In 1971, the Beach Boys were in the midst of their tumultuous post-surf period, yet had released two acclaimed LPs, 1970’s Sunflower and, in the summer of 1971, the ironically titled Surf’s Up, which had nothing at all in common with the sun-and-sand-filled tunes that they were world-famous for a decade earlier. With issues including civil rights, ecology and Vietnam at the forefront of American minds, and the Watergate scandal looming, taking lyrics seriously was so important to the band at the time that the latter album was the first that had them enclosed with the LP.
But one need only to look at a couple of other unusual moves the group made around this time to see that they were moving away from their early image. Brian Wilson stopped touring with them, although he was still involved in songwriting, recording and producing for the group. And on April 27th, 1971, 46 years ago today, the band made an unannounced appearance at the Fillmore East in New York, to jam onstage with the Grateful Dead. Perhaps even more mind-expanding than some of the drugs that were no doubt floating around that venue at the time was one of the seven songs the groups performed together that night – a cover of the recent Merle Haggard country hit, “Okie From Muskogee.” It was among three Haggard tunes the Dead played during the show (the others being “Mama Tried” and “Sing Me Back Home”) but the only one featuring the Beach Boys. Audio of the two bands performing the song together has surfaced on numerous Dead-icated websites, bootlegs and elsewhere.
A few months later, the Beach Boys were among the acts that filmed an ABC-TV special in New York, called Good Vibrations From Central Park. Filmed over two nights, the special aired August 19th and included appearances from Boz Scaggs, Kate Taylor (sister of James), Carly Simon, in her TV debut and Ike & Tina Turner. Headlining the concert and the TV special, the bushy-bearded Mike Love introduced the Beach Boys’ version of “Okie From Muskogee,” then just two years old, by saying it was written by Merle Haggard. He was interrupted by a loud concertgoer to whom he replied, “Is that a request or a demonstration,” although in the above clip it’s unclear what the audience member actually said.
Haggard may have sung about the Okies’ general disdain for the shaggy-haired, marijuana-smoking hippies in San Francisco, but even the squares in this tuned-in, turned-on New York crowd certainly appear to be having a ball.