Best Classic Bands
Al Jardine, who turned 74 on September 3, was an original member of The Beach Boys when the group formed in 1961, but for a time he wasn’t sure if playing music was in his future. Shortly after recording the group’s first single, “Surfin’,” he left for a while intending to pursue a less risky career, only to return in 1963. He remained a Beach Boy throughout the band’s entire run as a major recording act and is currently a member of Brian Wilson’s touring band.
We spoke with Al Jardine in the spring on the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, often named the greatest album of all time.
Do you consider Pet Sounds the Beach Boys’ best album?
Al Jardine: Probably artistically, yeah. It was a little ahead of its time. We didn’t have a lot of time to appreciate it because the label was looking for a lot of sales and when it didn’t meet their expectations they took it off the market and quickly put out a best-of album. We really didn’t have a chance to exploit it or perform it. We were basically a hitmaking machine and that was something [Pet Sounds] was difficult to market. They didn’t know what to do with it. Fortunately the public climbed on board and made it happen. I shouldn’t say the public—future generations appreciated it for what it is. The ’70s material that we did post-Pet Sounds is becoming quite popular with new generations of fans. There’s a revivalist thing going on with the Beach Boys right now, which is pretty interesting.
What is it about that music that is so universal?
AJ: It has to be the human voice. Brian’s voicings and his own personal voice as well are so special. The way we came together as a vocal blend was pretty special. And we had great engineering and great producers—Brian, I should say. We met the challenge when we did Pet Sounds. That was a big one. “California Girls” and “She Knows Me Too Well” and “Please Let Me Wonder” are epic moments in recording history to me.
Those last two were B-sides of singles. A lot of the Beach Boys’ B-sides were as good as the hit A-sides.
AJ: We had so many great B-sides. We often put out competitive pieces on the other side. We didn’t have as many number one singles as the Beatles but we might have if we’d put a clunker on the other side.
Where would you rank Pet Sounds among the Beach Boys’ albums? Are there others you like more?
AJ: That’s a style thing. There are different kinds of favorite albums. Pet Sounds was a different direction. I like All Summer Long. It had “Help Me, Rhonda” on it, which was one of my songs. I liked Stack-O-Tracks. Not many people have heard it. It was amazing to hear the tracks without the vocals.
Capitol Records recently released the Pet Sounds (50th Anniversary Collectors Edition) boxed set. Is it aimed at people who grew up with the album?
AJ: I’m not sure. It’s really for the audiophiles. I don’t know. There’s a lot of information on there. You have to enjoy sitting down to four hours of backing tracks—if you’re a real fan you’ll dig it, man. There’s a Blu-ray disc of the audio. There’s one great DVD of us actually singing “Good Vibrations.”
Is it true that “Good Vibrations” was initially intended to be included on Pet Sounds?
AJ: We had a major impasse with Brian with respect to “Good Vibrations.” We all wanted it to be on Pet Sounds and I don’t know if it was a timing thing but Brian told me at the time that he wanted to save it for Smile, the next project, and we disagreed.
Not for the first time and not for the last!
AJ: Generally, if somebody has a pretty strong point of view, we respect that, and we all respected his point of view. It was finished, in our opinion, but in Brian’s mind it wasn’t finished. In any event it was going to be put aside, do it later. Then the label said, “You gotta have a hit single on [Pet Sounds], something with some commercial appeal.” They’re always looking for a hit. “Sloop John B” [which Jardine arranged] had proved itself. So I was responsible for that, I admit it. It may not fit the creative tone of the album but it certainly gave some relief at the end of side one. I took a pretty primitive folk song, which I’d learned in high school, and added a chord or two—I heard the Beach Boy harmonies in there and felt very strongly that we could make a great record. And it worked.
It’s such an odd tale for a top 40 song.
AJ: And antithetical to what we were doing. But when you listen to the production value, it’s astoundingly powerful.
What do you remember about the vocal sessions for that album? Was it more arduous than before?
AJ: Are you kidding? [Before] we would just walk in and do our parts and leave but this one we spent three to maybe six months. We were recording Smile and Pet Sounds simultaneously so you can only imagine the stuff we were doing. Within that three- to six-month framework we would alternate between songs and go back and forth and reshape each song until we got them just right. It took awhile. The king of all the re-do’s was “Wouldn’t It be Nice” and “Good Vibrations.” Brian was never quite satisfied with those two and he wanted to get them perfect.
All of those stories that have been going around for 50 years, that the rest of the band was against Pet Sounds, fought Pet Sounds—how much of that is true?
AJ: That’s not accurate. Mike being more of a lyricist, he obviously wanted to question some of the lyrics that he didn’t understand. If you don’t understand something, hey, explain it to me. And actually, he got his way with one of the songs on Pet Sounds, “I Know There’s An Answer.” I liked it both ways [The alternate version was called “Hang On to Your Ego.”] If Brian wants to work with his cousin to make him happy, it is what it is. But as far as not wanting to do it, it was a big leap from where we were. Holy crap—we got home from [touring] Japan, and we’d been gone for a long time. And there was a lot of adjustment. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to do it.
Brian has said that the Beatles and Beach Boys were always in competition. Was that true?
AJ: That’s the story. I don’t even ask Brian that question; I read the same things you guys do. But when I see him I’ll ask him. I’ll say, “Hey, did Rubber Soul really give you that inspiration?” I’m sure it did. I seem to recall the same thing. But we were on the road 150 days a year so we didn’t see Brian that much.
How does it feel to sing these songs now?
AJ: It’s fun. I enjoy sitting back and watching Brian go through the set. He does a real good job.
Do you hear an influence on young bands today from Pet Sounds?