The latest installment of the Recording Academy-presented Grammy Salutes — an annual series that has previously honored musicians like The Beatles — was dedicated to celebrating The Beach Boys. The special was taped at the Los Angeles Dolby Theater Feb. 8, aired on CBS and was released on Paramount+ April 9. Musicians such as John Legend, Brandi Carlile and Charlie Puth paid a fitting tribute to one of the most influential bands in music history.
While the artists performed on stage, the honored guests of the night — including Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston — sat in a box stage left. Brian Wilson, the revolutionary musician who paved the band’s path to success and whose personal struggles have defined the group’s complicated history, was also in attendance. Notably absent were Blondie Chaplin and the two late Wilson brothers, Dennis and Carl.
“A Grammy Salute to The Beach Boys” opened with a monologue from Tom Hanks, praising the band for serving as the soundtrack of the early 1960s surfing craze in California before emerging at the forefront of studio experimentation later in the decade. For the remainder of its nearly hour-and-a-half runtime, the program wove live performances with videos of artists expressing their admiration for the band — from Mark Foster recounting the first time he heard “I Get Around” as a 6-year-old to St. Vincent lauding the band’s melodic songwriting.
The song lineup encompassed everything from surf rock ‘n’ roll numbers to harmony-drenched ballads to chaotic creations from albums like “Pet Sounds” and the band’s SMiLE-era.
Legend set the tone of the tribute early with a soulful rendition of “Sail On, Sailor.” Luke Spiller of The Struts and Taylor Momsen performed a killer rock ‘n’ roll medley, while Fall Out Boy captured the energetic spirit of Dennis Wilson with “Do You Wanna Dance?” And in one of the most fitting vocal choices of the special, Andy Grammar sang “Darlin’” with a pop twist that left viewers wondering if the song might find greater success released as a pop hit today.
Some participating artists decided to put their own spin on the classics. Mumford & Sons completely reinvented the heavily produced “I Know There’s An Answer” using just a guitar, contrabass recorder, simple two-part backing vocals and a gritty lead from Marcus Mumford. Meanwhile, Pentatonix took on the lofty challenge of performing the notoriously complex “Heroes and Villains” a capella, with beatboxer Kevin Olusola transporting the song’s chorus from the baroque pop era into 2023 with ease.
Others made more specific changes to their song’s form: My Morning Jacket ended “I Get Around” with four bars of heavy drums and wailing guitars; Weezer made “California Girls” their own with a slight reharmonization in the final pass of the chorus’s descending progression; and Lady A and Little Big Town give “Surfer Girl” and “Help Me Rhonda” a country flare.
One of the highlights of the special was seeing just how close certain artists came to replicating the magic of the original recordings. At the top of this list is Charlie Puth, who would have been a great vocal fit to join the original group had he been alive for its formation. His performance of the iconic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” captured the balance of gentle intonation with a soaring falsetto reminiscent of Brian and Carl Wilson. It’s fitting that another faithful performance came from a fellow group of sibling singers, with Hanson nailing the simple but addictive Beach Boys cover of “Barbara Ann.”
At 71 years old, Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers absolutely crushed the 1964 classic “Don’t Worry Baby,” accompanied by perhaps one of the only vocal groups that can eclipse the original Beach Boys arrangement: Take 6. From the first chord, listeners could tell they were in for something special, with Take 6 transforming a straightforward E-major chord into a delightfully tense major-nine chord. The group got the spotlight in the third verse, letting loose harmonically before the number ended on another delicious major-nine chord.
The event’s backing band — made up of a myriad of horns, strings, woodwinds, percussion, keyboards and guitars — managed to recreate the lushly layered original recordings nearly note-for-note. Headed by Mike Elizondo, the band included well-regarded musicians such as Abe Laboriel Jr. — the drummer in Paul McCartney's band — and long-time member of Brian Wilson’s touring band Probyn Gregory. Gregory was asked to play nine instruments in the show and helped advise the musical team, informed by his years of experience playing with Wilson. The band also includes Jason Falkner and Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
The show closed Jim James and Beck’s performance of “Good Vibrations” and Carlile and Legend’s rendition of “God Only Knows,” which sent audiences home with a tight, two-part harmony.
After Carlile and Legend sang their final notes, the camera cut to The Beach Boys. Three of the band’s members — Jardine, Marks and Johnston — had smiles beaming across their faces, while Love appeared to be tearing up. Brian seemed, for a rare moment, to be animated, clapping as he looked down on the stage.
It’s been eleven years since the group last toured together. Love and Johnston continue to play under the official title of “The Beach Boys,” while Jardine travels with Brian Wilson’s band. Considering the long history of tension within the group, it’s uncertain when The Beach Boys will ever be seen seated together again — let alone performing alongside one another. To borrow a line from a classic Beach Boys tune, “Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true.”