by Robert Wilkinson
Today would have been the 67th birthday of the great Carl Wilson, guitarist for the Beach Boys.
If you don't know who the Beach Boys were, brothers Carl Wilson (December 21, 1946 – February 6, 1998), Dennis Wilson (December 4, 1944 – December 28, 1983), and Brian Wilson (June 20, 1942) founded the Beach Boys. Carl played guitar with original lead player David Marks, Dennis was the drummer (and only real surfer in the group), and Brian was THE composer, arranger, and early bass player for the Beach Boys who gave us the California sound of the 60s - "Shut Down," "Surfin' USA," "In My Room," "Surfer Girl," "I Get Around," "Don't Worry Baby," "California Girls," "Good Vibrations," "God Only Knows," and about a hundred other songs that millions surfed to, made love to, and listened to during and after school throughout the 60s.
Their soaring intricate harmonies and catchy melodies made the Beach Boys one of the preeminent groups of the 60s, even long after they ceased to sing about hot rods, surfing, and girls, girls, girls. The Beach Boys were one of the only American acts to top the Beatles on the pop charts consistently during the most prolific period of both bands. With each album the Beach Boys released, Brian set the standard that John Lennon and Paul McCartney tried to top, album after album.
Thinking of the Beatles trying to out-do anyone is pretty astounding in itself! After David left the band and was replaced by Al Jardine, Carl took on the lead guitar parts when on tour, though in the studio he was supported by the Wrecking Crew. That said, you can still hear his instrumental parts on the albums, unlike most of the other Beach Boys.
Still, in Brian’s opinion “Carl had the voice of an angel,” and did some pretty amazing vocals throughout the years. He was the lead singer on two of their biggest hits, “Good Vibrations,” and one of the prettiest love songs ever written, “God Only Knows.”
Today we revisit some of their best! They are mostly early music videos from the 60s and so not live, or lip synched performances in a studio. Still, the first batch are very much live studio performances and not lip synched, with the b/w performances from 1964 when they were hot as firecrackers on the American charts!
"Fun Fun Fun" (That “surf guitar” lick was created by Carl, obviously inspired by Chuck Berry!)
Here's an amazingly beautiful gem that Brian wrote and sang for the "Beach Boys Today" album. "Please Let Me Wonder." Here's a better version of the Shindig performance linked below of "Please Let Me Wonder." (clipped before they cut into "Help Me Rhonda.")
From the UK television show in 1964, "Ready Steady Go" a live performance of "I Get Around" and "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)"
From Christmas at Shindig! Enjoy ”Little Saint Nick.”
From Shindig in 1964, “Dance Dance Dance”
From Shindig in 1965, “Do You Wanna Dance?”
From the Jack Benny Show, the Beach Boys doing a live performance of "California Girls" ” (You can tell Brian’s not in good shape…)
A remarkable live version of my personal favorite, and one of my top 10 songs of all time, featuring the truly angelic voice of Carl Wilson, "God Only Knows" A love song I've bowed to for over 40 years. I also found an amazing clip of the Beach Boys doing "God Only Knows," "Sloop John B," and "Wouldn't it be Nice" a cappella set to stills. As it's described, these harmonies are phenomenal!
Carl’s looking good and sounding great singing lead on the legendary “Good Vibrations”
Though Brian wasn't touring with them in this era, the Beach Boys still cranked out an amazing sound! Here's a great live performance from 1969 featuring Carl's voice on lead vocals, "I Can Hear Music."
Here's a rare treat! The Ronettes had a hit with "I Can Hear Music" in 1966. Here's Ronnie Spector and Brian Wilson live in 2000 doing "I Can Hear Music"
From the legendary 1985 Live Aid concert, here are the Beach Boys live (with Brian!) performing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Good Vibrations”
Here’s a great live performance of a song that Brian said was the best collaboration he ever had with Mike Love. Though not composed in their early years, it's a classic return to the surfing sound of the Beach Boys! "Do It Again."
From 1969 in France, a complete concert!
Back to videos set to stills or lip synched:
Carl’s singing lead on "Shut Down Volume 2’s" “Pom Pom Play Girl”
More dynamic Beach Boy harmonies abound on their number 1 hit from 1964, "I Get Around"
The flip side of "I Get Around," the awesome "Don't Worry Baby"
Carl’s singing lead again on this obscure classic from “Summer Days,” “Girl Don’t Tell Me”“Caroline No”
Though this was long after Brian no longer toured with the group, and wasn't written by him, I figured I'd include the music video for their last #1 hit, "Kokomo" Here a live version of "Kokomo" by the latter day Beach Boys with John Stamos.
A real gem of a live concert! Here’s over an hour of all five original Beach Boys with Bruce Johnston, a very rare treat since Brian hadn’t been touring in a loooooonnnng time! For your enjoyment, “Good Timin' - Live at Knebworth 1980”
This clip is also from Knebworth 1980, but in case you don't want to sit through the entire show, here's Carl's angelic voice with the rest doing harmonies performing the remarkable "Good Vibrations" Here's the original studio version of "Good Vibrations"
After “Good Vibrations,” Carl went on to be the leader of the Beach Boys for the rest of his life, and sang lead on some major hits after that high water mark in their careers. Here he is singing lead on the original studio single of “Wild Honey”
From 1970’s album “Wildflower,” here’s Carl on lead vocals!
Live in 1971, here they are live, set to stills performing a rocking version of “It’s About Time”
A rare gem! The original studio version of the title track from the 1971 album "Surf's Up," "Surf's Up" with Carl on lead vocals.
Here are two tunes from the Beach Boys’ next studio album titled “Carl and the Passions – So Tough” that Carl produced. He both wrote and sang lead on “All This is That” and sang lead on the hit “Marcella”
From 1979, the studio version of a tune Carl wrote with Brian that became a hit, “Good Timin’”
Here’s the original studio version of a song Carl wrote with Randy Bachman in 1980, “Keepin’ The Summer Alive”
From his second album in 1981, here’s Carl live performing the very beautiful “Heaven”
Here’s Carl very live in concert with the Beach Boys cranking out the lead vocals on “Darlin’”
We’ll close today’s birthday tribute with two different versions of Carl’s most beautiful offering. Here’s the first, performed live in 1996 with the Beach Boys, “God Only Knows”
And here’s a much more intimate, acoustic solo version of “God Only Knows” Simply beautiful (and I found my imagination filling in the harmony lines from the original recording!)
Carl, you and Dennis died way too young. It’s some kind of ironic bad joke that a man with the voice of an angel died of lung cancer. Thanks for all the beautiful vocals through the years. “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, you know they have a helluva band....”
© Copyright 2013 Robert Wilkinson