In a few short hours, Al Jardine will take the stage with longtime friend and bandmate Brian Wilson for opening night of the Something Great From ’68 Tour in Las Vegas.
For now, though, he’s sharing his thoughts on his personal contribution to the greatness of that banner year for rock and roll, an unassuming masterpiece called “Friends” that Wilson has been known to call his favorite thing the Beach Boys ever did.
“It was one of our last albums on Capitol Records,” Jardine says. “We were basically looking to change our direction at that time. So we gathered around the piano — like friends would do, you know — and we just started writing new music.”
That new music would become the Beach Boys’ 14th studio release in a six-year whirlwind of timeless hits and classic albums, recorded at Wilson’s home with a more lo-fi aesthetic than their previous releases.
To Jardine’s ears, “It’s like a home movie — you know, where you take your own film and you develop it. It’s kind of crude and rough around the edges but perfect inside.”
Wilson isn’t feeling quite so talkative.
“I just recall it took us quite a long time to do it,” he says of the sessions for “Friends.” “It took about two months.”
Asked what it is about “Friends” that makes the album so special to him, Wilson answers, “Well, it has a very lot of mellow sounds in it.”
Does it speak to him lyrically?
“Yeah, the lyrics are very well done,” he says.
Although it would become the Beach Boys’ lowest-charting album to that point, “Friends” has grown in estimation through the years to where it’s now routinely ranked among the Beach Boys’ finest hours.
In including the album as part of “The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion,” U.K. rock mag Mojo noted, “‘Friends’ is a uniquely rewarding Beach Boys album that, excepting ‘Pet Sounds,’ is the group’s most sonically and thematically unified. Its 26 weightless minutes make up possibly the sweetest album ever to be filed under rock.”
There is a very peaceful quality to “Friends.” But Jardine says it’s nothing they were striving to achieve.
“We weren’t striving for anything,” he says. “We were establishing a new direction, just trying things out and drawing from our personal experiences. So it has more of a domestic tone, whatever that means. A ‘from our household to yours’ kind of thing. It’s very convivial, you know.”
Asked if working on the album helped him find his own peace in a way, Wilson’s mood seems to brighten.
“Yeah, it did,” he replies. “Very much so. Yeah.”
To Jardine, the album signified “a new beginning of sorts” for the Beach Boys. “And then we began an entire new adventure after that and went on to produce a lot of — boy, a lot of good music in the ’70s.”
Did it bother him in 1968 to see the album fail the find the audience it warranted?
“It didn’t matter,” he says, with a laugh. “It never did matter, really. Maybe very early on. But we were lucky enough to enjoy being able to work free from the stress of having to make it. We were just having fun, showing up every day at the studio and coming in with different kinds of material, experimenting a little. We were still touring a lot and doing the hits, of course, on tour but creating a whole new direction in the studio.”
The music enjoys a second life
Jardine is clearly enjoying the album’s second lease on life.
“It’s like a little home movie that got onto the big screen,” he says. “It’s a lot like ‘Smile.’ It took a while for it to matriculate. And wow, man, did it ever. Some stuff, it’s just a little bit before its time, you know? And if you’re lucky enough to still be around, you can revisit those projects you did and perform them. A lot of bands, they fall apart and go their separate ways. But we’re lucky enough — Brian and I anyway — to dive into the esoterica.”
This time around, that esoterica includes a second Beach Boys album, “Surf’s Up,” although they won’t be doing full performances of either one the way they’ve done with “Smile” and “Pet Sounds.”
As to how the songs were chosen, Jardine says, “We have some very innovative arrangers in the band that choose the material. Brian and I are more or less observers, in a way. We’re there reflecting on what we did. And I think they’ve chosen some really brilliant arrangements that I never would have selected — a couple of instrumentals that are really amazing. This band is very creative. They’re dedicated to every note that was ever performed.”
Jardine laughs, then says, “I should say they’re overqualified, let’s put it that way, for the job. They kind of take you to a whole ‘nother level because we were just having fun, you know? And a lot of people took it very much to heart and very seriously. They really revere this album. And it’s probably not one of the more well-known of our productions, you know.”
The Beach Boys music is quite frequently deceptively complex, which makes it even more impressive that this touring band has mastered what they captured in the studio.
“You know, playing that stuff is really hard sometimes,” Jardine says. “Brian has the weirdest time signatures and it’s just … it’s a challenge. He was having a lot of fun with time signatures meaning the number of beats in a certain measure. It’s like taking an algebra test, you know? These songs sound really simple. But they’re actually very elaborate. It’s like a cloaking device is on the songs that makes it sound simple.”
So did dusting off these albums on the road mean Jardine had to go back and relisten to prepare?
“No,” he replies, with a laugh. “I mean, I should have but I didn’t. The guys will probably laugh when they hear that because I’m like, ‘We already know it all.’ And then it’s 50 years later and you go, ‘Hmm, I guess we should have listened.’”
And with that, as he does often, Jardine lets loose with a hearty laugh.
Wilson says he did go back and listen to the albums. And what did he think of that experience?
“Well, it’s quite a thrill,” he says.
What songs they’re doing on tour
In addition to revisiting those songs from “Friends” and “Surf’s Up,” Wilson and his bandmates are delivering the hits that made the Beach Boys such a huge phenomenon. On the first two nights of the tour, for example, they set the tone with “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “God Only Knows” and “Darlin'” before doing a deep dive into “Friends.”
“I mean, this is not all about that one album,” Jardine says. “It’s a piece of the album. We’re still opening and closing with some of the big ones, so people won’t be disappointed.”
The focus on “Friends” is a matter of marketing, really. This is called the Something Great From ’68 Tour, after all, a reference to the fact that for the first time ever, Wilson and his bandmates are sharing a bill with the Zombies, whose finest hour, “Odessey and Oracle,” came out in 1968.
“Oh, it was groundbreaking,” Jardine says of the Zombies album. “Those wonderful voices. They just have an absolutely pure tone, kind of like our ‘Pet Sounds’ project. In fact, we would have toured ‘Pet Sounds’ with ‘Oracle’ a couple years back, but it didn’t pan out for some reason. That would have been a pretty cool presentation.”
As to why they skipped over the albums that immediately followed “Friends” — “20/20” and “Sunflower” — to get to “Surf’s Up,” Jardine says, “I honestly can’t answer that. I had the same question. It was never satisfactorily answered. But if we do this again next year, then we will do ‘Sunflower’ and possibly ‘20/20’ because our musical arranger Darian Sahanaja noted to me at practice last night that ‘Sunflower’ will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year and ’20/20′ will be whatever it is. It’s the 50th for that one too, I guess. Of course it can’t be on the same year, can it? I’m not sure how it works. But anyway ’20/20′ can be revisited in 2020 right? We’ll have free concerts for all the optometrists. That would be a funny promotion.”
It’s pointed out that “Surf’s Up” has a bit of darker vibe than “Friends.”
“It is dark,” Jardine replies, with a laugh. “I know it is. I’m kind of sweating bullets over that. Because it’s really deep. I mean ”Til I Die?’ That song is so impactful. ‘I’m a cork on the ocean, floating over the raging sea.’ I look at Brian and kind wince a little bit because when he wrote it, it was such a personal thing. What must he think about it now? And when I mention it to him on stage, because we stand there next to each other all the time, he deflects it. He’ll say ‘Hey, how’s your wife?’ or ‘Next song.’ It’s got to be highly personal and moving and we’re at an age where most rock bands are retired or maybe not even around anymore.”
Another song they’re doing from the “Surf’s Up” album is Jardine’s song, “Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song).”
“It’s like a little folk song on the album,” he says. “But now it’s a pretty big arrangement. That one’s got some serious glitter on it now. It’s more polished, let’s put it that way. But it’s very strong. And the message is great. It’s about being positive and not giving up hope. Just keep keep looking down the road until you find something that fits your abilities It’s kind of neat. And it’s tough to pull off. Man, these are really little mini masterpieces that the band does beautifully. I mean, they’re really the best musicians I’ve ever worked with.”
They’ll also do “Long Promised Road” from “Surf’s Up” with another former Beach Boy, Blondie Chaplin, singing lead.
“That’s a really nice positive piece of music,” Jardine says. “So that balances out the heavy stuff.”
As for Chaplin, Jardine sums up the appeal of having him on board with, “He’s our personality. He gets out there and shakes it up, man. Yeah, he does. He’s like our cheerleader.”
Looking back at (Mike) Love
While Wilson is touring with Chaplin and Jardine, his cousin Mike Love is still touring as the Beach Boys with Bruce Johnston as the only other holdout from the hit years, having joined the fold in 1965.
Wilson’s brother Dennis died in 1983 when the drummer dove off a slip at Marina Del Rey after drinking all day. His other brother, Carl, was diagnosed in 1997 with brain and lung cancer. A Beach Boy to the end, he spent his final summer on the road, requiring oxygen between songs, and died in February 1998.
It could be argued at this point that no one has worked more closely with Wilson for a longer span of time than Jardine.
Asked if he has any thoughts on what the key to that relationship surviving all these years might be, Jardine, “The music. You know, and we grew up together. So it’s just purely second nature, really.”
It’s pointed out that Wilson and Love, with whom he’s enjoyed a far more contentious relationship, also grew up together.
“Yes, they did,” Jardine says, with a laugh. “It’s really hard to imagine, isn’t it? The two families being so different. The Wilsons and the Loves. They’re like the Hatfields and McCoys, you know? It’s a whole different vibe there.”
The two camps somehow set aside their differences to reconvene in 2011 to honor their 50th anniversary with a tour and album, reuniting Wilson, Jardine, Love and Johnston with guitarist David Marks, whose original stint in the Beach Boys was less than two years but included the recording of the first four albums.
The Beach Boys’ Mike Love and Bruce Johnston look back fondly on the first concerts they attended, with Johnston super-excited about his “so cool” experience. (June 25) AP
Asked if he thinks we’ll ever see another proper Beach Boys tour, Jardine says, “Yeah, I think it is possible. As long as we keep our health intact. There’s no reason why not. Some stuff is on the horizon. I really can’t speak about it. But there are there are things that could change so that we could all be a unit. I think that would be very healthy. And very illuminating, you know. It’s always good to have the nucleus together. The nuclear family. Would that be the right word?”
Jardine laughs, then says, “It sounds good, though. The nuclear family. That sounds pretty deep. But yeah, we’re all out there in our own orbits right now. But the music is so powerful, it’s quite a trip really when I think about it, because Brian’s amazing. Gosh, he was just blessed with this vision, I guess you could call it, this musical vision. And so we’re all part of it. And I don’t see why we couldn’t all do it one more time. But the voices have to be strong. And they still are actually. So that helps that we can still sing. Unless it’s early in the morning. Those high notes are getting rough. Thank God these shows are in the evening.”
As to how Wilson is doing these days, Jardine says, “He’s up and down, you know? Some days he’s on top of the world. I’d say he’s in the middle of recovery. He had a really bad situation with an infection during the last part of last year and it just knocked him over. I believe now strength is getting better. I see him getting up and down and walking. So I mean, he wasn’t doing that last year. Albeit he still needs the walker, but that’s for the safety because you never know with lines and cables. You don’t know what you’re going to find on stage. But his strength is returning and I think his singing will return as well.”
Al Jardine’s Arizona connections
As a former Scottsdale resident whose wife has family here, Jardine is looking forward to the third stop on the tour at Comerica Theatre.
“My wife, Mary Ann Jardine, is from Scottsdale,” he says. “So it’s gonna be a lot of fun. We lived up on 84th Street and Pinnacle Peak from ’84 to I don’t know, ’90 or something like that. And it was great. I love that area and look forward to coming back someday. Mary Ann would love that.”
Jardine’s son, Matthew, who handles almost all the high notes in the Brian Wilson Band, is also kind of local.
“He’s from Flagstaff,” Jardine says. “So he gets a double bonus. He gets to play and go home and have family come back down to Phoenix, and do a little vacationing while we’re here. So it works out for everybody. And, you know, he’s quite the gift. When he was growing up, he toured with the Beach Boys Band in the ’80s and ’90s. And he was very integral in that band as well. So naturally, when the Brian Wilson band developed, it was only a matter of time before he was asked to come sing those high parts. And he’s singing a couple of leads on this one, too. So he’s got a lot of a lot of future ahead of him.”
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When: 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6.
Where: Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
Admission: $49.50 and up.
Details: 800-745-3000, livenation.com.
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