#180 – Sloop John B by The Beach Boys
– Here’s something I’ve mulled over in my Classic Rocker mind the past few decades. I’ve been to four Beach Boys concerts and have seen a different lineup of the core five members each time.
Let me explain that better…
The Beach Boys were the three Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis and Carl, their cousin Mike Love and Brian’s high school football buddy Al Jardine. And yeah, I know Wilson neighbor David Marks is considered an original member and played on their early albums, but by the time the band was releasing hit singles competing with The Beatles and other British Invasion groups on the pop charts, Marks had left. Also Bruce Johnston came on in 1965 to take Brian’s place in live performances and has been with the band longer than Ronnie Wood has been with The Rolling Stones.
But the first-mentioned five are the only Beach Boys inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So we’ll use them as the core lineup.
Now after that brief diversion, let me get back to my explanation…
The Beach Boys are one of the few major U.S. hit-makers outside of Motown that I remember paying attention to during The British Invasion that started with The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Because of finances as a preteen making only a few bucks every week working in the family business and mowing lawns, I had to be selective in my record purchases. Any new release by The Beatles was worth the bike ride to my local record store. Otherwise a song would need to really grab me to dig into my reserves and make a purchase.
The Beach Boys scored more than a few of those. I don’t need to list the classics since I’m assuming you’ll know them all anyway. But I’m proud to say I pretty much wore down my 45 rpm vinyl singles of I Get Around and California Girls, just to name two.
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But somewhere after the release of their classic album Pet Sounds and The Summer of Love in 1967 when Sgt. Pepper and the psychedelic music craze changed everything from pop to rock, The Beach Boys seemed to disappear. I don’t remember them making the transformation – for lack of a better term. It may have had something to do with their follow-up LP Smile not being released, but I’ll go ahead and take the blame for not paying closer attention. We were getting more into albums, so when the singles Heroes And Villains came out in 1967 and Friends the next year, I didn’t discover them until the early 1970’s.
And speaking of the ’70s…
I had a personal transformation during the summer of 1971 when I watched a television special called Good Vibrations From Central Park that featured The Beach Boys. Honestly, I didn’t even know they were still together. But the real shock was how they looked. They had somehow morphed into the Woodstock Generation by ditching the surf band striped shirts and white slacks for hippie bellbottoms, long hair and beards.
They played hits including Good Vibrations, but also a completely unexpected version of Okie From Muskogee. It was a cornball country novelty song as far as I was concerned (sorry Merle Haggard), but somehow The Beach Boys sounded and looked cool doing it. They also had a crowd of New York City hippies in Central Park singing along.
Their comeback became official later that year when they were on the cover of Rolling Stone and released the LP Surf’s Up, which I consider a classic and one of my favorites. I was back to being a fan.
So what about the core lineups? Okay…
I grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio and can only guess I was home from college for Thanksgiving Break when I took my girlfriend to see the reinvented Beach Boys at Cleveland Music Hall on November 20, 1971. It was a smaller venue with great acoustics compared to the larger Public Auditorium next door and the band, with a horn section sounded great.
Of course Surf’s Up was featured, along with the hits.
In the smaller venue there was more interplay between the band and audience. I remember some guy yelled out, “Where’s Dennis?!” Carl answered back, saying Dennis had hurt his hand and not with them. And since Brian had stopped performing, that concert only included core members Carl, Mike and Al.
A memory from that show includes Al Jardine’s guitar strap breaking and his acoustic guitar dropping onto the stage. As the exasperated father yelled on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell LP:
“That’s no way to treat an expensive instrument!”
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Five months later on April 28th The Boys were back in the Cleveland area at John Carroll University. I can only guess I was on spring break from college and my girlfriend had dumped me, because I was there with two of my best friends. Dennis made it to this one and joined the core lineup with Carl, Mike and Al.
Since this was a college show it was a younger and more rambunctious crowd and there was a rush to get closer to the stage. Of course we were part of this music madness. Our pal Tim must have had some open running room in front of him and picked up enough speed that by the time he reached the stage the security guys grabbed him and kept his momentum continuing through the exit door. Locked out, he spent the end of the concert in the parking lot waiting for us.
I finished the concert close enough to be part of a small group that Mike Love allowed on stage to help sing the chorus of Barbara Ann. And yeah, it was very cool.
My third concert included the entire core when Brian performed with the group in New York’s Central Park on September 1, 1977. I had only moved to the city a few months before and have an almost positive memory of going to the concert alone.
Well… okay, there were about a million other people there so it was far from a lonely experience.
As a Beach Boys fan, it was a real thrill to see the reclusive Brian Wilson on stage. And according to what I just found searching the internet to confirm this date, he sang lead on Sloop John B that hot, dry afternoon. And yeah, hot is a key word in that last sentence since we were in a late summer heat wave. I still have photos somewhere showing the band as small figures on a distant stage with clouds of dust (from the softball fields?) hanging in the air.
Then I took a break for 22 years…
By the next time I saw The Beach Boys I was doing what a lot of boomers were doing when I was rocking out to the entire core lineup in Central Park. I was more mature and settling down with a family.
Making a return to northern Ohio I was writing concert reviews for a local newspaper. I was doing a feature on The Beach Boys at The Sandusky State Theater (near Cedar Point Amusement Park for all you roller coaster enthusiasts) and decided to make it a family outing. The date was October 22, 1999 and along with my wife Debutant Deb, sons 11-year old Chaos Kevin and 4-year old Dangerous Paul, we raided my once extensive collection of Hawaiian shirts so we could all dress surf-worthy for the show.
This version only included core member Mike Love and long-time member Bruce Johnston with their backing band. They were still billed as “The Beach Boys” since Love had legally secured the name from the surviving members, Brian and Al. Dennis had been gone since 1983 and Carl since only 1998.
The two cores and replacements reproduced the hits and we had the kids up and dancing for most of the show. And I have to admit it was great for a mature Beach Boys fan, though the other core members were very missed. It wasn’t the group picture I still have in my mind.
Sloop John B joined this Dream Songs list on August 9th. Brian Wilson rightfully deserves the title genius when it comes to his contributions and innovations to the 1960’s as a composer and producer, but he didn’t write this one.
It’s an older folk song that folkie Al Jardine suggested for the group. Brian did an updated arrangement and included it on Pet Sounds.
It’s one of my favorite tracks by The Beach Boys and even though Brian and Mike took turns singing lead on the recording, it turned into one (of many) that featured Carl during their live performances. Of course I own a copy and had just heard it, so we’ll surf this one into the recent memory category.
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Here’s the 1966 promotional film for Sloop John B. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not what you might expect…
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