Viral Video: Ebullient promo for classic Beach Boys' tune

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Wilson's version of the West Indies folk tune hit #3 on the U.S. music charts.

One of the many delights in the new film Love & Mercy, about the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, is the lighthearted recreation of a promo film the band made for “Sloop John B”, the song from its 1966 Pet Sounds album. In a movie with many dark moments and scenes of stinging sadness, this ebullient interlude confirms that, in spite of Wilson’s tormented emotional state, he was still able to be playful and poke fun at himself.

“Sloop John B” was a traditional West Indies folk song taken from Carl Sandburg’s The American Songbag. The Kingston Trio recorded the tune in 1958 as “The Wreck of the John B.” Wilson adapted it for Pet Sounds and released it as a single, which peaked at #3 on the U.S. charts.

In Love & Mercy, director Bill Pohlad and cinematographer Robert Yeoman re-enact the making of the promo film — an obvious forerunner of the music video — with loving attention to detail, plopping it in the middle of a long section in which we watch Wilson conjuring magic in the studio while battling the voices in his head. Yeoman also created the retro-16mm film feel of the montage at the beginning of Love & Mercy, which whisks us through the Beach Boys’ early hit-making years, neatly capturing the time capsule feel of sun, surf and bikinis.

Yeoman, a peripatetic D.P. (director of photography) who shoots all of Wes Anderson’s pictures, is a master at this home movie effect, as well as the trippy drug sequence. Both these signature tropes can be seen in one of his first films, Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, and they reappear in Love & Mercy.

The original promo film, with more than a million views on YouTube, isn’t especially inventive or witty — just a bunch of overgrown kids goofing around in their backyard pool — but it reminds us how unpretentious and joyful both the band members and their music could be.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson is a filmmaker, film critic and indie radio deejay. He enjoys strong coffee, red wine, IPAs and his wife and grown children. He is comfortable with the fact he will never be rich, but grows petulant if he thinks too much about it.