Monday 22 January 2018

The Beach Boys: Five Landmark Concerts, Three Key Cover Songs and Radio Broadcast CDs

You can now buy 'Add Some Music To Your Day - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Beach Boys' in e-book form by clicking here

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important, along with one particularly good one that summed up the band's setlist during their live peak (or one of them, anyway). Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases anyway) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely!
The Beach Boys are a good case in point - though tallies and statistics don't agree how many shows the band did play, they certainly seem a candidate for the AAA band that's played most gigs (6000 odd are listed on the website '' though there's almost certainly more!) The band have performed and toured pretty consistently since 1961 to the present day without a gap - certainly across the summer period. Here's five highlights of what they played when:
1) Where: Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance, Long Beach, California, USA When: December 30th 1961 Why: First Paid Gig Setlist: 'Surfin' and 'Johnny B Goode'
Unusually for these articles, The Beach Boys hadn't performed in public at all before making their first single - typically, Brian Wilson was so intent on making the band's harmonies and performance so tight he hadn't really given a thought to the band performing in front of people back in 1961. The Morgan family dynasty, who'd agreed to release 'Surfin' on the Candix label, wanted the band to support it though and The Beach Boys played a couple of freebie gigs in the run up to Christmas 1961 to get themselves into shape (the first being widely thought to have taken place at The Rendezvous Ballroom, Newport Beach, California on December 23rd 1961). We've gone with the band's third gig though: the first time they played in front of a sizeable audience and the first time they got paid for their work (a whole $50 split between five of them), down at the bottom of a bill that was headlined by Ike and Tina Turner. The event was a sad one, commemorating the death of Richie Valens who'd died in the February 1959 aeroplane crash that killed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper (though quite why it was taking place on New Year's Eve two years later and only commemorating one of the fallen heroes not all three is anyone's guess...) Valens was seventeen when his big break was shattered; by contrast Mike and Brian were twenty when they got theirs (though Carl was all of fourteen and the Wilson's neighbour, rhythm guitarist Dave Marks, was all of thirteen!) The gig was an unusual one, with the very closeted middle-class Beach Boys suddenly playing to a nearly all-black crowd who'd turned out to see the Turners and feeling very out of place, especially given that they were covering Chuck Berry songs for an African-American audience long before The British Invasion featured multiple bands doing the same! The Beach Boys will revive 'Johnny B Goode' in later years, but it didn't stay in the set list long (probably due to being so similar to [23] 'Surfin' USA', an original song the band will keep playing for years to come), while [14] 'Surfin' didn't even last that long, demoted when second and higher profile single [8] 'Surfin' Safari' came along the following year. Sadly no footage or recordings exist - or even a photograph that I've ever seen.

2) Where: Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, Texas When: December 24th 1964 Why: First gig without Brian Wilson Setlist: Unknown (sample from nearest setlist on November 21st included 'Fun Fun Fun' 'Papa-Oom-Mow Mow' 'Little Deuce Coupe' 'Surfer Girl' 'Monster Mash' 'Louie Louie' 'Surfin' Safari' 'Don't Worry Baby' 'I Get Around' 'Johnny B Goode' - the band rarely changed their songs from show to show in this period)
Talk about 'Houston, we have a problem!' It's probably safe to say Brian Wilson didn't have a great festive period in 1964, despite - or perhaps even because of - having experienced arguably The Beach Boys' most successful year. On December 23rd Brian and the rest of the band appeared on 'Shindig' plugging their Christmas LP - amazingly footage still exists (not much does from this period!) Immediately after the show they were whisked back onto an aeroplane to fly back to Houston to play yet more gigs (the band had only just been there on the 19th). Only this was the flight when Brian suffered his nervous breakdown, something which caused him to re-think his role in The Beach Boys and their hectic touring schedule. Something had to give and faced with a choice between performing and writing/recording, there was never really going to be a contest: Brian formally left the touring band and went back home to recuperate, while the rest of the band flew on without him. This is a milestone moment, the first performance when the chief Beach Boy wasn't there and the band have all admitted varying degrees at nervousness over carrying on - and yet the surprising thing is how little fuss there seemed to be from the audience. Glen Campbell, then an aspiring wannabe rather than a gold record hotshot, got Brian's stage clothes (stripy shirt and black trousers in this period) to wear and seems to have been chosen more for his similar height than for his ability on bass, an instrument the guitarist really didn't know that well. He didn't even know what songs were playing half the time and admits to singing the 'wrong' one during one of his first two gigs as a Beach Boy but joked that the audience was screaming too hard to notice! The show was well received though and though sadly no recordings exist of Glen's brief tour (though pictures do survive) he seems to have gone done well as a Brian substitute, getting through the gig without too many mess-ups and a second date booked for the 26th in Dallas. Glen also did his homework over January, learning the songs properly and touring with The Beach Boys more permanently until April 1965 when he asked to be released from his contract to re-start his solo career. Brian will write and produce the surely deliberately-named in-joke of a song [135] 'Guess I'm Dumb!' (his comment on any outsider wanting to join The Beach Boys mad-house?) as his first piece of work as a stay-at-home songwriter; it's a forgotten stepping stone towards his later orchestral work, though Glen will soon be rewarded neatly enough for helping out without any help from The Beach Boys. Bruce Johnston will become a much more natural fit by the time of the next tour in May 1965. This was the show, though, back in 1964 that was make or break for The Beach Boys and a test of whether their audience would accept them after the loss of their second on-stage member in a little over a year. And a merry Christmas Eve was had by all, especially Brian back in the studio where he belonged instead of wearing a stripy shirt and being screamed at!

3) Where: Everywhere! When: Summer-Autumn 1972   Why: The Beach Boys' live peak? Setlist: (sample taken from gig at Carnegie Hall on November 23rd 1972: Sloop John B/You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone/Leaving This Town/Darlin'/Only With You/Heroes and Villains/Long Promised Road/Student Demonstration Time/I Get Around/Marcella/California/Help Me Rhonda/Wonderful-Don't Worry Bill/God Only Knows/Do It Again/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Wild Honey/Good Vibrations/Surfin' USA/Fun Fun Fun/Jumpin' Jack Flash)
This is the 'controversial' part of these articles where we list what we consider a band's 'peak' touring years. With The Beach Boys that's particularly difficult: there were so many changing line-ups, so many different styles and so many varied setlists that choosing the best is quite difficult. However I've always had a soft spot for the 'Flame' years (as heard on 1973's double album 'In Concert') as all the original band (albeit with Al Jardine instead of David Marks and Brian missing of course) are still here and working hard (even Dennis, who doesn't always appear at Beach Boy gigs) while ably backed by Blondie Chaplin's soulful vocals and Ricky Fataar's sturdy drumming. The presence of the new members gives the songs added bite so that the rockers sound better than the often flimsy versions in the 1960s (Dennis: 'I'm a clubber, not a drummer!') while there aren't so many musicians on stage the harmonies get lost, as began to happen a little bit in the 1980s. This is also the period when the band's setlists changed the most and threw in the most surprises too - even though the 'In Concert' album was taken from the 'best' of several shows played in 1972 it's interesting just how many songs were performed across the year that didn't make the album - with this gig alone adding 'You Need A Mess Of Help', 'Only With You', a medley of 'Smile' favourite 'Wonderful' with Ricky and Blondie's pre-Beach Boy song 'Don't Worry Bill' (given an official release, on the 1998 'Endless Harmony' soundtrack CD) and a surprise finale of The Rolling Stones' 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' featuring Mike Love doing a rather passable Mick Jagger impression! The Beach Boys were, primarily, a studio band and always would be but this live line-up was pretty good too and had the ability to handle just about everything from surfing fun to prog rock ([274] 'Leaving This Town'), feisty rockers ([183] 'Darlin') and dreamy ballads ([275] 'Only With You' and [145] 'God Only Knows').
4) Where: Knebworth, Hertfordshire, England When: June 21st 1980 Why: The last appearance of the full 'classic' line-up Setlist: (California Girls/Sloop John B/Darlin'/School Days (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell)/In My Room/Good Timin'/God Only Knows/Be True To Your School/Do It Again/Little Deuce Coupe/Catch A Wave/Cottonfields/Heroes and Villains/Some Of Your Love/Happy Birthday Brian!/Keepin' The Summer Alive/Lady Lynda/Surfer Girl/I Write The Songs/Santa Ana Winds/Help Me Rhonda/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Rock 'n' Roll Music/I Get Around/Surfin' USA/You Are So Beautiful/Good Vibrations/Barbara Ann/Fun Fun Fun)
The grand finale of a rare European tour that played across five different countries in June 1980, this show marked a rare return for Brian to the stage (after a few gigs in 1976) and the last time that he and Dennis would play alongside each other (though Dennis will play a few gigs across the next two years Brian never played at any of them). It's an end of an era this show, with a few surprises like [36] 'Catch A Wave' and [357] 'Santa Ana Winds' thrown in (both, sadly, cut from the resulting live CD in 2002) while the fact that this gig took place the day after Brian's 38th birthday (the crowd sing him 'happy birthday') offers a sense of time passing too. Who knew when The Beach Boys would ever make it back to Britain again? (A 1987 gig at Wembley as it happened, though without Brian!) It's a fun but poignant show, highlighted by Dennis creeping back on stage before the encores 'proper' to rasp out his Billy Preston co-write [359] 'You Are So Beautiful' to his baying fans - the only time he ever sang this song on stage.
5) Where: National Mall, Washington, USA When: July 4th 1985 Why: The Beach Boys' Biggest Audience? Set list: (California Girls/Getcha Back/Sloop John B/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/Do It Again/Little Deuce Coupe/I Get Around/Surfer Girl/God Only Knows/Come Go With Me/Rock 'n' Roll Music/Good Vibrations/Rockin' All Over The World/Lucille/Help Me Rhonda/Surfin' Safari/Surf City/Surfin' USA/Barbara Ann/Fun Fun Fun)
America's band playing free shows on America's (and mine as it happens!) birthday - what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot as it happens: the band first discussed playing an outdoor show at the Washington Monument for July 4th 1983 but Secretary of the Interior James Watt considered the band 'undesirables' and announced to the press - a double blow! - that they'd been replaced by Wayne Newton as their new 'high profile' star (I agree - who he?!) The Beach Boys, showing more loyalty to America than America ever showed to them, tried again in 1984 and it was a big success, thanks to special guests Ringo Starr, The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward and John Lodge and Brian's pals Three Dog Night. This was a fun gig that marked the first time Ringo or The Beach Boys had ever performed 'tribute' song 'Back In The USSR' and the band played to a big crowd that night. However we've chosen the sequel show from 1985 in which the band played to a staggering 750,000 people (not quite the record for the biggest audience but close - and easily the biggest The Beach Boys ever played to if you don't count the TV audience for 'Live Aid'). The band played a slightly scruffy set that mainly stuck to greatest hits, though they did squeeze in some of the only live performances from their eponymous album of 1985. In case you're wondering, they borrowed the arrangement of Status Quo's 'Rockin' All Over The World' after seeing the band play at Live Aid, while Mike Love had already recorded the song on 1981's 'Looking Back With Love' LP. The Little Richard and Jan and Dean cover versions make more sense though none of these ever appeared on album sadly ('Lucille' particularly works better than the band's other limp rock and roll covers). Perhaps this rather daft set is why The Beach Boys weren't invited back again, with the Washington Monument organisers placing a blanket ban on all rock and roll groups from 1986 on! Geez - it's as if they'd read the early 'warts and all' biographies on the band and thought they'd taken drugs or something!


Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs - a tradition The Beach Boys arguably helped kick-start with their 'Party!' album in 1965! Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) And no, we definitely didn't want to choose anything off the wretched official Beach Boys-backing-covers albums 'Stars and Stripes' even if that is by far their most famous covers work (the 2000 album 'Caroline Now', made without the band's - erm - help is much more interesting!)
   1) American Spring "Forever" ('American Spring' 1972)
In case you skipped our entry earlier, 'American Spring' is Brian's wife Marilyn and his sister in law Diane - both sisters' voices were the things that initially attracted Brian to both girls (he had trouble picking which one to marry - poor Diane, or should that be poor Marilyn?!) and they made a few Brian-produced recordings in the 1960s as The Honeys (with cousin Ginger) before reforming in the 'Carl and the Passions' era as a duo when Ginger left (Brian must have longed to 'sack' his cousin too!) Brian produced this sweet cover of brother Dennis' recent song ([243]) and even gets other brother Carl to add some pretty harmonies to make this a real family affair. Dennis surprised many with this sensitive song in 1970 and his brothers always loved it - you can hear Brian's pure joy in the full edit of the album cut on the 'Hawthorne, CA' rarities set (2001) when he's just plain having too much fun to stop! Though less intense than Dennis' original, this more laidback approach really suits the song with Marilyn treating the lyrics with care. The highlight of the LP.
2) Glen Campbell "God Only Knows" ('Southern Nights' 1977)
Glen was once temporarily a Beach Boy and says that this was his favourite Beach Boys song, even though he's wrong in his stage introductions of the era (he never did sing this track with them on stage for the very good reason that Brian hadn't written it yet!) Clearly Glen has more right to mess around with Beach Boys material than most and his OTT syrupy orchestral version is arguably closer in feel to the rest of 'Pet Sounds' than the comparatively sweet 'n' simple version by the band themselves we got on record. He sings the song well though and the slow tempo gives the song a whole new vibe - this is a version full of desperation and longing rather than humility and poise.
3) Katarina Mitchell and Bill Wells "Wind Chimes" ('Caroline Now: The Songs Of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys' 2000)
There are some nice moments on the wittily titled 'Caroline Now' tribute CD including some rare songs that don't get covered very often but this is my favourite: an orchestral full and flowing version of the 'Smile' rarity that's sung with power without sacrificing the sense of peace and tranquillity. Slowed down and performed mostly with just a piano this sounds a little like both the 1966 original and Brian's 21st century re-recording but also has its own 'vibrations', turning one of Brian's most mystical and spiritual songs into pure smoky romance. Like much of the album it's recommended by fans of the 1960s Beach Boys style.

Radio Broadcasts Out On CD:

In recent years there have also been a sudden splurge of sort of semi-official releases all taken from radio broadcasts. Now these are perfectly legal, given that they were first broadcast and the rights were bought to the re-broadcasting of material, although they’re not ‘official’ in the sense that none of The Beach Boys had anything to do with them (indeed, want anything to do with them for the most part). These CDs tend to come in dodgy sound and even dodgier packaging, but they do fill in quite a few valuable collection gaps for many fans so we have included them in our list here, in the approximate order in which they were recorded (the release dates all vary between 2015 and the present day).
First off, a warning: though billed as a compilation of radio broadcasts from 1968-1970 ‘With Me Tonight’ is actually one of many Smile bootlegs doing the rounds. It’s a good one, but most definitely isn’t as advertised on the cover and features unfinished session tapes mostly already out on the ‘Smiles Sessions’ box set. The Beach Boys were so unpopular they did very little radio work in this period.
Taped on June 27th 1971, ‘The Filmore East’ is by far the most interesting set out so far, from the ‘Surf’s Up’ period when The Beach Boys were the support act to several hip and trendy bands (including The Grateful Dead) and under Jack Rieley’s tutelage briefly became hip again. The band only play eleven songs (making this a very short CD) but they play them well with lots of their late 1960s classics (even ‘Heroes and Villains’ is done pretty snazzily) and there’s a one-off performance of Dennis’ [240] ‘It’s About Time’ which sounds fabulous live. The rarity here is a cover of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, which must have thrilled the song’s composer who adored The Beach Boys (Carl sings it well, though even he doesn’t quite understand what the song is all about – admittedly neither do I!)
Recorded on June 14th 1974, ‘Nassau Coliseum’ was a set from The Beach Boys’ ‘missing’ years and features the tail end of the ‘Rick and Blondie’ years. The set list is much as it was on ‘The Beach Boys Concert’ LP (including live oddity ‘We Got Love’) although the performances are much scrappier and show just how many overdubbing sessions went into making that record ‘releasable’. It’s all good stuff though, with Blondie a particularly good extra ‘frontman’ across a whole show. Performances of note include a rare and rather dodgy version of [266] ‘All This Is That’ and a guest appearance by that night’s headline acts Paul Simon (who joins in on ‘Fun Fun Fun’) and Elton John (who sings on ‘Barbara Ann’).
‘Independence Day Party 1981’ follows ‘Knebworth’ by being the ‘other’ Beach Boys show of the 1980s to feature Brian (though not Dennis). He sounds as cowed as you’d expect though, especially as his cousin Mike keeps making digs at how ‘Brian Is Back’. Everyone else is in a celebratory mood though, including the audience and this is a good-natured gig without too many surprises but with surprisingly good performances of all The Beach Boys songs you might expect. The one surprise you do get is Ringo guest-starr-ing on The Beach Boys performance of the fab four’s ‘Back In The USSR’, a song inspired by their own [115] ‘California Girls’.
Four years on and nothing much has changed, with ‘Ringing In The Liberty Bell’ from a show on Independence Day 1985. A million people turned up to see this free afternoon set (with another million more tuning in for another in Philadelphia that evening – the first two-performance gig The Beach Boys had played since the 1960s!), although Brian didn’t. The sound is good, the material ok, the performance less so, although they do reference the ‘Live Aid’ show the band played only a week earlier and even throw in a cover of Status Quo’s ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ for good measure.
I’m not quite sure when ‘Live In The ‘80s’ was recorded (the cover isn’t saying and it’s not as if the band changed their material much in this period!) but it’s not really worth your while buying anyway. The whole band sound drunk and as if they’re playing down a wind tunnel, while nobody in the audience would have guessed that a pre-Eugene Landy would become so strong and healthy before the end of the decade (if not exactly happy). Give this one a miss.

Other Beach Boys related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977)

'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012
Essay: The Beach Boys and The American Dream

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