The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys
American rock group
One of the world’s top-drawing rock music groups, the Beach Boys have riveted audiences for more than twenty-five years with songs celebrating the California dream. Promising a sundrenched paradise of fast cars and fast girls, where the surf’s always up and the summer never ends, the all-American-looking musicians dominated the contemporary music scene for a good part of the 1960s. Unlike so many of their long-forgotten peers, however, the Beach Boys have remained popular year after year. In hits like “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Good Vibrations,” the musicians combined catchy melodies with fantasy-filled lyrics to create a sound and a myth that continues to earn them scores of devoted fans. Indeed, pieces first regarded as faddish teen tunes have since won acclaim as original contributions to popular music, and many of the group’s songs—like the Beach Boys themselves—are now considered classics.
The core of the Beach Boys was formed around the Wilson brothers, Brian, Carl, and Dennis (drowned in
Originally formed in Hawthorne, Calif., in 1961 as the Pendletones; name changed to the Beach Boys, 1961; original group consisted of Mike Love (full name, Michael Edward Love; born March 15, 1941, in Inglewood, Calif.) lead vocals and saxophone; Brian Wilson (born June 20, 1942, in Inglewood, Calif.) on keyboards and bass as well as being the group’s composer and producer (has not toured with group since late 1960s); Dennis Wilson (born December 4, 1944, in Inglewood, Calif.; died by drowning, December 1983) on drums; Carl Wilson (bom December 21, 1946, in Inglewood, Calif.) on guitar; and Al Jardine (born September 3, 1942, in Lima, Ohio) on rhythm guitar; since late 1960s Bruce Johnston has taken Brian Wilson’s place on live tours and has recorded with the band; numerous other musicians have recorded and performed with the group; debuted as the Beach Boys with the single “Surfin’,” December, 1961; gave first professional performance, New Year’s Eve, 1961; made first U.S. concert tour, 1962; made first major European tour, 1964.
Awards: Named the world’s top musical group in England’s Melody Maker poll, 1966; named band of the year by Rolling Stone , 1975; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, January 1988.
Addresses: Office —c/o CBS Records, 1801 Century Park W., Los Angeles, CA 90067.
1983); completing the group are cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. The three brothers grew up in Hawthorne, California, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles several miles from the Pacific Ocean. Although the brothers received almost no formal musical training, they all demonstrated an interest in music fairly early in life. Brian, generally regarded as the genius behind the Beach Boys, is reported to have begun humming complete tunes at age eleven months and singing at age three; at sixteen, he was creating four-part harmonies with a simple tape recorder. Carl, a self-taught guitarist, also demonstrated a curiosity about music as a toddler. And by the time he was in his teens, Dennis, too, had become involved in the family pastime.
The boys’ talents were fostered both by their father, Murry, a machine-shop owner and unsuccessful songwriter, and by their mother, Audree, who enjoyed singing. Family get-togethers, which included the Love relatives, frequently featured sing-alongs and gave cousin Mike plenty of opportunity to prove he had perfect pitch. The music-making was pretty much restricted to family gatherings, however, until Brian, Dennis, Carl, and Mike competed in their local high school’s talent show one year. Billed as Carl and the Passions, a name created to persuade the hesitant Carl to participate with them, the boys viewed the venture as something of a lark.
Not long afterwards, however, Brian, who had entered El Camino Junior College, began singing with fellow student and folk musician Al Jardine. The two thought it might be fun to start their own group and soon asked Mike, Carl, and Dennis to join them. Calling themselves the Pendletones, the five youths hoped to secure an audition with a recording company. When informed that they needed an angle and some original music to distinguish themselves from all the other aspiring musicians, the amateurs rose to the challenge. Dennis, a surfer, suggested capitalizing on the surfing craze that was just beginning to sweep California. As a result, Brian and Mike collaborated on a song they called “Surfin’”.
The number interested the owners of Guild Music, the small recording and publishing operation that had published some of Murry’s songs, and they arranged for the boys to record it. Although apparently put down live on a single track in just about an hour, “Surfin"’ had a sound that appealed to the people at Candix, a local label, and they agreed to release the single for the group, renamed the Beach Boys, in 1961.
In short order the Beach Boys realized they had scored a success. The song appeared on the local charts and then, in mid-January, as number 118 on the Billboard charts. By the end of March “Surfin"’ had reached number seventy-five, with sales hovering around fifty thousand copies. But more importantly, the single had attracted attention at Capitol Records, a pop label mainstay, and it wasn’t long before the group signed a contract with Capitol that would carry them through the sixties. Their careers were launched.
The Capitol Record years are widely regarded as the Beach Boys’ most productive. Although much of their earliest material was significantly influenced by the pop sound of a 1950s vocal group called the Four Freshmen (Brian’s favorite) and by rock and roller Chuck Berry (Carl’s preference), the boys had managed to create a new sound for themselves and are often credited as the originators of surfing music. One of their initial singles for Capitol, the June 1962 release “Surfin’ Safari,” was a hit, and their Surfin’ Safari album, released in 1963, became their first gold record.
A landmark year, 1963 saw the Beach Boys leap to national celebrity, their success far outstripping all expectations. As their popularity escalated, so did demand for live concerts, and the rising stars found themselves constantly on the road. After several years, Brian, the group’s main composer, decided to stop touring; while he stayed home to create new material for the group, Bruce Johnston replaced him live. By the end of 1964, the Beach Boys had recorded six albums for Capitol. Their future looked promising, and in the middle sixties the group assured their star status with hits that included such favorites as “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “California Girls,” and “Barbara Ann.”
Impressively, the Beach Boys were one of only a handful of American acts to survive the British Invasion of 1964 that was spearheaded by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Their music not only tapped into the surfing mania and the subsequent car craze, but it had also unfolded as a creative new sound distinguished by pure, joyous harmonies. In 1966 the group released their most sophisticated and successful song until that time, “Good Vibrations.” By the end of the year polls were showing them to be the most popular group around, surpassing even the Beatles.
Nineteen sixty-six had also seen the release of their extraordinary Pet Sounds album, an unusual, innovative recording that critics acclaimed as one of the most brilliant in the annals of popular music. A departure from the Beach Boys’ traditional fun in the sun themes, Pet Sounds employed extraordinary production techniques to help present an emotional exploration of the various states of mind experienced on the way to maturity. Perhaps too sophisticated for the typical Beach Boy fan of the day, Brian’s brainchild album fared better with the critics than with the average audience.
Before 1967 was half over, many people believed the Beach Boys were washed up. They had issued no new recordings for months and there was evidence of turmoil in the stars’ personal lives as well as rumors of divisiveness within the group. In addition, their long-awaited Smile album, expected to be Brian’s masterpiece, was scrapped (a few recovered cuts appeared on Smiley Smile, issued in lieu of the original). In retrospect, however, it appears that the Beach Boys’ careers were only in remission. After their obscurity during the late 1960s, they made a successful European showing in 1970, reclaimed status in the United States the following year, and hit another peak when their 1974 album Endless Summer went double platinum. In 1975 Rolling Stone magazine named the Beach Boys band of the year.
Although the Beach Boys in fact never quite regained the adulation they commanded during their heyday, the musicians have succeeded in remaining among the most popular, and most versatile, live entertainers in the business. They have survived not only extraordinary changes in popular music, but strife amongst themselves and their changing membership as well, including the 1983 death of Dennis Wilson. Woes notwithstanding, the group has continued to find itself in demand throughout the 1980s—albeit as “oldies” entertainment—and in recognition of their achievement, the members of the original Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Beloved by fans around the world, the Beach Boys, according to Timothy White in the New York Times, are regarded by many music lovers as “the most successful musical group in American history.” Trying to sum up the reasons for the group’s appeal, White suggested that “The Wilsons’ happy myth of an untrammeled life of endless summers struck a chord in American suburbia in a way no other popular musicians had done. The essence of the American Dream is the belief that anyone can escape the limits and sorrows of his background by reinventing himself…. The Beach Boys themselves embodied and celebrated that dream.”
Singles; For Candixes
“Surfer Girl,” 1962.
“Surfin’ Safari,” 1962.
Albums; For Capitol, except as noted
Surfin’ Safari, 1962.
Surfin’ U.S.A., 1963.
Surfer Girl, 1963.
Little Deuce Coupe, 1963.
Shut Down (two songs), 1963.
Shut Down, Volume 2, 1964.
All Summer Long, 1964.
Christmas Album, 1964.
Beach Boys Concert, 1964.
Beach Boys Today, 1965.
Summer Days (and Summer Nights), 1965.
Beach Boys Party, 1965.
Pet Sounds, 1966.
Smiley Smile, Brother, 1967.
Wild Honey, 1967.
Sunflower, Reprise, 1970.
Surf’s Up, Reprise, 1971.
Carl and the Passions: So Tough, Reprise, 1972.
Holland, Reprise, 1973.
Beach Boys in Concert, Reprise, 1973.
Live in London, 1976.
Fifteen Big Ones, Reprise, 1976.
Beach Boys Love You, Reprise, 1977.
MIU, Reprise, 1978.
L.A. (Light Album), Caribou, 1979.
Keepin’ the Summer Alive, Caribou, 1980.
The Beach Boys, CBS, 1985.
Be True to Your School.
Also released numerous anthologies, including Best of the Beach Boys, 1966, Volume 2, 1967, Endless Summer, 1974, Spirit of America, 1975, Stack of Tracks, 1976, Ten Years of Harmony, 1985, and Golden Harmonies, 1986.
Gaines, Steven, Heroes and Villains, New American Library, 1986.
Leaf, David, The Beach Boys and the California Myth, Grosset & Dunlap, 1978.
Milward, John, The Beach Boys Silver Anniversary, Doubleday, 1985.
Preiss, Byron, The Beach Boys, revised edition, St. Martin’s, 1983.
Tobler, John, The Beach Boys, Chartwell Books, 1978.
Newsweek, January 27, 1986; August 1, 1988.
New York Times, June 26, 1988.
People, January 16, 1984.
Rolling Stone, June 7, 1984; November 5-December 10, 1987.
—Nancy H. Evans
Beach Boys, The
Beach Boys, The
Beach Boys, The, pop harmonizers who revolutionized the sound of American rock and roll. Membership:Brian Wilson, bs., kybd., voc. (b. Hawthorne, Calif., June 20, 1942); Dennis Wilson, drm., voc. (b. Hawthorne, Dec. 4, 1944; d. Marina del Rey, Calif., Dec. 28, 1983); Carl Wilson, lead gtr., voc. (b. Hawthorne, Dec. 21, 1946; d. Los Angeles, Feb. 6, 1998); Mike Love, lead voc, sax. (b. Los Angeles, March 15, 1941); Al Jardine, rhythm gtr., voc. (b. Lima, Ohio, Sept. 3, 1942). Bruce Johnston (b. Chicago, June 27, 1944) joined in 1965, left in 1972, and returned in 1978.
Formed in 1961 by the Wilson brothers, cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine, as Kenny and The Cadets, and Carl and The Passions, then The Pendletones, The Beach Boys recorded the regional hit “Surfin’” for the small local label X in 1961. They debuted in Long Beach on New Year’s Eve 1961, but Jardine soon departed, to be replaced by David Marks for more than a year. Signed to Capitol Records in the summer of 1962, The Beach Boys issued smash hits on the southern Calif, themes of surfing, cars and motorcycles, girls, and high school—virtually all written by Brian Wilson. Early hits included “Surfin’ Safari’” the remake of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” backed with “Shut Down.” Featuring such ballads as the title song (a near-smash hit) and “In My Room” (a major hit) beginning with Surfer Girl, the group’s first album produced by Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys scored with “Be True to Your School,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and the top hit “I Get Around,” backed by the major hit ballad “Don’t Worry Baby.” “Wendy” proved only a moderate success, but The Beach Boys Today contained two near-smash hits, “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” and “Dance, Dance, Dance,” and the top hit “Help Me, Rhonda.”
Conducting their first major U.S. tour in September 1964, The Beach Boys’ Concert album, recorded in Sacramento, Calif., became the first live album to top the album charts. However, Brian Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown in December and ceased touring with the group. With Carl Wilson becoming the on-stage leader and Al Jardine taking over Brian’s falsetto parts, the group was briefly augmented by sessions guitarist Glen Campbell, who was replaced by Bruce Johnston in April 1965. Johnston, an early associate of Sandy Nelson and Phil Spector, had formed a partnership with Terry Melcher in 1963 that yielded hits under the names The Rip Chords (“Hey Little Cobra”) and Bruce and Terry (“Summer Means Fun”).
Relieved of his arduous touring duties, Brian Wilson concentrated on writing for The Beach Boys. With Bruce Johnston’s recording debut with the group, the major hit “California Girls,” Brian started using elaborate production techniques on the group’s recordings. While the rest of The Beach Boys were on tour, Brian began working on his Pet Sounds epic, employing scores of studio musicians and utilizing advanced studio techniques. Although perplexed by Brian’s work on the album in their absence, the returning group persevered to complete the critically acclaimed masterpiece. However, despite the lush orchestral sound and the inclusion of songs such as “God Only Knows” (with lead vocals by Carl Wilson), “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” “Caroline No,” and the folk song “Sloop John B.,” Pet Sounds sold poorly compared to previous releases.
Severely disappointed, Brian Wilson nonetheless initiated work on the next album, tentatively titled Smile, with lyricist Van Dyke Parks. While deeply immersed in the project, Capitol Records issued the monumental single “Good Vibrations.” Taking more than six months to complete, using 90 hours of studio time in 17 sessions, “Good Vibrations,” with Carl Wilson on lead vocals, became a top hit in the fall of 1966. Meanwhile, the already troubled Brian, working against the perceived competition of Phil Spector and The Beatles, began behaving erratically as rumors of heavy drug use circulated. For whatever reason, Smile was not issued. Smiley Smile was released in its place on the group’s recently formed custom label, Brother Records, distributed by Capitol. The album contained several songs from the abortive Wilson-Parks collaboration, including the major hit “Heroes and Villains.”
Pulling out of a scheduled appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, The Beach Boys met guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in December. Their fascination with his transcendental meditation, particularly in the person of Mike Love, culminated in a near-disastrous tour with the Maharishi in the spring of 1968. Friends reflected the group’s conversion to transcendental meditation, while 20/20, their final album of new material for Capitol, featured the major hit “Do It Again” and a minor hit remake of the Phil Spector-Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich song “I Can Hear Music,” with lead vocals by Carl Wilson.
The Beach Boys switched to Warner Brothers/Reprise Records in 1970, reestablishing Brother Records under that company’s distributorship. The group appeared to be emerging from their doldrums that year with a successful performance at the Big Sur Folk Festival and the release of the underrated Sunflower album, to which Dennis Wilson contributed four songs. However, Brian’s withdrawal as songwriter and producer with the Surfs Up album and his traumatizing appearance at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in November 1970 left the rest to their own devices. Two old Smile songs, “Surf’s Up” and the hastily completed “Sail on Sailor,” were later issued as singles. Dennis Wilson appeared with James Taylor in the 1971 film Two Lane Blacktop and Johnston left the group in early 1972. By the beginning of 1974, producer James William Guercio (Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago) had joined on bass.
The Beach Boys enjoyed a revival with the release of older Capitol material on Endless Summer (which remained on the album charts nearly three years) and Spirit of America. The Beach Boys toured with Chicago in the spring of 1975, and during 1976, Brian Wilson rejoined the others for an hour-long documentary aired on NBC in August. The album 15 Big Ones, comprising half new original material and half remade oldies, including a smash hit version of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music’” saw Brian once again producing, though eschewing the production style pioneered with Pet Sounds.
Bruce Johnston provided Barry Manilow with the top hit “I Write the Songs” in late 1975 and recorded Going Public in 1977. Dennis Wilson recorded Pacific Ocean Blue, regarded as a neglected masterpiece, while Mike Love recorded with both Waves and Celebration, who hit with “Almost Summer.” For The Beach Boys, neither M.l.U. nor L.A. (Light Album), recorded with a returned Bruce Johnston on their new Caribou label, fared particularly well. After Dennis Wilson recorded a second solo album, The Beach Boys issued Keepiri the Summer Alive, produced by Johnston. In 1981, Carl Wilson became the first Beach Boy to undertake a solo tour, in support of his Caribou debut.
Mike Love became the front man for The Beach Boys during the 1980s, as Brian Wilson embarked on an unorthodox rehabilitation program under therapist Eugene Landy between 1983 and 1988. Dennis Wilson, the only actual surfer in the group, drowned off Marina del Rey, Calif., on Dec. 28, 1983. The Beach Boys performed at Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Gala in January 1985 and Live Aid the following July. In 1987, they scored a major hit with a remake of the surf classic “Wipeout,” recorded with the Fat Boys rap group.
The Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. During the year, Brian Wilson became the last Wilson brother to release a solo album with the critically acclaimed, but poor-selling, Brian Wilson album on Sire Records. However, a second solo album, entitled Sweet Insanity, was rejected by Sire. The Beach Boys, without Brian Wilson, scored a top hit with “Kokomo,” written by Mike Love, Terry Melcher, John Phillips, and Scott McKenzie, from the soundtrack to the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail. Since December 1991, the personal and business affairs of Brian Wilson have been managed by a court-appointed conservator. Producer Don Was directed the film documentary of Brian Wilson’s life, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, released in 1995. Wilson also worked with his Smile collaborator, songwriter-producer Van Dyke Parks, for Orange Crate Art on Warner Brothers Records. In 1999, he released a new solo album, Imagination, and embarked on a concert tour of the U.S. Carl Wilson died in Los Angeles on Feb. 6, 1998, from complications of lung cancer at the age of 51.
Surfin’ Safari (1962); Surfin’ U.SA. (1963); Surfer Girl (1963); Little Deuce Coupe (1963); All Summer Long (1964); Christmas Album (1964); Concert (1964); The Beach Boys Today (1965); Summer Days (and Summer Nights) (1965); Party! (1965); Pet Sounds (1966); Smiley Smile (1967); Wild Honey (1967); Stack-O-Tracks (1968); Friends (1968); 20/20 (1969); Sunflower (1970); Surfs Up (1971); In Concert Reprise (1973); 15 Big Ones (1976); The Beach Boys Love You (1977); M.J.Li. (1978); LA. (Light Album) (1979); Keepin’ the Summer Alive (1980); The Beach Boys (1985); Summer in Paradise (1992); The Pet Sounds Sessions (1996). brian wilson:Brian Wilson (1988); Í Just Wasn’t Made for These Times (1995); Imagination (1999). Van Dyke Parks: Orange Crate Art (1995). CARL AND THE PASSIONS: So Tough (1972). CARL WILSON: Carl Wilson (1981); Youngblood (1983). DENNIS WILSON: Pacific Ocean Blue (1977); One of Those People (1979). THE VETTES: Rev-Up (1963). THE DE-FENDERS: The Big Ones (1963); Drag Beat (1963). BRUCE JOHNSTON: Surfers Pajama Party (1963); Surfin’ Round the World (1963); Going Public (1977). THE RIP CHORDS: Hey, Little Cobra (and Other Hot Rod Hits) (1964); Three Window Coupe (1964). THE CATALINAS: Tun, Fun, Fun (1964).
B. Wilson with T. Gold, Wouldn’t It Be Nice—My Own Story (N.Y., 1991).
K. Barnes, The Beach Boys: A Biography in Words and Pictures (N.Y., 1976); B. Elliott, Surfs Up: The Beach Boys on Record, 1961-1981 (Ann Arbor, Mich; 1982); S. Gaines, Heroes and Villains: The True Story of The Beach Boys (N.Y; 1986); B. Golden, The Beach Boys: Southern California Pastoral (San Bernardino, Calif., 1976); T. White, The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, and the Southern California Experience (N.Y., 1996).