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When Glen Campbell replaced Brian Wilson in The Beach Boys


All it took was one plane ride for Brian Wilson to step away from The Beach Boys. To anyone else, being Brian Wilson in 1964 would have seemed like a dream. The Beach Boys were America’s biggest band, landing hit singles and popular albums that could only be rivalled by the incoming British Invasion acts. But for Wilson, some initial feelings of discontent soon began to balloon into a full-on mental break.

Wilson was resentful of his close association with surf culture, wanting instead to explore more mature themes and more complex compositions. The only problem was that The Beach Boys machine couldn’t stop: Wilson was expected to crank out album after album, single after single, and tour after tour with no time to explore his creative ambitions. The pressure began to take its toll, and while flying to Houston for yet another concert appearance in December of 1964, Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown mid-flight.

Wilson wound up getting himself together enough to perform in Houston, but a replacement was needed to give Wilson some rest. The band had previously had David Marks stand-in on bass and falsetto vocals during a brief period in 1963 when he and Al Jardine were both in the lineup, allowing Wilson to take time off to write. But this was different: Wilson wanted to cease touring completely and focus solely on making records. The rest of the band was willing to accommodate him, but there were gigs already booked that had to be honoured. With no time to find a replacement, The Beach Boys needed a hired gun.

They found one in Glen Campbell, the sweet-talking southern guitar player who had become a key player in the gang of Los Angeles studio musicians eventually dubbed The Wrecking Crew. Campbell was struggling to get a solo career off the ground and had played on numerous Beach Boys records by that point. He was well-liked, he could sing, and he could be called on a moment’s notice to fill in.

Mike [Love] and Carl [Wilson] called me on a Wednesday and said, ‘Glen, can you be here tomorrow?'” Campbell recalled in Keith Badman’s book The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America’s Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studio. “‘You gotta play bass and do Brian’s part.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I had been doing their sessions, so I could easily fill in. The only problem was, I didn’t know all the words to the songs. They’d be singing ‘Pasadena’ and I’d be singing something else. I didn’t know what I was saying. But the screams were so loud from the girls, you’d walk onstage and you couldn’t hear a thing anyway.”

Campbell eventually got his legs under him and toured with The Beach Boys from December 1964 to April 1965. While at home, Wilson began finishing up the arrangements for The Beach Boys Today! and started writing material for Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), both of which showcased his advances in arranging and lyrical content. When it became clear that Campbell had his own career to get back to and Wilson wasn’t returning to the road, The Beach Boys began searching for a more permanent replacement.

They eventually found one in Bruce Johnston, a songwriter and record producer who had been around The Beach Boys’ orbit for a number of years. Johnston was the right age, had the vocal and instrumental chops, and had an easygoing attitude that allowed him to fit in without disrupting the band’s chemistry. Although he wouldn’t be credited until 1967’s Wild Honey, Johnston was a full member of the band starting in 1965, contributing to the classic material that would eventually appear on Pet Sounds and Smiley Smile.

Campbell never forgot his brief tenure in The Beach Boys, and when his solo career finally began to take off, Campbell would frequently play a medley of Beach Boys songs in concert as a tribute. Check out one of those performances down below.