Music: The Beach Boys in BaambruggeArticle by Eric Bryan
The Beach Boys visited The Netherlands in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, playing concerts in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Groningen, as well as appearing on various Dutch television and radio programs. The band was grateful for the Dutch audiences’ acceptance of their later post-surfing material, and for their interest in hearing the newer songs in concert.
In 1972, seeking a re-energizing change of scenery, the group recalled their happy experiences in The Netherlands, shipped all the components of a California recording studio overseas and had them installed in a barn in the peaceful Baambrugge countryside. The plan was to create and record an entire album in this pleasing Dutch setting.
At this time, the band lineup included two members recruited from the South African group, Flame: Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar. (Fataar later joined The Rutles as Stig O’Hara.) With mastermind Brian Wilson less active in the band during this period, the rest of the group was required to present songs for the proposed album. Happily, everyone rose to the occasion for the project, which was to be christened HOLLAND.
Location and logistics
The Baambrugge barn at Rijksstraatweg 45, is located about ten miles south of Amsterdam. It had previously functioned as a radio and television studio run by Piet Visser who, as Pi Veriss, wrote the hit song Just Give Me Amsterdam (Geef mij maar Amsterdam).
Chief Engineer Stephen Moffitt and his team overhauled the studio’s interior, even shipping in Malibu Beach sand to act as baffling inside the walls and in the monitor speakers. Moffitt had a new floor laid several inches above the original; the space between the two accommodated hundreds of cables and cords and kept them out of sight. He had the cold fluorescent lighting replaced with atmospheric colored lamps connected to dimmer switches, and the ceiling covered in spun glass.
At the time, there were four flights a day from Los Angeles to Amsterdam. For four-and-a-half weeks, every one of those flights carried Beach Boys gear, which included a new state-of-the-art scratch-built mixing console designed by Moffitt and physics whiz Gordon Rudd. The shipments ultimately resulted in the delivery of 7,300 pounds of equipment installed in the Baambrugge barn studio.
Settling in, and a Dutch-inspired fairy tale
Brian Wilson moved into a house in Laren (near Hilversum) called ‘Flowers’. Carl Wilson said during a Dutch television interview: “It had a very artistic, moody, fairy tale sort of feel. It can seem like that to you when you’re there for a while. It is a very beautiful place, calm and natural.”
Inspired while living there, Brian began to invent a story, attempting to capture the place’s storybook ambience. This became Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale), a spoken-word piece with sound-effects and musical interludes.
The group and its entourage, initially put up in hotels, all moved into houses within thirty miles of downtown Amsterdam. Locations included Vreeland, Hilversum, Heemstede, Haarlem and Bloemendaal. A leased piano and stereo were installed in each of the Dutch homes. In order to transport the personnel and supplies to and fro, the group rented nine Mercedes, one Audi and bought a van and three Volkswagens.
In keeping with the fruitful era of the Beach Boys’ post-surfing music, the group’s ‘Dutch period’ produced such interesting works as the three-part California Saga, which used poetry by Robinson Jeffers; Steamboat, an impressionistic aural painting celebrating Robert Fulton; and the two-part The Trader, about the settling of the New World. It’s interesting that the group’s temporary displacement to The Netherlands resulted in these works of historical audio-Americana.
During recording sessions, members of the group would sometimes stop to eat at a bar across the road from the studio. South African members Ricky and Blondie both spoke some Dutch and so helped the group interact with the locals. The primary occasional interruptions were the sounds of trains passing on a nearby railway track and the curious cows which occupied the fields surrounding the barn. Ricky noted that sometimes one of the group would have to shoo away cows who had come to moo at the studio windows.
Beach Boys manager/lyricist Jack Rieley provided words for a number of songs on Holland. Rieley’s surreal lyrics often paint a series of colorful, evocative images rather than present a defined narrative, though sometimes they do both. Rieley’s imagery-rich lyrics for Steamboat offer an example of his work as a versifier.
Rieley’s words are attached to a gently-lilting tempo which, sprinkled with pneumatic hisses, ship’s bells and puffing-engine sound-effects, sleepily induces the feel of riding on a slow-chugging steamboat. The warbling of the bells and the searing, slow-motion slide guitar solo add to the sensation the song imparts of viewing passing images which slowly wave, dreamlike, in and out of focus. The intersection of Dennis Wilson’s music, Jack Rieley’s lyrics, and Carl Wilson’s soulful, expressive lead vocal made Steamboat one of the Beach Boys’ best works.
The main song which Brian Wilson worked on during the Holland sessions began as Spark in the Dark and ended up as Funky Pretty. With some lyrics contributed by Mike Love and Rieley, the song described an astrologer regarded as a “daughter of Neptune”. The work is notable for the trading off of lead vocal from Carl on the verses, to four other group members alternating line by line in the bridges. The long fadeout features rotating vocal and instrumental parts, with as many as perhaps twelve interweaving melody and harmony lines – evidence of Brian’s dazzling harmonic gifts.
Brian’s other co-written work from the time, Sail On, Sailor, was completed and added to the album once the group returned to Los Angeles. Released as a single with Blondie Chaplin on lead vocal, Sail On, Sailor entered the charts in 1973 and again in 1975.
Release, reflection and retrospect
Holland was issued in January 1973 and earned respect from critics. Rolling Stone Magazine nominated it for Album of the Year. Many regard it as bookending a particularly creative period for the group which began in 1967. The Holland cover featured an upside down photo of the Kromme Waal, an Amsterdam canal, with a reflection of a boat on the surface of its waters.
Carl described his seven months living in Hilversum and Laren in the Dutch television interview: “It was a very creative time for me. [ . . . ] I remember leaving the house in the early afternoon and going home in the morning, when the sun was coming up. The days were very long in the summer. [ . . . ] It was a very good experience for me. It was also a very spiritual time for me.”
Brian’s wife Marilyn remarked to Rolling Stone about Brian’s time in The Netherlands: “He loved it and didn’t like coming back to Los Angeles. Everything’s slower in Holland, you can relax and you can enjoy the air. Brian used to go on a bicycle every day.”
Listening to the Holland album (currently available on CD and for downloading) proves the wisdom of the Beach Boys’ plan of removing themselves from the pressures of Los Angeles to the peace of the Baambrugge countryside. The project brought out some of the best qualities, and music, of the group’s members.
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