The Beach Boys (Contemporary Musicians)
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 songsike the Beach Boys themselvesre now considered classics.
The core of the Beach Boys was formed around the Wilson brothers, Brian, Carl, and Dennis (drowned in 1983); completing the group are cousin Mike Love and friend AI 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 AI 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 master-piece, 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 1980slbeit as "oldies" entertainmentnd 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 Candix
"Surfer Girl," 1962.
"Surfin' Safari," 1962.
Albums; For Capitol, except as noted
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.
LA. (Light Album), Caribou, 1979.
Keepin' the Summer Alive, Caribou, 1980.
The Beach Boys, CBS, 1985.
The True to Your School.
Also released numerous anthologies, including Sesf 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