes new interviews with Beach Boys Brian Wilson, David Marks (who replaced Jardine in 1962 when he briefly dropped out) and Bruce Johnston (who joined in 1965), as well as archival footage with the late Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson, who died in 1983 and 1998, respectively. Even though Brian Wilson is now under a conservatorship — and, according to a doctor, suffers from a neurocognitive disorder — Marshall was able to integrate small portions of the new Wilson interviews, which he supplemented with a rich assortment of previous interviews from through the decades.

Given the Beach Boys’ decades-long infighting — Marshall says, “When we started, they kind of weren’t talking to each other”— it’s no surprise that “it took a long time to convince them that I wasn’t going to just trash everybody” when he and Zimny first approached the band. 

While the documentary doesn’t flinch from the Beach Boys’ complicated history — including the Wilsons’ overbearing, controlling father, Murry, multiple lawsuits between members and even Dennis Wilson’s association with mass murderer Charles Manson — Love likes that the film leads with the music. “There [were] issues and problems,” but to concentrate on those, he says, “would be missing the point of the amazing body of work, the amazing harmonies [and] amazing songs that reached all over the world.”

Much of the Beach Boys’ history has, understandably, focused on the inventive musical genius of Brian Wilson (Jardine refers to him as “The Thomas Edison of music”). But the documentary deliberately highlights the talents and contributions of all of the members — especially Love, as co-writer on dozens of gems (including “Good Vibrations,” “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “California Girls,” and as the band’s energetic front man and somewhat keeper of the flame, given Wilson’s reticence to tour and history of mental health challenges.

“It wouldn’t be the same without all of them together,” Marshall says. “The blend.”

That familial blend was cultivated early on, Love says: “We’d all get together at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, birthdays, and it was all about music. The first memory of Brian singing, I remember him sitting on Grandma Wilson’s lap singing ‘Danny Boy.’ Amazing.” Jardine met the cousins in high school and the blending developed into something much more sublime, Love says. The key to the Beach Boys’ stunning vocal arrangements, was “sublimating your individuality” for the good of the overall sound. “We were obsessed with that,” he says.

The documentary also examines how the competition between the Beatles and the Beach Boys drove each to greater heights. The Beatles’ 1965 classic Rubber Soul propelled Brian Wilson to create the complex, gorgeous, groundbreaking sonics of the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds, and Pet Sounds showed the Beatles the possibilities they realized on the following year’s standard-setting concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Though Pet Sounds did not do well commercially at the time, as the documentary notes, it is now considered one of the best pop albums ever made.) 

One of the most painful parts of the documentary revisits Murry Wilson selling the group’s music publishing to Irving Almo Music for a paltry $700,000 in 1969 (roughly $6 million in current dollars). If sold in today’s market, the catalog would likely fetch more than $200 million. “My Uncle Murry disenfranchised me, but also his sons. That was a tremendous blow, psychologically as well as materially,” Love says. “We had fired him [as our manager] long before that and that was his way of getting back at me and my cousins.”

Furthermore, Jardine adds, in a story not in the documentary, “We actually had a deal ready to go with another company. They had already accepted. They were going to put up the money and we were going to be partners. He purposefully went ahead and sold it to Almo.”

“He totally screwed us,” Love says, with a rueful laugh. “It affected Brian in a horrible way. I mean, it set him back. He went into seclusion. Has he ever been the same?”

Though Love later successfully sued Brian Wilson for publishing money, he prefers to not “dwell” on the bad times. “What we favor is recreating those songs as beautifully as possible,” he says. 

And that beautiful recreating continues. Love, who has had the legal rights to tour under the Beach Boys name for decades, and Johnston are now on the Endless Summer Gold tour, which includes more than 75 dates before the end of the year. (Wilson, with Jardine by his side, stopped performing in 2022. There are no plans for Jardine to join Love and Johnston’s band on tour. After years of touring in different configurations, Love, Wilson, Jardine, Marks and Johnston reunited briefly in 2012 for the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour.)

Irving Azoff’s Iconic Artists Group serves as a producer of the documentary, and the film is the latest in IAG’s efforts to keep the Beach Boys’ music in front of listeners since it acquired controlling interest in the band’s intellectual property in 2021. “The documentary is an instrumental part of the overall strategy to bring new fans into the world of the Beach Boys,” says IAG president Jimmy Edwards. “The film serves as a wonderful introduction to one of the most culturally significant groups in the history of popular music.”

The documentary follows such IAG-guided efforts as the Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys that aired on CBS last May, a dedicated Beach Boys channel on SiriusXM and an expansive coffee table book produced by Genesis Publications, The Beach Boys by The Beach Boys, that came out in April. Adding to the bounty, an official documentary soundtrack also drops today from Capitol/UME with the band’s biggest hits, as well as a new track, “Baby Blue Bathing Suit,” from Stephen Sanchez, written in tribute to the boys of summer. 

For his part, Love says IAG has “done a fantastic job” with the band’s legacy. “Probably better than we could ever hope to be done.” 

“The Beach Boys’ music is timeless. We just create opportunities to experience it,” Edwards says — noting that, since the 2021 acquisition, “we’ve nearly doubled The Beach Boys’ social audience to approximately 7.5 million and saw their global audio streams surpass 1 billion for the first time in a calendar year in 2023.”

The documentary ends in 1974, with the release of Endless Summer, a greatest hits collection focused on the hits from 1962-1965 that introduced the Beach Boys and their upbeat music to a new generation — just as the documentary may now do. The double album became the Beach Boys’ second No. 1 on the Billboard 200, spending 156 weeks on the albums chart — but, more importantly, resurrected the group’s live career. They went from playing for $2,500 per night, Jardine says, to filling stadiums, and, ultimately, playing for a combined 1.4 million people in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. on July 4, 1980. 

In the film’s touching coda, Marshall gathered Jardine, Johnston, Love, Marks and Wilson this past September at Paradise Cove, the Malibu site of the photo shoot for the Beach Boys’ first album cover 61 years earlier. The scene shows the five surviving Beach Boys, laughing and smiling, reveling in each other’s company and memories. 

Marshall deliberately decided to use only video, not the audio, but considers the reunion a great triumph. “My dream was: let bygones be bygones. Let’s look at the joy and what they accomplished,” Marshall says. But his endgame was to reunite the members, ultimately deciding to return to the location where it all began. “It was really designed as a montage, a cinema verité moment,” he says. 

Nine months later, Love remembers it as a joyous gathering. “We did sing songs together, we reminisced about old times. Al played the guitar. Brian was remembering things that happened when we were in high school from 1958 or 1959,” he says. 

The five band members reunited again briefly Tuesday (May 21) at the premiere of the documentary in Los Angeles, and Love says he looks at the whole process as a gift. “We’re grateful and thankful and somewhat honored to have this documentary that Mr. Marshall has taken under wing,” he says. “It’s a fantastic thing to have happen at this stage of our lives.”

By Michael

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