After ‘Blurred Lines’ verdict, Brian Wilson talks Chuck Berry and ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’
Brian Wilson’s forthcoming studio album, “No Pier Pressure,” features the Beach Boys creative leader collaborating with several guest musicians, including Blondie Chaplin, the South African guitarist and singer who briefly was a member of the Beach Boys in the 1970s.
Wilson, 72, cites the song they’ve recorded together, “Sail Away," as “one of my favorites on the new album,” and it includes a musical homage to Chaplin’s best-known number from his Beach Boys days, “Sail on Sailor.”
That opened the door to ask Wilson about this week’s hot topic in the music world: homage vs. plagiarism as it has played out in the “Blurred Lines” copyright infringement case against musicians Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. A Los Angeles jury earlier this week found that they had infringed on Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up" and awarded Gaye’s estate nearly $7.4 million in damages.
“I never repeat myself,” Wilson said of the hundreds of songs he’s written and co-written over a career that’s still going after more than a half century. “You just always have to come up with new melodies, new lyrics, new chord changes, new arrangements.”
Wilson thought that’s just what he’d done when he wrote and the Beach Boys recorded one of its signature early hits, “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” which went to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1963.
It was created as an homage to one of the early rock heroes, Chuck Berry.
“I just took ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and rewrote it into something of our own,” he said during an interview this week at the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood.
He was surprised--and not a little hurt, he said--when Berry’s publisher contended years later that he’d done more than paid tribute to Berry, one of the early architects of rock ‘n’ roll. They claimed “Surfin’ U.S.A.” plagiarized Berry’s song.
Subsequently, writing credit and publishing royalties were signed over to Berry--just as the man sometimes called the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll also brought a suit against John Lennon, arguing that the Beatles’ 1969 hit “Come Together” ripped off Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me.”
Despite being stung on “Surfin U.S.A.,” a song that Rolling Stone included on its list of the 500 songs that most shape rock music, Wilson never held a grudge.
He still regularly includes Berry songs in his live shows, and has even slipped “Sweet Little Sixteen” lyrics into his live rendition of “Surfin’ U.S.A.” He’s also already starting to think about another album to follow “No Pier Pressure,” even though that one isn’t being released until April 7.
“It’s going to be more rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “We’re going to record ‘Johnny B. Goode.’”
Is a full album dedicated to Berry a possibility, given Wilson’s 2010 album “Brian Wilson Reimagines George Gershwin”? The record was a tribute to the musician he often cites as his first musical influence.
“That’s a definite possibility,” he said.
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