More than 50 years in and The Beach Boys’ music is still popular because it is being passed down through generations.
That’s the assessment of longtime member Bruce Johnston.
Known for their harmonies and cultivating the “California Sound” of surfing, cars and romance, The Beach Boys have a solid place in music history.
With massive singles “Do It Again,” “I Get Around,” “Surf’s Up,” “California Girls,” “God Only Knows,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Good Vibrations” to name a few, the band continues to tour for nearly 200 shows a year.
And it’s that legacy that pushes Johnston to keep up with the vigorous schedule.
“This is something that just happened to me and it became my life,” he says during an interview from his home in California. “Because of the fans, I’ve been able to raise four boys and make a career in music. After all these years, the songs are still sung in the same key and we’re sounding better than ever.”
The Beach Boys formed in 1961 and consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin, Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine.
Johnston joined the group permanently in May 1965, after Brian Wilson took a hiatus from the group and his replacement, Glen Campbell, focused on his solo career.
Since then, Johnston has toured and contributed to the band’s music.
“It’s amazing to see all the generations in the audience,” he says. “This is the reason we’ve also been able to sustain ourselves.”
Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983 and Carl Wilson died of cancer in 1998. Johnston and Mike Love continue on in the band’s current lineup.
Johnston says a big contributing factor to the band’s legacy is the combination of Brian Wilson’s melodies with Mike Love’s lyrics.
“Mike is a really great and fun lyricist,” he says. “He helped bring Brian’s music to life. These talents came together and it was magic. The melodies seem simple, but if you dig deeper, you can see how complex each piece Brian wrote is.”
With 50 years of singles to choose from, Johnston says Love takes the responsibility for the set list each night. And none of the members know what is on tap for the night.
“We know of all the possibilities,” he says. “But it’s always a surprise at how Mike structures the entire show. It’s like a See’s candy sampler. There’s something for everyone.”
Aside from The Beach Boys, Johnston found success as a songwriter as well. He wrote “I Write the Songs,” which Barry Manilow turned into a hit in 1975. It won a Grammy Award for song of the year. The song isn’t performed much during a Beach Boys concert, but Johnston has had the opportunity to perform it.
“I spoke with Barry and he’s lending me his symphonic arrangement for a show with the Hong Kong Philharmonic,” he says. “Mike told me that I should perform it and it’s very generous because it’s not one of the band’s songs.”
Johnston says the band’s current shows utilize multimedia in taking old TV clips and broadcasting them during the show.
“These are pieces that people haven’t ever seen or seen in a long time,” he says. “There’s one piece where Carl is performing and it’s nice to see him again.”