A Beach Boy Goes Disco

Lucas Jensen | October 9, 2008 2:30 am
Bruce Johnston is the perennial “Sixth Beach Boy,” so to speak, even though he’s been in the Beach Boys since 1965, when he replaced Glen Campbell (!) as the stand-in for Brian Wilson. Heckfire, he’s allegedly the guy who played Pet Sounds for the Beatles, and he sang on “California Girls,” so he’s a Beach Boy in my book. My favorite solo work of Johnston’s is his version of the Chantays’ surf-rock hit “Pipeline,” which was recently unearthed by a thrifting friend of mine. It’s pretty much ruled my year. It’s long, but hardly repetitive, carried forward by an insistent beat that was probably a tad fast by the standards of the day, but feels just right now and held together by dippy background vocals, bongos, surf guitar, and absolutely monstrous drumming (check it out at 2:39 for proof).

He had a pretty hot career as a producer and writer outside of the Beach Boys, too, winning a Grammy for writing Barry Manilow’s song “I Write The Songs” (a tribute to Brian Wilson) and arranging vocals and singing on “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” and The Wall. And he had connections Van McCoy at some point, so maybe it rubbed off here. To think that this came from a Beach Boy is surprising, and to think that it’s the only jam like this he ever put out… that’s depressing.

Side note time: I met Johnston backstage after a Beach Boys show, along with Mike Love and then-Senator Max Cleland. Johnston was charming, kind, talkative, and pretty “with it” (we discussed Sigur Ros and Kid A, if I remember correctly). I drunkenly asked him if he ever felt like he never enough respect because he wasn’t a founding member of the band, and, instead of getting angry, he just said, “Hey, I’ve been with the band for nearly forty years, I have a great house, and I get to get up in front of audiences every night and sing ‘California Girls’. That’s a great job. Who cares what people think?” Had I heard “Pipeline” before he said that, I probably would have tried to hug him.

Instead, I saw Mike Love take a shower. I got glasses soon afterward. Coincidence?