Kristie Lu Stout talks to the Beach Boys in an interview for CNN's Talk Asia in Hong Kong
The band, including original members Al Jardine, Mike Love and Brian Wilson, are on tour
They're currently on their 50th anniversary tour around the world
"Good Vibrations" -- considered by Rolling Stone magazine as "ultimate triumph"
Editor’s Note: A self-described media junkie, China nerd and geek mom – Kristie Lu Stout is also an anchor/correspondent for CNN International. Join her on News Stream, each weekday at 8pm Hong Kong time, 1pm London, 8am New York.
A pre-teen me once learned how to slow dance to “Surfer Girl.”
Picture a middle school auditorium circa 1987. I was that retainer-wearing girl at the school dance, clumsily shuffling along to the Beach Boys classic with a nervous boy about a full arms-length away from me.
It was an awkward moment, yet my heart still flutters when I hear those harmonies.
So when I learned CNN’s Talk Asia had booked the Beach Boys for an interview in Hong Kong, I jumped at the chance to interview Al Jardine, Mike Love and Brian Wilson.
They’re currently on their 50th anniversary tour around the world. Dennis and Carl Wilson passed away long ago, but the band includes three original members – Al, Mike and Brian – as well as David Marks and Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965.
On tour, they’re serenading fans with favorites like “California Girls” and “Surfin’ USA,” as well as a delightfully fresh new single, “That’s Why God Made the Radio.”
Although their new song is about a technology the band is nostalgic about, the Beach Boys are not stuck in the past. Incredibly, after half a century of recording and performing, they are not a tribute band to their 20-something selves.
They’re still crafting those richly complex harmonic sounds. They’re still hitting all those notes. And they’re still capturing the sweet, adolescent purity of “Surfer Girl.”
“Surfer Girl,” released in 1963, marked Wilson’s emergence as a producer. He tells me, “I wanted to do something original that was inspired by the Four Freshmen. When Michael and the guys came to my house one day, I learned how to arrange the chords. ‘Surfer Girl’ was the first song I ever learned how to make harmonies to a song.”
Three years later, Wilson would produce “Good Vibrations” – considered by Rolling Stone magazine as his “ultimate triumph as a producer, and one of the most innovative pop hits of the Sixties.”
“The night we cut the vocals was one of the highlights of my life,” says Wilson. “It was a departure from anything we’ve ever done before.”
The Beach Boys did the background orchestration in five different studios. Wilson tells me the production took little more than a month.
Not so fast, claims Jardine: “We were re-doing things endlessly until they were perfect because of him, ‘Mr. Perfectionist’ (pointing at Wilson) here. So it took more like six months!”
“Good Vibrations” is a multi-layered pop symphony with nearly everything thrown in – sleigh bells, cello, harpsichord, even a theremin – one of the earliest electronic instruments.
As Wilson puts it, “My brother Carl said, ‘Why don’t you use a theremin?’ I said, ‘What for?’ And he goes, ‘I don’t know.’
“I came up with the ‘Uooooooooooooooo’ (he mimics the theremin sound). It was a scary record actually. It was a good scary.”
Like a roller coaster, “Good Vibrations” twists and turns like a joyride of sound. And the boys all agree, it is their masterpiece.
“They are all masterpieces,” says Love of the Beach Boys’ full playlist. “But the one that is commercially successful and brilliant musically… is ‘Good Vibrations.’”
Half a century on, the Beach Boys are still creating new music that captures the emotional thrills of youth. “We feel these emotions as if we were kids,” says Jardine.
“We still have them inside of us.”
Love adds, “The harmony is timeless… as long as you can get those notes and create those sounds together, then there is a timeless factor.”
When the interview wraps, Wilson is the first to rip off his microphone. He kindly agrees to pose for a photo with me, and – after a handshake – leaves the room.
Love and Jardine then take to a small nearby stage and strike up an impromptu version of “California Girls” (with Al on bass and Mike doing vocals). Johnston then appears out of nowhere to play the piano.
And then it hits me, I’m being serenaded by The Beach Boys. And inside, I’m screaming like a giddy 12 year old. But where was Wilson?
“Off to a buffet somewhere,” quips Love with a smile.
And why not? He has to feed the muse.