The Beach Boys
|The Beach Boys|
|Origin||Hawthorne, California, U.S.|
The Beach Boys are an American rock band formed in Hawthorne, California, in 1961. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson; their cousin Mike Love; and their friend Al Jardine. Distinguished by their vocal harmonies and early surf songs, they are one of the most influential acts of the rock era. The band drew on the music of jazz-based vocal groups, 1950s rock and roll, and black R&B to create their unique sound, and with Brian as composer, arranger, producer, and de facto leader, often incorporated classical elements and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways.
The Beach Boys began as a garage band, managed by the Wilsons' father Murry, with Brian's musicianship dominating their creative direction. In 1963, they gained national prominence with a string of top-ten hits reflecting a southern California youth culture of surfing, cars, and romance, later dubbed the "California Sound". After 1964, 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 and established the band as symbols of the nascent counterculture era. Following the dissolution of the group's Smile project in 1967, Brian gradually ceded production and songwriting duties to the rest of the band, reducing his input because of mental health and substance abuse issues. The group's commercial momentum subsequently faltered, and despite efforts to maintain an experimental sound, they were dismissed by early rock critics as the archetypal "pop music cop-outs".
Carl took over as the band's musical leader until the late 1970s. Personal struggles, creative disagreements, and the continued success of the band's greatest hits albums precipitated their transition into an oldies act. Since the 1980s, much-publicized legal wrangling over royalties, songwriting credits and use of the band's name transpired. Dennis drowned in 1983 and Carl died of lung cancer in 1998. After Carl's death, the group's corporation, Brother Records Inc (BRI), allowed Love to lead a touring band under the "Beach Boys" name. Even though they have not performed together since their 2012 reunion tour, Brian, Jardine, and Love remain a part of BRI and as official members of the band.
The Beach Boys are one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and widely influential bands of all time. The group had over eighty songs chart worldwide, thirty-six of them US Top 40 hits (the most by an American rock band), four reaching number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Beach Boys have sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the world's best-selling bands of all time and are listed at No. 12 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2004 list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". In 2017, a study of AllMusic's catalog indicated the Beach Boys as the 6th most frequently cited artist influence in its database. The core quintet of the three Wilsons, Love and Jardine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
At the time of his sixteenth birthday on June 20, 1958, Brian Wilson shared a bedroom with his brothers, Dennis and Carl – aged thirteen and eleven, respectively – in their family home in Hawthorne. He had watched his father, Murry Wilson, play piano, and had listened intently to the harmonies of vocal groups such as the Four Freshmen. After dissecting songs such as "Ivory Tower" and "Good News", Brian would teach family members how to sing the background harmonies. For his birthday that year, Brian received a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He learned how to overdub, using his vocals and those of Carl and their mother. Brian played piano with Carl and David Marks, an eleven-year-old longtime neighbor, playing guitars they had each received as Christmas presents.
Soon Brian and Carl were avidly listening to Johnny Otis' KFOX radio show. Inspired by the simple structure and vocals of the rhythm and blues songs he heard, Brian changed his piano-playing style and started writing songs. Family gatherings brought the Wilsons in contact with cousin Mike Love. Brian taught Love's sister Maureen and a friend harmonies. Later, Brian, Love and two friends performed at Hawthorne High School. Brian also knew Al Jardine, a high school classmate. Brian suggested to Jardine that they team up with his cousin and brother Carl. Love gave the fledgling band its name: "The Pendletones", a pun on "Pendleton", a style of woolen shirt popular at the time. Dennis was the only avid surfer in the group, and he suggested that the group write songs that celebrated the sport and the lifestyle that it had inspired in Southern California. Brian finished the song, titled "Surfin'", and with Mike Love, wrote "Surfin' Safari". Murry recalled, "They had written a song called 'Surfin',' which I never did like and still don't like, it was so rude and crude."
Murry Wilson, who was a sometime songwriter, arranged for the Pendletones to meet his publisher Hite Morgan. He said: "Finally, [Hite] agreed to hear it, and Mrs. Morgan said 'Drop everything, we're going to record your song. I think it's good.' And she's the one responsible." On September 15, 1961, the band recorded a demo of "Surfin'" with the Morgans. A more professional recording was made on October 3, at World Pacific Studio in Hollywood. David Marks was not present at the session as he was in school that day. Murry brought the demos to Herb Newman, owner of Candix Records and Era Records, and he signed the group on December 8. When the single was released a few weeks later, the band found that they had been renamed "the Beach Boys". Candix wanted to name the group the Surfers until Russ Regan, a young promoter with Era Records, noted that there already existed a group by that name. He suggested calling them the Beach Boys. "Surfin'" was a regional hit for the West Coast, and reached number 75 on the national Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was so successful that the number of unpaid orders for the single bankrupted Candix.
1962–1967: Peak years
Surfin' Safari, Surfin' U.S.A., Surfer Girl, and Little Deuce Coupe
By this time the de facto manager of the Beach Boys, Murry landed the group's first paying gig (for which they earned $300) on New Year's Eve, 1961, at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance in Long Beach. In their earliest public appearances, the band wore heavy wool jacket-like shirts that local surfers favored before switching to their trademark striped shirts and white pants. In early 1962, Morgan requested that some of the members add vocals to a couple of instrumental tracks that he had recorded with other musicians. This led to the creation of the short-lived group Kenny & the Cadets, which Brian led under the pseudonym "Kenny". The other members were Carl, Jardine, and the Wilsons' mother Audree. In February, Jardine left the Beach Boys to study dentistry and was replaced by David Marks. Murry remembered that after "Surfin'", the group had a difficult time being picked up by another label; "they [all] thought [the group was] a one-shot record."
After being turned down by Dot and Liberty, the Beach Boys signed a seven-year contract with Capitol Records. This was 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". The release prompted national coverage in the June 9 issue of Billboard, which praised Love's lead vocal and said the song had strong hit potential. "Surfin' Safari" rose to number 14 and found airplay in New York and Phoenix, a surprise for the label.
The Beach Boys completed their first album, Surfin' Safari, with production credited to Nick Venet. Carl later denied that Venet had any significant role in the group's early music, saying that Venet "would be in the booth, and he would call the take number, and that was about it. I wouldn't call him a musical heavy by any ... Brian didn't want anything to do with Venet." Surfin' Safari, released in October 1962, was unusual from other rock albums of the time in that it consisted almost entirely of original songs, primarily written by Brian with Mike Love and friend Gary Usher. Another unusual feature of the Beach Boys was that, although they were marketed as "surf music", their repertoire bore little resemblance to the music of other surf bands, which was mainly instrumental and incorporated heavy use of spring reverb. For this reason, some of the Beach Boys' early local performances had young audience members throwing vegetables at the band, believing that the group were poseurs.
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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. It was during the sessions for this single that Brian made the production decision from that point on to use double tracking on the group's vocals, resulting in a deeper and more resonant sound. The album of the same name followed in March and reached number 2 on the Billboard charts. Its success propelled the group into a nationwide spotlight, and was vital to launching surf music as a national craze, albeit the Beach Boys' vocal approach to the genre, not the original instrumental style pioneered by Dick Dale. Biographer Luis Sanchez highlights the "Surfin' U.S.A." single as a turning point for the band, "creat[ing] a direct passage to California life for a wide teenage audience ... [and] a distinct Southern California sensibility that exceeded its conception as such to advance right to the front of American consciousness." Five days prior to the release of the Surfin' U.S.A. album, Brian produced "Surf City", a song he had written for Jan and Dean. "Surf City" hit number one on the Billboard charts in July, a development that pleased Brian but angered Murry, who felt his son had "given away" what should have been the Beach Boys' first chart-topper.
Throughout 1963, and for the next few years, Brian produced a variety of singles for outside artists. Among these were the Honeys, a surfer trio that comprised sisters Diane and Marilyn Rovell with cousin Ginger Blake. Brian was convinced that they could potentially be a successful female counterpart to the Beach Boys, and he produced a number of singles for them, although they could not replicate the Beach Boys' popularity. He also attended some of Phil Spector's sessions at Gold Star Studios. His creative and songwriting interests were revamped upon hearing the Ronettes' 1963 song "Be My Baby", which was produced by Spector. The first time he heard the song was while driving, and was so overwhelmed that he had to pull over to the side of the road and analyze the chorus. Later, he reflected: "I was unable to really think as a producer up until the time where I really got familiar with Phil Spector's work. That was when I started to design the experience to be a record rather than just a song."
Many of them were the musicians Spector used for his Wall of Sound productions. To close 1963, the band released a standalone Christmas-themed single, "Little Saint Nick", backed with an a cappella rendition of the scriptural song "The Lord's Prayer". The A-side peaked at No. 3 on the US Billboard Christmas chart.Surfer Girl marked the first time the group used outside musicians on a substantial portion of an LP.
British Invasion, Shut Down, All Summer Long, and Christmas Album
The surf music craze, along with the careers of nearly all surf acts, was slowly replaced by the British Invasion. Following a successful Australasian tour in January and February 1964, the Beach Boys returned home to face their new competition, the Beatles. Both groups shared the same record label in the US, and Capitol's support for the Beach Boys immediately began waning. This caused Murry to fight for the band at the label more than before, often visiting their offices without warning to "twist executive arms." Carl said that Phil Spector "was Brian's favorite kind of rock; he liked [him] better than the early Beatles stuff. He loved the Beatles' later music when they evolved and started making intelligent, masterful music, but before that Phil was it." According to Mike Love, Carl followed the Beatles closer than anyone else in the band, while Brian was the most "rattled" by the Beatles and felt tremendous pressure to "keep pace" with them. For Brian, the Beatles ultimately "eclipsed a lot [of what] we'd worked for ... [they] eclipsed the whole music world."
Brian wrote his last surf song in April 1964. That month, during recording of the single "I Get Around", Murry was relieved of his duties as manager. He remained in close contact with the group and attempted to continue advising on their career decisions. When "I Get Around" was released in May, it would climb to number one, their first single to do so, proving that the Beach Boys could compete with contemporary British pop groups. In July, the album that the song appeared on, All Summer Long, reached No. 4 in the US. All Summer Long introduced exotic textures to the Beach Boys' sound exemplified by the piccolos and xylophones of its title track. The album was a swan-song to the surf and car music the Beach Boys built their commercial standing upon. Later albums took a different stylistic and lyrical path. Before this, a live album, Beach Boys Concert, was released in October to a four-week chart stay at number one, containing a set list of previously recorded hits and covers that they had not yet recorded.
In June 1964, Brian recorded the bulk of The Beach Boys' Christmas Album with a forty-one-piece studio orchestra in collaboration with Four Freshmen arranger Dick Reynolds. The album was a response to Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift for You (1963). Released in December, the Beach Boys' album was divided between five new, original Christmas-themed songs, and seven reinterpretations of traditional Christmas songs. It would be regarded as one of the finest holiday albums of the rock era. One single from the album, "The Man with All the Toys", was released, peaking at No. 6 on the US Billboard Christmas chart. On October 29, the Beach Boys performed for The T.A.M.I. Show, a concert film intended to bring together a wide range of hit-making musicians for a one-off performance. The result was released to movie theaters one month later.
Today!, Summer Days, and Party!
By the end of 1964, the stress of road travel, writing, and producing became too much for Brian. On December 23, while on a flight from Los Angeles to Houston, he suffered a panic attack only hours after performing with the Beach Boys on the musical variety series Shindig!. In January 1965, he announced his withdrawal from touring to concentrate entirely on songwriting and record production. For the rest of 1964 and into 1965, session musician Glen Campbell served as Brian's temporary replacement in concert. Carl took over as the band's musical director onstage.
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. In the period following his resignation form touring, Brian put more distance between him and his bandmates, and began expanding his social circle to include a mix of worldly-minded friends, musicians, mystics, and business advisers. He also took an increasing interest in the developing Los Angeles "hip" scene and in recreational drugs (particularly marijuana, LSD, and Desbutal). 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."
Released in March 1965, The Beach Boys Today! marked the first time the group experimented with the "album-as-art" form. The tracks on side one feature an uptempo sound that contrasts side two, which consists mostly of emotional ballads. Music writer Scott Schinder referenced its "suite-like structure" as an early example of the rock album format being used to make a cohesive artistic statement. Brian also established his new lyrical approach toward the autobiographical; journalist Nick Kent wrote that the subjects of Brian's songs "were suddenly no longer simple happy souls harmonizing their sun-kissed innocence and dying devotion to each other over a honey-coated backdrop of surf and sand. Instead, they'd become highly vulnerable, slightly neurotic and riddled with telling insecurities." In the book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, Bob Stanley remarked that "Brian was aiming for Johnny Mercer but coming up proto-indie." In 2012, the album was voted 271 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
Capitol continued to bill the Beach Boys as "America's Top Surfin' Group!" and expected Brian to write more beachgoing songs for the yearly summer markets. In April 1965, Campbell's own career success pulled him from touring with the group. Columbia Records staff producer Bruce Johnston was asked to locate a replacement for Campbell; having failed to find one, Johnston himself became a full-time member of the band on May 19, 1965, first replacing Brian on the road and later contributing in the studio, beginning with the June 4 vocal sessions for "California Girls", which first appeared in the band's next album Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) and eventually charted at number three in the US while the album went to number two. The album also included a reworked arrangement of "Help Me, Rhonda" which became the band's second number one single in the spring of 1965.
To appease Capitol's demands for a Beach Boys LP for the 1965 Christmas season, Brian conceived Beach Boys' Party!, a live-in-the-studio album consisting mostly of acoustic covers of 1950s rock and R&B songs, in addition to covers of three Beatles songs, Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'", and idiosyncratic rerecordings of the group's earlier hits. The album was an early precursor of the "unplugged" trend. It included a cover of the Regents' song "Barbara Ann" which became a surprise number-two hit when released several weeks later. In November, the group released another top-twenty single, "The Little Girl I Once Knew". It was considered the band's most experimental statement thus far. The single continued Brian's ambitions for daring arrangements, featuring unexpected tempo changes and numerous false endings. It was the band's second single not to reach the top ten since their 1962 breakthrough, peaking at number 20. According to Luis Sanchez, in 1965, Bob Dylan was "rewriting the rules for pop success" with his music and image, and it was at this juncture that Wilson "led The Beach Boys into a transitional phase in an effort to win the pop terrain that had been thrown up for grabs."
In January 1966, Wilson commenced recording sessions for the Beach Boys' forthcoming album Pet Sounds, which was largely a collaboration with jingle writer Tony Asher. The album was a refinement of the themes and ideas that were introduced in Today!. In some ways, the music was a jarring departure from their earlier style. When the other Beach Boys returned from a three-week tour of Japan and Hawaii, they were presented with a substantial portion of the new album, and various reports suggest that they fought over the new direction. Musicologist Daniel Harrison wrote, "In terms of the structure of the songs themselves, there is comparatively little advance from what Brian had already accomplished." In The Journal on the Art of Record Production, Marshall Heiser writes that Pet Sounds "diverges from previous Beach Boys' efforts in several ways: its sound field has a greater sense of depth and 'warmth;' the songs employ even more inventive use of harmony and chord voicings; the prominent use of percussion is a key feature (as opposed to driving drum backbeats); whilst the orchestrations, at times, echo the quirkiness of 'exotica' bandleader Les Baxter, or the 'cool' of Burt Bacharach, more so than Spector's teen fanfares." Tony Asher recalled witnessing "tense" recording sessions in which Brian's bandmates complained that the music "'isn't our kind of shit!'".
For Pet Sounds, Brian desired to make "a complete statement", similar to what he believed the Beatles had done with their newest album Rubber Soul, released in December 1965. Brian was immediately enamored with the album, given the impression that it had no filler tracks, a feature that was mostly unheard of at a time when 45 rpm singles were considered more noteworthy than full-length LPs. He later said: "It didn't make me want to copy them but to be as good as them. I didn't want to do the same kind of music, but on the same level." Thanks to mutual connections, Brian was introduced to the Beatles' former press officer Derek Taylor, who was subsequently employed as the Beach Boys' publicist. Responding to Brian's request to reinvent the band's image, Taylor devised a promotion campaign with the tagline "Brian Wilson is a genius", a belief which Taylor sincerely held. Taylor's prestige was crucial in offering a credible perspective to those on the outside, and his efforts are widely recognized as instrumental in the album's success in Britain.
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Released on May 16, 1966, Pet Sounds was widely influential and raised the band's prestige as an innovative rock group. Early reviews for the album in the US ranged from negative to tentatively positive, and its sales numbered approximately 500,000 units, a slight drop-off from the run of albums that immediately preceded it. It was assumed that Capitol considered Pet Sounds a risk, appealing more to an older demographic than the younger, female audience upon which the Beach Boys had built their commercial standing. Within two months, the label capitulated by releasing the group's first greatest hits compilation, Best of the Beach Boys, which was quickly certified gold by the RIAA. By contrast, Pet Sounds met a highly favorable critical response in Britain, where it reached number 2 and remained among the top-ten positions for six months. Responding to the hype, Melody Maker ran a feature in which many pop musicians were asked whether they believed that the album was truly revolutionary and progressive, or "as sickly as peanut butter". The author concluded that "the record's impact on artists and the men behind the artists has been considerable."
In its evaluation of Pet Sounds, the book 101 Albums that Changed Popular Music (2009) calls it "one of the most innovative recordings in rock", and that it "elevated Brian Wilson from talented bandleader to studio genius". In 1995, a panel of numerous musicians, songwriters and producers assembled by MOJO voted Pet Sounds as the greatest record ever made. Paul McCartney frequently spoke of his affinity with the album, citing "God Only Knows" as his favorite song of all time, and crediting his melodic bass-playing style to the album. He acknowledged that Pet Sounds was the primary impetus for the Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. According to author Carys Wyn Jones, the interplay between these two groups during the Pet Sounds era remains one of the most noteworthy episodes in rock history. In 2003, when Rolling Stone magazine created its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", the publication placed Pet Sounds second to honour its influence on the highest ranked album, Sgt. Pepper's.
"Good Vibrations" and Smile
Throughout the summer of 1966, Brian concentrated on finishing the group's next single, "Good Vibrations". During the making of Pet Sounds, Wilson started changing his writing process. Rather than going to the studio with a completed song, he would record a track containing a series of chord changes he liked, take an acetate disc home, and then compose the song's melody and write its lyrics. With "Good Vibrations", Wilson said, "I had a lot of unfinished ideas, fragments of music I called 'feels.' Each feel represented a mood or an emotion I'd felt, and I planned to fit them together like a mosaic." Most of the song's structure and arrangement was written as it was recorded. Instead of working on whole songs with clear large-scale syntactical structures, Brian limited himself to recording short interchangeable fragments (or "modules"). Through the method of tape splicing, each fragment could then be assembled into a linear sequence, allowing any number of larger structures and divergent moods to be produced at a later time. Coming at a time when pop singles were usually recorded in under two hours, it was one of the most complex pop productions ever undertaken, with sessions for the song stretching over several months in four major Hollywood studios. It was also the most expensive single ever recorded to that point, with the production costs estimated to be in the tens of thousands.
While in the midst of "Good Vibrations" sessions, Wilson invited session musician and songwriter Van Dyke Parks to collaborate as lyricist for the Beach Boys' next album project, soon titled Smile, to which Parks agreed. Wilson and Parks intended Smile to be a continuous suite of songs that were linked both thematically and musically, with the main songs being linked together by small vocal pieces and instrumental segments that elaborated upon the musical themes of the major songs. It was explicitly American in style and subject, a conscious reaction to the overwhelming British dominance of popular music at the time. Some of the music incorporated chanting, cowboy songs, explorations in Indian and Hawaiian music, jazz, classical tone poems, cartoon sound effects, musique concrète, and yodeling. Saturday Evening Post writer Jules Siegel famously recalled that, during one evening in October, Brian announced to his wife and friends that he was "writing a teenage symphony to God". Brian told Melody Maker: "Our new album will be better than Pet Sounds. It will be as much an improvement over Sounds as that was over Summer Days." Derek Taylor continued to write articles in the music press, sometimes anonymously, in an effort to further speculation about the album.
Recording for Smile lasted about a year, from mid 1966 to mid 1967, and followed the same modular production approach as "Good Vibrations". Concurrently, Wilson planned many different multimedia side-projects, such as a sound effects collage, a comedy album, and a "health food" album. Capitol did not support some of these ideas, which led to the Beach Boys' desire to form their own label, Brother Records. According to biographer Steven Gaines, Love was "the most receptive" to the proposal, wanting the Beach Boys to have more creative control over their work, and supported Wilson's decision to employ his newfound "best friend" David Anderle as the head of the label, even though it was against the wishes of band manager Nick Grillo. In a press release, Anderle stated that Brother Records was to give "entirely new concepts to the recording industry, and to give the Beach Boys total creative and promotional control over their product." The group established a short-lived film production company, called "Home Movies", to create live action film and television properties starring the Beach Boys. The company completed only one production, a music video for "Good Vibrations".
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Released on October 10, 1966, "Good Vibrations" was the Beach Boys' third US number-one hit, reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in December, and became their first number one in Britain. That month, the record was their first single certified gold by the RIAA. It came to be widely acclaimed as one of the greatest masterpieces of rock music. In December 1966, the Beach Boys were voted the number-one band in the world in an annual readers' poll conducted by NME, ahead of the Beatles, the Walker Brothers, the Rolling Stones, and the Four Tops. Billboard said that this result was probably influenced by the success of "Good Vibrations" when the votes were cast, together with the band's recent tour, whereas the Beatles had neither a recent single nor had they toured the UK throughout 1966; the reporter added that "The sensational success of the Beach Boys, however, is being taken as a portent that the popularity of the top British groups of the last three years is past its peak."
The Beach Boys ended the final quarter of 1966 as the strongest selling album act in the UK, dethroning the three-year reign of native bands such as the Beatles. In 1971, a writer in Cue magazine noted that, from mid 1966 to late 1967, the band "were among the vanguard in practically every aspect of the counter culture." Biographer David Leaf wrote that the success of "Good Vibrations" "bought Brian some time [and] shut up everybody who said that Brian's new ways wouldn't sell ... his inability to quickly follow up [the single was what] became a snowballing problem." Sanchez writes that as time passed, the hype for Smile turned into "expectation", "doubt", and finally, "bemusement".
By December 1966, Wilson had completed much of the Smile backing tracks. When the Beach Boys returned from a month-long tour of Europe, they were confused by the new music he had recorded and the new coterie of interlopers that surrounded him. Gaines wrote that David Anderle now appeared to them as the leader of "a whole group of strangers [that] had infiltrated and taken over the Beach Boys". Throughout the first half of 1967, the album's release date was repeatedly postponed as Brian tinkered with the recordings, experimenting with different takes and mixes, unable or unwilling to supply a completed version of the album. Meanwhile, he suffered from delusions and paranoia, believing on one occasion that the album track "Fire" (also known as "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow") caused a building to burn down. On January 3, 1967 Carl Wilson refused to be drafted for military service, leading to indictment and criminal prosecution which he challenged as a conscientious objector. He was arrested by the FBI in April, and it would take several years in the courts before the matter would be resolved.
After months of recording and media hype, the original Smile project was shelved due to the numerous personal, technical, and legal issues which surrounded its making. A February 1967 lawsuit seeking $255,000 (equivalent to $1.87 million in 2017) was launched against Capitol Records over neglected royalty payments. Within the lawsuit, there was also an attempt to terminate the band's contract with Capitol before its November 1969 expiry. Since the group's future at Capitol was in limbo, an immediate release of Smile would have been unlikely, regardless of whether the album was completed. Band quarrels led Parks to leave the project in April 1967, with Anderle following suit weeks later. Brian later said: "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." He discussed breaking up the Beach Boys "on many occasions," according to Anderle, "But it was easier, I think to get rid of the outsiders like myself than it was to break up the brothers. You can't break up brothers."
In the decades following Smile's non-release, it became the subject of intense speculation and mystique and gained status as the most legendary unreleased album in the history of popular music. Many of the album's advocates believe that had it been released, it would have altered the group's direction and established them at the vanguard of rock innovators. In October 1967, Cheetah magazine published "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!", a memoir by Jules Siegel that chronicled his time with Brian during the Smile sessions. The article propelled the mythology of Smile and the Beach Boys and credited the album's collapse to "an obsessive cycle of creation and destruction that threatened not only his career and his fortune but also his marriage, his friendships, his relationships with the Beach Boys and, some of his closest friends worried, his mind". Carl blamed the article and "a lot of that stuff that went around before" with "really turn[ing Brian] off." Some of the original Smile tracks continued to trickle out in later releases, often as filler tracks to offset Brian's unwillingness to contribute. In 2011, Uncut magazine staff voted Smile to be the "greatest bootleg recording of all time".
1967–1969: Faltered popularity and Brian's reduced involvement
Monterey Pop cancellation
In May 1967, the Beach Boys attempted to tour Europe with four extra musicians brought from the US, but were stopped by the British musicians' union. The tour went on without the extra support, and critics described their performances as "amateurish" and "floundering". Days after announcing that Smile was "scrapped", Derek Taylor terminated his employment with the group to focus his attention on organizing the Monterey Pop Festival, an event held in June that the Beach Boys declined to headline at the last minute. David Leaf explained: "Monterey was a gathering place for the 'far out' sounds of the 'new' rock, and the Beach Boys in concert really had no exotic sounds (excepting "Good Vibrations") to display. The net result of all this internal and external turmoil was that the Beach Boys didn't go to Monterey, and it is thought that this non-appearance was what really turned the 'underground' tide against them." According to friend Michael Vosse, Brian thought the Beach Boys would have been criticized by festival goers who were intent on seeing British acid rock groups.
Publicly, the band said that they could not play Monterey because of Carl's military draft, but many of the people involved with the festival thought that the group was simply too scared to compete with the "new music". Love said that "Carl was to appear in federal court the Tuesday after the concert, but for all we knew, they were going to arrest him again if he performed onstage. ... None of us were afraid to perform at Monterey." Steven Gaines wrote that the decision "had a snowballing effect" that came to represent "a damning admission that [the Beach Boys] were washed up". A controversy involving whether the band was to be taken as a serious rock group developed among critics and fans. On December 14, 1967, Rolling Stone co-founder and editor Jann Wenner printed an influential article that denounced the Beach Boys as "just one prominent example of a group that has gotten hung up on trying to catch The Beatles. It's a pointless pursuit." Many rock fans thus began excluding the group from "serious consideration".
Smiley Smile and Wild Honey
The Beach Boys were still under pressure and a contractual obligation to record and present an album to Capitol. Carl remembered: "Brian just said, 'I can't do this. We're going to make a homespun version of [Smile] instead. We're just going to take it easy. I'll get in the pool and sing. Or let's go in the gym and do our parts.' That was Smiley Smile." Sessions for the new album lasted from June to July 1967 at Brian's new makeshift home studio. Most of the album 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."
In July, lead single "Heroes and Villains" was issued, arriving after months of public anticipation, and reached number 12 in US. It was met with general confusion among underwhelming reviews, and in the NME, Jimi Hendrix famously dismissed the single as a "psychedelic barbershop quartet". By then, the group's lawsuit with Capitol was resolved, and it was agreed that Smile would not be the band's next album. In August, the group embarked on a two-date tour of Hawaii. Bruce Johnston, who was absent for most of the Smiley Smile recording, did not accompany the group, although Brian did. Their performances were filmed and recorded with the intention of releasing a live album, Lei'd in Hawaii, which was also left unfinished and unreleased. Jesse Jarnow of Pitchfork opined that the Hawaii performances "most definitely would not have passed the Monterey acid test against the likes of the Who and Jimi Hendrix." In an interview that month, Brian stated: "I think rock n' roll–the pop scene–is happening. It's great. But I think basically, the Beach Boys are squares. We're not happening."
Smiley Smile was released on September 18, 1967, and peaked at number 41 in the US making it their worst-selling album to that date. It began a string of under-performing Beach Boys albums that would last until 1974. When released in the UK in November, it performed better, reaching number 9. Critics and fans were generally underwhelmed by the album. According to Scott Schinder, the album was released to "general incomprehension. While Smile may have divided the Beach Boys' fans had it been released, Smiley Smile merely baffled them." Over the years, the album gathered a reputation as one of the best "chill-out" albums to listen to during an LSD comedown. In 1974, the writing staff of NME voted it as the 64th greatest album of all time.
The Beach Boys immediately recorded a new album, Wild Honey, which was an excursion into soul music. Carl described it as "music for Brian to cool out by. He was still very spaced." The album was a self-conscious attempt by the Beach Boys to "regroup" themselves as a rock band in opposition to their more orchestral affairs of the past. Its music differs in many ways from previous Beach Boys records: it contains very little group singing compared to previous albums, and mainly features Brian singing at his piano. Again, the Beach Boys recorded mostly at his home studio. Love reflected that Wild Honey was "completely out of the mainstream for what was going on at that time, which was all hard rock/psychedelic music. It just didn't have anything to do with what was going on, and that was the idea."
Wild Honey was released on December 18, 1967 in competition with the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour and the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request. It had a lower chart placing than Smiley Smile and remained on the charts for only 15 weeks. As with Smiley Smile, contemporary critics viewed it as inconsequential and it alienated fans whose expectations had been raised by Smile. That month, Mike Love told a British journalist: "Sure people were baffled and mystified by Smiley Smile but it was a matter of progression. We had this feeling that we were going too far, losing touch I guess, and this new one brings us back more into reality ... Brian has been re-thinking our recording program and in any case we all have a much greater say nowadays in what we turn out in the studio." Wild Honey remained the last Beach Boys album to feature Brian as a primary composer until 1977. Over the coming months, its non-comforming approach would be echoed in albums released by Bob Dylan (John Wesley Harding), the Kinks (Village Green Preservation Society), and the Byrds (The Notorious Byrd Brothers).
Friends, 20/20, and Manson episode
From 1968 onward, Brian's songwriting output declined substantially, but the public narrative of "Brian-as-leader" continued. After meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at a UNICEF Variety Gala in Paris, France on December 15, 1967, Love, along with other high-profile celebrities such as the Beatles and Donovan traveled to Rishikesh in India during February and March 1968. The following Beach Boys album Friends had songs influenced by the Transcendental Meditation taught by the Maharishi. In support of the Friends album, Love had arranged for the Beach Boys to tour with the Maharishi in the U.S.. Starting on May 3, 1968, the tour lasted five shows and was canceled when the Maharishi had to withdraw to fulfill film contracts. Because of disappointing audience numbers and the Maharishi's withdrawal, twenty-four tour dates were subsequently canceled at a cost estimated at $250,000 for the band. Friends, released on June 24, peaked at number 126 in the US. A collection of Beach Boys backing tracks, Stack-o-Tracks, was issued by Capitol in August. The album was the first of its kind by any artist, and became the first Beach Boys LP that failed to chart in the US and UK.
In June 1968, Dennis befriended Charles Manson, an aspiring singer-songwriter, and their relationship lasted for several months. Dennis bought him time at Brian's home studio where recording sessions were attempted while Brian stayed in his room. Dennis then proposed that Manson be signed to Brother Records. Brian reportedly disliked Manson, and so a deal was never made. In July 1968, the group released a standalone single, "Do It Again", which was written in the style of their earlier hits. Around this time, Brian admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital. His bandmates wrote and produced material in his absence. To complete their contract with Capitol, they produced one more album, 20/20, released in January 1969. It consisted mostly of outtakes and leftovers from recent albums; Brian produced virtually none of the record. In 1976, Dennis called it "the only letdown of the Beach Boys' career that embarrassed me through and through ... we had to find things that Brian worked on and try and piece it together. That's when there was no involvement [from him] at all."
The Beach Boys recorded one song penned by Manson without his involvement: "Cease to Exist", rewritten as "Never Learn Not to Love", which was included on 20/20, but first released as the B-side of a single one month earlier. Manson was enthused by the idea of the group recording one of his songs, however, after accruing a large monetary debt to the group, Dennis deliberately omitted Manson's credit on its release while also altering the song's arrangement and lyrics, which angered Manson. As his cult of followers took over Dennis' home, Dennis gradually distanced himself from Manson. In November 1969, three months after the Tate–LaBianca murders, Manson was apprehended by the police, and his connections with the Beach Boys was the subject of media attention. He was later convicted for several counts of murder and conspiracy to murder. Dennis refused to testify against him. Love remembered: "He couldn't talk about it with anyone—family, friends, the investigators. ... Dennis, I think, just wanted to lock away the whole episode in some deep recess of his soul".
Selling of the band's publishing
On April 12, 1969, the band revisited their 1967 lawsuit against Capitol Records after they alleged an audit undertaken revealed the band were owed over $2 million for unpaid royalties and production duties. The band's contract with Capitol Records expired on June 30, 1969, after which Capitol Records deleted the Beach Boys' catalog from print, effectively cutting off their royalty flow.
At a press conference ostensibly convened to promote "Break Away" to the European media shortly thereafter, Wilson intimated that "We owe everyone money. And if we don't pick ourselves off our backsides and have a hit record soon, we will be in worse trouble ... I've always said, 'Be honest with your fans.' I don't see why I should lie and say that everything is rosy when it's not." These incendiary remarks ultimately thwarted long-simmering contract negotiations with Deutsche Grammophon. In August 1969, Sea of Tunes, the Beach Boys' catalog, was sold to Irving Almo Music for $700,000 (equivalent to $4.67 million in 2017). Brian, according to his wife Marilyn Wilson, was devastated by the sale. Over the years, the catalog would generate more than $100 million in publishing royalties, none of which Murry nor the band members ever received.
1970–1978: Reprise era
Sunflower and Surf's Up
The group were signed to Reprise Records in 1970. Scott Schinder described the label as "probably the hippest and most artist-friendly major label of the time." The deal was brokered by Van Dyke Parks, who was then employed as a multimedia executive at Warner Music Group. Reprise's contract stipulated Brian's proactive involvement with the band in all albums By the time the Beach Boys tenure ended with Capitol in 1969, they had sold 65 million records worldwide, closing the decade as the most commercially successful American group in popular music.
"This Whole World" (1970)
"This Whole World" was one of many Beach Boys singles released in this era that achieved wide critical acclaim, but little commercial momentum.
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After recording over 30 different songs and going through several album titles, their first LP for Reprise, Sunflower, was released on August 31, 1970. Sunflower featured a strong group presence with significant writing contributions from all band members. Brian was active during this period, writing or co-writing seven of the twelve songs on Sunflower and performing at half of the band's domestic concerts in 1970. The album received critical acclaim in both the US and the UK. This was offset by the album reaching only number 151 on US record charts during a four-week stay, becoming the worst selling Beach Boys album at that point. In his review for Rolling Stone, critic Jim Miller praised the album as "without doubt the best Beach Boys album in recent memory, a stylistically coherent tour de force", but mused: "It makes one wonder though whether anyone still listens to their music, or could give a shit about it." In the UK, the album reached 29. Fans generally regard the LP as the Beach Boys' finest post-Pet Sounds album. In 2003, it placed at number 380 on Rolling Stone's "Greatest Albums of All Time" list.
Sometime in 1969, Brian opened a short-lived health food store called the Radiant Radish, While working there, he met journalist and radio presenter Jack Rieley. Rieley spoke with Brian for a radio interview, with the subject eventually turning to the unreleased song "Surf's Up", a track which had taken on notoriety since the demise of the Smile album three years earlier. Brian did not feel it should be released. On August 8, 1970, Rieley offered a six-page memo ruminating on how to stimulate "increased record sales and popularity for The Beach Boys." In the fall of 1970, the Beach Boys hired Rieley as their manager. One of his initiatives was to encourage the band to record songs featuring more socially conscious lyrics. He also requested the completion of "Surf's Up" and arranged a guest appearance at a Grateful Dead concert at Bill Graham's Fillmore East in April 1971 to foreground the Beach Boys' transition into the counterculture. During this time, the group ceased wearing matching uniforms on stage.
On August 30, 1971 the band released Surf's Up, which included the title track. The album was moderately successful, reaching the US top 30, a marked improvement over their recent releases. While the record charted, the Beach Boys added to their renewed fame by performing a near-sellout set at Carnegie Hall; their live shows during this era included reworked arrangements of many of the band's previous songs. A large portion of their set lists culled from Pet Sounds and Smile. Music writer Domenic Priore noted, "They basically played what they could have played at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967." Dennis injured his hand during the Surf's Up sessions, leaving him temporarily unable to play the drums.
So Tough, Holland, and greatest hits LPs
Sail On, Sailor", a collaboration between Brian Wilson, Tandyn Almer, Ray Kennedy, Jack Rieley and Van Dyke Parks featuring a soulful lead vocal by Chaplin. Reprise subsequently approved and the resulting album, Holland, was released in January 1973, peaking at number 37. Brian's musical children story, Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale) was included as a bonus EP.Reprise, however, felt that the album required a strong single. This resulted in the song "
In August 1973, the 41-song soundtrack to American Graffiti was released including the band's early songs "Surfin' Safari" and "All Summer Long". The album was a catalyst in creating a wave of nostalgia that reintroduced the Beach Boys into contemporary American consciousness. Chaplin also left in late 1973 after an argument with Steve Love, the band's business manager (and Mike's brother). In June 1974, Capitol issued Endless Summer, the band's first major pre-Pet Sounds greatest hits package. The compilation rose to the top of the Billboard album charts. It remained on the charts for two years, the longest of any Beach Boys release. Capitol followed with a second compilation, Spirit of America, which also sold well. With these compilations, the Beach Boys became one of the most popular acts in rock, propelling themselves from opening for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to headliners selling out basketball arenas in a matter of weeks. Rolling Stone named the Beach Boys the "Band of the Year" for 1974.
Fataar remained with the band until 1974, when he was offered a chance to join a new group led by future Eagles member Joe Walsh. Chaplin's replacement, James William Guercio, started offering the group career advice that resulted in his becoming their new manager. Under Guercio, the Beach Boys staged a successful 1975 joint concert tour with Chicago, with each group performing some of the other's songs, including their previous year's collaboration on Chicago's hit "Wishing You Were Here". While their concerts continuously sold out, the stage act slowly changed from a contemporary presentation followed by oldies encores to an entire show made up of mostly pre-1967 music.
"Brian's Back!", 15 Big Ones, and Love You
Brian spent the majority of two years secluded in the chauffeur's quarters of his home, abusing alcohol, taking drugs (including heroin), overeating, and exhibiting other self-destructive behavior. Although increasingly reclusive during the day, Wilson spent many nights at singer Danny Hutton's house, fraternizing with colleagues such as Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop. In 1975, Brian attempted to join California Music, a Los Angeles collective that included Gary Usher, Curt Boettcher, and Bruce Johnston. The Beach Boys' recent Endless Summer compilation was selling well, and the band was touring non-stop, making them the biggest live draw in the US. Guercio was then fired by the group and replaced by Steve Love, who urged the group to encourage Brian to return to the production helm. According to Steve: "We were under contract with Warner Bros., and we couldn't have him going on a tangent. If he was going to be productive, it's gotta be for the Beach Boys." Brian, who had already grown tired of working with the Beach Boys, was then legally ousted from California Music in order to focus his undivided attention on the band. In October, Marilyn persuaded Brian to admit himself under the care of psychotherapist Eugene Landy, who was successful in keeping Brian from indulging in substance abuse with constant supervision.
At the end of January 1976, the Beach Boys returned to the studio with an apprehensive Brian producing once again. At the time, he felt: "It was a little scary because [the Beach Boys and I] weren't as close. We had drifted apart, personality-wise. A lot of the guys had developed new personalities through meditation. ... But we went into the studio with the attitude that we had to get it done." Group meetings were supervised by Landy, and discussions over each song for the record were reported to last for up to eight hours. Brian decided the band should do an album of rock and roll and doo wop standards. Carl and Dennis disagreed, feeling that an album of originals was far more ideal, while Love and Jardine wanted the album out as quickly as possible. Brian's production role was undermined as group members overdubbed and remixed tracks, without his knowledge, to fight against his desire for a rough, unfinished sound. He later attributed his hoarse voice on the album to a bout of laryngitis.
Released on July 5, 1976, 15 Big Ones was generally disliked by fans and critics upon release. Its lead single, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music", became a top five hit. Carl and Dennis disparaged the album to the press. Dennis said: "It was a great mistake to put Brian in full control. He was always the absolute producer, but little did he know that in his absence, people grew up, people became as sensitive as the next guy. Why do I relinquish my rights as an artist? The whole process was a little bruising." Brian said that "the new album is nothing too deep", but remained hopeful that their next release would be on par with the group's "Good Vibrations". An August 1976 NBC-TV special, titled The Beach Boys, was produced by Saturday Night Live (SNL) creator Lorne Michaels, and featured appearances by SNL cast members John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. In December, Brian was released from Landy's program due to disputes over the doctor's monthly fee.
From late 1976 to early 1977, Brian spent his time making sporadic public appearances and producing the band's next album The Beach Boys Love You, a collection of 14 songs mostly written, arranged and produced alone. He later called Love You one of his favorite Beach Boys releases, saying that "That's when it all happened for me. That's where my heart lies." The album's engineer, Earle Mankey, compared it to the surrealist film Eraserhead, and said that while it was "lighthearted" on the surface, it was intended to be a "serious, autobiographical work". Writing for Pitchfork, D. Erik Kempke said the album "stands in sharp contrast to the albums that preceded and followed it, because it was a product of genuine inspiration on Brian Wilson's part, with little outside interference." Al Jardine credited Carl and Dennis with having "the most to do with that album ... [they were] paying tribute to their brother."
Released on April 11, 1977, Love You peaked at number 53 in the US and number 28 in the UK. It was divided between fans and critics. Some saw the album as a work of "eccentric genius" whereas others dismissed it as "childish and trivial". In a review for Circus, Lester Bangs called the Beach Boys "a diseased bunch of motherfuckers if ever there was one ... But the miracle is that the Beach Boys have made that disease sound like the literal babyflesh pink of health." The album was released weeks after the band signed a new record deal with CBS. Gaines hypothesized that the lack of promotion Reprise put into Love You was a byproduct of the falling out between artist and label.
Band tensions, solo careers, and scrapped albums
After Love You was released, Brian assembled Adult/Child, an unreleased effort largely consisting of songs written by Brian from 1976 and 1977 with select big band arrangements by Dick Reynolds. Though publicized as the Beach Boys' next release, Adult/Child caused tension within the group and was ultimately shelved. Following this period, his concert appearances with the band gradually diminished and their performances were occasionally erratic. The internal wrangling came to a head after a show at Central Park on September 1, 1977, when the band effectively split into two camps; Dennis and Carl Wilson on one side, Mike Love and Al Jardine on the other with Brian remaining neutral. Following a confrontation on an airport tarmac, Dennis declared to Rolling Stone on September 3 that he had left the band: "It was Al Jardine who really knifed me in the heart when he said they didn't need me. That was the clincher. And all I told him was that he couldn't play more than four chords. They kept telling me I had my solo album now [Pacific Ocean Blue], like I should go off in a corner and leave the Beach Boys to them. The album really bothers them. They don't like to admit it's doing so well; they never even acknowledge it in interviews."
The band broke up for two and a half weeks, until a meeting on September 17 at Brian's house. In light of a potential new Caribou Records contract the parties negotiated a settlement resulting in Love gaining control of Brian's vote in the group, allowing Love and Jardine to outvote Carl and Dennis Wilson on any matter. Dennis started to withdraw from the group to focus on his second solo album, Bambu. The album was shelved just as alcoholism and marital problems overcame all three Wilson brothers. Carl appeared intoxicated during concerts (especially at appearances for their 1978 Australia tour) and Brian gradually slid back into addiction and an unhealthy lifestyle.
Their last album for Reprise, M.I.U. Album (1978), was recorded at Maharishi International University in Iowa at the suggestion of Love. Dennis and Carl made limited contributions; the album was mostly produced by Jardine and Ron Altbach, with Brian credited as "executive producer". M.I.U. was largely a contractual obligation to finish out their association with Reprise, who likewise did not promote the result.
1980s: Death of Dennis, Brian's estrangement, and "Kokomo"
In an April 1980 interview, Carl reflected that "the last two years have been the most important and difficult time of our career. We were at the ultimate crossroads. We had to decide whether what we had been involved in since we were teenagers had lost its meaning. We asked ourselves and each other the difficult questions we'd often avoided in the past." By the next year, he left the touring group because of unhappiness with the band's nostalgia format and lackluster live performances, subsequently pursuing a solo career. He stated: "I haven't quit the Beach Boys but I do not plan on touring with them until they decide that 1981 means as much to them as 1961."
Carl returned on May 1982, after approximately 14 months of being away, on the condition that the group reconsider their rehearsal and touring policies and refrain from "Las Vegas-type" engagements. Later that year, Brian overdosed on a combination of alcohol, cocaine, and other psychoactive drugs. His former therapist Eugene Landy was once more employed, and a more radical program was undertaken to try to restore Brian to health. This involved removing him from the group on November 5, 1982, at the behest of Carl, Love, and Jardine, in addition to putting him on a rigorous diet and health regimen. Coupled with long, extreme counseling sessions, this therapy was successful in bringing Brian back to physical health, slimming down from 311 pounds (141 kg) to 185 pounds (84 kg).
From 1980 through 1982, the Beach Boys and the Grass Roots performed Independence Day concerts at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., attracting large crowds. However, in April 1983, James G. Watt, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, banned Independence Day concerts on the Mall by such groups. Watt said that "rock bands" that had performed on the Mall on Independence Day in 1981 and 1982 had encouraged drug use and alcoholism and had attracted "the wrong element", who would steal from attendees. During the ensuing uproar, which included over 40,000 complaints to the Department of the Interior, the Beach Boys stated that the Soviet Union, which had invited them to perform in Leningrad in 1978, "...obviously ... did not feel that the group attracted the wrong element." Vice President George H. W. Bush said of the Beach Boys, "They're my friends and I like their music". Watt later apologized to the band after learning that President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan were fans. White House staff presented Watt with a plaster foot with a hole in it, showing that he had "shot himself in the foot".
In 1983, tensions between Dennis and Love escalated so high that each obtained a restraining order against the other. With the rest of the band fearing that he would end up like Brian, Dennis was given an ultimatum after his last performance in November 1983 to check into rehab for his alcohol problems or be banned from performing live with them. Dennis checked into rehab for his chance to get sober, but on December 28, 1983, he fatally drowned in Marina del Rey while diving from a friend's boat trying to recover items that he had previously thrown overboard in fits of rage.
Between 1983 and 1986, Landy charged Brian about $430,000 annually. When he requested more money, Carl was obliged to give away a quarter of Brian's publishing royalties. As Brian's recovery consolidated, he stopped working with the Beach Boys on a regular basis. Commenting on his relationship to the band in 1988, Brian said that he avoided his family at Landy's suggestion, and that "Although we stay together as a group, as people we're a far cry from friends." In the mid 1980s, Landy stated, "I influence all of [Brian]'s thinking. I'm practically a member of the band ... [We're] partners in life." Brian later responded to allegations with, "People say that Dr. Landy runs my life, but the truth is, I'm in charge." Mike Love denied Landy's accusation that he and the band was keeping Brian from participating with the group, and later wrote that Landy's "goal ... was to destroy us ... [and become] the sole custodian of Brian's career and legacy."
The Beach Boys spent the next several years touring and recording songs for film soundtracks and various artists compilations. In 1988, they unexpectedly claimed their first U.S. number one hit single in 22 years with "Kokomo", which topped the chart for one week. It appeared in the movie Cocktail They released the album Still Cruisin', which went platinum in the US.
1990s: Lawsuits and death of Carl
defamation lawsuit against Brian due to how he was presented in Brian's 1992 memoir Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story. Its publisher HarperCollins settled the suit for $1.5 million. He said that the suit allowed his lawyer "to gain access to the transcripts of Brian's interviews with his [book] collaborator, Todd Gold. Those interviews affirmed—according to Brian—that I had been the inspiration of the group and that I had written many of the songs that [would soon be] in dispute." Other defamation lawsuits were filed by Carl, Brother Records, and the Wilsons' mother Audree.Love filed a
Love sued Brian in 1992, winning $13 million in 1994 for lost royalties. 35 of the group's songs were then amended to credit Love. He later called it "almost certainly the largest case of fraud in music history".With Love and Brian unable to determine exactly what Love was properly owed,
The day after California courts issued a restraining order between Brian and Landy, Brian phoned Sire Records staff producer Andy Paley to collaborate on new material tentatively for the Beach Boys. After losing the songwriting credits lawsuit with Love, Brian told MOJO in February 1995: "Mike and I are just cool. There's a lot of shit Andy and I got written for him. I just had to get through that goddamn trial!" In April, it was unclear whether the project would turn into a Wilson solo album, a Beach Boys album, or a combination of the two. The project ultimately disintegrated. Instead, Brian and his bandmates recorded Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, an album of country music stars covering Beach Boys songs, with co-production helmed by River North Records owner Joe Thomas. Afterward, the group discussed finishing the album Smile, but Carl rejected the idea, fearing that it would cause Brian another nervous breakdown.
In early 1997, Carl was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer after years of heavy smoking. Despite his terminal condition, Carl continued to perform with the band on its 1997 summer tour while undergoing chemotherapy. During performances, he sat on a stool and needed oxygen after every song. Carl died on February 6, 1998, two months after the death of the Wilsons' mother, Audree.
2000s: Band split
In 2000, ABC-TV premiered a two-part television miniseries, The Beach Boys: An American Family, that dramatized the Beach Boys' story. It was produced by John Stamos, and was criticized for historical inaccuracies. Wilson said that he "didn't like the second part. It wasn't really true to the way things were. I'd like to see another movie if it was done right."
In 2004, Wilson recorded and released his solo album Brian Wilson Presents Smile, a reinterpretation of the unfinished Smile project. That September, Wilson issued a free CD through the Mail On Sunday that included Beach Boys songs he had recently rerecorded, five of which he co-authored with Love. The 10 track compilation had 2.6 million copies distributed and prompted Love to file a lawsuit in November 2005; he claimed the promotion hurt the sales of the original recordings. Love's suit was dismissed in 2007 when a judge determined that there were no triable issues.
2010s: Radio and brief reunion tour
On December 16, 2011, it was announced that Wilson, Love, Jardine, Johnston and David Marks would reunite for a new album and 50th anniversary tour. On February 12, 2012, the Beach Boys performed at the 2012 Grammy Awards, in what was billed as a "special performance" by organizers. It marked the group's first live performance to include Wilson since 1996, Jardine since 1998, and Marks since 1999. Released on June 5, That's Why God Made the Radio debuted at number 3 on U.S. charts, which expanding the group's span of Billboard 200 top ten albums across 49 years and one week, passing the Beatles with 47 years of top ten albums. Critics generally regarded the album as an "uneven" collection, with most of the praise centered on its closing musical suite.
On June 1, 2012, Love received an e-mail from Brian's wife and manager Melinda Ledbetter stating "no more shows for Wilson". Love, who is obligated by his license of the Beach Boys name to maintain revenue flow to Brother Records, then began accepting invitations for when the reunion was over. On June 25, Ledbetter sent another e-mail asking to disregard her last message, but by then, Love says, "it was too late. We had booked other concerts, and promoters had begun selling tickets." The next day, Love announced additional touring dates that would not feature Wilson. Wilson then denied knowledge of these new dates. He later wrote: "I had wanted to send out a joint press release, between Brian and me, formally announcing the end of the reunion tour on September 28. But I couldn't get Brian's management team on board (Brian himself doesn't make those kinds of decisions)."
In late September, news outlets began reporting that Love had dismissed Wilson from the Beach Boys. On October 5, Love responded in a self-written press release to the LA Times stating he "did not fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I cannot fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys ... I do not have such authority. And even if I did, I would never fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys." He explained that nobody in the band "wanted to do a 50th anniversary tour that lasted 10 years" and that its limited run "was long agreed upon". Four days later, Wilson and Jardine submitted a written response to the rumors stating: "I was completely blindsided by his press release ... We hadn't even discussed as a band what we were going to do with all the offers that were coming in for more 50th shows." Love said that Wilson's statements in this press release were falsified by his agents.
Love and Johnston continued to perform under the Beach Boys brand name, while Wilson, Jardine, and Marks continued to tour as a trio, Reflecting upon the band's reunion in 2013, Love stated: "I had a wonderful experience being in the studio together. Brian has lost none of his ability to structure those melodies and chord progressions ... Touring was more for the fans. ... It was a great experience, it had a term to it, and now everyone's going on with their ways of doing things." Jardine, Marks, Johnston and Love appeared together at the 2014 Ella Awards Ceremony, where Love was honored for his work as a singer. In 2015, Soundstage aired an episode featuring Wilson performing with Jardine and former Beach Boys Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar at The Venetian in Las Vegas. In April 2015, when asked if he was interested in making music with Love again, Wilson replied: "I don't think so, no," later adding in July that he "doesn't talk to the Beach Boys [or] Mike Love."
In 2016, Love and Wilson published memoirs, Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy and I Am Brian Wilson, respectively. Love was asked about negative comments that Wilson made about him in the book and said: "He's not in charge of his life, like I am mine. His every move is orchestrated and a lot of things he's purported to say, there's not tape of it. But, I don't like to put undue pressure on him, either, because I know he has a lot of issues. Out of compassion, I don't respond to everything that is purportedly said by him." In an interview with Rolling Stone conducted in June 2016, Wilson stated that he would like to try to repair his relationship with Love and collaborate with him again. In January 2017, Love stated "If it were possible to make it just Brian and I, and have it under control and done better than what happened in 2012, then yeah, I'd be open to something."
Musical style and development
In Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis, musicologist Daniel Harrison summarizes:
Even from their inception, the Beach Boys were an experimental group. They combined, as Jim Miller has put it, "the instrumental sleekness of the Ventures, the lyric sophistication of Chuck Berry, and the vocal expertise of some weird cross between the Lettermen and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers" with lyrics whose images, idioms, and concerns were drawn from the rarefied world of the middle-class white male southern California teenager. ... [But] it was the profound vocal virtuosity of the group, coupled with the obsessional drive and compositional ambitions of their leader, Brian Wilson, that promised their survival after the eventual breaking of fad fever. ... Comparison to other vocally oriented rock groups, such as the Association, shows the Beach Boys' technique to be far superior, almost embarrassingly so. They were so confident of their ability, and of Brian's skill as a producer to enhance it, that they were unafraid of doing sophisticated, a cappella glee-club arrangements containing multiple suspensions, passing formations, complex chords, and both chromatic and enharmonic modulations.
The Beach Boys began as a garage band playing 1950s style rock and roll, reassembling styles of music such as surf to include vocal jazz harmony, which created their unique sound. In addition, they introduced their signature approach to common genres such as the pop ballad by applying harmonic or formal twists not native to rock and roll. Among the distinct elements of the Beach Boys' style were the nasal quality of their singing voices, their use of a falsetto harmony over a driving, locomotive-like melody, and the sudden chiming in of the whole group on a key line. Brian Wilson handled most stages of the group's recording process from the beginning, even though he was not properly credited on most of the early recordings.
Early on, Mike Love sang lead vocals in the rock-oriented songs, while Carl contributed guitar lines on the group's ballads. Jim Miller observed, "On straight rockers they sang tight harmonies behind Love's lead ... on ballads, Brian played his falsetto off against lush, jazz-tinged voicings, often using (for rock) unorthodox harmonic structures." Harrison adds that "even the least distinguished of the Beach Boys' early uptempo rock 'n' roll songs show traces of structural complexity at some level; Brian was simply too curious and experimental to leave convention alone." Although Brian was often dubbed a perfectionist, he was an inexperienced musician, and his understanding of music was mostly self-taught. At the lyric stage, he usually worked with Love, whose assertive persona provided youthful swagger that contrasted Brian's explorations in romanticism and sensitivity. Luis Sanchez noted a pattern where Brian would spare surfing imagery when working with collaborators outside of his band's circle, in the examples "Lonely Sea" and "In My Room".
Brian's bandmates resented the notion that he was the sole creative force in the group. In a 1966 article that asked if "the Beach Boys rely too much on sound genius Brian", Carl explained that although Brian was the most responsible for their music, every member of the group contributed ideas. Mike Love wrote, "As far as I was concerned, Brian was a genius, deserving of that recognition. But the rest of us were seen as nameless components in Brian's music machine ... It didn't feel to us as if we were just riding on Brian's coattails." Conversely, Dennis defended Brian's stature in the band, stating "Brian Wilson is the Beach Boys. He is the band. We're his fucking messengers. He is all of it. Period. We're nothing. He's everything."
The band's earliest influences came primarily from the work of Chuck Berry and the Four Freshmen. Performed by the Four Freshmen, "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" (1961) was a particular favorite of the group. By analyzing their arrangements of pop standards, Brian educated himself on jazz harmony. Bearing this in mind, Philip Lambert noted, "If Bob Flanigan helped teach Brian how to sing, then Gershwin, Kern, Porter, and the other members of this pantheon helped him learn how to craft a song." Other general influences on the group included the Hi-Los, the Penguins, the Robins, Bill Haley & His Comets, Otis Williams, the Cadets, the Everly Brothers, the Shirelles, the Regents, and the Crystals.
The eclectic mix of white and black vocal group influences – ranging from the rock and roll of Berry, the jazz harmonies of the Four Freshmen, the pop of the Four Preps, the folk of the Kingston Trio, the R&B of groups like the Coasters and the Five Satins, and the doo wop of Dion and the Belmonts – helped contribute to the Beach Boys' uniqueness in American popular music. Carl remembered: "Most of [Mike's] classmates were black. He was the only white guy on his track team. He was really immersed in doo-wop and that music and I think he influenced Brian to listen to it. The black artists were so much better in terms of rock records in those days that the white records almost sounded like put-ons." On Jimi Hendrix and "heavy" music, Brian said he felt no pressure to go in that direction: "We never got into the heavy musical level trip. We never needed to. It's already been done."
Another significant influence on Brian's work was Burt Bacharach. He said in the 1960s: "Burt Bacharach and Hal David are more like me. They're also the best pop team – per se – today. As a producer, Bacharach has a very fresh, new approach." Regarding surf rock pioneer Dick Dale, Brian said that his influence on the group was limited to Carl and his style of guitar playing. Carl credited Chuck Berry, the Ventures, and John Walker with shaping his guitar style, and that the Beach Boys had learned to play all of the Ventures' songs by ear early in their career.
In 1967, Lou Reed wrote in Aspen that the Beach Boys created a "hybrid sound" out of old rock and the Four Freshmen, explaining that such songs as "Let Him Run Wild", "Don't Worry Baby", "I Get Around", and "Fun, Fun, Fun" were not unlike "Peppermint Stick" by the Elchords. Similarly, John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful noted, "Brian had control of this vocal palette of which we had no idea. We had never paid attention to the Four Freshmen or doo-wop combos like the Crew Cuts. Look what gold he mined out of that."
Brian identified each member individually for their vocal range, once detailing the ranges for Carl, Dennis, Jardine ("[they] progress upwards through G, A, and B"), Love ("can go from bass to the E above middle C"), and himself ("I can take the second D in the treble clef"). He declared in 1966 that his greatest interest was to expand modern vocal harmony, owing his fascination with voice to the Four Freshmen, which he considered a "groovy sectional sound." He added, "The harmonies that we are able to produce give us a uniqueness which is really the only important thing you can put into records – some quality that no one else has got. I love peaks in a song – and enhancing them on the control panel. Most of all, I love the human voice for its own sake." For a period, Brian avoided singing falsetto for the group, saying "I thought people thought I was a fairy. ... The band told me, 'If that's the way you sing, don't worry about it.'"
From lowest intervals to highest, the group's vocal harmony stack usually began with Love or Dennis, followed by Jardine or Carl, and finally Brian on top, according to Jardine, while Carl said that the blend was Love on bottom, Carl above, followed by Dennis or Jardine, and then Brian on top. Jardine explains, "We always sang the same vocal intervals. ... As soon as we heard the chords on the piano we'd figure it out pretty easily. If there was a vocal move [Brian] envisioned, he'd show that particular singer that move. We had somewhat photographic memory as far as the vocal parts were concerned so that [was] never a problem for us." Striving for perfection, Brian's intricate vocal arrangements exercised the group's calculated blend of intonation, attack, phrasing, and expression. Sometimes, he would sing each vocal harmony part alone through multi-track tape.
On the group's blend, Carl said: "Michael has a beautifully rich, very full-sounding bass voice. Yet his lead singing is real nasal, real punk. Alan's voice has a bright timbre to it; it really cuts. My voice has a kind of calm sound. We're big oooh-ers; we love to oooh. It's a big, full sound, that's very pleasing to us; it opens up the heart." Rock critic Erik Davis wrote, "The 'purity' of tone and genetic proximity that smoothed their voices was almost creepy, pseudo-castrato, [and] a 'barbershop' sound." Jimmy Webb said, "They used very little vibrato and sing in very straight tones. The voices all lie down beside each other very easily – there's no bumping between them because the pitch is very precise." According to Brian: "Jack Good once told us, 'You sing like eunuchs in a Sistine Chapel,' which was a pretty good quote." Writer Richard Goldstein reported that, according to a fellow journalist who asked Brian about the black roots of his music, Brian's response was: "We're white and we sing white." Goldstein added that when he asked where his approach to vocal harmonies had derived from, Wilson answered: 'Barbershop'."
Use of studio musicians
Nine months after forming, the group acquired national success, and demand for their personal appearance skyrocketed. Biographer James Murphy said, "By most contemporary accounts, they were not a very good live band when they started. ... The Beach Boys learned to play as a band in front of live audiences", eventually to become "one of the best and enduring live bands". For the recording of the Beach Boys' instrumental tracks, Brian arranged many of his compositions for a conglomerate of session musicians later known as "the Wrecking Crew". Their assistance was needed because of the increasingly complicated nature of the material. It is the belief of Richie Unterberger that, "Before session musicians took over most of the parts, the Beach Boys could play respectably gutsy surf rock as a self-contained unit."
Carl continued to play beside these musicians whenever he was available to attend sessions. In archivist Craig Slowinski's view, "One should not sell short Carl's own contributions; the youngest Wilson had developed as a musician sufficiently to play alongside the horde of high-dollar session pros that big brother was now bringing into the studio. Carl's guitar playing [was] a key ingredient."
A common misconception is that Dennis' drumming in the Beach Boys' recordings was filled in exclusively by studio musicians. His drumming is documented on a number of the group's singles, including "I Get Around", "Fun, Fun Fun", and "Don't Worry Baby".
The band members often reflected on the spiritual nature of their music (and music in general), particularly for the recording of Pet Sounds and Smile. Even though the Wilsons did not grow up in a particularly religious household, Carl was described as "the most truly religious person I know" by Brian, and Carl was forthcoming about the group's spiritual beliefs stating: "We believe in God as a kind of universal consciousness. God is love. God is you. God is me. God is everything right here in this room. It's a spiritual concept which inspires a great deal of our music." Carl told Rave magazine in 1967 that the group's influences are of a "religious nature", but not any religion in specific, only "an idea based upon that of Universal Consciousness. ... The spiritual concept of happiness and doing good to others is extremely important to the lyric of our songs, and the religious element of some of the better church music is also contained within some of our new work."
Brian is quoted during the Smile era: "I'm very religious. Not in the sense of churches, going to church; but like the essence of all religion." During the recording of Pet Sounds, Brian held prayer meetings, later reflecting that "God was with us the whole time we were doing this record ... I could feel that feeling in my brain." In 1966, he explained that he wanted to move into a white spiritual sound, and predicted that the rest of the music industry would follow suit. In 2011, Brian maintained the spirituality was important to his music, and that he did not follow any particular religion.
Carl said that Smile was chosen as an album title because of its connection to the group's spiritual beliefs. Brian referred to Smile as his "teenage symphony to God", composing a hymn, "Our Prayer", as the album's opening spiritual invocation. Experimentation with psychotropic substances also proved pivotal to the group's development as artists. He spoke of his LSD trips as a "religious experience", and during a session for "Our Prayer", Brian can be heard asking the other Beach Boys: "Do you guys feel any acid yet?". In 1968, Mike Love's interest in transcendental meditation led the Beach Boys to record the original song, "Transcendental Meditation".
Legacy and cultural influence
Achievements and accolades
The Beach Boys are one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and widely influential bands of all time. Their sales estimates range from 100 to 350 million records worldwide, and have influenced artists spanning many genres and decades. The group's early songs made them major pop stars in the US, the UK, Australia and other countries, having seven top 10 singles between April 1963 and November 1964. They were one of the first American groups to exhibit the definitive traits of a self-contained rock band, playing their own instruments and writing their own songs, and they were one of the few American bands formed prior to the 1964 British Invasion to continue their success. Among artists of the 1960s, they are one of few central figures in the histories of rock.
Brian Wilson's artistic control over the Beach Boys' records was unprecedented for the time. Carl Wilson elaborated: "Record companies were used to having absolute control over their artists. It was especially nervy, because Brian was a 21-year-old kid with just two albums. It was unheard of. But what could they say? Brian made good records." This made the Beach Boys one of the first rock groups to exert studio control. Music producers after the mid 1960s would draw on Brian's influence, setting a precedent that allowed bands and artists to enter a recording studio and act as producers, either autonomously, or in conjunction with other like minds.
The band routinely appears in the upper reaches of ranked lists such as "The Top 1000 Albums of All Time." Many of the group's songs and albums, including The Beach Boys Today!, Smiley Smile, Sunflower, and Surf's Up—and especially Pet Sounds and "Good Vibrations"—are featured in numerous lists devoted to the greatest albums or singles of all time. The latter two frequently appear on the number one spot. On Acclaimed Music, which aggregates the rankings of decades of critics' lists, Pet Sounds is ranked as the greatest album of all time, while "Good Vibrations" is the third-greatest song of all time ("God Only Knows" is also ranked 21). The group itself is ranked number 11 in its 1000 most recommended artists of all time.
In 1988, the core quintet of the Wilson brothers, Love, and Jardine were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ten years later, they were selected for the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. In 2004, Pet Sounds was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant." Their recordings of "In My Room", "Good Vibrations", "California Girls" and the entire Pet Sounds album have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 2017, a study of AllMusic's catalog indicated the Beach Boys as the 6th most frequently cited artist influence in its database. For the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, 26 artists contributed to a Pitchfork retrospective on its influence, which included comments from members of Talking Heads, Yo La Tengo, Chairlift, and Deftones. The editor noted that the "wide swath of artists assembled for this feature represent but a modicum of the album's vast measure of influence. Its scope transcends just about all lines of age, race, and gender. Its impact continues to broaden with each passing generation."
Professor of cultural studies James M. Curtis wrote in 1987, "We can say that the Beach Boys represent the outlook and values of white Protestant Anglo-Saxon teenagers in the early sixties. Having said that, we immediately realize that they must mean much more than this. Their stability, their staying power, and their ability to attract new fans prove as much." Cultural historian Kevin Starr explains that the group first connected with young Americans specifically for their lyrical interpretation of a mythologized landscape: "Cars and the beach, surfing, the California Girl, all this fused in the alembic of youth: Here was a way of life, an iconography, already half-released into the chords and multiple tracks of a new sound."
The group's "California Sound" grew to national prominence through the success of their 1963 album Surfin' U.S.A., which helped turn the surfing subculture into a mainstream youth-targeted advertising image widely exploited by the film, television, and food industry. The group's surf music was not entirely of their own invention, being preceded by artists such as Dick Dale. However, previous surf musicians did not project a world view as the Beach Boys did. These early hits helped raise the profile of the state of California, creating its first major regional style with national significance, and establishing a musical identity for Southern California, as opposed to Hollywood. California ultimately supplanted New York as the center of popular music thanks to the success of Brian's productions.
A 1966 article discussing new trends in rock music writes that the Beach Boys popularized a type of drum beat heard in Jan and Dean's "Surf City", which sounds like a "a locomotive getting up speed", in addition to the method of "suddenly stopping in between the chorus and verse". Pete Townshend of the Who is credited with coining the term "power pop", which he defined as "what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of 'Fun, Fun, Fun' which I preferred."
The California Sound gradually evolved to reflect a more musically ambitious and mature world view, becoming less to do with surfing and cars and more about social consciousness and political awareness. Between 1964 and 1969, it fueled innovation and transition, inspiring artists to tackle largely unmentioned themes such as sexual freedom, black pride, drugs, oppositional politics, other countercultural motifs, and war. Soft pop (later known as "sunshine pop") derived in part from this movement. Sunshine pop producers widely imitated the orchestral style of Pet Sounds, however, the Beach Boys themselves were rarely representative of the genre, which was rooted in easy-listening and advertising jingles.
By the end of the 1960s, the California Sound declined due to a combination of the West Coast's cultural shifts, Wilson's professional and psychological downturn, and the Manson murders, with David Howard calling it the "sunset of the original California Sunshine Sound ... [the] sweetness advocated by the California Myth had led to chilling darkness and unsightly rot". Drawing from the Beach Boys' associations with Charles Manson and former California governor Ronald Reagan, Erik Davis remarked, "The Beach Boys may be the only bridge between those deranged poles. There is a wider range of political and aesthetic sentiments in their records than in any other band in those heady times—like the state [of California], they expand and bloat and contradict themselves."
Pet Sounds came to inform the developments of genres such as pop, rock, jazz, electronic, experimental, punk, and hip hop. Similar to subsequent experimental rock LPs by Frank Zappa, the Beatles, and the Who, Pet Sounds featured countertextural aspects that called attention to the very recordedness of the album. Professor of American history John Robert Greene stated that the album broke new ground and took rock music away from its casual lyrics and melodic structures into what was then uncharted territory. He furthermore called it one factor which spawned the majority of trends in post-1965 rock music, the only others being Rubber Soul, Revolver, and the contemporary folk movement. The album was the first piece in popular music to incorporate the Electro-Theremin, an easier-to-play version of the theremin, as well as the first in rock music to feature a theremin-like instrument.
The Beach Boys were the first group to make an entire album that departed from the usual small-ensemble electric rock band format. Academic Bill Martin states that they opened a path in rock music "that went from Sgt. Pepper's to Close to the Edge and beyond". He argues that the advancing technology of multitrack recording and mixing boards were more influential to experimental rock than electronic instruments such as the synthesizer, allowing the Beatles and the Beach Boys to become the first crop of non-classically trained musicians to create extended and complex compositions. In Strange Sounds: Offbeat Instruments and Sonic Experiments in Pop, Mark Brend writes of the "Good Vibrations" single:
Other artists and producers, notably the Beatles and Phil Spector, had used varied instrumentation and multi-tracking to create complex studio productions before. And others, like Roy Orbison, had written complicated pop songs before. But "Good Vibrations" eclipsed all that came before it, in both its complexity as a production and the liberties it took with conventional notions of how to structure a pop song.
The making of "Good Vibrations", according to Domenic Priore, was "unlike anything previous in the realms of classical, jazz, international, soundtrack, or any other kind of recording", while biographer Peter Ames Carlin wrote that it "sounded like nothing that had ever been played on the radio before." It contained previously untried mixes of instruments, and was the first pop hit to have cellos in a juddering rhythm. Musicologist Charlie Gillett called it "one of the first records to flaunt studio production as a quality in its own right, rather than as a means of presenting a performance". Again, Brian employed the use of Electro-Theremin for the track. Upon release, the single prompted an unexpected revival in theremins while increasing awareness of analog synthesizers, leading Moog Music to produce their own brand of ribbon-controlled instruments. In a 1968 editorial for Jazz & Pop, Gene Sculatti predicted that the song "may yet prove to be the most significantly revolutionary piece of the current rock renaissance ... In no minor way, 'Good Vibrations' is a primary influential piece for all producing rock artists; everyone has felt its import to some degree".
Discussing Smiley Smile, Daniel Harrison argues that the album could "almost" be considered art music in the Western classical tradition, and that the group's innovations in the musical language of rock can be compared to those that introduced atonal and other nontraditional techniques into that classical tradition. He explains, "The spirit of experimentation is just as palpable ... as it is in, say, Schoenberg's op. 11 piano pieces." However, such notions were not widely acknowledged by rock audiences nor by the classically minded at the time. Harrison concludes: "What influences could these innovations then have? The short answer is, not much. Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends, and 20/20 sound like few other rock albums; they are sui generis. … It must be remembered that the commercial failure of the Beach Boys' experiments was hardly motivation for imitation." Musicologist David Toop, who included the Smiley Smile track "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" on a companion CD for his book Ocean of Sound, placed the Beach Boys' effect on sound pioneering in league with Les Baxter, Aphex Twin, Herbie Hancock, King Tubby, and My Bloody Valentine.
Sunflower marked an end to the experimental songwriting and production phase initiated by Smiley Smile. After Surf's Up, Harrison wrote, their albums "contain a mixture of middle-of-the-road music entirely consonant with pop style during the early 1970s with a few oddities that proved that the desire to push beyond conventional boundaries was not dead," until 1974, "the year in which the Beach Boys ceased to be a rock 'n' roll act and became an oldies act."
Punk, alternative, and indie
— Music critic Carl Wilson (no relation to Brian's brother)
In the 1970s, the Beach Boys served a "totemic influence" on punk rock that later gave way to indie rock. Brad Shoup of Stereogum surmised that, thanks to the Ramones' praise for the group, many punk, pop punk, or "punk-adjacent" artists showed influence from the Beach Boys, noting cover versions of the band's songs recorded by Slickee Boys, Agent Orange, Bad Religion, Shonen Knife, the Queers, Hi-Standard, the Donnas, M.O.D., and the Vandals. The Beach Boys Love You is sometimes considered the group's "punk album".
In the 1990s, the Beach Boys experienced a resurgence of popularity with the alternative rock generation. According to Sean O'Hagan, leader of the High Llamas and former member of Stereolab, a younger generation of record-buyers "stopped listening to indie records" in favor of the Beach Boys. Bands who advocated for the Beach Boys included founding members of the Elephant 6 Collective (Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control, the Apples in Stereo, and of Montreal). United by a shared love of the group's music, they named Pet Sounds Studio in honor of the band.
Smile became a touchstone for many bands who were labelled "chamber pop", a term used for artists influenced by the lush orchestrations of Brian Wilson, Lee Hazlewood, and Burt Bacharach. Pitchfork writer Mark Richardson cited Smiley Smile as the origin point of "the kind of lo-fi bedroom pop that would later propel Sebadoh, Animal Collective, and other characters." The Sunflower track "All I Wanna Do" is also cited as one of the earliest precursors to chillwave, a microgenre that developed in the 2000s.
Between 1965 and 1967, the Beach Boys developed a musical and lyrical sophistication that contrasted their work from before and after. This divide was further solidified by the difference in sound between their albums and their stage performances. When the band's studio recordings grew more complex, they were unable to effectively reproduce them in their live show. Starting in 1966, band publicist Derek Taylor was instrumental in campaigning the idea of Brian Wilson as a "genius" to members of the burgeoning rock press, painting him as a mastermind who stays at home composing while the rest of the band tour. All of these elements combined to create a split fanbase corresponding to two distinct musical markets. One group is the conservative audience who enjoys the band's early hits as a wholesome representation of American popular culture from before the political and social movements brought on in the mid 1960s. The other group also appreciates the early songs for their energy and complexity, but not as much as the band's ambitious work that was created during the formative psychedelic era.
Initially, rock music journalists valued the Beach Boys' early records over their experimental work. Real surfers were critical of the band for not being true adherents of the sport. As authenticity became a higher concern among critics, the group's legitimacy in rock music became an oft-repeated criticism, especially since their early hits appeared to celebrate a politically unconscious youth culture. Generally, the record-buying public came to view the music made after Smile as the point marking their artistic decline. Music critic Kenneth Partridge blamed the lack of "edginess" on the group's early records for why they're "rarely talked about in the same breath as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and when they are, it's really only because of two albums". The "particular appeal" of Wilson's genius, according to music critic Barney Hoskyns, was "the fact that the Beach Boys were the very obverse of hip – the unlikeliness of these songs growing out of disposable surf pop – and in the singular naivety and ingenuousness of his personality." Luis Sanchez argued that despite the immaturity of their early songs, "what matters is that it captured a lack of self-consciousness—a genuineness—that set them apart from their peers. And it was this quality that came to define Brian's oeuvre as he moved beyond and into bigger pop productions that would culminate in Smile."
Mike Love said that, unlike Brian, he was never concerned about being taken seriously by critics, and considered the negatively described "simplicity" of their early songs as "elitism at its worst: because so many people loved our music, there must be something wrong with it." In a review of The Smile Sessions for NewMusicBox, Frank Oteri argued that the popular caricature of the Beach Boys' as a "light-hearted party band" ensured that they will never earn themselves "the same pride of place in American music history held by other great innovators". Peter Ames Carlin summarized the group's various phases: "Once surfin' pin-ups, they remade themselves as avant-garde pop artists, then psychedelic oracles. After that they were down-home hippies, then retro-hip icons. Eventually they devolved into none of the above: a kind of perpetual-motion nostalgia machine."
Since the 1990s, there has been an increasing tendency to recontextualize the Beach Boys outside of their typical iconography, with academic Kirk Curnutt citing such examples as the use of "Sloop John B" as Vietnam allegory in the film Forrest Gump (1994) and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" as an LSD-inspired underscore for one episode of the television drama Mad Men (2012).
Awards and commemorations
The Wilsons' California house, where the Wilson brothers grew up and the group began, was demolished in 1986 to make way for Interstate 105, the Century Freeway. A Beach Boys Historic Landmark (California Landmark No. 1041 at 3701 West 119th Street), dedicated on May 20, 2005, marks the location. On December 30, 1980, the Beach Boys were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 1500 Vine Street. On September 2, 1977, the group performed before an audience of 40,000 at Narragansett Park in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which remains the largest concert audience in Rhode Island history. In 2017, the street where the concert stage formerly stood was officially renamed to "Beach Boys Way".
|1967||"Good Vibrations"||Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|Best Contemporary (R&R) Recording||Nominated|
|Best Contemporary (R&R) Performance||Nominated|
|Best Arrangement Accompanying A Vocalist Or Instrumentalist||Nominated|
|1989||"Kokomo"||Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1994||"Good Vibrations"||Hall of Fame||Inducted|
|1999||"In My Room"||Inducted|
|2001||The Beach Boys||Lifetime Achievement Award||Won|
|Endless Harmony||Best Long Form Music Video||Nominated|
|2011||"California Girls"||Hall of Fame||Inducted|
|2013||The Smile Sessions||Best Historical Album||Won|
|2017||"I Get Around"||Hall of Fame||Inducted|
- 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)
- 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 (1996)
- 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)
- 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow (2017)
- 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
- Nick Venet said that none of the members, including Dennis, surfed until after the fact.
- Since he did not appear on the first performance by the band that would become "the Beach Boys", most historians discount him as a true founding member of the group.
- The only songs the group recorded were two Morgan compositions, "Barbie" and "What Is a Young Girl Made Of?"
- He remembered "flipping out [over the Beatles]. I couldn't understand how a group could be just yelled and screamed at. The music they made, 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' for example, wasn't even that great a record, but the[ir fans] just screamed at it. ... It got us off our asses in the studio. [We] said 'look, don't worry about the Beatles, we'll cut our own stuff." He recalled that he and Love immediately felt threatened by the Beatles, believing that the Beach Boys could never match the excitement created by the Beatles as performers, and that this realization led him to concentrate his efforts on trying to outdo them in the recording studio.
- Contracts at that time stipulated that promoters hire "Carl Wilson plus four other musicians". Additionally, in February, July, and October, Brian rejoined the live group for one-off occasions.
- In contemporary advertisements, its productions costs were placed at $10,000. Another reported estimate is $50,000. In 2018, Wilson disputed that figure, saying that the overall expenses were closer to $25,000.
- Love denied that the group had broken up, explaining that, "It was just the end of the tour, Dennis had a lot on his mind, Carl had a lot on his mind. We're working out our thing. Everybody feels a lot calmer now that we've had some time to relax. It was just one of those things that happen over the years between people in the same family." Dennis maintained to Rolling Stone: "I can assure you that the group broke up and you witnessed it. If there's more to come, then there's more to come."
- Biographer Jon Stebbins speculated that Love declined to continue working with the group because of the lesser control he had over the touring process, coupled with the lower financial gain, noting: "Night after night after night after night, Mike is making less money getting reminded that Brian is more popular than him. And he has to answer to people instead of calling all the shots himself." Writer Stacey Anderson called Love's arguments "wholly unconvincing", facetiously summarizing: "He insists that the larger ensemble with Wilson would have overpowered the modest venues he'd already booked; as anyone can infer, this really means he would have lost money by including Wilson."
- Starting with the 1970 sessions for the Surf's Up album, Stephen Desper remembers the emerging corrosive effects of Brian's incessant chain smoking and cocaine use: "He could still do falsettos and stuff, but he'd need Carl to help him. Either that or I'd modify the tape speed-wise to make it artificially higher, so it sounded like the old days."
- Even though the Electro-Theremin was not technically a theremin, the song became the most frequently cited example of the theremin in pop music.
- In 2015, Wilson was asked about punk rock and responded: "I don't know what that is. Punk rock? Punk? What is that? ... Oh yeah. I never went for that. I never went for the fast kind of music. I go for the more medium tempo. Spencer Davis, I liked that."
- When asked how he felt about "reintroducing Brian Wilson as an alternative music hero and getting people back into Pet Sounds and SMiLE," O'Hagan mentioned that a "few of the touring American bands have told me that we did have such an impact, especially in LA."
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