When Glen Campbell joined the Beach Boys and replaced Brian Wilson as lead singer

28 May 2024, 13:20 | Updated: 30 May 2024, 15:51

Glen Campbell toured with the Beach Boys in the mid-1960s
Glen Campbell toured with the Beach Boys in the mid-1960s. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

In the mid-1960s, a pivotal moment in music history occurred when Glen Campbell, an accomplished session musician and emerging solo artist, joined the Beach Boys for a brief but significant period.

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This collaboration, although short-lived, had a lasting impact on both Glen Campbell's career and the Beach Boys' sound.

Glen Campbell was already a well-established figure in the music industry before his association with the Beach Boys. Born in Arkansas in 1936, Campbell moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, where he quickly became a sought-after session guitarist.

He worked with the famed group of studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, contributing to countless hit records across various genres. His skill on the guitar and his versatile voice made him a valuable asset in the bustling LA music scene.

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The Beach Boys, formed by Brian Wilson and his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine, were at the height of their popularity in the early 1960s.

Known for their harmonious vocals and catchy surf-rock tunes, they had already released several successful albums. However, by late 1964, the band faced a significant challenge. Brian Wilson, the group's primary songwriter and creative force, decided to stop touring to focus on studio work. This left the band without one of its key members for live performances.

Enter Glen Campbell. In December 1964, Campbell was asked to join the Beach Boys as a temporary replacement for Brian Wilson on their live tours.

At the time, Campbell was already acquainted with the band, having played on several of their studio recordings, including the iconic Pet Sounds album. His familiarity with their music, combined with his exceptional musicianship, made him an ideal candidate to fill in for Wilson.

The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys. Picture: Getty

Campbell's tenure with the Beach Boys lasted from December 1964 to March 1965. During this period, he performed with the band on various live dates, including television appearances and concert tours.

His ability to seamlessly blend into their vocal harmonies and replicate Wilson's intricate bass lines and falsetto parts was crucial in maintaining the band's live sound. Fans and critics alike praised Campbell for his professionalism and his ability to step into such a challenging role with ease.

One notable performance during Campbell's time with the Beach Boys was their appearance on the television show Shindig! in early 1965. This show, popular among teenagers at the time, showcased some of the biggest acts in rock and roll. Campbell's performance with the band on Shindig! is often remembered for his confident stage presence and his impressive guitar work, which complemented the Beach Boys' signature sound.

He told NME in 1970: “It was in 1965. I’d played on all the Beach Boys’ recording sessions and I knew their songs. So one day they called me and asked if I’d play a concert in Dallas with them because Brian Wilson was sick. I said sure.

"I went to Dallas and made about two million mistakes, but nobody could hear them over the screamin’ and hollerin’ of 17,000 kids."

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Although his stint with the band was temporary, Campbell's impact on the Beach Boys was significant. His contributions helped the group maintain their momentum during a transitional period, allowing Brian Wilson to focus on his studio projects. Campbell's professionalism and musical talent also left a lasting impression on the band members, who respected his abilities and appreciated his efforts.

After leaving the Beach Boys, Campbell's career continued to soar. He returned to his solo work and soon achieved massive success with hits like 'Wichita Lineman', 'Gentle on My Mind', 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix', and 'Rhinestone Cowboy'.

His unique blend of country and pop music, coupled with his smooth voice and exceptional guitar skills, made him one of the most popular artists of the late 1960s and 1970s. Campbell's versatility as a musician and his ability to cross over into different genres cemented his place in music history.

For the Beach Boys, the mid-1960s marked a period of significant evolution. Brian Wilson's decision to focus on studio work led to the creation of some of the band's most critically acclaimed albums, including Pet Sounds and Smile. The time Campbell spent with the band, though brief, played a role in this creative transition. It demonstrated the band's resilience and ability to adapt, even in the face of major changes.

Glen Campbell in 1967
Glen Campbell in 1967. Picture: Getty

Glen Campbell's collaboration with the Beach Boys is a fascinating chapter in the annals of rock and roll history. It highlights the interconnectedness of musicians in the 1960s and the ways in which their paths often crossed in unexpected and influential ways.

Upon Glen Campbell's death in 2017, Brian Wilson posted a sweet tribute, saying: "I'm very broken up to hear about my friend Glen Campbell. An incredible musician and an even better person. I'm at a loss. Love & Mercy."

Campbell's time with the Beach Boys may have been short, but it showcased his immense talent and versatility, qualities that would define his illustrious career. For the Beach Boys, Campbell's contributions during a critical period helped pave the way for their continued success and enduring legacy in the world of music.