The Beach Boys
"Sun, Surf, Schizophrenia, Stagnation, Stamos."
The Beach Boys were America's preeminent pop band in the early-to-mid Sixties. Originally composed of brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. Later included songwriter Bruce Johnston, and South Africans Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar. They are often regarded as America's answer to The Beatles, despite releasing their debut album two years before the Fabs.
Contrary to what one might expect, The Beach Boys have one of the longest and most fascinating stories of any band in recent history. Before the band even got started professionally, they had been singing together for years, playing at school functions under various names like Carl and the Passions and Kenny and the Cadets. They got their actual start basically out of Brian Wilson's garage; one labor day week-end in 1961; the Wilson brothers' parents went on a business trip to Mexico, and while they were gone, they recorded their first song, "Surfin'", in the garage. After that hit the local radio, they signed on to Capitol Records and quickly climbed the charts as the premiere Surf Rock band of the nation. They are often credited for popularizing the California culture throughout the country. However, the stress of touring and the competition from The Beatles led to Brian Wilson suffering a nervous breakdown, and retiring from touring. While the rest of the band toured (with first Glen Campbell and then Bruce Johnston taking Brian's place), Brian stayed home writing and making use of the studio talents of The Wrecking Crew, leading to such classics as "California Girls", "Help Me Rhonda", and "Please Let Me Wonder". This eventually fostered into what some critics call the greatest pop album of all time: Pet Sounds. Pet Sounds brought a whole new depth to the music, with advanced production techniques and powerful lyrics on such subjects as loneliness, youthful longing, self-isolation, and the power of wordless communication. Paul McCartney has said that Pet Sounds was a major influence on The Beatles' own landmark album Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Not coincidentally, if a critic doesn't call Sgt. Pepper the greatest pop album in history, he or she probably thinks it's Pet Sounds.)
From there, however, the story becomes a long, tragic string of practically nothing but It Got Worse. After Pet Sounds was released, Brian Wilson intended to top it with a revolutionary new album called Smile. However, lack of support from anyone combined with his ailing psyche combined with his copious drug abuse combined with a royalty lawsuit led to the album's cancellation in 1967. The band instead released Smiley Smile, which combined what the rest of the band felt were the stronger Smile tracks with some new, supposedly more commercial material (as opposed to the "weird" Smile songs). The album flopped, and from there, The Beach Boys struggled to just barely continue scraping the Top 40 for the rest of the 60's into the early 70's. During this time, Brian remained holed up in his room, Dennis Wilson became friends with Charles Manson, and the Wilson brothers' domineering father Murry Wilson sold their entire song catalog for a paltry sum of $750,000 (a catalog which is estimated to be worth at least $75 million today). The band's 1973 album Holland was artistically ambitious, but a commercial failure. At this point, it seemed as if the group was done.
Things started to look up in 1974 when Capitol Records released a Greatest Hits Album, Endless Summer, which not only went triple platinum and restored the band's commercial fares, but also propelled them back into cultural relevance. They decided to start recording again and attempted to lure Brian Wilson back into the studio with them. During this time, Brian was being subjected to therapy under the control of Dr. Eugene Landy. Through his unconventional therapy, he was able to make Brian slightly healthier and willing to work with the group again. He produced two albums, 15 Big Ones and Love You under this deal, and also re-appeared on stage with the band. But looking back, it's clear that Brian wasn't really well enough to do that sort of thing again, and he started slipping back into his former habits. Mike Love took over leadership of the band at this point, which many regard as the point at which the band jumped the shark.
During the times Brian Wilson was out of the picture, Carl and Dennis Wilson generally wrote songs in his place. Both created very memorable, beautiful music, with Dennis Wilson even writing his own solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, which is now regarded as being just as amazing as anything Brian ever did. However, Dennis was also prone to alcoholism and self-destructive behavior, and he died in 1983 in an alcohol-related drowning incident, diving into the water at the Marina del Rey to search for personal effects he had thrown off of his beloved yacht, the Harmony, and hitting his head on one of the boats in the harbor. At President Reagan's request, he became one of few civilians to be given a burial at sea.
The Beach Boys basically coasted along for the rest of the 80's and 90's, their only major blip on the radar being the 1988 hit "Kokomo". As Brian Wilson was falling back into his former habits, he was subjected to Landy again in 1982, and for the next 10 years, Landy would not only treat Brian's illness in extreme and questionable ways, but also fully integrate himself into his business and musical affairs, isolate Brian from his friends and family, and leech thousands of dollars off of him year after year. A court case in 1991 was successful in separating Landy from Brian. He recovered magnificently, and in 1996, he was persuaded to briefly rejoin The Beach Boys as a producer. However, all that came from that was Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, a phenomenally weak album of Beach Boys covers sung by second-rate country artists. Any chance of a reunion that actually counted for something was cut short by Carl Wilson's death from cancer in 1998.
For much of the rest of the time, the surviving Beach Boys splintered into three units: The Beach Boys, which is essentially Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and an assortment of session musicians milking every ounce of copper they can get from the udders of the past; Brian Wilson, who tours with a different assortment of session musicians and continues to record excellent music with them, including, at long last, his dream project Smile in 2004; and Al Jardine, who left the splintered remains of the original group after Carl's death and now tours with his son and an assortment of session musicians known as Al Jardine's Endless Summer Band.
In 2012, on the 50th anniversary of the band's first album, Surfin' Safari, the unexpected happened: a full reunion of the surviving Beach Boys, including Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine and David Marks (who replaced Jardine for the first few albums, and who reunited with the Love/Johnston touring line up most recently), took place for a 50th Anniversary world tour and the recording of a new studio album, co-produced by Love and a rejuventated Brian Wilson.
Numerous artists have cited them as a major influence, including Animal Collective, The Ramones, Alice Cooper, Elton John, Weezer, The Flaming Lips, basically the entire indie rock genre, and The Beatles themselves.
- Jan and Dean
- The Rip Chords
- The Hondells
- Gary Usher
- The Honeys
- Glenn Campbell
- Three Dog Night
- The Grateful Dead
- Jeffrey Foskett
- The Wondermints
- Wilson Phillips
- The Mamas and the Papas
- Surfin' Safari (1962)
- Surfin' USA (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' (1988)
- Summer in Paradise (1992)
- Stars and Stripes Vol. 1 (1996)
- The Smile Sessions (2011, recorded 1966/1967)
- That's Why God Made the Radio (2012)
- Abusive Parents - Murry Wilson.
- Age Progression Song - "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)"
- Album Filler - The band's early albums suffered from an overabundance of this; American LPs in those days generally consisted of two or three popular singles surrounded by whatever other songs the band had lying around. It wasn't until The Beatles released Rubber Soul that Brian realized that albums should be cohesive units with well-crafted music from start to finish.
- He was amazed and excited at an album that was "all good stuff!" To be fair, very few pop artists had even attempted such a thing at the time (1965), although the Beatles had arguably already managed one with A Hard Day's Night.
- All Drummers Are Animals - Dennis Wilson was known affectionately as a "clubber". During a performance of "I Get Around" at the T.A.M.I. Show, Dennis even shattered a drumstick mid-song.
- Anti-Love Song - Several, with "Here Today" being an especially poignant example.
- Ascended Extra - Bruce Johnston went from being a fill-in on tours to session musician to full-fledged band member.
- While he joined the group in 1965, preexisting record-label contracts delayed his Promotion to Album Covers until 1968's Friends.
- Band of Relatives - The band featured the three Wilson brothers and cousin Mike Love.
- Big Eater: Brian Wilson ballooned to over 300 pounds during the nadir of his mental illness. Staying in bed all day didn't help either.
- Biopic - Two of 'em: Summer Dreams, a cheap, exploitative nightmare of a poorly-cast inaccuracyfest, and An American Family, a high-budget two-parter that starts out promising but goes downhill the moment they make Van Dyke Parks's hair strawberry blond.
- Car Song - A staple of their early work, including an entire Filler album of car songs in 1963, Little Deuce Coupe.
- Career Resurrection - Twice, once in the 70's with Endless Summer, and again in the 80s with "Kokomo".
- Christmas Songs - They did two whole albums of them - but the 1977 Christmas LP was so incredibly bad that their label refused to release it. (Seriously... nothing says Christmas like a cover of "Seasons in the Sun," the classic one-hit-wonder about death by cancer.) Several of its songs were eventually issued on the Ultimate Christmas compilation, however.
- There were two solo Christmas albums as well, by Mike Love (Rock 'n' Roll Christmas) and Brian Wilson (What I Want for Christmas).
"I thought Brian was a perfect gentleman, apart from buttering his head and trying to put it between two slices of bread."
- He also wrote some of his greatest songs in an indoor sandbox with a grand piano in the middle. The 'sandbox' quickly became a litter pan for his dogs, Banana and Louie.
- Concept Album - While most of the band's early work concerns the great themes of Surfing, Cars and Girls, Surfer Girl in particular could be considered a concept album, as seven of its 12 songs are about surfing. Five of them even have "Surfer" in the title.
- Smile was meant to be a concept album based around a number of ideas, including Americana, progression of maturity, and the Earthly elements. Brian's 2004 remake neatly divides these ideas into three clear 'movements.'
- Cover Album - Party!, recorded and released very quickly in order to buy Brian Wilson more time to create Pet Sounds. Stars and Stripes is technically one also.
- The Cover Changes the Gender - "Then I Kissed Her", a Perspective Flip cover of the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me".
- Creator Backlash - Carl and Dennis both hated M.I.U. Album with a passion. Dennis was so repulsed by the concept behind it (it was essentially Mike's paean to Transcendental Meditation) that he refused to participate in the recording sessions. He said of the album, "It should self destruct.. I hope that the karma will fuck up Mike Love’s meditation forever."
- Creator Breakdown - Brian Wilson is probably one of the most tragic examples in recent memory.
- Defictionalization - "Kokomo" was not written about any real life tropical getaway spot. However, after the song became a hit, at least two resorts sprang up sporting the name.
- Determinator - To some extent, Mike Love, for his abject refusal to stop touring or let the Beach Boys name die (for better or worse).
- The band itself, for sticking together during ordeals that most lesser bands would've broken up like angry lovers over.
- Earn Your Happy Ending - Smile finally becoming a reality as a Brian Wilson solo album in 2004, and then being released as a Beach Boys album in 2011.
- Evil Sounds Deep - Mike Love has one of the most vibrant bass voices you'll ever hear in your life.
- Executive Meddling - At least half of the hardships Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys faced could've been avoided if Capitol Records would've been better team players.
- Fake-Out Fade-Out - The Today! version of "Help Me Rhonda" did this at least three times. Little wonder it was the reworked Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) version which hit #1 rather than this one.
- Also "Heroes and Villains", which had so many false endings that one British DJ called it "the disc-jockeys' nightmare".
- Additionally, "The Little Girl I Once Knew" has sudden stops and patches of silence between its verses, limiting its radio play, and robbing the song of hit-status.
- Football Fight Song - "Be True To Your School"
- Four-Temperament Ensemble
- Sanguine: Mike Love
- Choleric: Carl Wilson
- Melancholic: Brian Wilson
- Phlegmatic: Dennis Wilson
- Freudian Trio - Brian Wilson being the id, Mike Love being the superego, and Carl Wilson (more often than not) being the ego.
- Garfunkel - Surprisingly averted; every band member had something to contribute in terms of writing. Even the widely reviled Mike Love wrote a good majority of the band's lyrics, and Al Jardine, widely regarded as a hanger on, was instrumental in the creation of "Sloop John B". Not to mention both of them wrote some of the best material on the band's 1973 opus Holland.
- Gentle Giant - Brian Wilson's friggin' tall, somewhere between 6'2 and 6'3.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar - The fade-out to "All I Want to Do" from 20/20 contains the sounds of a woman in the throes of passion buried deep in the mix.
- Greatest Hits Album - The band's music has been packaged and repackaged many times over the years. Endless Summer, coming at the tail end of the band's glory days, was the first compilation of note. Of collections currently available, the most comprehensive single disc set is probably Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys. However, if you've got a little more money to spend, the four-disc box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys is a treasure trove of wonderful music.
- Guest Star Party Member - Dean Torrance (of Jan and Dean fame) contributed lead vocals for "Barbara Ann" on the Beach Boys' Party! album.
- Before that, Brian Wilson contributed harmony vocals to the Jan and Dean record "Surf City" (which he wrote).
- Having a Gay Old Time: The thongs in "All Summer Long" refer to sandals.
- Hey, It's That Guy! - The group's early-'70s lineup included Ricky Fataar, better known to many as Stig O'Hara.
- I Am the Band - Brian was this during the Pet Sounds and Smile era, while Mike Love has had this role since roughly 1978.
- In Name Only - The unit currently calling itself the Beach Boys. Despite being advertised with an out-of-date band photo (including Brian and the deceased Carl), only Mike Love and Bruce Johnston appear from the original group.
- In the Style Of - "Girl Don't Tell Me" sounds very much like The Beatles' song "Ticket to Ride." It's possible that "Girl Don't Tell Me" was influenced by "Ticket to Ride," as the the former was recorded on April 30, 1965 and the latter had been released on April 9 of that year.
- "Surfin' USA" came so close to a Chuck Berry tune (specifically, "Sweet Little Sixteen") that Chuck sued the Boys.
- Incredibly Long Note - Mike Love has taken to introducing "Be True to Your School" with one of these at concerts in recent years. Examples here.
- Intercourse with You - "All I Want To Do". Granted, it is a Dennis Wilson song:
Well, I don't care where you wanna go
- Irony - Sad irony, but still... The only member of the band who could surf was the one who drowned.
- For a band called The Beach Boys, whose entire public image is based around surfing, the band really didn't sing about surfing that much. Out of the 60 or so songs they released in the 60's as singles, only 5 of them mentioned surfing at all. This means that only about 8% of their most well-known singles had anything to do with surfing.
- It Got Worse - BIG TIME.
- Jerkass - Murry Wilson, the alcoholic contract swindling child abuser. Once Joe Jackson dies, they'll probably make good drinking buddies in Hell.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes - For decades after its original release, legal mumbo-jumbo prevented Dennis Wilson's masterpiece Pacific Ocean Blue from being re-released. 2008 finally saw that happen, even including sessions and recordings from Dennis's unfinished follow-up album, Bambu.
- The 1992 album Summer in Paradise was only given one print run, and with sales being extremely poor (and the distributing label being on the verge of bankruptcy), the record company didn't feel the need to make another batch. As a result, the album has been out of print essentially since the time it was released, and consequently is extremely rare to find. New copies currently sell for $100 and up on Amazon.com, and even used ones fetch upwards of $30. Too bad the actual music doesn't justify that hefty price tag.
- Still Cruisin' is out of print as well; however, that one can still be found relatively cheaply used, and at any rate, the album's only hit, "Kokomo", is readily available on just about any compilation.
- Smile was one of the first "holy grails" of music to surface on bootlegs.
- Large Ham: Ever seen Mike Love at one of their live shows?
- Limited Special Collectors' Ultimate Edition - In addition to the "basic" 2-LP and 2-CD editions, the 2011 Smile Sessions set is also being released as a box set with 5 CDs, 2 LPs, 2 45rpm singles, a 60-page book, a poster, and a 3-D cover.
- And if you want something even more elaborate and have a spare $6,000 laying around, you can get an extra-special edition of the box with a cover that lights up *and* an autographed surfboard. Seriously.
- Lyrical Dissonance - Most of the songs on Pet Sounds are euphoric, beautiful songs about loneliness, self-isolation, paranoia, and heartbreak.
- "Heroes and Villains" is a catchy and tuneful song -- about gang warfare, particularly the protagonist's wife's accidental death in same.
- Man Of A Thousand Vocal Ranges - In his prime, Brian Wilson could basically make his voice do whatever he wanted. His vocal range was so huge that he could've very well ditched his band mates and recorded all the vocal parts himself if he wanted. Here's some proof.
- Carl Wilson wasn't limited either. He could go freely from an airy tenor/falsetto to a resonant baritone, even in his later years.
- May-December Romance - To put it delicately. Brian Wilson met and married his first wife Marylin when he was 20 and she was 14, and Dennis Wilson married a girl roughly the same age when he was close to his 40's. The fact that said girl, Shawn Love Wilson, was his cousin Mike Love's illegitimate daughter doesn't help.
- Missing Episode - Even after all the hundreds of unreleased Beach Boys songs have been leaked, and all the dozens more unreleased songs from Brian and Dennis Wilson's solo careers have been leaked, one very important song remains unheard: "Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again", supposedly one of Dennis Wilson's lost masterpieces.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness - Generally 1-3, with some songs like "It's About Time" and "All I Want To Do" hitting 5.
- Mythology Gag - Used a few times with the names of the band's albums:
- 20/20 partially gets its name due to being the 20th overall album the band had released for Capitol at that point, as well as being the final album the band would release for them before their departure for Warner Bros.
- Carl & The Passions "So Tough" partially gets its name from one of the bands the Wilson brothers had formed in school prior to The Beach Boys
- 15 Big Ones, while partially a reference to the number of songs on the album, was also a reference to how many years the band had been together by that point.
- The very first incarnation of what became the Sunflower album allegedly bore the tongue-in-cheek title of The Fading Rock Group Revival.
- Name's the Same - The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson does not close games for the San Francisco Giants, though he did at one point sport a rather scary-looking beard.
- There's a Canadian music critic named Carl Wilson.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly - Smile defies pigeonholing. Not only does the whole thing sound nothing like any music that came before or after, each individual song sounds wildly different from the one that came before it.
- New Sound Album - The Beach Boys Today! was the first album to feature Brian Wilson's advanced production techniques.
- Non-Indicative Name - "Surf's Up" - Whatever the song's about, it sure as hell ain't surfin'.
- Word of God apparently indicates that it's about a man at the opera who loses faith in humanity and hallucinates about the past, then finds God in the song the children sing. I certainly wouldn't have gotten that from the lyrics, although it definitely fits with the music.
- Not Christian Rock - "God Only Knows" certainly isn't Christian music, but it was the first popular song to have the word "God" in the title.
- The Pete Best - David Marks, who, for an 8-month period, filled in for Al Jardine on rhythm guitar while Al studied to be a dentist. Left in 1963 due to arguments with Murry. Since then, however, David has performed with the touring version of the band.
- An aversion was Glen Campbell, who filled in for Brian on tour during 1964 and 1965. He did pretty well on his own after leaving the band.
- Pun-Based Title - "Roll Plymouth Rock", from the Smile project. Its original working title ("Do You Dig Worms?") may be an even better example.
- Race Fetish - Or Region Fetish, anyway; "California Girls" is all about "the girls from state X are attractive in this way, while the girls from state Y are attractive in that way instead".
- Record Producer - By the time of the group's third album, 1963's Surfer Girl, Brian was in command of the group's studio sessions, and by '65, he had mastered the lavish, Phil Spector-type production technique that defined their classic sound.
- Bruce Johnston described him producing as a cross between Sergei Rachmaninoff and General Patton.
- Even on their first two albums, the nominal producer, Nick Venet, has been open about the fact that his role was pretty much just to tell the engineer to do what Brian Wilson wanted.
- Saved From Development Hell - Smile, after 37 years.
- Self-Backing Vocalist - Brian Wilson did this on a couple of Pet Sounds songs ("I'm Waiting for the Day" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"), when the rest of the band wasn't up to par.
- Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll - Dennis Wilson, full tilt.
- Signature Song - "Surfin' USA" and "Good Vibrations".
- Similarly Named Works - "All I Want To Do" vs. "All I Wanna Do".
- Sixth Ranger- Bruce Johnston, offically
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism - Really, the entire story of Brian Wilson vs. Mike Love can be boiled down to this, as Brian's desire to create moving, spiritual music clashed with Mike's attitude of "don't fuck with the formula". (That's an actual quote.)
- Soprano and Gravel - Variation: Mike Love's nasal growl alternating with Brian Wilson's soaring falsetto.
- Stop and Go - "The Little Girl I Once Knew" did this not once but twice, which almost certainly hurt the song's performance on the singles chart. Radio programmers were loath to play it due to its moments of dead air.
- Sure Why Not - Brian Wilson frequently incorporated suggestions from his backing musicians into his songs. A notable example is the staccato instrument break in "God Only Knows," which is one of the song's most memorable hooks. It came from pianist Don Randi.
- Surf Rock - Probably the artist most associated with the sub-genre.
- Even though their sound is more Chuck Berry/Phil Spector meets the Four Freshmen than Dick Dale.
- Surfer Dude - Practically invented this trope, but ironically, nobody in the band except Dennis actually surfed.
- The Svengali - As detailed above, Eugene Landy, Brian Wilson's therapist from the 70's to the late 90's.
- Theremin - "Good Vibrations" very famously uses one.
- Three Chords and the Truth - Wild Honey reflected a back-to-basics approach after the downfall of Smile. It's been said that Wild Honey was one of the first deliberate invocations of this trope by a major band, before Let It Be or Beggars Banquet.
- Throw It In - "Here Today" has some background studio chatter that Brian Wilson apparently failed to notice. "Wendy" does, as well.
- Vaporware - Smile, one of the earliest examples. Which became a Crowning Moment of Awesome when Brian Wilson re-recorded and released it in 2004, becoming one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of that decade.
- Vocal Tag Team
- What Could Have Been - Smile, of course, is arguably the greatest What Could Have Been in rock history.
- This Alternate Universe Fic gives us an idea of what could've happened if Smile had been released and the band stayed in vogue: a "Battle of the Bands" campaign set up by Capitol Records between The Beach Boys and The Beatles, with joint record store displays, combative television appearances, and the two bands vying for dominance of the charts. Yes.
- Roger Waters was planning to have The Beach Boys sing backup vocals on "The Show Must Go On", but the band declined after learning what the lyrics were about. He did get Bruce Johnston, though.
- The other story is that the Boys were okay with it, but Waters cancelled the session for some reason and settled for just Johnston.
- Word Salad Lyrics - Van Dyke Parks on the Smile album. At one point, Mike Love asked him what the line "columnated ruins domino" meant, and Van Dyke Parks just said he had no idea.
- Also Jack Rieley, the band's manager on the Surf's Up album. Here's a sample from "Feel Flows":
Encasing all embracing wreath of repose
- Yoko Oh No - There seem to be multiple camps in the Beach Boys fandom over whether or not Brian's latest wife Melinda is a controlling she-devil, the only reason Brian's doing so well today, or both.