Reimagining an Unfinished Song by

The Beach Boys

The Power of the Arts:

My Experience with The Beach Boys

 

I have been a fan of The Beach Boys for most of my life. Songs like “Good Vibrations,” “God Only Knows,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” were the foundation of my musical upbringing, knowledge of instrumentation, and love of vocal harmony. I am currently in my third year at the University of Windsor, studying Jazz/Pop Guitar for a Bachelor of Music degree. Last semester I took Dr. Janice Waldron’s Ethnomusicology course, and our final project was to conduct an ethnography, or a cultural study, on a particular music community. I set out to dig deep into the roots of The Beach Boys: their influences, their community, and most importantly, their sound.

With a love for unreleased music and bootlegs, I came across an unfinished song that Beach Boy Brian Wilson, fabled genius of songwriting and production, demoed into a tape recorder in 1978. The song was about a minute long, with a verse and an unfinished chorus. My goal was to take the song, finish writing it, and record it using instrumentation, vocal layering, and production stylistics reminiscent to what Brian Wilson may have done in the band’s 1960’s heyday. I layered instruments like piano, ukulele, tambourine, sleigh bells, jangly guitars, bass and drums, on top of synthesized instruments like marimba and harp, and topped with eight tracks of vocal harmonies to give it the “Beach Boy sound.” I tracked my progress and findings in a research paper that accompanied the song, and was lucky enough to receive guidance and input from Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin (known for the 70’s hit “Sail On, Sailor”), lyricist Stephen Kalinich, and Brian Wilson bandmate of over twenty years, Probyn Gregory.

Upon completion, I took a shot in the dark and notified The Beach Boys’ inner circle about what I was doing with their unfinished tune. The timing seemed right; I had tickets to see Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and Blondie Chaplin at Caesars Windsor the following week, as part of their Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary tour. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I received word that original Beach Boy Al Jardine was interested in my project, and invited me to bring him a copy of the song the afternoon of the Windsor show. As a rhythm guitarist primarily, Al Jardine was always a huge inspiration to me. Afterall, he was the golden voice on #1 hit “Help Me Rhonda,” and the master curator of Pet Sounds’ “Sloop John B.” I assembled the song in a vinyl record-style CD and cover designed by my girlfriend Ashley Spina, a SoCA visual art student at the University of Windsor.

On November 25th 2018, the big day had finally arrived. I found myself shaking hands with Al Jardine, all while wondering: “Is this real life?” Al looked over to my girlfriend Ashley, who was wearing a “Help Me Rhonda” shirt, paused, and said “…So I see you need help with something.” We all shared a laugh. As I handed him my CD, Al looked it over and said “Oh yes, I remember this!” He remarked that every once in a while, he comes across interesting things the group left in the can. He toyed with the idea that he and Brian may take on the tune someday. “I’ll have a look at it, who knows what’ll happen, right?” We chatted music a bit more, and Al’s solo album A Postcard from California. I also had the opportunity to thank Blondie Chaplin in person, for his contributions to my project. He joked, “Ah, so you were the smart aleck with the questions!”

Perhaps the most magical part was being invited to experience a closed rehearsal with the band. As a result, there was no photography allowed. The group came out, quietly tuned up, and then Brian, Al, and Blondie took the stage. Like clockwork, the rehearsal began. Suddenly, I felt like a fly on the wall, experiencing the sessions that produced the magical sounds I had spent so many nights analyzing and pouring my heart into. Hearing their beautiful harmonies reverberate through the empty coliseum, as I watched my musical heroes at work, was a life changing moment for me. But more than that—they were human beings, mistakes and all. “Take it back to the opening,” Brian would say, or “I’ve sung this song 20,000 times—let’s go to the next tune!” Occasionally Al would look over at Ashley and I, and say “How’s it sounding over there?”, to which we would nervously nod and thumbs up. It felt like every second of my life spent living, loving, and learning through music was validated. This was what it meant to be a musician.

Afterward, I gave CD’s to the other band members, who were all really nice guys. Rob Bonfiglio, Brian’s son-in-law (and husband of Carnie Wilson), handles the high tenor falsetto parts that Brian once specialized in. The band truly makes you feel as though you’re a lifelong friend. “If you’re ever in L.A., let me know,” their percussionist told me. Within the following week, I would chat with them several times over Facebook, and even get a full walkthrough of the harmonic breakdown of “Don’t Worry Baby.”

After an incredible concert, Ashley and I left the venue, and stopped by the tour bus as the group headed on. They were on their way back to California for the holidays. As Al boarded the bus, we waved at him and thanked him for an amazing concert. “You’re very welcome—Hey! I remember you! I’m going to give your CD a listen, okay?” He signed my copy of Pet Sounds. In shock, I barely heard him say “You want your pen back?”, as he almost boarded the bus with it.

I never anticipated this outcome for my project, and I couldn’t be more thankful to Dr. Waldron, my girlfriend Ashley, and of course, Al Jardine and The Beach Boys. Rather than this being an end to the project, I see it as a sort-of new beginning. For me, this was an eye opener to the power of the arts, the community of music, and the possibilities that can be achieved when putting your heart into something.

Truly, we are united in the power of the arts.

Allesandro Rotondi, January 2019

“Beautiful. GREAT job Allesandro!”

— Surfer Spud

Digital Media Manager, Al Jardine

“I loved the CD-R you gave us. Great work!”

— Jim Laspesa

Brian Wilson Band

“Fabulous. Great story.”

— Ed Roach

Photographer, friend of Dennis Wilson

“Nice job!”

— Probyn Gregory

Brian Wilson Band

“Cool!

— Mark Dillon

Author, Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys