The Beach Boys
Synopsis of Pop Music
“Every now and then we hear our song,
We’ve been having fun all summer long…”
Pop music fans call The Beach Boys ‘The American Band,’ and they do so with good reason. At a time when British Invasion groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones threatened to take over the pop airwaves altogether, The Beach Boys stood their ground and produced a series of vibrant pop classics that explored the American Dream in all its glory. Even better, they drenched their tales of cars, surfing and all-American fun in a lush, heavenly harmony style that was unlike anything else in pop music. As a result, The Beach Boys became the definitive vocal-harmony group of rock and roll and a treasure to pop fans all over the world.
The Beach Boys grew out of casual singing get-togethers arranged by cousins Brian Wilson and Mike Love. They liked what they heard and soon developed into a full-on pop group that played school dances and sock hops as The Pendletones. In 1961, they recorded their first single: On the encouragement of surf enthusiast Dennis Wilson, they tackled the surf craze with a doo-wop styled tune called “Surfin.” It was a big hit in California and experienced modest popularity elsewhere in the nation. In 1962, this distinctive combination of lush harmonies and a rock sound won them a record contract.
Brian Wilson stepped up to the forefront at this point, writing most of the songs as well as arranging the group’s distinctive harmonies and contributing to the production of the records. He developed a sound that wrapped lyrics about surfing and California’s car culture in layers of ethereal harmonies and set them to a Chuck Berry-styled beat. The result were top hits like “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” As the hits piled up and his confidence grew, Brian Wilson took over the group’s production entirely. His melodic skill took leaps and bounds with each song, resulting in heavenly-sounding harmonic gems like the romantic “Surfer Girl” and the introspective “In My Room.”
By 1964, The Beach Boys were the kings of the surf and drag sound. Not even the beginnings of Beatlemania could take them off their perch at the top of the rock and roll heap. That year alone, they produced four Top-10 singles, including their first #1 hit “I Get Around.” This stunning, complex rocker matched verses with a rumbling, stop-and-start beat to a catchy chorus anchored by Brian’s heaven-sent falsetto. The other Top-10 hits included the good-time car song “Fun, Fun, Fun” and the frenetic rocker “Dance, Dance, Dance.” A change of pace arrived with “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man),” a surprisingly mature and thoughtful look at growing up graced with a gorgeous harpsichord hook.
In 1965, Brian Wilson retired from the group’s exhausting tour schedule so he could concentrate exclusively on writing and producing their albums. The decision was a smart one, resulting in several of the group’s best-loved hits—including the sun-and-fun anthem “California Girls” and the breathtaking doo-wop rocker “Help Me, Rhonda.” Wilson also began to hatch unorthodox projects like The Beach Boys Party, an album that found the guys jamming on their favorite tunes with acoustic guitars and cutting up. This forerunner of the 'Unplugged' concept also produced a #1 hit with a cover of the doo-wop classic “Barbara Ann.”
For the next album, Brian Wilson took The Beach Boys away from sun-and-fun themes to create a lush, emotional group of songs that explored the ups and downs of relationships. The result was Pet Sounds, one of the most beloved pop albums of all times. Songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B” became top hits on the pop charts from this album as it earned praise around the world for its textured, orchestral sound. This album also contained the deeply romantic “God Only Knows,” a song that Paul McCartney has called his all-time favorite.
The Beach Boys made good on the newfound respect they earned with Pet Sounds through an amazing single called “Good Vibrations.” This spacey hymn to love married the group’s deep harmony sound to exotic instrumental passages that went through endless changes in the space of three minutes. This forward-thinking song became a #1 hit and reaffirmed The Beach Boys' new role as trendsetters. Brian Wilson immediately threw himself into another revolutionary record project. He called it Smile and intended for it to be his “Teenage symphony to God.” However, this album was never finished because Wilson suffered a pressure-induced nervous breakdown. Since then, Smile has become legendary as one of the great ‘lost albums’ of rock and roll.
At this point, the rest of The Beach Boys had to step up and become writers and producers to assist Brian Wilson. They regrouped to re-record some Smile tracks and a few newly-written tunes for an album called Smiley Smile. It produced a hit in “Heroes and Villains,” a complex psychedelic tune salvaged from the Smile sessions. The group followed Smiley Smile with Wild Honey, an album of r&b-styled numbers done in a stripped-down style. It produced a pair of Top-40 hits in the good time rave-ups “Darlin” and “Wild Honey.”
As the 1960’s ended, The Beach Boys continued to develop as a group with albums like the tranquil Friends and the ambitious 20/20. They also scored a big hit during this time with “Do It Again,” a clever rocker with nostalgic surfing lyrics. In 1970, the group entered a new phase as they moved to Warner Bros. Records. They reinvented themselves with a new ‘progressive’ image on albums like Sunflower and Surf’s Up. The latter album included a notable radio hit in the title track, a remodeled artifact from the Smile era. The group continued to build on their new image with Holland, an album that produced a notable FM radio classic in the rousing “Sail On Sailor.”
The Beach Boys concentrated their efforts on touring as the mid-1970’s approached. As they tirelessly rounded the world, they won new respect as one of the great live acts of rock and roll. Their live show from this era was effectively captured on the double live album, The Beach Boys In Concert. Their new success as a live act led to the release of Endless Summer, a collection of the group’s sun-and-surf classics. It became a smash hit and required listening for pop fans of all ages. In 1976, Brian Wilson emerged from self-imposed exile to produce the group’s first new studio album in years, 15 Big Ones. It produced a Top-5 hit in “Rock and Roll Music,” a modernized cover of the Chuck Berry classic.
The Beach Boys continued to record albums like The Beach Boys Love You and L.A. (Light Album) as the 70’s came to a close. Just the same, Brian Wilson’s health was failing due to drug addiction. He went into intensive therapy in 1982 and re-emerged in a healthier state to rejoin the group on tour. The group continued to tour and gained new notoriety when Secretary of the Interior James Watt tried to ban the group from their annual July 4th concert in Washington. However, The Beach Boys had a major ally in President Ronald Reagan. The former California governor made sure they played the concert, which won a rapturous reception from the 100,000-plus crowd of fans.
In 1983, Beach Boys fans around the world mourned when Dennis Wilson accidentally drowned and was given a burial at sea. The Beach Boys soldiered on and recorded a self-titled album in 1985 that produced a nostalgic hit in “Getcha Back.” After that, they have concentrated their efforts on touring. Just the same, they score the occasional hit like the 1988 smash “Kokomo.” They also guested on Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, a tribute to their past classics by country artists like Willie Nelson and Ricky Van Shelton. The group suffered another blow in 1998 when Carl Wilson died after a lengthy bout with cancer.
Today, the remaining members of The Beach Boys continue to tour. Mike Love and Bruce Johnston tour as The Beach Boys while Alan Jardine heads up a touring group known as The Beach Boys Friends and Family. Meanwhile, Brian Wilson does the occasional solo tour and has recently put out an album called Imagination. The continued success of these solo Beach Boys prove what many pop music fanatics have known along: The Beach Boys are no longer just a pop group, they are an institution. For many listeners, they will always be the original American Band.
Artist Release History1962 - Surfin’ Safari
1963 - Surfin’ U.S.A.
1963 - Surfer Girl
1963 - Little Deuce Coupe
1964 - Shut Down, Vol. 2
1964 - All Summer Long
1964 - Beach Boys Concert
1964 - The Beach Boys Christmas Album
1965 - The Beach Boys Today!
1965 - Summer Days (And Summer Nights!)
1965 - Beach Boys Party!
1966 - Pet Sounds
1967 - Smiley Smile
1967 - Wild Honey
1968 - Friends
1968 - Stack-O-Tracks
1969 - 20/20
1970 - Sunflower
1971 - Surf’s Up
1972 - Carl And the Passions – So Tough
1973 - Holland
1973 - The Beach Boys In Concert
1974 - Endless Summer
1975 - Spirit Of America
1976 - 15 Big Ones
1976 - Beach Boys ‘69/Live In London
1977 - The Beach Boys Love You
1978 - M.I.U. Album
1979 - L.A. (Light Album)
1980 - Keepin’ The Summer Alive
1985 - The Beach Boys
1989 - Still Cruisin’
1992 - Summer In Paradise
1996 - Stars And Stripes, Vol. 1
1999 - Greatest Hits, Vol. 1
1999 - Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
2000 - Greatest Hits, Vol. 3: The Brother Years
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsPet Sounds (Capitol)
Endless Summer (Capitol)
Band MembersBrian Wilson vocals, bass
Carl Wilson vocals, guitar (1961-98)
Mike Love vocals
Alan Jardine vocals, guitar (1961-62, 1963- )
Dennis Wilson vocals, drums (1961-71, 1974-83)
David Marks vocals, guitar (1962-63)
Bruce Johnston vocals, keyboards, bass (1965-71, 1979- )