No other musical group has ever captured the sound of fun in the sun, good times, and growing up like the Beach Boys did. They helped define the California beach music sound. They provided a soundtrack for the 1960s because their music spoke to teenagers going through the difficult transition to adulthood. Throughout the 1960s and beyond, the Beach Boys expressed the desires, dreams, and hopes of many young people in the United States.
The Beach Boys began with the Wilson brothers forming the nucleus of the group: Brian (1942–) writing songs and playing bass, Carl (1946–1998) on guitar, and Dennis (1944–1983) on drums. They were joined by friend Al Jardine (1942–) on guitar and cousin Mike Love (1941–) on vocals in 1961. As the band got going, instrumental surf music was emerging as a popular musical style in southern California. The Beach Boys took that guitar sound and added lush vocal harmonies and lyrics about teenage life to make their own unique style. Capitol Records signed them to a contract in 1962. They produced hit after hit for the next four years. Such songs as "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Little Surfer Girl," and "Catch a Wave" captured the fun of being at the beach. Songs like "Little Deuce Coupe" and "409" celebrated teenagers' love of cars. "Good Vibrations" and "California Girls" defined the good times and warmth of Southern California in the 1960s.
As their sound matured, the Beach Boys also captured the pain of growing up. "In My Room" and "Don't Worry Baby" expressed the uncertainty of young love. In 1966, the Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, considered by many to be a pop masterpiece. Largely the work of group leader Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds was a lush and complex album with a distinct musical
sound that expressed the longing to both become an adult but also to hang on to the innocence of youth. Although it did not sell as well as their earlier records, it was an innovative and influential record. The Beach Boys would have only a few other hits after 1966, but the Wilson-less band (Brian suffered through health problems and Dennis and Carl died) continue on as a touring group, playing their surfing hits for new generations of fans well into the 1990s. Although their music defined a time and a place (southern California in the early 1960s), their sound remains timeless, an important part of American musical history.
For More Information
The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys. Capitol Records, 1993.
Brian Wilson Official Web Site.http://www.brianwilson.com/ (accessed March 15, 2002).
Gaines, Steven S. Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys. New York: New American Library, 1986.
Sanford, William R., and Carl Green. The Beach Boys. Mankato, MN: Crestwood House, 1986.