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The Beach Boys are one of the most important bands in music history. Considering how hard it is for bands to come up with just one hit single these days, it’s jaw-droppingly impressive what the Beach Boys were able to accomplish 60 years ago.
They are one of the pioneers of modern rock and roll and are also one of the most underappreciated bands of all time. Their success was somewhat overshadowed by the emergence of The Beatles in the same time period, but they nonetheless left a powerful mark on American rock and roll.
Early Days, The Band Forms
Like most rock bands, The Beach Boys also began their musical life as a garage band. The band was managed initially by Brian Wilson’s father, Murray Wilson, but it was Brian who would get everything started for the band.
Brian Wilson was a piano player, and his whole family was inclined as well. Brian and his brothers experimented with overdubbing and background harmonies as kids and studied bands such as The Four Freshman in order to figure out how to harmonize properly.
Brian adopted his piano-playing style to rhythm and blues songs eventually and used that style change to fuel his own songwriting. The Wilsons began writing songs together and, along with their neighbor David Marks, began forming somewhat of a band, playing together in the Wilson’s garage a lot of the time.
In high school, the Wilsons met their cousin Mike Love, who was also musically inclined. This led Brian, Mike Love, and two other of their friends to start performing together. Brian had a friend at the time by the name of Al Jardine who went to the same high school, and Brian suggested they all team up together and form a band.
Mike Love gave the band its first name, The Pendletones, though this name wouldn’t stick for long.
The Beach Boys Arrive with Surfin Safari
Dennis Wilson was the only member of the group who loved surfing, and at the time, he suggested that the band write songs about surfing and the general lifestyle that surrounded it, including romance, beaches, and all-around good times.
Brian Wilson took this to heart and, along with Mike Love, wrote the first official song of the Beach Boys called Surfin. The band released their first album called “Surfin Safari,” and it began a string of successful albums that would produce countless hit songs.
Brian Wilson’s father, Murry Wilson, helped produce the first album as well. Brian was the main songwriter on the album writing 12 of the songs either by himself or with his bandmates.
The first two singles to predate the album were “Surfin” and “Surfin Safari.” It was clear from the get-go what direction this band was going to go with, and Surfin Safari was a massive hit and the prime reason the full album was able to be made in the first place.
The album got released on October 1st, 1962, and got as high as 32 on the Billboard charts. Their sound created an entire genre of music called the California sound, and shortly, many bands would try to copy the style of The Beach Boys.
409, in particular, is credited as starting the “hot rod” music of the 1960s, which would have bands singing about how great their cars were and generally writing songs appealing to teenagers and young adults during that time period.
It was during this period that the band was renamed “The Beach Boys.” by their management without them knowing. The name ended up being the final piece to launch them into fame.
The Beach Boys Sign, Surfin U.S.A.
The Beach Boys signed their first record deal with Capitol Records, and it was a 7-year deal that was extremely ambitious for the time. In 1963 following the success of their first album, they released their first of a soon-to-be line of top ten singles in the form of “Surfin’ U.S.A..”
One big thing added to the group during this time was Brian Wilson introducing double tracking to the band. This technique involved recording the same lines sung over each other in order to create a sound that was fuller and more powerful.
The album Surfin’ U.S.A. was released a few months later in March of 1963 and immediately soared to number 2 on the charts. This was the band’s official introduction to the rest of the country. The entire country became obsessed with surf culture through their music and the exposure brought on a wave of fame for the band that they never could’ve imagined.
Brian Wilson Branches Out
It was no secret that Brian Wilson was the brains behind the operation, and he used his status to start recording and producing for different artists. At one time, he produced a band called the Honeys, who he thought could become the next Beach Boys in female form. Despite producing a handful of singles for them, The Honeys never reached the mainstream success of The Beach Boys.
Surfer Girl marked a huge moment for the band, considering the fact that it was recorded with a lot of different musicians’ guests starring on the recording. The song was again a huge hit, and things seemed to be soaring higher than ever for the Beach Boys, whose intelligent and soulful take on surf music became the most popular thing in the country. Their star would face opposition in short order from just across the pond.
The British Invasion, Innovation Strikes
The Beach Boys were the music icons of the rock scene in the 60s, and when they returned home from a tour that took place overseas, it was when they saw their true competition finally take form. The Beatles had begun to boom, and to make matters worse, Capitol Records represented them both. This naturally caused the company to choose favorites, and unfortunately for The Beach Boys, The Beatles were the new shiny thing that everyone wanted to play with, and Capitol Records supported them far more.
Brian Wilson became distraught over The Beatle’s monstrous wave of popularity and constantly felt the urge to keep up with them. In his words, Brian said that The Beatles ” Eclipsed a lot of what we’d worked for, they eclipsed the whole music world. “
Because of the pressure from The Beatles to evolve, Brian Wilson started to transform the band musically. The last song that would resemble the early days of The Beach Boys was I Get Around, and this would end up being The Beach Boys’ first number-one single. It was also a massive hit in the U.K., marking a huge achievement for them at the time where The Beatles dominated every chart worldwide.
I Get Around appeared on “All Summer Long,” which was another massive hit for the band that would reach number 4 on the U.S.A. charts. It was the last album for The Beach Boys that would emphasize surf culture as a big change in their music would soon take hold.
Stress Sideliness Brian
Brian Wilson was touring, writing, producing, and doing pretty much everything for the Beach Boys at the time, and the stress eventually got to him in the form of a panic attack. This would sideline Brian from touring but not from writing and recording.
During Brian’s time away from the band, Glen Campbell would replace Brian during the band’s live shows. Campbell himself would go on to become a big success in his own right following his short tenure with The Beach Boys and would go on to sell 45 million albums over the course of his long career.
Meanwhile, Brian was experimenting and trying to completely kill the surf music that defined the band to this point. He looked to Phil Spector for the most inspiration and began filling songs with multiple instruments of different varieties to make things sound as interesting as possible.
The Beach Boys Today!
The experimental ways of Brian Wilson would come to light after announcing his retirement from touring. Instead, he became a wizard in the studio and wrote most of the songs for their new album, The Beach Boys Today! Released on March 8th of, 1965, The album was a huge success that reached as high as number 4 on the Billboard charts and remained on the charts for 50 weeks.
The Beach Boys would then release 3 singles that would reach the top 20. These included Dance, Dance, Dance, Do You Wanna Dance, and When I Grow Up.
The album would also release another single a month later in the form of “Help Me, Rhonda,” which would go to take the number one spot on the Billboard charts, and overall, Wilson’s new approach to the band’s music was a groundbreaking success that showed the world The Beach Boys were far from just a surf music band.
Return to the Beach, Summer Days, and Summer Nights
Despite the critical praise given to The Beach Boys Today!, the record didn’t sell as well as Capitol would’ve hoped and, because of that, strongly urged the group to go back to their own sound.
The band felt trapped at the time musically, wanting to branch out into experimental directions while also being forced to fulfill their duties in doling out hits for Capitol Records. The album Summer Days and Summer Nights was a combination of the wants from the record company mixed with the band’s new experimental sound, and the result was yet another massive hit for the band that would debut at number 2 behind The Rolling Stones in 1965. It’s the highest the band would ever reach with a studio album and was incredibly successful worldwide.
One standout from the album was California Girls, which was a complete return to form for the band in subject matter while also becoming a massive hit for them as well. Brian Wilson wrote the song while on acid one night while thinking about women and music to Western films. This led to the amazing harmonies throughout as well as the layered vocals that would go on to define the song. It became The Beach Boys’ anthem in many ways.
Funnily enough, the song would inspire a hit from The Beatles called “Back in the U.S.S.R. and several other bands would come out with similarly named songs, including Katy Perry in 2010 with the song “California Gurls.” David Lee Roth of Van Halen would record a solo version of the song in 1984, which became a massive hit as well, and currently, The Beach Boys’ “California Girls.” ranks number 72 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of greatest songs of all time.
If you ask any music critic, they are likely to name Pet Sounds as the best album The Beach Boys ever released. It was so different in so many ways from all of their previous albums and was far away from the surf music sounds that defined their past. The album was released on May 16th, 1966, and initially, it wasn’t a big success at all.
The album was extremely experimental and included elements of psychedelic rock with lyrics and musical concepts that were completely different from what fans of the band had become accustomed to. Wilson’s goal here was to make the greatest rock album ever made, and while he might not have done that, he did create an album that would go on to shape music for a long, long time.
Some people refer to Pet Sounds as a solo album for Brian Wilson because of how much his voice is featured on the majority of the songs. Despite that, the album released several successful singles in Caroline, No, Sloop John B., Good Vibrations, and Wouldn’t It Be Nice.
The Beach Boys Infighting Begins
Brian Wilson has referred to Pet Sounds as his first solo album, and that notion wasn’t something that was news to the rest of the group. No other member besides Mike Love was consulted on what would be on the album, and they pretty much were told to just show up and play, regardless of their thoughts on the record.
There are conflicting accounts from members of the band on what they felt about the band, as Dennis Wilson never came out and said he disliked the album, and Carl Wilson maintained that they all loved it. Al Jardine had a more measured approach in his reaction to the claims and said it took time to appreciate it because it was unlike anything the group had heard or played before.
The infighting happened for the most part during the recordings, but once the album hit it big, they understood Brian’s vision and gave up trying to come to terms with it.
Brian Wilson Steps Back, Smile Fails
The next album for The Beach Boys would be entitled Smile, and it would get even more experimental than Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson’s ambitions became grand, and the band and record company couldn’t quite keep up. The recording for Smile took a year, but it was never officially released.
The album was postponed indefinitely following many controversies with the band, including Carl Wilson refusing to be drafted into the army, which led to him being arrested by the F.B.I. During this time, Brian Wilson became highly into psychedelics and grew to be delusional, in one instance thinking a song he wrote called “Fire” caused an actual building to burn down.
Capitol Records wanted the album bad, but Brian Wilson refused to produce a final copy and never ended up officially releasing it, and it’s now looked at as one of the best bootleg recordings ever made.
Despite Smile never coming out, Capitol still needed a record from the group, and that’s when Smiley Smile came out. These recording sessions took way less time than Smile, and the album was released on September 18th, 1967.
It’s regarded as one of the band’s weakest efforts, though it still managed to release at number 9 on the U.K. charts. The singles from the album were “Heroes and Villains.” and “Good Vibrations,” which ended up being a number one hit on the Billboard charts despite the album’s lukewarm reception.
Oddly enough, the album would be used at drug clinics years later in order to help patients come down from L.S.D. It’s gone on to achieve cult popularity and is seen as one of the more unique albums that the Beach Boys ever released.
The music is truly bizarre at points, and the single Heroes and Villains has some decidedly off-putting tones to it that definitely point to more of the psychedelic style that Brian Wilson began cultivating at the time.
Struggles to Keep Up With The Times
The Beach Boys were no longer the hot part of the music scene just a few years after their groundbreaking Pet Sounds album. It became commonplace to see The Beach Boys as a band that was no longer cool to like and a band that had seen the times pass them by.
An article in Rolling Stone was released saying the band was pointlessly trying to catch The Beatles, and the result was a huge black mark on the band when it came to popularity with rock and roll fans.
Capitol Records didn’t get the hint, and still, they relentlessly promoted them as “America’s Top Surfin’ Group” despite the constant desire by the band itself to be seen as a real rock band.
Brian Wilson stopped writing as much as he had been, yet he was still propped up as the leader of the group.
Return to Form, Sunflower, and Surf’s Up
Despite waning in popularity, The Beach Boys released Sunflower on August 31st, 1970. The album would differ from past albums as all members of the band contributed to the writing this time, not just Brian Wilson.
The album got the critics back on The Beach Boys’ side, though the album didn’t sell that well commercially, only reaching number 151 on the charts. Despite this, the album is looked at as one of the best that The Beach Boys released after Pet Sounds.
Surf’s up released a year later and was a huge return to form for the band, getting them back up to number 29 on the Billboard charts. The style of the album was to say goodbye to their surfing music image, and the best single off the album, “Surf’s Up.” was particularly poignant in making that point.
The Greatest Hits
Looking to capitalize on their 15-year career at that point, and they did with a greatest hits compilation called Endless Summer, which debuted at number one on the charts. They once again stormed to the top of the music scene and were soon selling out the biggest arenas of their entire career.
The Beach Boys Take on the 70s
While they were the darlings of most of the 1960’s pop/rock scene, the Beach Boys were hard-pressed in the 1970s to keep up with the ever-changing music landscape. Brian Wilson was taking on far too much stress and, in turn, abusing substances all too much and checked himself into a rehab program under the care of a psychologist until 1976. He wouldn’t be out of the picture very long, though, as the next album from The Beach Boys would come in 1976 called 15 Big Ones.
This album didn’t hit that well, but it did make it to number 8 on the charts, which was a landmark for them in the decade. The big single off the album was Rock and Roll music which turned out to be their biggest hit since Good Vibrations almost a decade prior.
The Beach Boys Love You
For The Beach Boys, they were always chasing the success and creativity displayed on Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson started drumming up publicity for The Beach Boys’ next album, The Beach Boys Love you, and the big way he did this was by calling it the successor to Pet Sounds.
The songs on the album were largely about him, but this time, that didn’t pave the way to success like prior albums did, and it only got to number 53 on the U.S. charts, which was a big-time fall off from 15 Big Ones.
Wembley Stadium Showdown
The Beach Boys were in the process of taking on the biggest concert stages and tours the band had ever seen and had recently signed an 8 million dollar deal with C.B.S. Records, but in the process, they fired their manager, and it slowly led to chaos unfolding for the band.
In July of 1977, Mike Love attacked Brian Wilson with a piano bench on stage. This would start a feud within the band, and without their trusted manager to mediate it, the band became disgruntled and famously had to take separate planes to shows and stayed in different hotels as well.
Dennis Leaves the Band
In 1978, the frustrations and infighting came to a turning point where after a fight at an airport broke out that saw both sides fighting over control. It’s alleged that Dennis told Al Jardine at one point that he couldn’t play more than 4 chords after Al yelled at him, saying the band didn’t need him.
A Rolling Stone journalist witnessed the whole thing and wrote an article about it detailing what he thought was the end of The Beach Boys. Following this turmoil, the band put out M.I.U. Album, which was characterized by its easy listening qualities. Unfortunately, it only led to more group turmoil as Dennis started to focus on solo ventures, and Brian Wilson fell back into his addictions even after rehab.
During this period, Brian Wilson’s weight increased to over 300 pounds, causing the band to remove him from the band and having him start a huge health overhaul. It was extremely successful, and Brian got all the though down to 185 pounds and completely changed his lifestyle once again.
The Death of Dennis Wilson
The band was struggling with various problems, none the least of which was Dennis Wilson, who had a horrible alcohol addiction, and just like Brian, he was pretty much forced out of the band in order to get his health in check.
Unfortunately, following their stay in rehab, Dennis Wilson drowned while diving off a boat in Marina Del Rey. Apparently, he was trying to find items he threw overboard in an angry fit and died trying to recover them before coming up for air.
Kokomo Hits #1
The Beach Boys would stay relevant the next few years after Dennis Wilson’s death, although the band wasn’t on great terms with each other. Despite that, in 1988, they released a number one single for the first time in two decades with “Kokomo,” which has since become one of their most famous songs.
The song appeared on Still Cruisin, which was a wildly successful album for the band, going platinum in the U.S. and returning the band to prominence once again.
The 1990’s and The Death of Carl Wilson
Unfortunately, after years of smoking, Carl Wilson was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1997, and even with this terminal diagnosis, he continued to tour while getting treatment.
Loyal to the band to the very end, he would perform songs with an oxygen tank nearby to get oxygen from after every song. Carl would die the following year, on February 6th, 1998, at just 51 years old.
Brian Wilson Finally Releases Smile, On His Own Terms
In 2004, Brian Wilson released “Brian Wilson Presents Smile.” which was a re-recorded version of the legendary unfinished album that remained one of rock’s greatest what-ifs since 1967. The reception was grand, getting up to number 7 on the U.S. Charts.
In 2011, The Beach Boys reunited for one last tour and also released The Smiles Sessions, which was dedicated to the never released Smile album. It was wildly successful and got to the top 30 in both the U.S. and the U.K.
The tour featured the band together for the first time in over a decade and released an entire album of original material called “That’s why God made the radio,” which ended up going all the way to number 3 on the charts and marked their highest selling album in 38 years. This would be the last time that the band would play together as they would break off into separate groups and tour under The Beach Boys’ name.
The Beach Boys are known as one of the greatest American rock bands of all time and are known for influencing generations of musicians. Brian Wilson is looked at as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and you can still hear their music regularly in TV Shows, Movies, and commercials.
They were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Many refer to them as the greatest American rock band of all time, citing their immense impact on music for over 50 years.
As a band that lasted for almost 50 years, their musical style has evolved greatly. They started pioneering the surf music style, but with Pet Sounds, they evolved their music to another level, and it gave them the firepower to compete with The Beatles. Famously, Paul Mccartney has called “God Only Knows” his favorite song of all time.
Answer: The surviving members of The Beach Boys are Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Mark. Dennis and Carl Wilson both have passed away.
Answer: They do still perform and are currently on an 8 country tour with 35 upcoming concerts. This version of the band does not include Brian Wilson and Al Jardine but does include Mike Love and David Marks.
Answer: It has to be Pet Sounds, it was so revolutionary for its time and officially made The Beach Boys a rock band and not just another surfer band.
The Beach Boys remain relevant today, and you can hear their hits blaring on a radio station any time the summer rolls around as despite their best efforts, they remain the quintessential summer band, and that’s not a bad thing. Their music has echoed throughout the ages and will continue to do so. I hope you enjoyed the long and wild journey.