Until now, in a career spanning more than a decade, the Beach Boys have recorded exclusively in California. They were the patron saints of surf boards, Hondas, and cruisin'. With record sales in excess of 70 million (group sales second only to the Beatles), they spread the good time gospel all over he planet. The Beach Boys/California identity became so powerful, that one virtually stood for the other. That proved a mixed blessing. And suddenly last summer they reacted on no less than a monumental scale, to a pressure that had built up over several years. Concentrating on their widely recognized obsession - technological advance - they took off for Holland where the surf's NEVER up and went through some half a million dollars settling in and arranging for nearly four tons of recording equipment to be brought from America. The evidence of the whole incredible adventure is their new album, simply called Holland.
The Beach Boys did not pick Holland for their getaway entirely at random. As they've often sung, they've been all over this great big world. They know precisely what they're looking for. In February of this year, they came to Amsterdam to appear on the Gala du Disc, a Dutch TV spectacular. They had not been to Holland since December, 1970, when they battled crippling logistics with sensational results. After being fogged in at London Heathrow, they scrambled for a jet at neighboring Gatwick Airport. They could not get a flight to Amsterdam, so they landed in Brussels where they were met by a caravan of a dozen Mercedes. They drove like madmen to Amsterdam where a play-by-play account of their progress was being broadcast to the waiting audience. As dawn approached the band sincerely doubted there would be an audience if and when they made their destination. But when they strode on stage at quarter past five in the morning, it was to be a full and clamoring house. Most rewarding, from the band's viewpoint, was this crowd's enthusiasm for their new music. They weren't all screaming "Fun, Fun, Fun"; it left the Beach Boys with lasting good vibrations.
When the group returned for the TV special, it was thought that they'd stay only a week. The week turned into months when they gradually succumbed to the spell of Holland's all encompassing calm. They decided that Amsterdam would be the base camp from which they'd administer their European tour, that the tour would wind up there and that they'd stay on to do some recording. The latter decision brought with it problems and logistics that made the '70 stunt look pale.
Room Service, Send Me A Room
The first person to suffer the extent to which this was not going to be easy was one Bill de Simone, erstwhile Hollywood PR man. His job was to fix houses and transportation for the entourage. (The rollcall below will indicate the toughness of being in Bill's shoes, wooden or Florsheim.) With no prior knowledge of Holland's critical and chronic housing shortage, Bill manfully tried to retain the necessary 11 houses in Haarlem, a handsome residential area convenient to EMI studios. In two weeks, he did well to find four. Inevitable personnel were scattered within a 30 mile radius of central Amsterdam.
The scatter-ees were Brian Wilson, his wife, two children, sister-in-law and housekeeper; Dennis Wilson with wife and child; Carl Wilson with wife, two children, mother, brother-in-law, housekeeper and two dogs; Mike Love with wife, two kids and a maid; Al Jardine with the same as Mike; Rick Fataar with wife and in-laws; Blondie Chaplin and girlfriend. For starters.
Then there was chief engineer Steve Moffitt with secretary and son; additional engineers Gordon Rudd and wife, Jon Parder and girl; and Thom Gellert and admirers; Russ Mackie, the group's traveling attache: Jack Rieley, Brother Records' senior officer and the man at whom the buck stops, his secretary Carole Hayes and her husband, plus Jack's dog. And not least, Bill, who sought shelter for all. In the end they were sprinkled through the Netherlands thus: Jack, Russ and Carole in Amsterdam; Carl and Blondie in Hilversum; Brian in Laren; Ricky in Vreeland; Jon and Thom in Haarlem; Gordon in Heemsted; Steve in Assedelft; Mike and Al in Bloemendaal - all converging on a converted barn in Baambrugge. Before the houses were ready, all were put up in hotels. The musicians' houses were each outfitted with rented stereo and piano. They rented nine Mercedes, one Audi, bought three VWs and van. Aging visibly as he speaks, Jack says, "Some day accounting will face a column just called 'Holland.'" Before they obtained their present Amsterdam office, Jack's duplex apartment a furnished summer rental, became Brother Records' European headquarters. The office was set up in the children's room, all ready resplendent with bears, dolls and tables not exceeding one and a half feet in height. A Telex was installed with an obliging Dutch answering service. It handled on the average, three quarters of an hour's messages per day, the printed sheets unfurling like an endless paper towel. So many transatlantic calls were placed that the international operators in Pittsburgh, through whom all such calls are relayed, got wise to the number and noted it to save time.
A Movable Feast
As if things weren't hair-raising enough, there was the ticklish business of Brian. Brian had not budged in seven years and he is intensely shy - perhaps the more so for having been dubbed "brilliant" or "genius" by various admirers, ever since he gave up touring with the band. His hearing is difficult and painful. Any description of him as a homebody or private person would still fall short of the truth. He once retired to his room, somewhere in the rambling Edgar Rice Burroughs house in Bel Air, for six solid months. To further avoid even local travel, he constructed a substantial studio in the living room of this same house (a '30s Gothic affair, right down to the secret panels). With their passion for technological improvement, the group gradually made the studio obsolete by their own standards, and besides, Brian's wife thought it was about time to do some living in the living room. The studio was duly dismantled. Getting Brian to Amsterdam was every bit as tough and go as getting Bobby Ficher to Reykjavik. A miasma of false starts and silences. His wife, kids and housekeeper went over first. Twice Brian got as far as the airport and turned back. The third time he appeared to get on the plane. A phone call went through to Amsterdam to confirm it. But three hours after the plane landed there was still no sign of him. A search of the aircraft yielded Brian's ticket and passport, abandoned on his seat. Oblivious to the panic was Brian who had shuffled off the plane and fallen asleep on a couch in the duty free lounge, where he eventually was found.
Of course when the initial decision to record in Holland was made it was assumed that the group would use Dutch facilities. They learned soon enough, however, that the few existing studios were already overtaxed, and no way could enough time for an LP be booked. Still, they had come too far to turn back. They were sick of rush hour, poison air and nerves. So they rashly commissioned a 21st Century board, one borrowing liberally from the future, and set it up in sleepy, rural Netherlands.
Steve Moffit was minding his own business somewhere in Santa Monica when he got a call from Amsterdam requesting a studio to be designed and constructed, then disassembled, shipped and reassembled in Holland. Steve, who had worked as engineer on the Carl and the Passions: So Tough album, had been involved in discussions of possibly recording in Holland one day, but certainly building a portable studio had never been proposed. When Steve assisted with breaking down Brian's living room studio, a "dream" console - a 24 channel quadraphonic monster - was conceived, but shelved for the time being.
Steve's call came in mid-March. He was given a deadline of June 1. His first move was to contact all quality console makers in New York and Los Angeles, requesting prices and specifications for standard models, and emphasizing the deadline. The deadline was a dead end: none of the manufacturers could promise a thing in less than 90 days.
Steve's only alternative was to create a studio from scratch. Having made that decision, he decided to go the whole hog and attempt the "dream" machine fantasized during the Bel Air breakdown. He would need help. Friend and physics wiz Gordon Rudd was understandably reluctant, but he was the only man with whom Steve felt the project had a chance. Looking back, Steve says, "It was a ridiculous task to start with, with only two men working on it - even for a stock model. But the manufacturers were proposing ones twice the size with half the functions. Most of the people who design consoles have never actually had to use them".
"I Was Virgin Console"
When Steve and Gordon completed their design, construction took place in a 2,000 square foot warehouse/laboratory in the back of an "adult" movie house in Santa Monica. The place also served as an inventory of all Brother records gear, including the earthly remakes of the Bel Air studio. Once construction started, assemblers worked 24 hours a day in shifts to get the job completed.
As soon as he'd finished his coordinating work with the console in America, Steve flew to Amsterdam to supervise its assembly there. When the components for the custom built studio began shipping, Beach Boy equipment occupied every single flight from L.A. to Amsterdam (or which there are four daily) and, to correct breakdowns, every Amsterdam to L.A. flight (of which there are three daily), for four and a half weeks. The specially made crates alone cost over $5,000. The heaviest single item, the racks containing the limiters, Keplexes, Dolbys and prodigious patch bay, actually cracked the tarmac as it was rolled out to the plane for loading. The gross weight of all parts was 7,300 pounds.
It was dodgy. Although the individual parts had been tested, the system as a whole had not had time for a try out, and now the condition of any part may have been affected by the extreme cold in the plane's freight bay. Even if they'd stayed in California, it often takes a full month to get a system compatiable. They were flying blind.
Steve recalls, "We finally got it all hooked up ... and NOTHING worked right!" He adds with professional calm, "You learn in electronics to expect anything". He and Gordon, who followed on to nurse the monster, began working 18 hour days trouble shooting. The aggregate delay of four and a half weeks scotched the group's plans for extra touring in order to defray the summer's staggering expenses.
The group meanwhile wanted to mix down a live tape from their spring European tour. The 3M-16 track was unhitched from the control room and taken to a studio in town, where it proceeded to blow up and all but catch fire. Steve was prepared with over $3,000 worth of spare parts - everything, in fact, except the one that was needed to fix it. A 3M man was flown over from London to put it right. It then behaved impeccably until the end of the Holland mission, when it blew up again as Steve was trying to make copy tapes.
Throughout the recording period, Steve tended to touchy apparatus exhaustively, vetting it out for four hours before recording began each day, and for another two hours after finishing up. It was a Herculean labor, but Steve stayed cool, meditating at home in suburban Assendelft when TV of a Friday evening affords a diet of Flipper, Zorro and Rod McKuen. And it was entirely worth it when he stood back and admired his creation - the streamlined, multi-colored console supported on two pedestals with no wires visible, glowing futuristically in the dark. It was a wondrous anachronism, sitting there in a one time farm building in rural Baambrugge.
The building had, in fact, previously seen use as a studio, with a 4-track used primarily for commercials and they'd Christmas album. Out front it still bears the imposing name BBC 2 (curiously, no relation to BBC 2 of Britain). Inside it was a disaster when Steve found it. The acoustics were dreadful. He began by having the floor relaid six inches higher so that the cables could run under it. Sand was poured between the uprights to avoid resonating. (Even the speakers had sand, Malibu sand at that, to prevent resonance.) Angles were built into the ceiling, which was covered with spun glass. The fiendish fluorescent lighting (strangely popular in Holland) was quickly replaced with a multitude of Study-Buddy lamps, stuck on the wall, covered with different colored gels and controlled by dimmer switches. The building's delighted owner rushed around taking home movies and garnering autographs, in between looking after the cows whose faces loomed directly out the studio windows.
Anyone with enough spare cash to buy a private jet or pay parking fines in New York city can now learn what is required to duplicate the Beach Boys revolutionary control room at home. Start with a Clover Systems (Gordon's firm) 30-input console with 20 channel monitor system. Add 30 quad pans, 30 stereo pans and a 1,000 hole patch bay with 1,000 jacks to stick it in it. (This will be the beefiest patch bay on your block.)
From England you will need 20 Dolby Noise Reduction Units, which alone will set you back more than $12,000 (and to think, until a few years ago all records were made without them). Still, if you don't want that natural hiss tape makes dirtying up your sound, it's gotta be Dolbys (The Beach Boys studio is actually wired for 34 Dolbys, which they'll get around to installing when they discover a way to use all those 24 tracks).
Speaking of clean sound, for another four and a half grand you can get 16 Kepexes. These are not extinct birds, as their name implies, but rather magical devices which allow sound through to tape only when the voice or instrument is performing, thus eliminating the normal hum or buzz that plagues idle or turned on equipment. They were supplied to Steve and Gordon by the clever wags at Alison Research, which is named after the wife of the guy who does the researching. From these same loonies, Steve and Gordon got four limiters, more standard equipment, inexplicably called Gainbrains. What limiters limit is the dynamic range of sound, diminishing too loud noises while beefing up weak ones, and , in particular, encouraging guitar notes to sustain. All the Kepexes and Gainbrains are adorned with little cameos of Alison herself, at no extra cost.
Fleshing out the Beach Boys control room are on Cooper Time Cube Audio Acoustic Delay Unit, two little Dipper filters; two SAE Graphic Equalizers (these are tone control devices analogous to the treble and bass control on home hi-fis, only more sophisticated); an Orban Parasound stereo mixer; and, to deal effectively with foreign power, three Variable Speed Oscillators to run the tape at 60 cycles; a crystal oscillator to run all the VSOs on 60 cycles; a 3M 16 track tape machine with VSO built in; and a 3M 2 track machine for mastering from the 16. For cue system and studio monitors Steve used Crown D60 amplifiers; for the control room monitor. a pair of custom Crown DC300 amplifiers. Two speaker systems were especially made for Holland, incorporating a concept he'd been working on for five years. When mixing down, the group use inferior speakers - the object being to get the sound first rate on any home system.
Reviewing the particular qualities which he feels set this system apart from other good ones currently in use, Steve first sites it's modular construction. Although it is only "half" portable (it takes week to disassemble), it does allow for individual parts repair and replacement within a minute. Second, at the push of a button, all equalization from the main part of the console is switched into the monitor system. Third, the peak indicating meters indicate with light rather than needles, so they needn't be watched as closely. It is as your car speedometer turned form white to red as soon as you went over the limit. Fourth and greatest convenience is the 1,000 hole patch bay which acts as a fail safe system, especially useful for mix down. Anything can be patched into anything. If an equalizer breaks, you patch it out and patch another one in, you can reassign the position of already recorded tracks, grouping them as you like. you can put a limiter before or after faders, or anywhere you like. Steve said they ha occasion to use it all.
As he packs up his things in preparation for another American tour, Carl Wilson reflects on why Holland was such a good idea. "We've all been wanting to leave L.A. for a couple of years now. Holland is friendly in every sense. The environment eliminates distractions. The only kind of tension is the good kind of working tension - no the kind you get crossing L.A. in rush hour. There is a subliminal feeling of safety. We worked long hours to make up for the delay, usually waking in the afternoon and then working till 5 in the morning. It was so perfectly still at night. Sometimes we'd walk out and see Venus like a headlamp - amazingly bright!"
There was one incident that temporarily threatened tranquility. A musicians' union called ANOUK (a subdivision of one of the labor federations) was mighty suspicious of the Beach Boys' presence. They thought the band might be taking work away from Dutch musicians, wanted them investigated and, if need be, deported. Brother Records prepared a dossier to explain they weren't doing any Dutch out of jobs, that they were in fact using Dutch sidemen on occasion (for example, the string on "Only With You"), that they hoped their activities would give a boost to Holland's music scene. ANOUK was agreeable. Their only regret - and a fair beef - was that Dutch musicians couldn't hope to do the same thing in America, due to the notorious strictness of U.S. Immigration. Overall, relations with the Dutch throughout the project were extremely good. The group recalls with amusement that fans approaching for autographs were given away by the sound of their wooden shoes on the cement outside the studio.
Leader of the Packing
Approaching Baambrugge from Amsterdam it is at once plain why Carl described it as "a really good change, a completely different experience". The drive takes about 20 minutes along a four lane divided highway flanked on both sides by flat fields, cows and canals. Sea birds fly by overhead. The windmills are really there, just like in the pictures, turning with spatulate grace. The highway patrol drive Porsches and it is said that the gypsies drive Mercedes.
BBC 2 sits among a collection of unprepossessing farm buildings, adjacent to a defunct greenhouse. Just inside the door are stacked 15 empty cases of Coke - conclusive evidence of American occupation. In the studio proper, JR is methodically packing the final bits. JR was the one who packed the equipment originally in L.A. for shipping to the Netherlands; now he has flown over specifically to repack the lot. After proudly displaying a handsome trunk he picked up in the Amsterdam flea market to cope with extras, he rhapsodies about Great Packing. He cites Dolbys and Thorens turntables as the apex of the art, swathed in unending foam rubber and expanded polystyrene.
Everywhere the studio shows signs of recording's universal depredations - the carpet tiles littered with ash, empty cigarette packs, glutinous coffee cups, foul ash trays. JR carefully arranges the hardware in fishing tackle boxes. Assorted percussion gives a tell tale rattle inside its horseshoe shaped box. Inside each of the custom built crates is a neatly typed list of contents - as if everything were going off to some unimaginable summer camp.
Of course over the months loads of stuff has accumulated that was not part of the original design - art supplies and empty reels, a crate of fat 16 track tapes and skinny 2 tracks, mike cord, headphones, giant rolls of jute cloth. The floor is deep in the tools of the packer's art - pliers, hammers., scissors, screwdriver, string, Magic Markers and the ubiquitous foam rubber. JR leaves his work for a moment and carefully undoes the cover to display the console, like Carter revealing the golden mask of the boy pharaoh - and there it is, looking positively like God's jukebox. When it arrives safely home it will be reassembled and tested in the warehouse/lab, then dismantled once again fro reconstruction at some as yet undetermined site - possibly Topanga or Malibu.
In their six month emigration to Holland to realize an album project, the Beach Boys have demonstrated both a broadened insight into being and a good grip on the purpose for contradiction. The decision to leave California, where the group had recorded all of its previous studio efforts, bore with it the challenge to rediscover "why" a land of 24 hour a day supermarkets could still hold value for humans anguished over their home's ecological condition long before linguists named it.
The contradiction of the Beach Boys is born in many forms. Most notable of late was the bringing of two South African blacks, Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, into "all that is American and white". However, in Holland the Beach Boys have imparted reason for that contradiction and served their audience with new ones as well: they left a land of water, California for a change, but landed upon the land stolen from water, Holland, where they recorded the cries of drowning men and floating images more imaginatively than any before them have attempted; they looked at the land they had spurned and praised it, returning to that land nostalgically but without hope of tomorrows.
"Sail On, Sailor" is a Brian Wilson-Jack Rieley song with writer credits suggesting informal assistance from a wide range of characters, among them Van Dyke Parks. It takes the composers sense of rueful sorcery to a politically radical plateau, accompanied lyrically by one of the more blunt statements of the quality of being ever uttered by the Beach Boys. Blondie Chaplin sings lead, and Carl Wilson produced.
"Steamboat" is the adventure of sound as life's recreation - of recorded production as blood's pulse. Dennis Wilson-Jack Rieley written, the song is descriptive and chugging, like the vehicle for which it is named. Carl sings lead on this one and and co-produced with Dennis. Tony Martin plays steel guitar.
"Big Sur" marks the first time Mike Love has composed the music as well as written words for a song, and it is the first part of the trilogy California Saga which examines the ghettoized cloisters of what remains in dear California. Mike sings lead and Alan Jardine and Carl co-produced.
"The Beaks of Eagles" came originally from a poem by Robinson Jeffers which Alan Jardine found one day. In it a certain sense of natural nobility is portrayed, then praised in brief verse sung like a clear bell by Jardine, who singly wrote.
"California" which the author also refers to as "on my way to sunny Cal-i-forn-eye-ay" - the line sung from the seldom heard vocal chords of Brian Wilson. In the song a certain flashback montage permeates a generally high descriptive lyric. Al Jardine composed the words and music and co-produced with Carl.
"The Trader" is a two part Carl Wilson painting - his first effort since "Feel Flows" and "Long Promised Road" appeared on the Surf's Up album. In it recorded production reaches new heights in glory and measure; like a many layered puzzle whose pieces are nothing singly but which, when put together, registers incredibly upon the sensory scoreboard. The Jack Rieley lyric condemns the imperialism of Holland's yesterdays and America's todays, both from the viewpoint of perpetrator and from that of the victim. Carl sings lead and Carl produced.
"Leaving This Town" stalks ground of deep inner experience and is built of a beautifully simple structure created by Ricky Fataar. Unlike the composer's two earlier Beach Boys efforts (on the So Tough album), this song takes full advantage of the musical coexistence of diversity which Brian Wilson has for so long expounded. The integral quality of the recording is even more apparent when the credits are shown revealing backup writing from Carl Wilson, Blondie Chaplin and Mike Love. Blondie Chaplin sings lead, Ricky produced and also did the moog solo.
"Only With You" is Dennis Wilson's beauty and wonder expressed in group form. Mike Love wrote the words and brother Carl sings the lead. Dennis' emotionalism i soft and gentle here, as it was on Sunflower's "Forever" and Friends' "Little Bird". It contrasts both in form and effect from his contributions to So Tough.
"Funky Pretty", the last cut on the album, is one of the more descriptive titles ever laid upon a song. Brian Wilson composed this one, of course. It is equally the first and the last word of its title. It incorporates every member of the group equally, and features no fewer than four melodies running concurrently through the verse. The Mike love-Jack Rieley lyrics are at once humorous, mystical and perverse. Even the lead vocal is shared - by four of the group members. The song's tag incorporates perhaps a dozen moving parts. Brothers Brian and Carl produced.
And the Bonus Record
Those buying Holland are recipient of a so-called gift from Brian Wilson, in the form of a 45 that the Beach Boys like to refer to as his fairy tale. Titled "Mount Vernon and Fairway", it is in reality a post-Sartre essay on the nothingness of being, carrying with it a joy and exhalation which evaporates time as nothing Brian Wilson has ever attempted before. It is not a rock opera, so it will disappoint some and insult perhaps a few listeners. It's the classic form of the fairy tale and nothing else. Nothing else, that is, except perhaps an autobiographical look at Brian Wilson's early planet. He wrote the words, music and text, and also provide the Pied Piper voice.
Was it worth it? Or was this all a very complicated dream, anyhow? Well, the Beach Boys stand behind the experiment, more than pleased with the results. Brother Records has become so enamored of Holland that they have set up a permanent office in Amsterdam, an exquisite 17th Century house overlooking a mossy green canal. Upstairs, resounding among the antique furnishings, is the shiny black round thing that all the fuss was about. Carl is still too close to the business to be objective - that will take months. But the other listeners are smiling that knocked out smile, and it looks like the right idea was Holland.
Shelley Benoit, November, 1972
Some of the photos on this page were taken from The Flame's website. This great site features everything you could ever want to know about The Flame (inculding a lot of info on Blondie Chaplin & Ricky Fataar, Holland-era Beach Boys). Please visit: http://www.the-flames.com/