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The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys are an American rock band that was formed in Hawthorne, California, in 1961. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. Distinguished by their vocal harmonies, adolescent-oriented lyrics, and musical ingenuity, they are one of the most influential acts of the rock era. They drew on the music of older pop vocal groups, 1950s rock and roll, and black R&B to create their unique sound. Under Brian's direction, they often incorporated classical or jazz elements and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways.

The Beach Boys began as a garage band, with Brian serving as composer, arranger, producer, and de facto leader. In 1963, they enjoyed their first national hit with "Surfin' U.S.A.", beginning a string of top-ten singles that reflected a southern California youth culture of surfing, cars, and romance, dubbed the "California sound". They were one of the few American rock bands to sustain their commercial standing during the British Invasion. Starting with 1965's The Beach Boys Today!, they abandoned beachgoing themes for more personal lyrics and ambitious orchestrations. In 1966, the Pet Sounds album and "Good Vibrations" single raised the group's prestige as rock innovators. After scrapping the Smile album in 1967, Brian gradually ceded control of the group to his bandmates.

In the late 1960s, after Carl took over as musical leader, the band made records that would later enjoy a cult following among fans. In the mid-1970s, as their concerts drew larger audiences, the band transitioned into an oldies act. Dennis drowned in 1983 and Brian soon became estranged from the group. Following Carl's death from lung cancer in 1998, the band granted Mike legal rights to tour under the group's name. In the early 2010s, the original members briefly reunited for the band's 50th anniversary. As of 2023, Brian and Al do not perform with Mike's edition of the Beach Boys, but remain official members of the band.

The Beach Boys are one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful bands of all time, selling over 100 million records worldwide. They helped legitimize popular music as a recognized art form and influenced the development of music genres and movements such as psychedelia, power pop, progressive rock, punk, alternative, and lo-fi. Between the 1960s and 2020s, the group had 37 songs reach the US Top 40 (the most by an American band), with four topping the Billboard Hot 100.

The Beach Boys performed three Beatles covers on the Party! album; "I Should Have Known Better", "Tell Me Why", and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away". During the recording sessions for the Wild Honey album, a cover of "With A Little Help From My Friends" was recorded.

History[]

In 1961, Brian Wilson wrote his first original melody, loosely based on "When You Wish Upon a Star.” The song was eventually known as "Surfer Girl.” Along with his brothers, cousin Mike Love and Al Jardine, they recorded the song “Surfin’” in 1961, where it became a local hit on Candix Records. Soon they would become the Beach Boys and change popular music forever.

The Beach Boys signed a seven-year contract with Capitol Records at the urging of Capitol executive and staff producer Nick Venet who signed the group, seeing them as the "teenage gold" he had been scouting for. On June 4, 1962, the Beach Boys debuted on Capitol with their second single, "Surfin' Safari" backed with "409.” In January 1963, the Beach Boys recorded their first top-ten single, "Surfin' U.S.A.", which began their long run of highly successful recording efforts. When "I Get Around" was released in May of 1964, it would climb to No. 1 in the US, their first single to do so, proving that the Beach Boys could compete with the Beatles and contemporary British pop groups. By the end of 1964, the stress of road travel, writing, and producing became too much for Brian. In January 1965, he announced his withdrawal from touring to concentrate entirely on songwriting and record production.

Now a full-time studio artist, Brian wanted to move the Beach Boys beyond their surf aesthetic, believing that their image was antiquated and distracting the public from his talents as a producer and songwriter. Musically, he said he began to "take the things I learned from Phil Spector and use more instruments whenever I could. I doubled up on basses and tripled up on keyboards, which made everything sound bigger and deeper." In 1965 the Beach Boys released their Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) album, with “California Girls,” charting at No. 3 in the US while the album went to No. 2. The album also included a reworked arrangement of "Help Me, Rhonda" which became the band's second number one US single in the spring of 1965. This incredibly productive period included eight albums and a wave of hits that would make the Beach Boys the most popular American band.

Pet Sounds was released May 16, 1966 on Capitol Records. The album was produced, arranged, and composed by Brian Wilson with guest lyricist Tony Asher. Brian’s goal was to create "the greatest rock album ever made" – a cohesive work with no filler tracks. It is sometimes considered a solo album and a refinement of the themes and ideas he introduced with The Beach Boys Today! in 1965. Lead single "Caroline, No" was issued as his official solo debut. It was followed by two singles credited to the group: "Sloop John B" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (backed with "God Only Knows").

Brian's innovative Wall of Sound-based orchestrations included elaborate layers of vocal harmonies, found sounds, and instruments never before associated with rock, such as bicycle bells, French horn, flutes, Electro-Theremin, chamber strings, and beverage cans. Pet Sounds is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the field of music production, incorporating elements of pop, jazz, classical, and the avant-garde. In 2004, it was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"Good Vibrations" was composed by Brian Wilson, with lyrics by Mike Love. Released as a single on October 10, 1966, it was an immediate critical and commercial hit, topping record charts in several countries including the US and UK. Characterized by its complex soundscapes, episodic structure and subversions of pop music formula, it was the costliest single ever recorded at the time of its release. "Good Vibrations" later became widely acclaimed as one of the finest and most important works of the rock era.

Brian’s ambitious SMiLE was planned to follow the Beach Boys’ 11th studio album Pet Sounds. It was to be a twelve-track concept LP assembled from short, interchangeable musical fragments similar to the group's 1966 single "Good Vibrations". SMiLE was planned to feature word paintings, tape manipulation, elaborate vocal arrangements, experiments with musical acoustics, and comedic interludes, with influences drawn from psychedelia, pre-rock and roll pop, doo-wop, jazz, ragtime, musique concrète, classical, American history, poetry, cartoons, and mysticism. Instead, the album was shelved and the group released a downscaled version, Smiley Smile, in September 1967. Over the next four decades, few of the original Smile tracks were officially released, and the project came to be regarded as the most "legendary" unreleased album in popular music history.

After months of recording their follow-up to Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys’ SMiLE was shelved for a variety of reasons. Said Brian: "time can be spent in the studio to the point where you get so next to it, you don't know where you are with it – you decide to just chuck it for a while." Sessions for a more homespun version of SMiLE lasted from June to July 1967 at Brian's new makeshift home studio. The album was retitled Smiley Smile and featured the Beach Boys playing their own instruments, rather than the session musicians employed in much of their previous work. It was the first album for which production was credited to the entire group instead of Brian alone. When asked if Brian was "still the producer of Smiley Smile,” Carl answered, "Most definitely.” The Beach Boys immediately recorded a new album, Wild Honey. Recorded mostly at their private studio – located in Brian's home – the album may be retrospectively viewed as the second installment in a consecutive series of lo-fi Beach Boys albums.

1968 saw the release of the Beach Boys’ 14th studio album, Friends. The album is characterized by its calm and peaceful atmosphere, which contrasted the prevailing music trends of the time, and for its brevity, with five of its 12 tracks running less than two minutes long. The decade’s final album, 1969’s 20/20 mostly consists of outtakes from earlier albums, including “Our Prayer” and “Cabinessence” from the SMiLE-era sessions. It was their last album for Capitol Records.

After spending the 1960s at Capitol Records, The Beach Boys signed with Reprise Records in 1970. Their first album under their imprint Brother Records, was Sunflower, released in 1970. Brian wrote or co-wrote seven of the 12 songs and performed at half of the band’s concerts that year. Sunflower is now regarded as classic. In 1971, the band released the critically-acclaimed Surf’s Up, including the legendary SMiLE title track. The album marked a return to the charts and also included Brian’s “A Day In The Life” and one of his best songs, the haunting “’Til I Die.” 1973 saw the release of one of the band’s most beloved albums, Holland.

1973 also saw the release of the film American Graffiti, which featured early Beach Boys’ songs “Surfin’ Safari” and “All Summer Long” in the memorable closing sequence. The 1974 compilation album Endless Summer topped the Billboard charts, selling over three million albums, and further cementing The Beach Boys as “America’s Band.” Brian produced the next two Beach Boys albums, 1976s15 Big Ones and 1977s The Beach Boys Mike You, now considered a classic, with Brian writing all the songs and even performing most the instruments. Two more albums rounded out the decade, including “Good Timin’.”

The 1980s started off with Keepin’ The Summer Alive. The group wanted Brian to return as their producer and felt that he would be more comfortable recording at the familiar studio environment of Western Studios, home of Brian’s classic 1960s productions. They were briefly successful, as Carl Wilson said, "Brian got hot for about three days in the studio. He was singing like a bird.” But it wasn’t meant to be, as Bruce Johnston took over control. Brian did co-write six of the album’s songs, including “Goin’ On,” featuring classic Beach Boys’ harmonies. 1985 saw the release of The Beach Boys, with Brian singing lead on “Crack At Your Mike” and the 1950s-style tracks “I’m So Lonely” and “It’s Just A Matter Of Time.” This was the Beach Boys’ 25th studio album and the last for more than twenty years.

Dennis drowned in 1983 and Brian soon became estranged from the group. In 1985, the band released the self-titled album The Beach Boys, which saw the band incorporate 1980's contemporary musical styles into their own sound and was intended to be a "comeback" for the band. It was also the band's first album to be recorded digitally. In 1988, the single "Kokomo" was released, which was the band's first #1 hit in 22 years. Despite its commercial success, attracted mostly negative reviews from music writers, and became notorious for its negative critical reception. Following Carl's death from lung cancer in 1998, the band granted Mike legal rights to tour under the group's name. Brian and the surviving Beach Boys released That's Why God Made the Radio in 2012. The new album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts which was their highest album debut to date. The reunion also included a sold-out tour, and confirmed the Beach Boys as “America’s Band.” As of 2022, Brian and Al do not perform with Mike's edition of the Beach Boys, but remain official members of the band.

Discography[]

Studio albums[]

  • Surfin' Safari (1962)
  • Surfin' U.S.A. (1963)
  • Surfer Girl (1963)
  • Little Deuce Coupe (1963)
  • Shut Down Volume 2 (1964)
  • All Summer Long (1964)
  • The Beach Boys' Christmas Album (1964)
  • The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
  • Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) (1965)
  • Beach Boys' Party! (1965)
  • Pet Sounds (1966)
  • Smiley Smile (1967)
  • Wild Honey (1967)
  • Friends (1968)
  • 20/20 (1969)
  • Sunflower (1970)
  • Surf's Up (1971)
  • Carl and the Passions – "So Tough" (1972)
  • Holland (1973)
  • 15 Big Ones (1976)
  • The Beach Boys Love You (1977)
  • M.I.U. Album (1978)
  • L.A. (Light Album) (1979)
  • Keepin' the Summer Alive (1980)
  • The Beach Boys (1985)
  • Still Cruisin' (1989)
  • Summer in Paradise (1992)
  • Stars and Stripes Vol. 1 (1996)
  • That's Why God Made the Radio (2012)

Selected archival releases[]

  • The Pet Sounds Sessions (1997)
  • Endless Harmony Soundtrack (1998)
  • Ultimate Christmas (1998)
  • Hawthorne, CA (2001)
  • The Smile Sessions (2011)
  • The Big Beat 1963 (2013)
  • Keep an Eye on Summer 1964 (2014)
  • Becoming the Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions (2015)
  • Beach Boys' Party! Uncovered and Unplugged (2015)
  • Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary (2016)
  • 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow (2017)
  • Wake the World: The Friends Sessions (2018)
  • I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions (2018)
  • Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf's Up Sessions 1969–1971 (2021)
  • Sail On Sailor – 1972 (2022)

Selected filmography[]

  • 1965: The Girls on the Beach
  • 1965: The Monkey's Uncle
  • 1976: The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations Tour
  • 1985: The Beach Boys: An American Band
  • 1996: The Beach Boys: Nashville Sounds
  • 1998: Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story
  • 2002: Good Timin': Live at Knebworth England 1980
  • 2003: The Beach Boys: The Lost Concert 1964
  • 2006: The Beach Boys: In London 1966
  • 2012: The Beach Boys: Chronicles
  • 2012: The 50th Reunion Tour
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