In mei 1966 reisde Bruce Johnston, 23 jaar, naar Londen.
    Johnston, als Benjamin Baldwin op 27 juni 1942 geboren, raakte op 15 jarige leeftijd in de ban van rock & roll. Van zijn pleegouders had hij een degelijke muzikale opvoeding gekregen. In Californië maakte Bruce muziek met artiesten als Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran en de Everly Brothers. In 1959 was hij betrokken bij de hit ‘Teen Beat’ van drummer Sandy Nelson. In 1960 trad hij op als producer van Ron Holden, die met ‘Love you so’ hoog in de Amerikaanse hitlijsten belandde.
    Bruce raakte bevriend met Terry Melcher, zoon van actrice en zangeres Doris Day, die nogal wat invloed had bij Columbia Records. Voor dat label produceerden ze in 1963 samen de hit ‘Hey Little Cobra’ van de Rip Chords.
 
 
399 1 Bruce Johnston en Terry Melcher
Bruce Johnston (links) en Terry Melcher
 
 
Johnston was actief als sessiegitarist, songwriter, arrangeur en producer. De muziek van de Amerikaanse westkust, surf-muziek, stond hoog in zijn vaandel. Bruce trad als vaste producer in dienst bij Columbia. In 1965 werd hij uitgenodigd om met de Beach Boys mee te doen.
    Tijdens zijn verblijf van enkele dagen in Londen, een vakantietrip maar ook werkbezoek, stond Bruce onder meer diverse journalisten te woord. De teksten van hun artikelen vormen de grondslag van dit artikel.
 
Op Miranda Ward van Hit Pader maakte hij een goede indruk. “He is one of the nicest, politest people I’ve ever met on the pop scene. Bruce, he just knocked me out”. Keith Altham (NME) noemde Bruce ‘an immediately likeable person – the Beach Boys ambassador in tennis shoes’.
 
 
Van Columbia naar de Beach Boys
 
 
In het voorjaar van 1965 was de de telefoon gegaan. Een jaar later vertelde Johnston: “I was producing records at Columbia and Mike Love [van de Beach Boys] called me and said he’d like me to stand in for two weekend concerts because Brian Wilson was sick. He was still sick the next week, so they asked me to do two more”. Eerder hadden ze vergeefs geprobeerd iemand anders te vinden. Het verzoek aan Bruce was een noodgreep.
    Brian Wilson wilde niet steeds op pad zijn met de groep. Optreden, songs schrijven, arrangeren en produceren, het werd te veel voor hem. Hij gaf er de voorkeur aan thuis te blijven. De andere jongens moesten maar iemand zien te vinden om zijn plaats in te nemen.
    Johnston besefte dat het menens was. “I’d never been on the road before in my whole life and I didn’t know how to play bass guitar. So I locked myself in my hotel room for two weeks in Miami, Florida, and I taught myself all the songs. I taught myself how to smile, how to relax, how to bounce around. It was like talking four or five languages at once”.
 
Bruce werd door de fans niet met gejuich begroet. Veel Beach Boys aanhangers vonden dat de groep niet compleet was zonder Brian Wilson.
    Johnston: “I was scared. On the first night I appeared on stage the kids started yelling out, ‘Where’s Brian?’ and I thought, oh baby, they’re going to stone me!”
    Het was sowieso wennen om in een van Amerika’s topgroepen het podium op te gaan. “Audience reaction to the Beach Boys really overwhelmed me at first. My ears rang for two weeks afterwards”.
   
 
399 2 Beach Boys met Brian Wilson 1963
Beach Boys met Brian Wilson (links) in 1963
 
 
Het thuis blijven van Brian had volgens hem goed uitgepakt voor de platen van de Beach Boys. “I think our records have improved almost 100 per cent in the last year, mainly due to Brian being able to concentrate on records without being involved in the exhausting business of personal appearances. He has written every number on our new LP [‘Pet Sounds’]. It’s the best we have ever done”.
 
 
Beach Boys-organisatie
 
 
Johnston was inmiddels vast lid van de Beach Boys geworden. “I became a Beach Boy” gaf hij aan.
    In Londen, in het Waldorf hotel, legde Bruce uit hoe de groep in elkaar zat. “I’ve come to realise the real Beach Boy set-up. Each Beach Boy has his own function. Brian is the leader”. Daar was niet de minste twijfel over. “A group should have a record producer who’s as good musically or better than the group”.
    Over de aanpak van de leider zei Bruce: “One thing I’ve learnt about the Beach Boys is that Brian works in such a way as to compress everything. Everything is written with mono recordings in mind. Consequently our best results are always on the mono LPs and never stereo. If you want to buy stereo LPs, my advice is to get the Roy Orbison albums of his greatest hits. That is stereo at its very best”.
    Voor wie nog twijfelde verklaarde Bruce: “The Beach Boys are as successful as they are because of Brian Wilson”.
 
Over de andere Beach Boys zei hij: “Mike Love is the money negotiator. Carl Wilson is the sit-back-and-observe man. He relaxes everybody. Al Jardine’s great and is like the guy next door, a real homebody. And Dennis Wilson is crazy and alive. He has a real talent for living”.
    Met geld werd volgens hem zorgvuldig omgesprongen. “Every investment is done as a group. They own some property. When the money is in as a whole, it’s very big. It’s okay until one of them says they want to take four hundred thousand dollars out right away.
   Mike Love does all the bookings, so that earns more money. And production from the records goes to Brian and right into the group, so it all ends up within the group”.
   In een van de Britse popkranten kon je lezen: “Bruce is part of that million-dollar organisation – that institution of American music, the Beach Boys”.
 
Een van de popjournalisten, met wie Bruce sprak, tekende op: “Every time the Beach Boys do a tour in America, their expenses top one hundred thousand dollars. First class flights, tie and tails hotels and an endless stream of limousines jack up the total hourly.
   There are five in the group, a road manager, an advance man, usually one or two people from the agency and Brian’s mother likes to come along. She’s quite hip. Not super hip, she knows what’s going on”.
   Zo te lezen werd er weinig aan het toeval overgelaten.
 
 
Werkbezoek in de stijl van George Harrison
 
 
Penny Valentine van Disc vroeg Bruce welke rol hij op dat moment speelde in de groep. En waarom hij in Londen was opgedoken.
   De Amerikaan vergeleek zichzelf met George Harrison. “My function in the group? Well let’s just say I’m here.
   This isn’t a Beach Boy-backed trip. This is my five-day holiday. But I’ve come here to work out the scene. So that I can go back and report what everyone is like and how we ought to approach Britain.
   Really just in the same way that George Harrison came out to America before the Beatles arrived, to see what it was all about”.
 
In New Musical Express schreef Keith Altham: “The main objective of Bruce’s present trip is to see and meet some of the people in our recording world so that he can feel more at home when the Beach Boys return here in September”.
   De Britse Beatles waren anno 1964 in Amerika doorgebroken door hun optreden in de Ed Sullivan tv-show.
   In het vroege najaar wilden de Amerikaanse Beach Boys in Groot-Brittannië helemaal doorstoten door middel van concerten. Alleen hits maken was niet genoeg. Ze hadden al eens in de top tien gestaan met ‘I get around’ (1964) en ‘Barbara Ann’ (begin 1966). Op 20 mei, tijdens zijn verblijf in Engeland steeg ‘Barbara Ann’ van 3 naar 2 in de Engelse top 10 van New Musical Express.
   Maar Beach Boys albums vond je vrijwel niet in de Britse bestseller-lijsten. In Amerika was dat anders. Recente elpees als ‘All summer long’, ‘Christmas album’, ‘Beach Boys Today’, ‘Summer days’ en ‘Beach Boys Party’ bereikten continu de hoogste regionen in de Billboard hitlijst.
   De Beach Boys zouden naar Engeland reizen, zo lijkt, om (onder andere door middel van concerten) meer aandacht te vragen voor hun albums, met name de nieuwe elpee ‘Pet Sounds’. Johnston was vooruit gegaan, of gestuurd, om te onderzoeken hoe dat het beste aangepakt kon worden.
 
 
Pet Sounds
 
 
Uit de woorden van Johnston kon je opmaken dat de Beach Boys en platenmaatschappij Capitol Records, gevestigd in Los Angeles, niet helemaal op dezelfde golflengte zaten.
   Richard Green van Record Mirror: “Bruce and I started talking about the Beach Boys’ fantastic recordings. There can’t be anyone left who doesn’t rave about at least three Beach Boys numbers. The list of their hits goes on and on and the quality of their work is eight miles high (if certain American States will excuse the use of that phrase).
   ‘Capitol said they wanted a party album, that’s why we did that one’, Bruce pointed out. ‘It was all their idea. ‘Beach Boys Today’ was released in America in March last year”.
   Maar nu maakte de groep andere muziek, of de mensen bij de platenmaatschappij dat nou leuk vonden of niet. “I hope they put ‘Pet Sounds’ out soon and don’t hold it up. I’ll have to talk to the guy at EMI [in Londen] about that.
   We’ve got a backlog of LPs at the moment. Some of them were made in 1958. That’s not the sort of thing to put out”.
   Aan het nieuwe album was veel aandacht besteed. “We spend about fifteen hours recording, five days a week”.
 
 
399 3 Pet Sounds

 
Johnston had een proefpersing van ‘Pet Sounds’ bij zich in Londen. Door die te laten horen probeerde hij belangstelling te wekken.
   Keith Altham: “Bruce played me a copy of the album while I was with him. Tracks like ‘God Only Knows’, ‘I’m Waiting For The Day’, ‘You Still Believe In Me’ and ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ are nothing short of sensational!
   ‘We have a theory that, the Beatles and ourselves are two different ends of a creative line’, said Bruce. ‘What the Beatles do with ‘Norwegian Wood’ and beautiful simplicity we try to do from the other end of the line with complex arrangements and intricate recording.
   Not that I think the group is another Beatles’, hastened Bruce. ‘But this year looks like we are getting a second bite at the cherry. We’ve finally shaken off the image of ‘hotrods’ and ‘surfboards’ and seem to be on our way to a break in Europe’”.
   Met ‘Pet Sounds’ hadden de Beach Boys volgens Johnston met het surf- en party-verleden gebroken. Hun muziek had een serieuzer en complexer karakter gekregen.
 
 
Contacten in de Engelse popscene
 
 
Johnston besefte dat het goed zou zijn om ‘Pet Sounds’ niet alleen aan iemand van de Engelse platenmaatschappij te laten horen of aan popjournalisten. Hij was zo overtuigd van de kwaliteit van ‘Pet Sounds’ dat iedereen in het wereldje welkom was in het hotel, waar hij logeerde.
   Bruce had hulp in Londen. Niemand minder dan Andrew Oldham, manager van de Rolling Stones, was een zakenpartner. Andrew had de publishing-rechten van de eigen songs van de groep, dus ook die op het nieuwe album.
   Oldham deed zijn zegje: “I think that ‘Pet Sounds’ is the most progressive album of the year in as much as Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherezade’ was. It is the pop equivalent of that.
   A complete exercise in pop technique. Personally I consider it to be a fantastic album. The lyrics are tremendous. The way Wilson has suited them to the songs is outstanding. I see pop music as a form of escapism, and ‘Pet Sounds’ is a great example of escapism”.
 
 
399 4 Oldham StonesAndrew Loog Oldham (tweede van links) en de Rolling Stones
 
 
Contacten werden op het hoogste niveau gelegd. “Bruce had been transported down to Romford with Keith Moon of the Who and Kim Fowley of ‘Alley Oop’ fame. He had gone to watch Tony Rivers and the Castaways and ended up sitting in at the one nighter. Later he had done a detailed round up of all the clubs and met the Animals”.
   Altham: “On the agenda for Bruce this week is a meeting with Beatle George Harrison so that Bruce can play him their new LP. ‘I’m hoping to meet the Beatles one at a time’, said Bruce. ‘I think if it was all four together I’d just get hung up’”.
 
Later schreef Miranda Ward: “One evening during the week Bruce was here, Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney turned up at his hotel to meet him. They sat down to discuss the music scene.
   He also lunched with Dave Clark; dined with Marianne Faithful and her husband John Dunbar. He was shown around the London club scene by Keith Moon, the drummer of the Who. During the week he met the Hollies; Stones; Swinging Blue Jeans; Kinks; Moody Blues; Paul & Barry Ryan - the list is endless!”
   Miranda: “He could report to the rest of the Beach Boys”.
 
 
‘Pet Sounds’ – gesprek van de dag
 
 
‘Pet Sounds’ was in Londen het gesprek van de dag in de vroege zomer van 1966. Iedereen had er een mening over, goed of slecht.
   “The record’s impact on artists and the men behind the artists, has been considerable. The lengthy planned orchestration, and finicky recording could set new standards altogether in Britain. The amount of time and thought Brian Wilson put into ‘Pet Sounds’ was endless - and such exhaustive planning and musical mathematics might start a few lively brains ticking on this side of the Atlantic”, was in Melody Maker te lezen.
 
De redactie liet een aantal popmuzikanten aan het woord.
   Eric Clapton (Cream): “All of us, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and I, are absolutely and completely knocked out with ‘Pet Sounds’. I consider it to be one of the greatest pop LPs to ever be released. It encompasses everything that’s ever knocked me out, and rolled it all into one. We’re all gassed by it. Brian Wilson is without doubt, a pop genius”.
   Keith Moon,: “I think ‘Pet Sounds’ illustrates the way one man’s mind works - that of Brian Wilson. There’s nothing revolutionary in the album. Perhaps the only revolution is in the group itself - the way they’ve changed with the album. They are not so much a vocal group these days. Vocals, as such, have almost disappeared with this album”.
   Michael d’Abo (zanger in de groep van Manfred Mann): “Basically I admire the ingenuity of the LP but it’s not as revolutionary as people say. They’ve done a lot of unusual things, but there are one or two weak tracks. Not quite the rave people have made it out to be. It’s a sort of Brian Wilson experimental combo. For me it’s not the same Beach Boys. They had more appeal as a group as they were before”.
   Scott Walker: “I don’t think it’s revolutionary. I didn’t even like it as much as the other Beach Boys albums”.
   Tony Rivers, The Castaways: “I think it’s a revolution - in record production. We’ve been playing Beach Boys songs for years, but ‘Pet Sounds’ is a complete break, and change of style. Bruce Johnston, the sixth Beach Boy, played it to us first, and we couldn’t work it out. Not until we took the record home and lived with it for a while did we begin to understand it. It’s revolutionary in that Brian Wilson thinks out the song and then does the arranging, recording, and even the singing if the others aren’t available”.
   Spencer Davis: “It’s fantastic. I’ve just bought it and finished playing it. ‘God Only Knows’ is the most fantastic track on the album. Brian Wilson is a great record producer. I haven’t spent much time listening to the Beach Boys before, but I’m a fan now and I just want to listen to this LP again and again. Thirteen of the tracks are originals - which can’t be bad”.
   Evenals Andrew Loog Oldham hoorde Cat Stevens iets van klassieke muziek in de nieuwe aanpak van de Beach Boys, speciaal bij ‘Good Vibrations’. “I love the perfect clarity at the beginning. I was wondering how they were going to fit ‘good vibrations’ into the song. It’s a great idea the way they’ve done it. A very big hit - if not a number one. Who’s singing? Brian Wilson? He seems to take in a lot of his ideas from classical music”.
 
 
399 5 Cat Stevens

 
Concerten in november 1966
 
 
In het najaar reisden de Beach Boys naar Europa. Popkrant Kink meldde dat ze Nederland niet aandeden omdat Paul Acket hun gage te hoog vond. Duitsland, waar de Beatles in juni hadden opgetreden, stond wel op het programma.  
   Popjournalist Keith Altham was erbij toen de Beach Boys in Londen landden. In de kop van zijn verslag sprak hij over hun ‘sensational visit’. Zo’n duizend fans wachtten de groep op. Vooral drummer Dennis Wilson had het hard te verduren.
   “A scream like several hundred Apache squaws in search of a scalp broke the air and a woman bearing a passing resemblance to Johnny Weismuller engaged Dennis and attempted a step-over toe hold on his left leg while a smaller mortal clung barnacle-like to his right leg.
   This hampered his movements somewhat but it was not for nothing he was champion youth-wrestler of California and with a supreme effort we made the inside of the Austin Princess limousine.
   Our successful arrival in the car was somewhat marred by the fact that Dennis discovered he still had the young lady in charge of his right leg. We attempted to eject her through the car door – through which another 500 fans tried to squeeze and an obliging policeman entered into the spirit of the thing by trying to push her back. As the car moved forward we discovered her reluctance to leave us had something to do with the door being jammed on her leg”.
   Mike Love, zanger en zakenman, hield het hoofd koel. “He took the opportunity to talk with their music publishers, Andrew Oldham and Tony Calder”.
   Een filmpje, gemaakt tijdens de aankomst van de groep, werd op de Nederlandse tv uitgezonden.
 
 
399 6 Beach Boys in Londen 1966
Beach Boys in Londen (1966)
 
 
Door alle publiciteit was er zo’n overweldigende belangstelling dat er een extra concert georganiseerd was. New Musical Express meldde de aanwezigheid van coryfeeën als Spencer Davis, de Shadows en Brian Epstein, manager van de Beatles. Opnieuw trok Dennis Wilson de meeste aandacht. In Melody Maker sprak Chris Welch over ‘two superb shows by the number one American group’.
   “Any doubts about the Beach Boys ability on stage were completely dispelled and all those who have said ‘the Beach Boys are no good live, only on record’ had better keep quiet from now on.
   They CAN sing, and they CAN play all that is needed to create the overall joyful sunshine sound of California.
   Clad in blue and white striped shirts and white trousers, they stood calmly on stage with little need for over-energetic movements to invoke an electric response from the sell-out audience. And what a weird response!
   When Dennis, Carl, Mike, Alan, and Bruce came, the atmosphere snapped and intense excitement and expectation swept through the theatre.
   But as a jet of screams blew up as the curtain rose on the Beach Boys in darkness playing ‘Help Me Rhonda’, it switched off as if by automation while the fans strained to hear every note. Mike Love paid tribute to the audience later and said: ‘It’s so nice to play to people who actually listen’. And there was a lot to listen to – ‘I Get Around’, ‘You’re So Good To Me’, ‘California Girls’, ‘Sloop John B’, and the fabulous ‘Graduation Day’, with its unaccompanied vocal passages of glorious harmony.
   Carl Wilson sang the most difficult song in the book, ‘God Only Knows’ with simple sincerity, followed by ‘Good Vibrations’ which had some way-out noises added by Mike Love’s theremin, a new electronic instrument.
   The audience erupted into demands for more, and as the group obliged with ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, girls and boys rushed the stage”.
 
In de week van 18 november 1966 steeg ‘Good Vibrations ‘naar de bovenste plaats in de NME-hitlijst. In de elpee top tien van de Britse popkrant vonden we zowel ‘Pet Sounds’ als ‘Best of the Beach Boys’.
   De voorbereiding van Bruce Johnston had goed uitgewerkt. De Beach Boys hadden Engeland veroverd.
 
 
399 7 NME 18 11 1966New Musical Express, 8 november 1966
 
 
Brian Wilson in Californië
 
 
Brian Wilson was er niet bij in London. In Los Angeles was hij druk aan het werk in de studio, meldde Tracy Thomas. “While the Beach Boys are rocking Europe, BB-mastermind Brian Wilson, has not been resting on his and their laurels!
   This week Brian’s working on the next Beach Boys’ single, another adventure in pop music called ‘Heroes And Villains’, which will be, as the BB boss describes it, ‘a three-minute musical comedy. I’m using some new production techniques that I think will surprise everyone. I can’t actually describe the effect - you have to hear it’.
   Brian’s also working simultaneously on the next BB album, now entitled ‘Smile’.
   ‘This LP will include ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Heroes And Villains’ and ten other tracks’, says Brian. ‘I've written them all in collaboration with Van Dyke Parks, who’s been a studio organist in Los Angeles for ages’”.
   Wilson besefte nog niet dat Capitol Records in Amerika een veto uitsprak over de nieuwe aanpak van Brian Wilson en de Beach Boys. Het zou nog tientallen jaren duren voor ‘Smile’ in 2011 op de muziekmarkt verscheen.
 
Brian bleef goed op de hoogte van wat zich in Engeland afspeelde. “Carl and Dennis usually call Annie and Carol each day, and Mike and Al will call, say, every other day.
   To tell you the truth, we were all worried about their reception. Especially since the records that have been such big hits in Europe have been the ones that are the most difficult to reproduce on stage.
   But I understand that the audiences are taking this into account and find the boys voices make up for the lack of violins and French horns. They are about the best harmonisers around, if I do say so!’”
 
Het leek erop dat de Beach Boys door ‘Pet Sounds’ en hun optredens hun Britse collega’s, de Beatles, aan het voorbijstreven waren.
   In een land als Japan waren de Amerikanen al aan de top gekomen volgens Bruce Johnston. “The Ventures were bigger than us in Japan, but now we’ve overtaken them”.
   In Groot-Brittannië, het thuisland van de Beatles, kwamen de Beach Boys aan het eind van 1966 zelfs aan de top in de poll van Record Mirror. De Beatles zakten terug naar 2, maar nog vóór de Walker Brothers, Small Faces en Rolling Stones. “Popping the Beatles is no mean feat”, concludeerde redacteur Peter Jones.
   Volgens de Nederlandse popkrant Kink was Engeland door deze ontwikkeling in rep en roer geraakt. “Het beatkiezersvolk heeft de Beach Boys als ’s werelds beste groep gekozen. Parlementsleden werden overstroomd met  brieven ‘er iets aan te doen’. Brian Epstein kreeg een kleine nerveuze breakdown”…
 
 
399 8 Brian Wilson met de andere Beach Boys
Brian Wilson met andere Beach Boys
 
 
Harry Knipschild
15 juli 2020
 
Clips
 
* Sandy Nelson, Teenbeat, 1959
* Ron Holden, Love you so, 1960
* Rip Chords, Hey Little Cobra, 1964
Beach Boys, Good Vibrations, 1966
* Beach Boys, God Only Knows, 1966
* Beach Boys in Engeland, 1966
 
Literatuur
 
Keith Altham, ‘The Beach Boys. Complex and intricate’, New Musical Express, 20 mei 1966
Penny Valentine, ‘Beach Boy in town. Cool, so cool’, Disc and Music Echo, 28 mei 1966
Richard Green, ‘Bruce Johnston’, Record Mirror, 28 mei 1966
‘The Beach Boys. Verdict on ‘Pet Sounds’’, Melody Maker, 30 juli 1966
Keith Altham, ‘Rolling Stone Oldham: Talented, insulting, outrageous’, New Musical Express, 5 augustus 1966
Miranda Ward, ‘Hitparader’s letter from London’, Hitparader, oktober 1966
‘Acket vindt Beach Boys te duur’, Kink, 29 oktober 1966
‘Cat Stevens, Blind Date’, Melody Maker, 29 oktober 1966
Keith Altham, ‘Beach Boys sensational visit’, New Musical Express, 11 november 1966
‘The Beach Boys: Finsbury Park Astoria, London’, New Musical Express, 11 november 1966
Chris Welch, ‘The Beach Boys: Finsbury Park Astoria, London’, Melody Maker, 12 november 1966
Tracy Thomas, ‘What’s Brian doing back at base?’, New Musical Express, 18 november 1966
Polluitslagen in Record Mirror, 18 november 1966
‘Toch nieuwe Beatles plaat’, Kink, 26 november 1966