Fun, Fun, Fun: The Beach Boys; Carpenters; Status Quo.

Hello there! This week our blog features a ‘surf rock’ tune, Fun, Fun, Fun. We will first discuss the original version by The Beach Boys. Next, we will review a cover by Carpenters, and finally one by Status Quo.

The Beach Boys and Fun, Fun, Fun:

The Beach Boys were one of the greatest rock and roll groups in history. They were formed in 1961 in California, and initially were primarily a family band. The three Wilson brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl teamed up with cousin Mike Love and a family friend David Marks. They were initially known as the Pendletones, named after the Pendleton wool shirts popular with California surfers.

At first, the Beach Boys sang while the instrumental work was provided by studio musicians (a group that later became known as the Wrecking Crew). However, the brothers gradually became proficient on their instruments – Carl on electric guitar, Brian on bass and Dennis on drums.

David Marks left fairly early and was replaced by Al Jardine. Jardine, together with Mike Love and the three Wilson brothers, made up the “classic” Beach Boys lineup of the 60s.

The Beach Boys soon replaced their wool Pendleton shirts with a combination of striped shirts and white pants (the shirts are visible in the photo below). L to R: Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love.

Embed from Getty Images

It soon became clear that Brian Wilson was the brains of the outfit. Brian wrote the songs, oversaw the productions, and took control of all major decisions, once their micro-managing dad Murry was ousted as the group’s agent.

In late 1964, after suffering a panic attack on an airplane flight, Brian stopped touring with the Beach Boys. Thereafter, he did all his work in the studio. So videos like the upcoming clip, showing Brian Wilson performing with the Beach Boys, are relatively rare, and almost non-existent after 1964.

The song Fun, Fun, Fun was written in 1964, with Brian responsible for the melody and Mike Love for most of the lyrics. The song describes a young girl who loses her driving privileges after she misbehaves with her father’s Thunderbird.

Well she got her daddy’s car
And she cruised through the hamburger stand now.
Seems she forgot all about the library
Like she told her old man now.
And with the radio blasting
Goes cruising just as fast as she can now

[CHORUS] And she’ll have fun fun fun
‘Til her daddy takes the T-bird away
(Fun fun fun ’til her daddy takes the T-bird away)

Well the girls can’t stand her
Cause she walks looks and drives like an ace now
She makes the Indy 500
look like a Roman chariot race now
A lotta guys try to catch her
But she leads them on a wild goose chase now

Legend has it that the song refers to an actual incident involving the daughter of the owner of Salt Lake City radio station KNAK. Apparently she borrowed her dad’s 1963 Thunderbird, ostensibly to visit the library at the University of Utah, but instead went to a drive-in movie and was grounded when her father discovered what she had done.

Here is the audio of the Beach Boys Fun, Fun, Fun.

Isn’t this a terrific short & snappy rock ‘n roll tune? It begins with Carl playing those great, instantly recognizable ‘surf rock’ guitar licks (the guitar solo was modeled after Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode). Then Mike Love enters with the lead vocals.

On the chorus we get those wonderful, tight Beach Boys harmonies. After the second verse, Brian throws in a solo on a Hammond B3 organ. Then the group repeats the “Fun, Fun, Fun” chorus several times, and at the end we hear Brian’s falsetto soaring over the top of it all.

Brian Wilson’s production of this song adds up to 2 minutes, 21 seconds of pure, unadulterated pleasure. No matter what my mood beforehand, after hearing Fun, Fun, Fun I have a goofy grin all over my face.

The song Fun, Fun, Fun was released in early 1964 and made it to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The single was released in the U.K. but failed to chart (WTF?).

And now here are the Beach Boys in a live performance of Fun, Fun, Fun.

This is from a March 14, 1964 concert that included the Beatles and Lesley Gore. The groups performed before a studio audience, and the concert was beamed on closed-circuit to theaters packed with teen fans.

The show was notable as the Beatles’ first US concert. But tape of the Beach Boys’ 22-minute segment of the show was lost for about 35 years before it re-surfaced; this is why it is referred to as the “Lost Concert” by the Beach Boys.

As you can see, the Beach Boys are unable to replicate their signature close harmonies in live performance (especially with the rather primitive electronics of those days). Furthermore, you can see that Carl is still somewhat tentative on his guitar solo.

However, it is a rare treat to see the entire Beach Boys group in live performance. This is one of the last concerts before Brian stopped participating in the group’s live shows. And it is wonderful to hear his lovely, clear falsetto at the end of the song.

Once the Beach Boys mastered their instruments, they became the kings of surf rock. Their vocal style, inspired by groups like the Four Freshmen and by harmonies borrowed from barbershop quartets, is impressive and very creative.

Brian Wilson was a musical genius. His writing was incredibly creative; and he pioneered several innovative studio techniques. Brian worked closely with the Wrecking Crew studio musicians, and his work became progressively more imaginative and complex. All of this culminated in the Beach Boys’ seminal 1966 album Pet Sounds.

That album is now considered one of the greatest pop albums of all times. In addition to extremely sophisticated vocal harmonies, recording techniques and instrumental arrangements, the album also incorporated a number of unique sounds – sleigh bells, bicycle horns, barking dogs.

On the Pet Sounds album, Brian shared intensely personal experiences and thoughts. The other Beach Boys simply showed up to record their vocals, did not play instruments, and had essentially no input into the project.

Unfortunately, Brian Wilson found himself under terrific strain. A combination of drug-related and mental health issues made Brian withdraw into himself. Eventually Brian became unable to function normally; and he never completed his next album concept, Smile. That project eventually became the most controversial and anticipated ‘unfinished album’ of all time.

Brian Wilson’s drug and psychological issues led to a subsequent breakdown. It took him decades to overcome the combination of mental-health and addiction issues. However, now that he has recovered he occasionally joins up with his fellow Beach Boys for concerts.

The Beach Boys were a historically great pop group. Although Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who actually was a surfer, they will forever be associated with Southern California sun and surf.

Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983 and Carl died of lung cancer in 1998. The Beach Boys provided us with a legacy of great songs and wonderful memories, for which we salute them.

Carpenters and Fun, Fun, Fun:

The Carpenters were a brother-and-sister pop duo who were major stars during the period 1969-1980. Here is a photo of Karen and Richard Carpenter in 1981.

Embed from Getty Images

Richard Carpenter fashioned a ‘signature sound’ by blending classically-inspired combinations of strings, woodwinds and brass. Richard himself played keyboards on Carpenters’ songs and particularly favored the Wurlitzer electric piano, though he would also switch to grand piano, Hammond organ or harpsichord.

The duo also created vocal tracks by overdubbing Karen’s and Richard’s voices to produce background vocals that complemented Karen’s singing. Karen’s voice was distinctive and unforgettable – what she lacked in power she made up for with a three-octave vocal range, perfect pitch and a beautiful lower register that was highlighted in Richard’s arrangements.

Karen first appeared as the drummer in a jazz trio with Richard, but soon she began to be featured as a vocalist. Karen played drums in all of the Carpenters’ early records, but gave up drumming when her vocals became the highlight of the group’s songs.

Here are the Carpenters in a live performance of two songs: Fun, Fun, Fun and Dancing In The Street.

This is from a 1977 TV special. I’m sorry to say that this is a disappointing cover of Fun, Fun, Fun. I don’t recognize the MC of this show, but he provides an embarrassingly cheesy intro – he resembles an obnoxious used-car salesman. This show includes the dumbed-down dialogue and poor acting typical of televised rock music productions.

To add insult to injury, neither of the songs highlights the signature style of the Carpenters – Richard’s sophisticated arrangements paired with Karen’s instantly recognizable vocals. Fun, Fun, Fun is Beach Boys surf-rock, while Dancing In The Street featured great power vocals from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, backed by the Motown house band.

While they were a hot item, the Carpenters spent an enormous amount of time on the road, often performing up to 200 shows per year from 1971 to 1975. The grueling travel schedule eventually caught up to them. In January 1979 Richard checked into a rehab facility for an addiction to Quaaludes.

However, Karen’s eating problems proved disastrous. She suffered from anorexia nervosa, a terrible body image disorder. In the most severe cases, patients could starve to death while still maintaining that they needed to lose more weight.

This situation was particularly difficult for Karen because at that time the symptoms and treatment for anorexia were not widely understood. Her problem first surfaced when she collapsed during a performance in 1975. A couple of years later Karen began seeing a psychotherapist, and she entered a treatment facility in fall 1982. Two months later she left the facility claiming that she was cured, despite advice from family and friends.

In February 1983, Karen Carpenter died from heart failure that occurred as a side effect of her anorexia. It brought a tragic end to a most promising career; however, Karen Carpenter’s death at age 33 helped to bring about a heightened public awareness of eating disorders.

The Carpenters were a superb pop duo. We remember Karen Carpenter with great fondness, and send our best wishes to her older brother Richard.

Status Quo and Fun, Fun, Fun:

Status Quo is a British rock group with a long history. They were originally formed by Francis Rossi (lead guitar) and Alan Lancaster (bass) in 1962, when they were schoolboys.

After a few changes in both lineup and name of the band, the group settled on The Status Quo in 1967 (they would become simply “Status Quo” a year later). They had added John Coghlan on drums and Rick Parfitt on rhythm guitar.

Below is a 60s photo of Status Quo. From L: John Coghlan; Francis Rossi; Alan Lancaster; Rick Parfitt.

British rock band Status Quo.

An interesting trivia note: in 1967 the group chose the name Traffic. However, they lost a battle with Steve Winwood, who had chosen the identical name for his progressive-rock ensemble.

In 1968 the group joined the craze for psychedelic rock, and issued a song Pictures of Matchstick Men, which rose to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the only Status Quo song to crack the Billboard top 40.

However, Status Quo then switched to a harder rock boogie sound, and then became British superstars. They were one of those bands that had tremendous success in Britain while never denting the American pop charts.

I had heard about Status Quo but can’t remember any of their songs – although I have a hazy memory that I might have listened to Pictures of Matchstick Men back in 1968.

Here is a music video featuring Status Quo performing Fun, Fun, Fun.

As you can see, this video is a pastiche of several different performances of the Beach Boys song. In 1996, a single was issued of Fun, Fun, Fun featuring Status Quo plus the Beach Boys; and some of the video clips show various Beach Boys singing along with Status Quo.  They slip in a new verse, sung by Mike Love, that was not part of the original Fun, Fun, Fun.

Status Quo is quite an enjoyable band. I could see why they were so popular in the U.K., although it is unclear why they had so little commercial success in the States.

Believe it or not, Status Quo is still performing today, some 57 years after Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster formed a band in high school. The group has sold nearly 120 million records and charted 22 top-10 hits in the U.K. playlists. All told they placed more than 60 songs in the U.K. charts, which is apparently the highest total ever (more than the Beatles??)

Only Francis Rossi remains from the original band, although keyboard player Andy Bown has been playing with Status Quo since 1976. Rhythm guitarist Rick Parfitt died of a heart attack in 2017; we send our best wishes for continuing success to the surviving members of Status Quo.

Source Material:

Wikipedia: Fun, Fun, Fun
Wikipedia: The Beach Boys
Wikipedia: The Carpenters
Wikipedia: Status Quo (band)

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. From 2002 to 2018, he and his wife shared their college-town experiences with two delightful cats, siblings Lewis and Clark, who enormously enriched their lives. Together with his colleague Steven Vigdor, Tim is co-author of a blog "Debunking Denial," that discusses the difference between skepticism and denial as manifested in various current issues. He is also co-founder of "Concerned Scientists of Indiana University," a group that supports evidence-based science, funding for science research, and policies based on the best available scientific information. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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