The Beach Boys were America's preeminent pop band in the early-to-mid Sixties. Originally composed of brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friends Al Jardine and David Marks. Later included songwriter Bruce Johnston, and South Africans Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar. They are often regarded as America's answer to The Beatles, despite releasing their debut album two years before the Fabs.Contrary to what one might expect, The Beach Boys have one of the longest and most fascinating stories of any band in recent history. Before the band even got started professionally, they had been singing together for years, playing at school functions under various names like Carl and the Passions and Kenny and the Cadets. They got their actual start basically out of Brian Wilson's garage; one labor day week-end in 1961; the Wilson brothers' parents went on a business trip to Mexico, and while they were gone, they recorded their first song, "Surfin'", in the garage. After that hit the local radio, they signed on to Capitol Records and quickly climbed the charts as the premiere Surf Rock band of the nation. They are often credited for popularizing the California culture throughout the country. However, the stress of touring and the competition from The Beatles led to Brian Wilson suffering a nervous breakdown, and retiring from touring. While the rest of the band toured (with first Glen Campbell and then Bruce Johnston taking Brian's place), Brian stayed home writing and making use of the studio talents of The Wrecking Crew, leading to such classics as "California Girls", "Help Me Rhonda", and "Please Let Me Wonder". This eventually fostered into what some critics call the greatest pop album of all time: Pet Sounds. Pet Sounds brought a whole new depth to the music, with advanced production techniques and powerful lyrics on such subjects as loneliness, youthful longing, self-isolation, and the power of wordless communication. Paul McCartney has said that Pet Sounds was a major influence on the Beatles' own landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Not coincidentally, if a critic doesn't call Sgt. Pepper the greatest pop album in history, he or she probably thinks it's Pet Sounds.)From there, however, the story becomes a long, tragic string of misfortunes. After Pet Sounds was released, Brian Wilson intended to top it with a revolutionary new album called Smile. However, lack of support from anyone combined with his ailing psyche combined with his copious drug abuse combined with a royalty lawsuit and Brian's confidence being destroyed by the commercial failure of "Heroes and Villains" led to the album's cancellation in 1967. The band instead released Smiley Smile, which combined what the rest of the band felt were the stronger Smile tracks with some new, supposedly more commercial material (as opposed to the "weird" Smile songs). The album flopped, and from there, The Beach Boys struggled to just barely continue scraping the Top 40 for the rest of the 60's into the early 70's. During this time, Brian remained holed up in his room, Dennis Wilson became friends with Charles Manson, and the Wilson brothers' domineering father Murry Wilson sold their entire song catalog for a paltry sum of $750,000 (a catalog which is estimated to be worth at least $75 million today). The band's 1973 album Holland was artistically ambitious, but a commercial failure. At this point, it seemed as if the group was done.Things started to look up in 1974 when Capitol Records released a Greatest Hits Album, Endless Summer, which not only went triple platinum and restored the band's commercial fares, but also propelled them back into cultural relevance. They decided to start recording again and attempted to lure Brian Wilson back into the studio with them. During this time, Brian was being subjected to therapy under the control of Dr. Eugene Landy. Through his unconventional therapy, he was able to make Brian slightly healthier and willing to work with the group again. He produced two albums, 15 Big Ones and Love You under this deal, and also re-appeared on stage with the band. But looking back, it's clear that Brian wasn't really well enough to do that sort of thing again, and he started slipping back into his former habits. Mike Love took over leadership of the band at this point, which many regard as the point at which the band jumped the shark.During the times Brian Wilson was out of the picture, Carl and Dennis Wilson generally wrote songs in his place. Both created very memorable, beautiful music, with Dennis Wilson even writing his own solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, which is now regarded as being just as amazing as anything Brian ever did. However, Dennis was also prone to alcoholism and self-destructive behavior, and he died in 1983 in an alcohol-related drowning incident, diving into the water at the Marina del Rey to search for personal effects he had thrown off of his beloved yacht, the Harmony, and hitting his head on one of the boats in the harbor. At President Reagan's request, he became one of few civilians to be given a burial at sea.The Beach Boys basically coasted along for the rest of the 80's and 90's, their only major blip on the radar being the 1988 hit "Kokomo". As Brian Wilson was falling back into his former habits, he was subjected to Landy again in 1982, and for the next 10 years, Landy would not only treat Brian's illness in extreme and questionable ways, but also fully integrate himself into his business and musical affairs, isolate Brian from his friends and family, and leech thousands of dollars off of him year after year. A court case in 1991 was successful in separating Landy from Brian. He recovered magnificently, and in 1996, he was persuaded to briefly rejoin The Beach Boys as a producer. However, all that came from that was Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, a phenomenally weak album of Beach Boys covers sung by country artists. Any chance of a reunion that actually counted for something was cut short by Carl Wilson's death from cancer in 1998.For much of the rest of the time, the surviving Beach Boys splintered into three units: The Beach Boys, which is essentially Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and an assortment of session musicians milking every ounce of copper they can get from the udders of the past; Brian Wilson, who tours with a different assortment of session musicians and continues to record excellent music with them, including, at long last, his dream project Smile in 2004; and Al Jardine, who left the splintered remains of the original group after Carl's death and now tours with his son and an assortment of session musicians known as Al Jardine's Endless Summer Band.In 2012, on the 50th anniversary of the band's first album, Surfin' Safari, the unexpected happened: a full reunion of the surviving Beach Boys, including Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine and David Marks (who replaced Jardine for the first few albums, and who reunited with the Love/Johnston touring line up most recently), took place for a 50th Anniversary world tour and the recording of a new studio album, co-produced by Love and a rejuventated Brian Wilson. We'll see how this works out.Numerous artists have cited them as a major influence, including Animal Collective, The Ramones, Alice Cooper, Elton John, Weezer, The Flaming Lips, basically the entire indie rock genre, and The Beatles themselves.
The band's early albums suffered from an overabundance of this; American LPs in those days generally consisted of two or three popular singles surrounded by whatever other songs the band had lying around. It wasn't until The Beatles released Rubber Soul that Brian realized that albums should be cohesive units with well-crafted music from start to finish.
He was amazed and excited at an album that was "all good stuff!" To be fair, very few pop artists had even attempted such a thing at the time (1965), although the Beatles had arguably already managed one with A Hard Day's Night.
All Drummers Are Animals - Dennis Wilson was known affectionately as a "clubber". During a performance of "I Get Around" at the T.A.M.I. Show, Dennis even shattered a drumstick mid-song. However, beyond this reputation, his skills never really advanced beyond the level of playing basic beats, which meant that on their most famous albums, Brian had Dennis sidelined and hired veteran session drummers Hal Blaine and/or Jim Gordon to play the drums instead.
Anti-Love Song - Several, with "Here Today" being an especially poignant example.
Artifact Title - Shut Down Volume 2. The first Shut Down was not a Beach Boys album, but a multi-artist compilation of car-themed songs that Capitol had released the year before (although it did include the group's "409" and "Shut Down").
Ascended Extra - Bruce Johnston went from being a fill-in on tours to session musician to full-fledged band member. While he joined the group in 1965, preexisting record-label contracts delayed his Promotion to Album Covers until 1968's Friends.
Band of Relatives - The band featured the three Wilson brothers and cousin Mike Love.
Big Eater - Brian Wilson ballooned to over 300 pounds during the nadir of his mental illness. Staying in bed all day didn't help either.
Biopic - Two of 'em: Summer Dreams, a cheap, exploitative nightmare of a poorly-cast inaccuracyfest, and An American Family, a high-budget two-parter that starts out promising but goes downhill the moment they make Van Dyke Parks◊'s hair strawberry blond.
Now they're making a third one entitled Love & Mercy, with Paul Dano and John Cusack as the younger and older forms of Brian.
Breakup Song - "The Warmth of the Sun", "Wendy", "Caroline No".
Car Song - A staple of their early work, including an entire Filler album of car songs in 1963, Little Deuce Coupe.
They did two whole albums of them - but the 1977 Christmas LP was so incredibly bad that their label refused to release it. (Seriously... nothing says Christmas like a cover of "Seasons in the Sun", the classic one-hit-wonder about death by cancer.) Several of its songs were eventually issued on the Ultimate Christmas compilation, however.
There were two solo Christmas albums as well, by Mike Love (Rock 'n' Roll Christmas) and Brian Wilson (What I Want for Christmas).
While most of the band's early work concerns the great themes of Surfing, Cars and Girls, Surfer Girl in particular could be considered a concept album, as seven of its 12 songs are about surfing. Five of them even have "Surfer" in the title.
Little Deuce Coupe was definitely a concept album, even if by today's standards it would be considered a compilation. Almost all the tracks are about cars, specifically hot rods. Some of the songs on the album were recorded especially for it, and to get it out faster they included some older ones about cars on it as well. The essay on the back basically admits that the band were cashing in on a trend.
Smile was meant to be a concept album based around a number of ideas, including Americana, progression of maturity, and the Earthly elements. Brian's 2004 remake and the band's 2011 release of it both neatly divide these ideas into three clear 'movements.'
Pet Sounds is often considered a concept album as well, although it's not clear whether Brian intended it as one.
Cover Album - Party!, recorded and released very quickly in order to buy Brian Wilson more time to create Pet Sounds. Stars and Stripes is technically one also.
Demoted to Extra - After the Smile sessions ground to a halt, Brian Wilson's role in the band diminished significantly, though he did manage to pitch in a few great songs on each album (many of them leftover Smile songs, in fact). His mental illness certainly didn't help.
Garfunkel - Surprisingly averted; every band member had something to contribute in terms of writing. Even the widely reviled Mike Love wrote a good majority of the band's lyrics, and Al Jardine, widely regarded as a hanger on, was instrumental in the creation of "Sloop John B". Not to mention both of them wrote some of the best material on the band's 1973 opus Holland.
Gentle Giant - Brian Wilson's friggin' tall, somewhere between 6'2 and 6'3.
Getting Crap Past the Radar - The fade-out to "All I Want to Do" from 20/20 contains the sounds of a woman in the throes of passion buried deep in the mix.
Greatest Hits Album - The band's music has been packaged and repackaged many times over the years. Endless Summer, coming at the tail end of the band's glory days, was the first compilation of note. Of collections currently available, the most comprehensive single disc set is probably Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys. However, if you've got a little more money to spend, the four-disc box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys is a treasure trove of wonderful music.
Green Aesop - "Don't Go Near the Water" and "A Day in the Life of a Tree" from Surf's Up.
Guest Star Party Member - Dean Torrance (of Jan and Dean fame) contributed lead vocals for "Barbara Ann" on the Beach Boys' Party! album.
Before that, Brian Wilson contributed harmony vocals to the Jan and Dean record "Surf City" (which he wrote).
Handicapped Badass / Deaf Composer - Brian, aside from his mental illness, was deaf in one ear, due to the ear fluid running out (sources differ as to how; one nefarious rumor involves Murry hitting Brian as a baby). He went on to produce and arrange the band's music with only one functional ear. For this reason, and Brian's admiration of Phil Spector, Brian released many of the band's albums in mono.
References to a "woody" (as in the bridge to "Surfer Girl") referred to a souped up station wagon with wood paneling, as seen on the Surfin' Safari album cover, where surfers drove to the beach carrying their surfboards.
"When she makes love to me" in "Don't Worry Baby".
"Remember when you spilled Coke all your blouse" from "All Summer Long" takes on a different dimension if you're familiar with the drug problems all three Wilson brothers had over the years.
I Am the Band - Brian was this during the Pet Sounds and Smile era, while Mike Love has had this role since roughly 1978.
In The Style Of - "Girl Don't Tell Me" sounds very much like The Beatles' song "Ticket to Ride." It's possible that "Girl Don't Tell Me" was influenced by "Ticket to Ride," as the the former was recorded on April 30, 1965 and the latter had been released on April 9 of that year.
"Surfin' USA" came so close to a Chuck Berry tune (specifically, "Sweet Little Sixteen") that Chuck sued the Boys.
In Name Only - The unit calling itself the Beach Boys through most of The Noughties until 2011. Despite being advertised with an out-of-date band photo (including Brian and the deceased Carl), only Mike Love and Bruce Johnston appeared from the original group.
Sad irony, but still... The only member of the band who could surf was the one who drowned.
For a band called The Beach Boys, whose entire public image is based around surfing, the band really didn't sing about surfing that much. Out of the 60 or so songs they released in the 60's as singles, only 5 of them mentioned surfing at all. This means that only about 8% of their most well-known singles had anything to do with surfing.
Jerkass - Murry Wilson, the alcoholic contract swindling child abuser. Once Joe Jackson dies, they'll probably make good drinking buddies in Hell.
Large Ham - Ever seen Mike Love at one of their live shows?
Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition - In addition to the "basic" 2-LP and 2-CD editions, the 2011 Smile Sessions set was also released as a box set with 5 CDs, 2 LPs, 2 45rpm singles, a 60-page book, a poster, and a 3-D cover.
And if you want something even more elaborate and have a spare $6,000 laying around, you can get an extra-special edition of the box with a cover that lights up and an autographed surfboard. Seriously.
Lyrical Dissonance - Most of the songs on Pet Sounds are euphoric, beautiful songs about loneliness, self-isolation, paranoia, and heartbreak.
"Heroes and Villains" is a catchy and tuneful song — about gang warfare, particularly the protagonist's wife's accidental death in same.
Mad Artist - Charles Manson: cult leader, serial murder, political insurgent, and writer of the Beach Boys' song "Never Learn Not To Love." The band was rattled when Manson threatened to murder Dennis Wilson for changing a line in the song's lyrics, and even more so when evidence of Manson's gruesome crimes later came to light.
Man of a Thousand Voices - In his prime, Brian Wilson could basically make his voice do whatever he wanted. His vocal range was so huge that he could've very well ditched his band mates and recorded all the vocal parts himself if he wanted. Here's some proof.
Carl Wilson wasn't limited either. He could go freely from an airy tenor/falsetto to a resonant baritone, even in his later years.
May-December Romance - To put it delicately. Brian Wilson met and married his first wife Marylin when he was 20 and she was 14, and Dennis Wilson married a girl roughly the same age when he was close to his 40's. The fact that said girl, Shawn Love Wilson, was his cousin Mike Love's illegitimate daughter doesn'thelp.
Mythology Gag - Used a few times with the names of the band's albums:
20/20 partially gets its name due to being the 20th overall album the band had released for Capitol at that point, as well as being the final album the band would release for them before their departure for Reprise Records.
Carl & The Passions "So Tough" partially gets its name from one of the bands the Wilson brothers had formed in school prior to The Beach Boys
15 Big Ones, while partially a reference to the number of songs on the album, was also a reference to how many years the band had been together by that point.
The very first incarnation of what became the Sunflower album allegedly bore the tongue-in-cheek title of The Fading Rock Group Revival.
Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly - Smile defies pigeonholing. Not only does the whole thing sound nothing like any music that came before or after, each individual song sounds wildly different from the one that came before it.
New Sound Album - The Beach Boys Today! was the first album to feature Brian Wilson's advanced production techniques.
Nonindicative Name - "Surf's Up" - Whatever the song's about, it sure as hell ain't surfin'. note Word of God apparently indicates that it's about a man at the opera who loses faith in humanity and hallucinates about the past, then finds God in the song the children sing.
Why does their discography contain an album called Shut Down Volume 2, but no Shut Down Volume 1? Because the original Shut Down wasn't a Beach Boys album at all, but a various artists compilation... Albeit one that included some Beach Boys songs.
Not Christian Rock - "God Only Knows" certainly isn't Christian music, but it was the first popular song to have the word "God" in the title.
Power Trio - Brian Wilson being the id, Mike Love being the superego, and Carl Wilson (more often than not) being the ego.
Pun-Based Title - "Roll Plymouth Rock", from the Smile project. Its original working title ("Do You Dig Worms?") may be an even better example.
Race Fetish - Or Region Fetish, anyway; "California Girls" is all about "the girls from state X are attractive in this way, while the girls from state Y are attractive in that way instead".
Reality Is Unrealistic: A lot of the facts about the Beach Boys's history are so out-there that one might not believe them if they were told. For example:
The fact that Dennis Wilson was once friends with Charles Manson, and in fact stole a song from him.
The fact that Brian Wilson once owned a health food store called The Radiant Radish.
The fact that country music star Glen Campbell started off playing session guitar for their records, as well as briefly taking Brian's place on tour.
The fact that Paul McCartney himself walked in on a Smile session and contributed the sound of him chomping on celery.
The fact that Dennis Wilson co-wrote the song "You Are So Beautiful" at a party with Billy Preston, but never took credit for it.
Record Producer - By the time of the group's third album, 1963's Surfer Girl, Brian was in command of the studio sessions, and by '65, he had mastered the lavish, Phil Spector-type production technique that defined their classic sound.
The band's then-manager Jack Rieley recounted that he was "tricked" by Brian into singing "A Day in the Life of a Tree" (Brian demanded Jack help him convey the appropriate feeling, and spontaneously informed him after a take that he had done the final lead vocal), with Van Dyke Parks providing backing vocals and accordion. In fact, Al Jardine is the only actual Beach Boy providing backing vocals on the song.
Stop and Go - "The Little Girl I Once Knew" did this not once but twice, which almost certainly hurt the song's performance on the singles chart. Radio programmers were loath to play it due to its moments of dead air.
Surfer Dude - Practically invented this trope, but ironically, nobody in the band except Dennis actually surfed.
Surf Rock - Probably the artist most associated with the sub-genre — even though their sound is more Chuck Berry/Phil Spector meets the Four Freshmen than Dick Dale.
The Svengali - As detailed above, Eugene Landy, Brian Wilson's therapist from the 70's to the late 90's.
Theremin - "Good Vibrations" very famously uses one.
Vapor Ware - Smile, one of the earliest examples. Which became a Crowning Moment Of Awesome when Brian Wilson re-recorded and released it in 2004, becoming one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of that decade.
Van Dyke Parks on the Smile album. At one point, Mike Love asked him what the line "columnated ruins domino" meant, and Van Dyke Parks just said he had no idea.
Also Jack Rieley, the band's manager on the Surf's Up album. Here's a sample from "Feel Flows":
Encasing all embracing wreath of repose Engulfs all the senses Imposing, unclosing thoughts that compose Retire the fences Whether wholly heartened life fades away Whether harps heal the memory Whether wholly heartened life fades away Whether wondrous will stands tall at my side Whether whiteness whisks soft shadows away