The Beach Boys

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The Beach Boys (L to R, David Marks, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Brian Wilson)

The Beach Boys are a pop music group formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961, whose popularity has lasted into the twenty-first century. The original group comprised singer-musician-composer Brian Wilson, his brothers Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Alan Jardine. Many changes in both musical style and personnel occurred in their sometimes stormy career, which has been marked by the mental and drug-induced illnesses of Brian Wilson, the deaths of Dennis Wilson in 1983 and Carl Wilson in 1998, and continuing legal battles among surviving members of the group. The Beach Boys continue to tour, albeit with but a fraction of the original members, as of 2005. They have recorded dozens of top-forty hits, many best-selling albums, and four number one records, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.


Early years

The group was formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, California under the leadership of Brian Wilson, and included his brothers Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love and school friend Al Jardine. The early inspirations of the group were the Wilsons' musician father, Murry, and the close vocal harmonies of groups such as The Four Freshmen. The group performed initially as The Pendletones, after the Pendleton wool shirts popular in those years. Although surfing motifs were very prominent in their early songs, Dennis was the sole actual surfer in the group. He suggested to his brothers that they do some songs celebrating his hobby and the lifestyle which had developed around it in Southern California.

At first Murry Wilson, by many accounts a hard-driving man, steered The Beach Boys' career, engineering their signing with Capitol Records. In 1965 Brian Wilson fired his father after a violent confrontation in the studio, and over the next few years they became increasingly estranged; when Murry Wilson died some years later, Brian did not attend the funeral.

The Beach Boys' early material focused on the California youth lifestyle (e.g., "All Summer Long", "Fun, Fun, Fun"), cars ("Little Deuce Coupe") and of course surfing ("Surfin'", "Surfin' Safari," and many others). Although their music was bright and accessible, these early works contained remarkably sophisticated musical ideas. During this period Brian rapidly progressed to become a melodist, arranger, and producer of world-renowned stature. Their early hits made them major pop stars in America and other countries, although their status as America's top pop group was challenged by the emergence in 1964 of The Beatles, who became The Beach Boys' major creative rivals.

Like the Beatles, the Beach Boys showed very fast development during the mid-60s, drawing upon the innovations of songwriters and producers such as Burt Bacharach and especially Phil Spector. They produced the enduring classic "California Girls" in 1965, a banner year for popular music which also saw similarly advanced singles by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, and James Brown. But it was the Beach Boys' role to create a myth of American freedom and dreams of adolescence, and increasingly, to articulate a dread of what lay after adolescence.

Brian's innovations and personal difficulties

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Brian, Dennis, and Al Jardine in the studio

During 1964 Brian Wilson began to suffer anxiety attacks, and withdrew from touring to concentrate on song writing and record production. Bruce Johnston subsequently became a full-time member of the band.

Brian's growing mastery of the recording studio and his increasingly sophisticated songs and complex arrangements reached an early peak with the acclaimed LP Pet Sounds (1966) and the classic singles from that album, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows", said to have been the first pop song ever released in the U.S. to have the word "God" in the title. Also from Pet Sounds, "Caroline, No" was issued as a Brian Wilson solo single.

The album's meticulously layered harmonies and inventive instrumentation (performed by the cream of Los Angeles session musicians) set a new standard for popular music. It remains one of the most evocative releases of the decade, with a distinctive strain of melancholy and nostalgia for youth. The album is still widely regarded as a classic and Paul McCartney has named it one of his favorite albums of all time, often saying that it was a major influence on the Beatles' album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In spite of the critical praise it received, the album was poorly promoted by Capitol Records and failed to become the major hit Brian had hoped it would be (only reaching #10). Its failure to gain wide recognition hurt him deeply.

Brian's innovative approach to recording Pet Sounds set new standards in popular music production. He first created the elaborate backing tracks as live performances, taped directly to a four-track recorder. Most of these backing tracks were cut in a single "take" and, according to his then-engineer Chuck Britz, it was common for Brian also to mix them live. The finished backing tracks were then dubbed down onto one track of an eight-track recorder; six of the remaining seven tracks were used for each of the band's vocals, with the eighth track kept free for additional percussion and "sweetening" vocal overdubs.

Because of his withdrawal from touring, Brian was able to complete almost all the backing for the album while the Beach Boys were on tour in Japan. They returned to find a substantially complete album, requiring only their vocals to finish it off. There was some resistance to this new direction from within the band. Lead singer Mike Love is reported to have been strongly opposed to it, partly because he feared the band would lose its audience if they changed their successful formula, and partly because he personally disliked the new material, which he famously criticised as "Brian's ego music." At Love's insistence, Brian changed the title of one song from "Hang on to Your Ego" to "I Know There's an Answer." Another likely factor in Love's antipathy to Pet Sounds was that Brian worked extensively on it with outside lyricist Tony Asher rather than with Love, who had written most of the lyrics for their earlier songs and who was the lead vocalist on most of their early hits.

Seeking to expand on the advances made on Pet Sounds, Brian began an even more ambitious project, originally dubbed Dumb Angel. Its first fruit was "Good Vibrations," which Brian described as "a teenage symphony to God". The song became the Beach Boys' biggest hit to date, and a U.S. and U.K. # 1 single in 1966. It was one of the most complex pop productions ever undertaken, and was reputed to have been the most expensive American single ever recorded, costing a reported $50,000--many times more than most pop albums--with sessions stretching over several months in at least three major studios.

In contrast to his work on Pet Sounds, Brian adopted a modular approach to "Good Vibrations"--he broke the song into sections and taped multiple versions of each at different studios to take advantage of the different sound of each facility. He then assembled his favorite sections into a master backing track, and vocals were added. The song's innovative instrumentation included drums, organ, piano, tack piano, two basses, guitars, electro-theremin, harmonica, and cello. The group members recall the "Good Vibrations" vocal sessions as among the most demanding of their career.

Even as his personal life deteriorated, Brian's musical output in these years remained remarkable. The exact nature of his problems was a topic of much speculation. He abused drugs heavily, gained an enormous amount of weight, suffered long bouts of depression, and became paranoid as well. Several biographies have suggested that his father Murry may have had bipolar disorder, and after years of suffering, Brian's own condition was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia.

The story behind "Smile"

Shortly after completing "Good Vibrations," Brian met session musician and songwriter Van Dyke Parks, and in late 1966 they began an intense collaboration that resulted in a suite of superb new songs for the Beach Boys' next album, which was eventually named Smile. Using the same methods as on "Good Vibrations," recording began in late 1966 and carried on into early 1967. Although the structure of the album and the exact running order of the songs has been the subject of endless speculation, it is apparent that 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 the musical themes of the major songs.

By early 1967, several major Smile tracks, including "Heroes and Villains," "Cabinessence," and "Wind Chimes" were fully or nearly finished; a large number of linking fragments had been taped; and major sections of several other songs were substantially complete. Long-serving session bassist Carol Kaye has stated that, in her opinion, the album was close to completion by the spring of 1967. From the evidence of the surviving tapes and Brian's 2004 version of the work, it appears that the bulk of the album was fully or nearly finished and was almost ready to be assembled into its final form. Capitol clearly expected that the album would be out by mid-year--a track order had been decided, cover artwork and photos were prepared, and covers had been printed.

But the other Beach Boys--especially Mike Love--found the new music too difficult and too far removed from their established style; another serious concern was that the new music was simply not feasible for live performance by the current Beach Boys lineup. Love was bitterly opposed to Smile and was particularly critical of Parks's lyrics; he has also since stated that he was becoming deeply concerned about Brian's escalating drug intake. The problems came to a head during the recording of "Cabinessence," when Love demanded that Parks explain the meaning of the closing refrain of the song, "Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield." After a heated argument, Parks walked out and his partnership with Brian came to an abrupt end.

Many factors combined to focus intense pressure on Brian as Smile neared completion, including mental instability, drug use, the pressure to perform against fierce opposition to his new music, the relatively poor response to Pet Sounds, Carl's draft resistance, and a major dispute with Capitol. Matters were complicated by his reliance on both prescription and illegal drugs, particularly marijuana and LSD, which only exacerbated his underlying mental health problems.

Just weeks before The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, Smile was shelved. Many tracks ended up on Smiley Smile, in altered - many would argue vastly inferior - form, in what would prove to be a critical and commercial disaster for the group. Over the next thirty years the legends surrounding Smile grew, until it became the most famous unreleased album in the history of popular music. Some of the tracks were salvaged and rerecorded at Brian's new home studio in drastically scaled-down versions. These were released, along with the completed versions of "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains," on the LP Smiley Smile.

Smile itself, in its original conception, did not surface until Wilson and Parks completed the writing and Brian rerecorded it as a solo project in 2004. However, despite the cancellation of Smile, interest in the work remained high and versions of several major tracks--including "Our Prayer," "Cabinessence," "Cool, Cool Water," and "Surf's Up"--were assembled by Carl Wilson over the next few years and included on later albums. The band was expecting to complete and release Smile even until 1972, when it became clear that only Brian would ever be able to make sense out of the endless fragments that were recorded. A substantial number of original tracks and linking fragments were included on the group's 30th anniversary CD boxed set in 1993.

Mid-career brings a change in leadership

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The Beach Boys

As Brian became increasingly withdrawn in the late 1960s and 1970s, Carl gradually took over leadership of the band, and developed into an accomplished songwriter and producer. The 1967 album Wild Honey is regarded by many critics as second only to Pet Sounds and features a prescient cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her." Wild Honey and its hit single "Darlin'" also marked the end of the Beach Boys as a major commercial entity, with subsequent releases faring far less well than those previous. Their image problems were not helped by the criticism that followed their forced withdrawal from the bill of the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival as a result of Carl's draft problems, an event which would undoubtedly have been crucial in establishing their new sound had they been able to play and to present their new material.

Despite Brian's deteriorating health, the band continued to work, recording the albums Friends (1968) and 20/20 (1969, featuring lyrics by Charles Manson[1] ( before finally breaking with Capitol and signing with Reprise Records. According to the liner notes for the 2004 version, Reprise expected Smile to be completed and released as part of the new contract.

Their first two Reprise LPs were Sunflower (1970) and 1971's Surf's Up. The addition of Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin in 1972 led to the very un-Beach Boys-like Carl and the Passions-"So Tough", a unique, R&B-flavored LP that was a dramatic departure in sound for the band. The slightly more traditional Holland of 1973 received mixed reviews. The album's lead single "Sail on Sailor," a brief return to the collaboration between Parks and Brian, was one of the most emblematic of Beach Boys songs, and it hit the charts in both 1973 and 1975.

In 1977 the Beach Boys released the LP Love You, a collection of songs that reflected both Brian's continuing retreat from the world ("Johnny Carson," "Solar System") and his continued genius as a musical thinker ("Airplane," "The Night Was So Young"). "If Mars had life on it/I might find my wife on it" from "Solar System" sums up the oddball preoccupations of Love You, which has since gained the status of a classic within the Beach Boys' oeuvre.

The group and its tours remained popular, even as they came to be viewed primarily as a nostalgia act. Many problems affected their later career, none more so than Brian's continuing drug and mental health problems. Although he appeared sporadically with them in concert, he contributed little to their performances or recordings. Despite a much-publicised "Brian's Back" campaign in the late 70s, most critics believed the group had passed their prime, and many expected that Brian would one day become the latest in a long line of celebrity drug casualties.

Deaths of Dennis and Carl Wilson

In the late 70s Dennis Wilson also began to suffer increasingly from drug and alcohol abuse, and some of the group's concert appearances were marred by Dennis and other band members being drunk or drugged on stage. The band were forced to publicly apologise after a shambolic performance in Sydney in 1979 during which several members of the group appeared to be drunk. In spite of of this condition Dennis managed to release his first solo work Pacific Ocean Blue, and to launch the now famed work in progess Bamboo, with friend and musician Carli Muoz. Dennis's problems escalated in the early 80s and he accidentally drowned in 1983 while diving from his boat as he drunkenly tried to recover items he had previously thrown overboard.

Despite Dennis's tragic death, The Beach Boys soldiered on and they enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the 1980s, assisted by tributes such as the successful David Lee Roth version of "California Girls"; they scored their first #1 in twenty-two years with the song "Kokomo," which was featured on the soundtrack of the hit Tom Cruise movie Cocktail.

Members of the band appeared on sitcoms such as Full House (starring sometime drummer John Stamos) and Home Improvement in the 1990s, as well as touring occasionally, but their declining career contrasted dramatically with the massive public interest and rabid critical praise that followed Brian's gradual return to touring in the 1990s. The critically acclaimed documentary I Just wasn't Made For These Times was very important in restoring Brian's reputation, saw him performing for the first time with his now grown-up daughters, Wendy and Carnie, and included glowing tributes to Brian's genius from a host of major music stars of the '60s, '70s and '80s.

Tragedy struck the Wilson family again in 1998 when Carl Wilson died from lung cancer. Although Mike Love and Bruce Johnston continue to tour as "The Beach Boys", no other original members accompany them, and it has been generally accepted that with Carl's death, The Beach Boys had come to an end.

Personnel changes through the years

From the start The Beach Boys have undergone many variations in composition, being represented by fill-ins as often as not. Wilson neighbor David Marks appeared on their first four albums and was a member from 1962 to 1963 as a temporary replacement for Jardine, who had left the group to pursue a career in dentistry. Marks rejoined the band in 1997, during Carl Wilson's last illness, and remained with them for two years.

Glen Campbell toured for several months with the group in 1965, as a touring replacement for Brian, who had played bass in concert. Campbell was subsequently replaced by Bruce Johnston, who later became a permanent member. During the mid-1970s drummer Ricky Fataar and guitarist Blondie Chaplin joined the band, and keyboard player Daryl Dragon, later famous as half of the pop duo Captain & Tennille, toured with the band. Carli Muoz, who had been playing percussion with the band since 1979, replaced Daryl Dragon as keyboard player until 1981. Jeff Foskett joined the touring band in 1980 as a guitarist and vocalist and remained with the group until 1991.

Some of the changes in The Beach Boys' organization were less formal. They enjoyed a casual collaboration with fellow Southern Californians Jan and Dean. Much to the consternation of other band members, Brian composed "Surf City" and gave the song, without compensation, to Dean Torrence. Jan and Dean, at the time not nearly as popular as The Beach Boys, recorded the song and scored their first number one single, long before the Beach Boys reached the same milestone. Years later, Torrence happened upon the studio where the Beach Boys were recording their "Beach Boys' Party!" album. He joined in the singing, and can be heard singing harmony in the "Barbara Ann" cut from that album.

Due to the deaths of two original members, legal challenges over the ownership of the Beach Boys name, and Brian's career as a solo artist, the original group no longer exists as an active touring or recording unit. Love and Johnston's touring group, utilizing a variety of other musicians, still carries the "Beach Boys" name; they are sometimes jokingly referred to as "The Jukebox'".

To the surprise and delight of fans around the world, Brian Wilson has mounted several major tours under his own name with a band containing members of The Wondermints and led by former Beach Boys guitarist Jeff Foskett plus other supporting musicians. Their note-perfect live performances of the entire Pet Sounds album earned some of the most glowing concert reviews of Brian's career, with some commentators calling the shows "the concert of a lifetime". In 2003 and 2004, Brian and Van Dyke Parks reunited to finish the incomplete sections of Smile, and in 2004 Brian and his band toured the world performing a live concert version of the album. They then recorded a new studio version of Smile using vintage recording equipment and including sessions at the fabled Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood, where some of the original recordings were made.

Al Jardine tours with the Alan Jardine Family & Friends Beach Band, featuring his sons Matt and Adam, Brian's daughters Carnie and Wendy, and Carl's brother-in-law Billy Hinsche, among others.

The Beach Boys in the courts

Many legal problems arose from Brian's psychological issues. In the 1980s the band hired controversial therapist Eugene Landy in an attempt to help Brian. Landy did achieve some significant improvements in Brian's overall condition - from Brian's own admissions about his massive drug intake, it's highly likely that Brian would have died had Landy not intervened. He successfully treated Brian's drug dependence, and by 1988 Brian had recovered sufficiently to release his first solo album. But Landy became increasingly possessive of his star patient and was fired after it became apparent that he was using his control over Brian for his own benefit.

In addition to the challenges over the use of the band's name and over the best way to care for Brian, there were two other significant legal cases involving the Beach Boys in recent years. The first was Brian's suit to reclaim the rights to his songs and the group's publishing company, Sea Of Tunes, which he had signed away to his father in 1967. Brian successfully argued that he had not been mentally fit to make an informed decision and ownership of the catalog reverted to him.

The second lawsuit stemmed from Brian's reclamation of his publishing rights. Soon after Brian won his case, Mike Love sued him to gain credit for his co-authorship of a number of important Beach Boys songs, including "Catch A Wave," "I Get Around," "When I Grow Up," "Be True To Your School," "Help Me Rhonda," "I Know There's An Answer," and numerous others. In interviews, Mike revealed that on some songs he wrote most of the lyrics, on others only a line or two.

Awards & Designations

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.


Core Members


Past Members

Members of the current touring band along with Love and Johnston

  • Mike Kowalski (1968-Present) - Drums/Percussion
  • Cris Farmer (1995-Present) - Bass, Baritone/Tenor Vocals
  • Tim Bonhomme (1996-Present) - Keyboards, Bass/Baritone Vocals, Dennis Wilson's vocal parts
  • John Cowsill (2000-Present) - Keyboards, Tenor/Falsetto Vocals, Carl Wilson and Al Jardine's vocal parts
  • Scott Totten (2000-Present) - Lead Guitar, Tenor/Falsetto Vocals, Carl Wilson's vocal parts
  • Randall Kirsch (????-Present) - Guitar, Vocals


Studio Albums

Live Albums


Album availability

With the exception of Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys' Christmas Album, and the three albums since 1989, all the Beach Boys albums are available in a two-LP-on-one-CD format. The rereleases of the 1960s albums also include bonus tracks.

Pet Sounds is available on both CD and DVD-Audio. A four-disc box set including numerous outtakes and alternate versions is also available.

The Beach Boys' Christmas Album is available both on its own and as part of the Ultimate Christmas album, which includes tracks from an aborted 1978 Christmas album.

Still Cruisin', Summer in Paradise, and Stars and Stripes Vol. 1 can also be found on CD.

The 1993 box set Good Vibrations--Thirty Years of the Beach Boys presents a comprehensive review of the group's career plus a number of rare tracks, including some from the legendary Smile sessions.

Three albums have been released since the group's split.

  • Endless Harmony is a compilation of otherwise unreleased tracks together with remixes of better-known tracks; a good introduction to the band, containing no duplications of earlier releases.
  • Hawthorne, California is a less successful, two-CD set along the same lines.
  • The Beach Boys Live at Knebworth (aka Good Timin') is a studio-enhanced concert recording from 1980.


Whitburn, Joel, "The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits", 1992
Wilson, Brian (with Todd Gold), "Wouldn't It Be Nice, My Own Story", 1991

See also

External links

de:The Beach Boys fr:The Beach Boys nl:Beach Boys ja:ザ・ビーチ・ボーイズ pl:The Beach Boys sv:The Beach Boys


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