Thursday, January 24, 2008

Unsung Hero – Blondie Chaplin

Here's a trivia question that may stump everyone but the Beach Boy diehards trolling this blog.

In 1973, the band released what still stands as their finest post-Smile single, "Sail On Sailor."

Who sang the lead vocal?

Was it Carl Wilson? Brian Wilson? Mike Love? Dennis Wilson?

None of the above, actually.

The honor went to Blondie Chaplin (above), who had officially joined the band along with drummer Ricky Fataar in 1972, just before the release of the Holland album. Chaplin and Fataar had been in a South African pop band called The Flames – the first non-white group to ever top the pop charts in that country. They were part of the Beach Boys' touring band (an ensemble that also then included Daryl Dragon, later the Captain in the Captain and Tenille) and were asked to officially join the group in an attempt to inject new blood into the slumping band.

On this song, at least, it worked. According to Keith Badman's The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band, the song was initially recorded with Carl and Dennis Wilson each taking a turn at the lead vocals. "I think it sounds pretty good," Carl, shortly after recording his final take, told Blondie. "But why don't you give it a bash?"

Blondie recorded two takes, all the while still reading the song's many lyrics as he sung. He was "just getting warmed up," but Carl deemed his performance as more than acceptable. And the song was immediately mixed.

Indeed , Chaplin's soulful voice turned out to be everything the song needed to become one of the highlights of the Beach Boys' songbook. It rocks. It rolls. And the harmonies, which make the song cruise through the song's "wicked waters," contain every element that made the Beach Boys so unparalleled in the history of rock music.

Download "Sail On Sailor" by the Beach Boys.

I won't go too deep into the history of the song and controversy over who wrote it (Longtime Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks claims he did the lion share, but bent to pressure from the record company, which was marketing another "Brian is Back!" campaign). But it's worth taking a look at the version Brian did with Hootie and the Blowfish's Darius Rucker and Matthew Sweet on "Late Night With David Letterman" in 2001. It shows that, as beautiful as the song is on its own, it really needed Chaplin's voice to put it over the top.

Download "Sail On Sailor" (Live) by Brian Wilson, Matthew Sweet and Darius Rucker

Chaplin has continued to remain active, though mostly not front and center. He joined The Band in 1980s, replacing a lot of the late Richard Manuel's vocal parts. He played with the semi-reformed Byrds. He has also toured with the Rolling Stones, off and on, for the last ten years or so.

That's quite a resume. The Beach Boys. The Rolling Stones. The Band. The Byrds.

Sounds like people should start to get to know The Blondie Chaplin.

For a start, I would suggest giving a listen on iTunes or elsewhere to Between Us (2006), Chaplin's first solo record in about 30 years.

It features a stripped down sound of Chaplin backed by a two-piece rhythm section. More information about the album (and how to purchase it) can be found at Chaplin's web site,


Anonymous said...

Cool post, Rob. Chaplin is indeed one of the unsung heroes; it's nice to see him get some props.

I just saw recently that his first solo album (from '77, I think) is getting reissued this spring. Worth checking out.

All the best ...


Anonymous said...

The First BLONDIE CHAPLIN solo album has been available in JAPAN on CD for the last few years...and yes, it's finally being released in the US in the next couple of months. People who want to hear Blondie sing, should also check out LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN's longtime drummer ANTON FIG's solo album..FIGMENTS, which was released a few years ago. It contains at least 2 or 3 tracks with Blondie adding vocals. One of the tracks also features Brian Wilson on backing vocals as well, even though Brian recorded his vocals in LA, and Blondie, I believe did his in New York.

It's easy to find on, and at times.


Pete the Greek
San Leandro, CA, USA