Wilson Phillips’s California Dream
A banner on the studio wall of the Mesa, Arizona, radio station reads, ‘KZZP 104.7, the Number 1 hit music station.’ On the bulletin board someone’s written, ‘The music is great, the jocks are pumped, we are definitely ready for battle!’ It’s 7:30 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, and morning man Bob Case is previewing an anthemic pop song called “Hold On” for his radio audience.
The tune is the first single from the debut album by Wilson Phillips, and two-thirds of the group are here today as Case’s very special guests. Seated in the studio is 22-year-old Chynna Phillips – the only child to come from the union of John and Michelle Phillips, the onetime hippie dream couple of the Mamas and the Papas. Next to Phillips is Carnie Wilson – the 21-year-old daughter of Brian Wilson, the troubled musical genius behind the Beach Boys, and his former wife, Marilyn, who sang with the Sixties vocal trio the Honeys. Carnie’s 20-year-old sister, Wendy, is back home in Los Angeles, nursing an ear infection – the first casualty of the nonstop schedule of handshaking, video making, photo taking that have been Wilson Phillips’s recent life.
“God, that’s GOOD,” Case shouts into the mike once the song concludes. Chynna and Carnie beam as Case keeps right on raving: “Great song! Am I impressed? Am I easily impressed? Wow, that’s a great song! Obviously influenced by your parents, huh?”
“Somewhat,” Carnie says, her winning smile disappearing just for a moment.
“Maybe a little,” says Chynna, who then mentions other artists like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles – groups that were, in fact, influenced by the parents of Wilson Phillips.
“We’ll get a chance to talk up close and personal with Wilson Phillips in a minute,” Case promises as he cues up Madonna’s “Burning Up.” As that tune plays, Chynna and Carnie sing along.
“Anything you want to talk about?” Case asks as they prepare to go back on the air.
“Not too much about the parents,” Chynna says softly, but getting her point across. Case and his sidekick, Lisa McDaniel, suggest an entirely different, naughty way to invade their guests’ privacy: the Dating Game. Ever the good sports, Chynna and Carnie agree to have the DJs call and wake up their boyfriends. Chynna’s boyfriend, Michael, doesn’t pick up, but Carnie’s beloved Gary does and, in so doing, earns the opportunity to respond to such questions as “What’s the biggest part of Carnie’s body?” “My butt,” answers Carnie. “Her heart,” says Gary, scoring himself some major Valentine’s Day Brownie points.
Off the air, Case asks the pair if they’re going to the Gavin Seminar – a major radio convention being held a few days later in San Francisco. Yes they are, Chynna tells him. “You’ll love it,” he says, “it’s a complete schmoozatorium.” The girls then rush into a nearby room to record some “liners” – taped station identifications that can be repeated over and over. Then it’s out to the station’s front lawn to pose for a photo in front of the giant KZZP call letters.
“Weren’t they nice?” Carnie says as the van pulls away to head off to the next radio station. “Everybody we meet has been so nice.”
“These girls are real thoroughbreds,” says Peter Lopez, Wilson Phillips’s lawyer and co-manager. And it’s a good thing, since the members of Wilson Phillips find themselves in a big-stakes horse race. And good bloodlines or not, their record label, SBK Records, is sparing no expense in trying to jockey them to the inside track.
On a nationwide promo tour such as the one that finds Wilson Phillips working the greater Phoenix area today, there’s no need to bother with lugging around instruments and actually playing for people. Instead, you campaign for stardom. You press the flesh. You plan photo opportunities. You lay the groundwork for acceptance at radio and retail. Basically, you schmooze your way to the top.
Of course, it helps if people in the proper places want to schmooze with you. And God only knows, everybody wants to meet and greet the members of Wilson Phillips these days. Some of that interest may be strictly musical – heartfelt reaction from some of the select few who’ve heard the threesome’s advance tape and have fallen for its ultracommercial, harmony-drenched pop sound. But it’s also safe to assume that plenty of this early curiosity is a product of the industry buzz that surrounds Wilson Phillips, a buzz that landed the trio in Time, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and other publications years before the group had a name, much less an actual album.
That buzz is unsurprising, considering that Wilson Phillips is perhaps the highest of high-concept musical groupings. To some, these three L.A. kids are more than just another pleasant new musical act with the big-bucks support of a record company behind them. They are the princesses of West Coast rock royalty, the second coming of the California Dream.