Happy Holidays from The Beach Boys

Happy Holidays from The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys Christmas Album

A Festive Q&A with Brian, Mike & Al

By: David Beard, Endless Summer Quarterly (ESQ) Each year – between Thanksgiving and Christmas – shopping malls, elevators, Internet stations and good old-fashioned radio play the bedrocks “Little Saint Nick” and “The Man With All The Toys.” In recent years, something cool has happened; new generations are discovering and falling in love with this album. With deep cuts enjoying heavier rotation, it’s now common place to hear “Merry Christmas, Baby,” “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” and Brian’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful “Blue Christmas.” It’s another reminder of The Beach Boys musical staying power.

ESQ: Was it strange recording Christmas music in June of 1964?

Brian Wilson: … It was appropriate, because we wanted to get a head start because we wanted it (the album) ready by Christmas.

Mike Love: I remember dressing up and taking the photo session decorating the big Christmas tree right in the middle of summer. We were dressed up in our sweaters and looked very all-American. That was pretty cool.

Al Jardine: No, not really, because we got into the spirit of it … they took pictures of us in sweaters and suits. We had a Christmas tree up in the studio at Tower.

ESQ: By the end of June the group had completed the sessions for the Christmas album. What do you remember from those sessions?

Mike: The thing that was challenging and interesting (at the same time) was recording with a live orchestra. We had never done that. We had recorded our rock music with a drum, bass guitar, guitar, and keyboards. That’s the kind of recording we were used to doing. The group members would record the instruments, or if we were out of town, Brian would bring in the Wrecking Crew. … The kind of music and production we were doing was closer to a jazz combo, than the big band kind of thing. We got a taste of that experience by recording with the live orchestra. It was really cool. You had to be really on your toes, but it was a good challenge, and a neat thing to have done.

Al: I remember playing bass on some of the secular stuff and many of the group’s original tracks. We did a few of our own songs. I remember singing the religious music; it was very difficult. We tried to sing live with the orchestra, and we realized that we weren’t going to be singing with them because the tempos were so different for us…we were accustomed to playing with drums, guitars, and bass. When you are actually singing with an orchestra … that’s an art form that we hadn’t discovered. That’s more of a Sinatra technique. For a quartet … we quickly realized that it was better for the orchestra to cut the tracks, and then we would sing to the completed tracks.


ESQ: “We Three Kings Of Orient Are” is lush … beautiful.

Al: That one was tough. We were having trouble articulating … the tempo is so slow. I remember having to record that one separately. We had to really get into it and feel it.

ESQ: Al recalled that on “We Three Kings Of Orient Are,” the orchestra had to be recorded separately.

Brian: Gosh, I can’t remember …

Mike: Al’s probably right because the moving four-part harmonies that we were doing were really tricky. It took some intense focus to do it right. I don’t remember that specifically, but he’s probably right. There may have been a song where it would have taken us too long to do it properly (in conjunction with the orchestra), so the orchestra recorded the track, we did the vocals on the separate track, which was great. There were some things that were done spontaneously right there – in real time – with the orchestra.

ESQ: Brian, what was your takeaway from working with Dick Reynolds?

Brian: He was The Four Freshmen’s arranger, I learned harmonies from him.

ESQ: What is your favorite Beach Boys original on the Christmas album?

Brian: A song called “Santa’s Beard;” it’s all about a kid who pulled Santa’s beard off. [Laughs]

ESQ: The pop material is great.

Mike: “Little Saint Nick” was amazing, and that album is a perennial, and it sells out the allotment that stores buy almost every year. And every year when you go shopping in the malls you hear our music. There are a lot of wonderful Christmas songs from the fifties and sixties, but it’s really great to know that your music is still popular enough to be performed every year starting Thanksgiving through Christmas. It’s a wonderful thing.

ESQ: How much of an influence was Dick Reynolds on you for orchestration and arrangements?

Brian: I (had already) arranged “Surfer Girl,” which is what I learned from The Four Freshmen, so that was his influence.

ESQ: The sessions point to the Today! album in its format (Side 1 pop material, and Side 2 ballads). It seems the exposure to Dick Reynolds affected Brian’s approach to writing.

Mike: I think you’re right. That fact that Brian was in a session with all those great musicians (with all the different types of instrumentation), paved the way for his incorporating all those flutes, woodwinds, oboes … along with the strings, cellos, violas, violins, etc., was kind of like catnip for Brian.

Al: That’s not a far reach … I think so. Dick Reynolds was Brian’s favorite arranger at the time. That’s a logical extension.

ESQ: What is your favorite orchestration on the Christmas album?

Brian: I (always) liked Dick Reynolds arrangement of “Frosty The Snowman.”

This read was courtesy of David M. Beard © 2014/2021. Read more articles like this one by subscribing to Endless Summer Quarterly