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The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys is an American rock band. Formed in 1961 the group gained popularity for its close vocal harmonies and lyrics reflecting a California youth culture of cars and surfing. Brian Wilson's growing creative ambitions later transformed them into a more artistically innovative group that earned critical praise and influenced many later musicians.

The group initially comprised singer-musician-composer Brian Wilson, his brothers, Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. This core quintet, along with early member David Marks and later bandmate Bruce Johnston, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. The Beach Boys have often been called "America's Band, and Allmusic.com has stated that "the band's unerring ability... made them America's first, best rock band." The group has had thirty-six U.S. Top 40 hits (the most of any U.S. rock band) and fifty-six Hot 100 hits, including four number one singles. Rolling Stone magazine listed The Beach Boys as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time According to Billboard Magazine, in terms of singles and album sales, The Beach Boys are the No. 1 selling American band of all time.

Many changes in both musical styles and personnel have occurred during their career, notably because of Brian Wilson's mental illness and drug use (leading to his eventual withdrawal from the group) and the deaths of Dennis and Carl Wilson in 1983 and 1998, respectively. Extensive legal battles between members of the group have also played their part. After Carl Wilson's death, founding member Al Jardine was ousted by Mike Love. As of 2008, The Beach Boys continue to tour, with a lineup of Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and a backing band of new musicians.

History

Formative years

Brian Wilson was born in Hawthorne, California (1942). At the age of sixteen, Brian shared a bedroom with his two brothers, Dennis and Carl. He watched his father, Murry Wilson, play piano and listened intently to the harmonies of vocal groups like The Four Freshmen. One night he taught his brothers a song called "Ivory Tower" and how to sing the background harmonies. "We practiced night after night, singing softly, hoping we wouldn't wake our Dad." For his sixteenth birthday, Brian received a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He learned how to overdub, using his vocals and those of Carl and his mother. He would play piano and later added Carl playing the Rickenbacker guitar he got as a Christmas present.

Soon Brian was avidly listening to Johnny Otis on his KFOX radio show, a favorite station of Carl's. Inspired by the simple structure and vocals of the rhythm and blues songs he heard, he changed his piano-playing style and started writing songs. His enthusiasm interfered with his music studies at school. He failed to complete a twelfth-grade piano sonata, but did submit an original composition, called "Surfin'". Family gatherings brought the Wilsons in contact with cousin Mike Love. With Love's sister Maureen and a friend, Brian taught them harmonies. Later, Brian, Mike and two friends performed at Hawthorne High School (Hawthorne, California), drawing tremendous applause for their version of The Olympics' (doo-wop group) "Hully Gully". Brian also knew Al Jardine, a high school classmate, who had already played guitar in a folk group called The Islanders. One day, on the spur of the moment, they asked a couple of football players in the school training room to learn harmony parts, but it wasn't a success — the bass singer was flat.

Brian suggested to Jardine that they team up with his cousin and brother Carl. It was at these sessions, held in Brian's bedroom, that "the Beach Boys sound" began to form. Brian says: "Everyone contributed something. Carl kept us hip to the latest tunes, Al taught us his repertoire of folk songs, and Dennis, though he didn't [at the time] play anything, added a combustible spark just by his presence." It was Love who encouraged Brian to write songs and he also gave the fledgling band its first name: The Pendletones. Although surfing motifs were very prominent in their early songs, Dennis was the only member of the group who surfed. He suggested that his brothers compose some songs celebrating his hobby and the lifestyle which had developed around it in Southern California.

Jardine and a singer friend, Gary Winfrey, went to Brian's to see if he could help out with a version of a folk song they wanted to record - "Sloop John B." In Brian's absence, the two spoke with his father, Murry, who was a music industry veteran of modest success. In September 1961, Murry arranged for The Pendletones to meet publishers Hite and Dorinda Morgan at Stereo Masters in Hollywood. The group performed a straight forward rendition of "Sloop John B.", but failed to impress them. After an awkward pause, Dennis mentioned they had an original song, called "Surfin'". Brian was taken aback — he had not finished writing the song — but Hite Morgan was interested and asked them to call back when the song was complete. With help from Mike, Brian finished the song and the group rented guitars, drums, amplifiers and microphones. They practiced for three days while the Wilsons' parents were on a short vacation. A few days later they auditioned for the Morgans again and Hite Morgan declared: "That's a smash!

On October 3, 1961, The Pendletones recorded twelve takes of "Surfin'" in the Morgans' cramped offices (Dennis was deemed not yet good enough to play drums, much to his chagrin). A small quantity of singles was pressed. When the boys eagerly unpacked the first box of singles, on the X Records label, they were surprised and angered to see their band name had been changed to "Beach Boys". Murry Wilson, now intimately involved with the band's fortunes, called the Morgans. Apparently a young promotion worker, Russ Regan, had decided on the change to more obviously tie the group in with other surf bands of the time (his original name for the band was The Surfers). The limited budget meant the labels could not be reprinted.

Released mid-November, 1961, "Surfin'" was soon aired on KFWB and KDAY, two of Los Angeles' most influential radio stations. It was a hit on the West Coast, and peaked at #75 on the national pop charts.

The influence of Murry Wilson

As an eight-year-old, Brian Wilson says his "young life was already being shaped and influenced by music... None affected me more than the music I heard when my father played the family piano... I watched how his fingers made chords and memorized the positions".

Murry had limited success as a songwriter, peaking with "Two Step Side Step" when it was recorded for a Bachelors album in 1952. Despite his musical ability and any wish to educate Brian in particular, Murry "was a tyrant", quick to offer discouraging criticism and who "abused [his sons] psychologically and physically, creating wounds that never healed." Carl found comfort in food and Dennis rebelled against the world to express his anger. Brian would immerse himself in music to cope, but though he longed to learn piano as a child, he was too frightened to ask and even too scared to press the keys when his father was at work.

Eventually Brian surprised his parents by showing he had learned how to play the piano by watching his father. Thereafter, "playing the piano... literally saved my ass. I recall playing one time while my dad flung Dennis against the wall... That was just one of many incidents when I didn't miss a note, supplying background music to the hell that often substituted for a family life...

At first, Murry steered the Beach Boys' career, engineering their signing with Capitol Records in 1962. In 1964, Brian ousted his father after a violent confrontation in the studio. Over the next few years, they became increasingly estranged; when Murry died of a heart attack in 1973, Brian and Dennis did not attend the funeral.

Early career

Murry Wilson told the boys he did not like "Surfin'". However, "he smelled money to be made and jumped on the promotional bandwagon, calling every radio station... He got the group's first paying gig on New Year's Eve, 1961, at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance in Long Beach, headlined by Ike and Tina Turner. Brian recalls how he wondered what they were doing there; "five clean-cut, unworldly white boys from a conservative white suburb, in an auditorium full of black kids". Brian describes the night as an "education" - he knew afterwards that success was all about "R&B, rock and roll, and money." The boys went home with $50 apiece.

In February 1962, Al Jardine left the band to continue his college studies. David Marks, a fifteen-year-old neighbor and friend of Carl's, replaced him (Jardine, at Brian's request, rejoined the group in July of 1963).

Though Murry effectively seized managerial control of the band without consultation, Brian acknowledges that he "deserves credit for getting us off the ground... he hounded us mercilessly... [but] also worked hard himself". He was the first to stress the importance of having a follow-up hit. They duly recorded four more originals, on June 13 at Western Studios , Los Angeles, including "Surfer Girl", "409" and "Surfin' Safari". The session ended on a bitter note, however: Murry Wilson unsuccessfully suggested and then demanded that the Beach Boys record some of his own songs because, "My songs are better than yours.

On July 16, on the strength of the June demo session, the Beach Boys were signed to Capitol Records. By November, their first album was ready - "Surfin' Safari". Their song output continued along the same commercial line, focusing on California youth lifestyle. The early Beach Boys’ hits helped raise both the profile of the state of California and of surfing. The group also celebrated the Golden State’s obsession with hot-rod racing ("Shut Down," "409," "Little Deuce Coupe") and the pursuit of happiness by carefree teens in less complicated times ("Be True to Your School," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "I Get Around"). From 1962-65 they had sixteen hit singles during a period of time that included both a very competitive Top Forty but also saw the start of the British Invasion. Although their music was bright and accessible, these early works belied a sophistication that would emerge more forcefully in the coming years. During this period, Brian Wilson rapidly progressed to become a melodist, arranger and producer of world-renowned stature. Their early hits made them major pop stars in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries, although their status as America's top pop group was soon challenged in 1964 by the emergence of The Beatles, who quickly became the Beach Boys' major creative, financial, and Top Forty rival.

Apart from the Wilsons' father and the close vocal harmonies of Brian's favorite groups, early inspiration came from the driving rock and roll sound of Chuck Berry and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. Some of Brian's songs were modeled after other songs; most famously "Surfer Girl" shares its rhythmic melody with "When You Wish Upon a Star". In his autobiography, Brian states that the melody of "God Only Knows" was inspired by a John Sebastian record.

Brian's innovations and personal difficulties

The stress of road travel, composing, producing and maintaining a high level of creativity was too much for Brian Wilson to bear. On December 23, 1964, while on a flight to Houston, Brian suffered from an anxiety attack and left the tour. Shortly afterward, he announced his withdrawal from touring to concentrate entirely on songwriting and record production. This wasn't the first time Brian left the road. In 1963 when Al Jardine came back Brian left the road, but when David Marks left, Brian had to go on tour again. This also wasn't Brian's first anxiety attack. For the rest of 1964 and into 1965, Glen Campbell served as Wilson's replacement in concert, until his own career success required him to leave the group. Bruce Johnston was asked to locate a replacement for Campbell; having failed to find one, Johnston subsequently became a full-time member of the band, first replacing Wilson on the road and later contributing his own talents in the studio beginning with the sessions for California Girls.

Jan & Dean, close friends with the band and opening act for them in concert in 1963 and 1964, encouraged Brian to use session musicians in the studio. This, along with Brian's withdrawal from touring, permitted him to expand his role as a producer. Wilson also wrote Surf City for his opening act. The Jan & Dean recording hit #1 on the U.S. charts in the summer of 1963, a development that pleased Brian but angered father/manager Murry, who felt his son had "given away" what should have been the Beach Boys' first chart-topper. A year later, the Beach Boys would notch their first #1 single with "I Get Around."

By 1964, traces of Brian Wilson's increasing studio productivity and ideas were noticeable: "Drive-In," an album track from All Summer Long features bars of silence between two verses while "Denny's Drums," the last track on Shut Down, Vol. II, is a two-minute drum solo. As Wilson's musical efforts became more ambitious, the group relied more on nimble session players, on tracks such as "I Get Around" and "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)." "Help Me, Rhonda" became the band's second #1 single in the spring of 1965.

1965 led to greater experimentation behind the soundboard with Wilson. The album Today! featured less focus on guitars, more emphasis on keyboards and percussion, as well as volume experiments and increased lyrical maturity. Side A of the album was devoted to sunny pop tunes, with darker ballads on the reverse side. The Boys followed up their #3 smash "California Girls" in November 1965 with another top 20 single, "The Little Girl I Once Knew." It is considered to be the band's most experimental statement prior to Pet Sounds, using silence as a pre-chorus, clashing keyboards, moody brass, and vocal tics. Perhaps too extreme an arrangement to go much higher than its modest #20 peak, it was only the band's second single not to reach the top 10 since their 1962 breakthrough. In December they would score an unexpected #2 hit (#3 in the UK) with the single "Barbara Ann", which Capitol Records released as a single without input from any of the Beach Boys. It has become one of their most recognized hits over the years. "Barbara Ann" was a "cover" of a 1961 version by "The Regents".

It was during this time that the Beatles' Rubber Soul came out, and Brian Wilson was enthralled with it. Until then, each Beach Boys album (and most pop albums of the day) contained a few "filler tracks" like random cover songs or even stitched-together comedy bits. Brian however found Rubber Soul filled with all-original songs and, more importantly, all good ones, none of them filler. Inspired, he rushed to his wife and proclaimed, "Marilyn, I'm gonna make the greatest album! The greatest rock album ever made!"

Pet Sounds

Wilson's growing mastery of the recording studio and his increasingly sophisticated songs and complex arrangements would reach a creative peak with the acclaimed LP Pet Sounds (1966). The tracks "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows", showcased Wilson's growing mastery as a composer, arranger and producer. "Caroline, No," also taken from Pet Sounds, was issued as a Brian Wilson solo single, the only time Brian was credited as a solo artist during the early Capitol years. Nowadays Pet Sounds is regarded as one of the finest albums of all time on many music magazines lists of greatest albums of all time, including TIME, Rolling Stone, New Musical Express, Mojo, and The Times.

The album's meticulously layered harmonies and inventive instrumentation (performed by the cream of Los Angeles session musicians known among themselves as The Wrecking Crew) set a new standard for popular music. It remains one of the more evocative releases of the decade, with a distinctive strain of melancholy and nostalgia for youth. The album is still widely regarded as a classic of the rock era. Among other accolades, Paul McCartney has named it one of his favorite albums of all time (with "God Only Knows" as his all-time favorite song). McCartney has frequently said that it was the inspiration behind the Beatles' album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, similar to Brian Wilson stating he was inspired to make Pet Sounds upon listening to The Beatles' Rubber Soul. Despite the critical praise it received, the album was indifferently promoted by Capitol Records and failed to become the major hit Brian had hoped it would be (only reaching #10). Its failure to gain wider recognition hurt him deeply.

Because of his withdrawal from touring, Wilson was able to complete almost all the backing tracks 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 from within the band to this new direction. Lead singer Mike Love is reported to have been strongly opposed to it, calling it "Brian's ego music," and warning the composer not to "fuck with the formula. Other group members also fretted that the band would lose its core audience if they changed their successful musical blueprint. 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 Wilson worked extensively on it with outside lyricist Tony Asher rather than with Love, even though Love had co-written the lyrics for many of their earlier songs and was the lead vocalist on most of their early hits.

Seeking to expand on the advances made on Pet Sounds, Wilson began an even more ambitious project, originally dubbed Dumb Angel. Its first fruit was "Good Vibrations," which Brian described as "a pocket symphony". The song became the Beach Boys' biggest hit to date and a U.S. and U.K. No. 1 single in 1966 — many critics consider it to be one of the best rock singles of all time. In 1997, it was named the "Greatest Single of All Time" by Mojo music magazine. In 2000, VH1 placed it at number 8 on their "100 Greatest Rock Songs" list, and in late 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed it at number 6 on their "500 Best Songs of All Time" list. It was also one of the more complex pop productions ever undertaken, and was reputed to have been the most expensive American single ever recorded at that time. Costing a reported $16,000, more than most pop albums, sessions for the song stretched over several months in at least three major studios.

In contrast to his work on Pet Sounds, Wilson 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 and ambience of each facility. He then assembled his favorite sections into a master backing track and added vocals. 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, Wilson's musical output remained remarkable. The exact nature of his mental 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. Several biographies have suggested that his father may have had bipolar disorder and after years of suffering, Wilson's own condition was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Smile

While putting the finishing touches on Pet Sounds, and just beginning work on "Good Vibrations," Brian met fellow musician and songwriter Van Dyke Parks. In late 1966, Brian and Parks began an intense collaboration that resulted in a suite of challenging new songs for the Beach Boys' next album, which was eventually named Smile. Using the same techniques as on "Good Vibrations," recording began in August 1966 and carried on into early 1967. Although the structure of the album and the exact running order of the songs have been the subjects of endless speculation, it is known 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 upon the musical themes of the major songs.

But some of the other Beach Boys, especially 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' lyrics; he has also since stated that he was deeply concerned about Wilson's escalating drug intake. The problems came to a head during the recording of "Cabin Essence," 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 of the session, and shortly thereafter his creative partnership with Wilson came to an equally abrupt end.

Many factors combined to put intense pressure on Brian Wilson as Smile neared completion: Wilson's own mental instability, the pressure to create against fierce internal opposition to his new music, the relatively unenthusiastic response to Pet Sounds, Carl Wilson's draft resistance, and a major dispute with Capitol Records. Matters were complicated by Wilson's reliance on both prescription and illegal drugs, amphetamines in particular, which only exacerbated his underlying mental health problems. Also at this time the Beach Boys management (Nick Grillo and David Anderle) started work on developing and implementing the band's own record label, Brother. The intent of the label was for side projects and an invitation for new talent. The Beach Boys became one of the first rock bands to create their own label (shortly afterwards, The Beatles followed with Apple). The output of the label, however, was limited to one album and two singles and with the subsequent failure of the second Smiley Smile single "Getting Hungry", the band decided to shelve the Brother label until 1970.

In May 1967, Smile was shelved, and over the next thirty years, the legends surrounding Smile grew until it became the most famous unreleased album in the history of popular music.

However some of the tracks were salvaged and re-recorded at Brian's new home studio, albeit in drastically scaled-down versions. These were released, along with the completed versions of "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains", on the 1967 LP Smiley Smile, which would prove to be a critical and commercial disaster for the group.

Despite the cancellation of Smile, interest in the work remained high and versions of several major tracks — including "Our Prayer", "Cabin Essence", "Cool, Cool Water", and "Surf's Up" — continued to trickle out. Many were assembled by Carl Wilson over the next few years and included on later albums. The band was still expecting to complete and release Smile as late as 1972, before it became clear that Brian had been the only one who could have made 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. The full Smile project did not surface until Wilson and Parks completed the writing, aided by Darian Sanahaja who helped in sequencing, and Brian re-recorded it as Brian Wilson Presents "Smile" in 2004.

Mid-career changes

After the popularity of the song "Good Vibrations" came a period of declining commercial success. Smiley Smile and subsequent albums performed poorly on the U.S. charts (although they fared better in the UK). The group's image problems took a further hit following their withdrawal from the bill of the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival.

The 1967 album Wild Honey, regarded by some as another classic, features songs written by Wilson and Love, including the hit "Darlin'" and a rendition of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her". Friends (1968) is a largely acoustic album, influenced by the group's adoption of the practice of Transcendental Meditation. The title single was their least successful single since 1962. This was followed by the single "Do It Again," a return to their earlier "fun in the sun" style, which was moderately successful in the US, but went to #1 in the UK.

As Brian's mental and physical health deteriorated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, his song output diminished and he became increasingly withdrawn from the group. To fill the void, the other members began writing songs. Carl Wilson gradually took over leadership of the band, developing into an accomplished producer. To complete their contract with Capitol Records before signing with Reprise Records, they produced one more album, 20/20 (1969), primarily a collection of leftovers (including remnants from Smile), old songs by outside writers, and several new songs by Dennis Wilson. One of those songs, "Never Learn Not to Love", featured uncredited lyrics by Charles Manson and was originally titled "Cease to Exist". Besides "Do It Again", the album included their cover of the Ronettes' "I Can Hear Music", which became their last top 40 hit for seven years.

In 1970, the Beach Boys reactivated their Brother Records label and signed with Reprise Records. With the new contract, the band appeared rejuvenated, releasing the album Sunflower to critical acclaim. The album was and still is recognized as a complete group effort, with all band members contributing significant material, such as "Add Some Music to Your Day", Brian's "This Whole World", Dennis' "Forever" and Bruce Johnston's "Tears in the Morning". The album, like Pet Sounds, was ignored by the public. The band experienced their worst chart performance ever, not even making the top 100.

After Sunflower, the band hired Jack Rieley as their manager. Rieley chose a different direction for the group, emphasizing, among other things, political and social awareness. The result was 1971's Surf's Up, featuring Brian's Smile centerpiece, "Surf's Up". The song itself was virtually the same arrangement of Brian performing in the studio in 1966, with Carl adding vocals and the "Child is Father of the Man" overdubs. Carl's "Long Promised Road" and "Feel Flows" are standouts. Brian contributed one of his best songs, "'Til I Die", which almost did not make the album sequencing. Bruce Johnston produced the classic "Disney Girls (1957)", a throwback to the easier, simpler times they remembered. Johnston ended his first stint with the band shortly after the record's release, reportedly because of friction between him and Jack Rieley. The album was moderately successful, reaching the US top 30. While the record made its run on the charts, the Beach Boys added to their refound fame by performing a near-sellout concert at Carnegie Hall, and following that with an appearance with the Grateful Dead at Fillmore East on April 27, 1971.

The addition of Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin in February, 1972, led to a dramatic departure in sound for the band. The album Carl and the Passions - "So Tough" was an uncharacteristic mix that included several songs drawn from Fataar and Chaplin's previous group, Flame, which are nearly unrecognizable as Beach Boys songs. Although it has its supporters, the album is widely considered to be one of the group's most muddled and inconsistent. The Beach Boys developed an ambitious (and expensive) plan in developing their next project, Holland. The band, their families, assorted associates and technicians moved to the Netherlands for the summer of 1972, eventually renting a farmhouse to convert into a makeshift studio. By the end of their adventure the band felt they had come up with one of their best efforts yet. Reprise, however, felt that the album was weak, and after some wrangling between the camps, the band asked Brian to come up with commercial material. This resulted in the song "Sail On, Sailor", a collaboration between Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, became one of the more emblematic Beach Boys songs. Reprise approved, and the album was released early 1973, peaking at #37 on the Billboard album chart. Holland was also popular on FM radio, which embraced tracks like Mike Love and Al Jardine's "California Saga". Included as a "bonus" EP was Brian's storytale Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale), which was directly influenced by Randy Newman's Sail Away LP. Holland proved that the band could still produce contemporary songs with wide (if not mass) appeal.

Despite the indifference displayed by the record label, the band's concert audience started to grow. The Beach Boys in Concert, a double album documenting the 1972 and 1973 US tours, became the band's first gold record for Reprise.

Endless Summer

In the summer of 1974, Capitol, in consultation with Love, released a double album compilation of the Beach Boys' pre-Pet Sounds hits. Endless Summer, helped by a sunny, colorful graphic cover, caught the mood of the country and surged to #1 on the Billboard album chart. It was the group's first gold record since "Good Vibrations", and remained on the album chart for three years. The following year another compilation, Spirit of America, also sold well. With both compilations, the Beach Boys suddenly became relevant to the American music landscape, propelling them from being the opening act for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to headliners selling out basketball arenas. Manager Jack Reiley, who still remained in the Netherlands after Holland's release, was relieved of his managerial duties late 1973. Rolling Stone awarded the band the distinction of 1974's "Band of The Year", solely based on the their juggernaut touring schedule and material Brian Wilson produced over a decade before.

Blondie Chaplin left the band in late 1973 after running afoul of Steve Love, the band's business manager (and Mike's brother), while Ricky Fataar stayed until fall 1974, when he was offered a chance to join a new group being formed by Joe Walsh. Chaplin's replacement, James William Guercio, started offering the group career advice that turned out to be so smart and sensible that eventually he became the band's new manager.

In 1975, the Beach Boys staged a highly successful 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". Beach Boy vocals were also heard on Elton John's 1974 hit "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."

Nostalgia had settled into the Beach Boys hype; the group had not produced any albums of new material since 1973's Holland. While their concerts continuously sold out, the stage act began to change from a contemporary presentation with oldies encores to their old material becoming the bulk (if not the entire) part of the act. Performances of Smiley Smile to Holland material would eventually be phased out, replaced specifically by their hits from 1961 to 1966.

Brian's return

15 Big Ones marked the return of Brian Wilson as a major force in the group in that it was the first album produced by him since Pet Sounds. This album included several new songs composed by Brian, and several of his arrangements of favorite old songs by other artists, including "Rock and Roll Music" (which made #5), "Blueberry Hill", and "In the Still of the Night". Brian and Mike's "It's OK" was yet another return to their earlier "summertime fun" style, and was a moderate hit. The album was publicized by an NBC-TV special, telecast on August 4 of 1976, simply titled "The Beach Boys", which was produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels and featured appearances by SNL cast members John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

For the remainder of 1976 to early 1977 Brian Wilson spent his time making sporadic public appearances and producing the next LP Love You, a collection of 14 songs mostly written by Brian alone, including more "fun" songs ("Honkin' Down the Highway"), a mature love song ("Let's Put Our Hearts Together")—a quirky mix ranging from infectious to touching to downright silly. The songs were delivered to the Beach Boys only as demo versions, mostly with only Brian's vocals and Moog backing tracks. The Beach Boys were expected to finish them. Although not a commercial success, the album is one of the more popular offerings in the Beach Boys' later oeuvre. Many sources cited the album as a return to the group's roots.

After Love You, Brian's contributions began to decline over the next several albums until he again virtually withdrew from the group. His appearances with the band in concert diminished. His performances became erratic, his recordings uninspired. Despite the much-publicized "Brian's Back" campaign in the late '70s, most critics believed the group was past its prime. Many expected that Brian Wilson would eventually become the latest in a long line of celebrity drug casualties.

During this period the band put out two further studio efforts, M.I.U. and L.A. Light Album. M.I.U. did have a handfull of interesting tracks but largely smacked of contractual obligation to finish things out with Reprise Records. The L.A. Light Album in 1979 brought Bruce Johnston back into the group as both a member and this time as a prooducer. The album featured outstanding performances by both Dennis and Carl and was their first for their new contract with CBS Records. The group also enjoyed moderate sucess with their disco reworking of the song Here Comes the Night, originally on the Wild Honey album.

In 1980 the band recorded and released Keeping the Summer Alive. Again Bruce Johnston was in the producer role as well as performing on the album. Brian contributed occasionally as seen in the TV special the band made for the album's release. Even though he was credited, this was the first Beach Boys album not to feature Dennis Wilson. As he is not in the Keeping the Summer Alive TV special and not he is not mentioned by them at all, one can only assume his absence was requested by the rest of the band.

Deaths of Dennis and Carl Wilson

In the late 1970s, Dennis Wilson increasingly indulged in drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the group's concert appearances were marred when he and other band members showed up on stage drunk or stoned. The band was forced to publicly apologize after a poor performance in Melbourne, Australia in 1978, during which several members of the group appeared to be drunk. In spite of his own frequent drinking, Dennis Wilson managed to release his first solo work, Pacific Ocean Blue, and to launch the work-in-progress Bambu, with friend and musician Carli Muñoz.

In 1980, the Beach Boys played a Fourth of July concert on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. before a large crowd. This gig was repeated in the next two years, but in 1983 Secretary of the Interior James Watt banned the group from playing on the Mall, saying that rock concerts drew "an undesirable element. This drew howls of outrage from the many of the Beach Boys' American fans, who stated that the Beach Boys sound was a very desirable part of the American cultural fabric. First Lady Nancy Reagan apologized, and in 1984 the group appeared on the Mall again. Love and Johnston most recently appeared on the Mall in 2005 for the Fourth of July concert.

Meanwhile, Dennis Wilson's personal problems continued to escalate, and on December 28, 1983 he drowned while diving from a friend's boat, trying to recover items he had previously thrown overboard in fits of rage.

Despite Dennis's death, the Beach Boys soldiered on as a successful touring act: on July 4, 1985, the Beach Boys played to an afternoon crowd of one million in Philadelphia and the same evening they performed for over 750,000 people on the Mall in Washington (the day's historic achievement was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records). They also appeared nine days later at the Live Aid concert. That year they released a new album eponymously titled The Beach Boys and enjoyed a resurgence of interest later in the 1980s, assisted by tributes such as David Lee Roth's hit version of "California Girls." In 1987, they played with the rap group The Fat Boys, performing the song "Wipe Out" and filming a video for it.

In 1988, they unexpectedly scored their first #1 hit in 22 years with the song "Kokomo" which was written for the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, becoming their biggest-selling hit ever. It was written by John Phillips (former leader of "The Mamas and the Papas"), Scott McKenzie (who had a hit single in 1967 singing "San Francisco," also written by Phillips), Mike Love, and Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day). Riding on "Kokomo"'s steam, the Beach Boys quickly put out the album Still Cruisin', which went gold in the U.S. and gave them their best chart showing since 1976.

Members of the band appeared on sitcoms such as Full House and Home Improvement in the late 1980s and 1990s, as well as touring regularly. In 1995, Brian Wilson appeared in the critically acclaimed documentary I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, which saw him performing for the first time with his now-adult daughters, Wendy and Carnie of the group Wilson Phillips. The documentary also included glowing tributes to his talents from a host of major music stars of the '60s, '70s and '80s. In 1996 the Beach Boys guested with Status Quo on a re-recording of "Fun, Fun, Fun," which was a British Top 30 hit.

On February 6, 1998, Carl Wilson died after a long battle with lung cancer. Although Love and Johnston continued to tour as the Beach Boys, Jardine did not participate and no other original members accompanied them. Their tours remained reliable draws, even as they came to be viewed as a nostalgia act. Meanwhile, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine (both still legally members of the Beach Boys organization) each pursued solo careers with their new bands.

On June 13, 2006, the major surviving Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks) all set aside their differences and reunited for a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the album Pet Sounds and the double-platinum certification of their greatest hits compilation, Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys, in a ceremony atop the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. Plaques were awarded for their efforts to all major members, with Brian Wilson accepting for his late brothers Carl and Dennis. Wilson himself implied there was a chance that all the living members (not having performed together since September 1996) would reunite again.

Court battles

Many legal difficulties developed from Wilson's psychological problems. In the early 1980s, the band hired controversial therapist Eugene Landy in an attempt to help him. Landy did achieve some significant improvements in Wilson's overall condition; from his own admissions about his massive drug intake, it was highly likely that Wilson would have died if Landy had not intervened. Landy successfully treated Wilson's drug dependence, and by 1988 Wilson had recovered sufficiently to record his first solo album, Brian Wilson. But Landy became increasingly possessive of his star patient. After accusations that Landy was using his control over Wilson for his own benefit, the band successfully entreated the courts to separate Landy from Wilson.

In addition to the challenges over the use of the band's name and over the best way to care for Wilson, there have been three significant legal cases involving the Beach Boys in recent years. The first was Wilson'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 1969. He successfully argued that he had not been mentally fit to make an informed decision. While Wilson failed to regain his copyrights, he was awarded $25 million for unpaid royalties.

The second lawsuit stemmed from Wilson's reclamation of his publishing rights. Soon after Wilson won his Sea of Tunes case in 1989, Mike Love discovered Murry Wilson did not properly credit him as co-writer on dozens of Beach Boys songs, including "California Girls", "Catch a Wave," "I Get Around," "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)," "Be True to Your School," "Help Me, Rhonda," "I Know There's an Answer," and numerous others. With Mike and Brian unable to determine exactly what Mike was properly owed, Mike sued Brian in 1992 to gain credit for his co-authorship of a number of important Beach Boys songs, winning $13 million in 1994 for lost royalties. In interviews, Mike revealed that on some songs he wrote most of the lyrics, on others only a line or two. Even though Mike sued Brian, both parties said in interviews that there was no malice between them; they simply couldn't come up with an agreeable settlement by themselves.

However in November 2005, Love filed yet another lawsuit against Wilson. Love alleges that the UK publication The Mail on Sunday and Wilson’s representatives gave the false impression to the readers of The Mail on Sunday that their joint promotional giveaway of nearly three million copies of the CD called Good Vibrations was authorized by Mike Love and the Beach Boys. This free CD, Love alleges, includes five of Love and Wilson’s co-authored hit Beach Boys songs, and was done to promote Wilson's solo CD, Smile. Love also says that Smile and Good Vibrations were marketed using the Beach Boys’ names and images without permission. He is seeking several million dollars in damages, and also a million dollars to cover costs of advertising to correct the perceived "damage to the band's reputation".

Love has stated: “Once again the people around Brian, my cousin and collaborator on many hits, who I love and care about, have used him for their own financial gain without regard to his rights, or my rights, or even the rights of the estates of his deceased brothers, Carl and Dennis, and their children... Unfortunately, history repeats itself. Because of Brian’s mental issues he has always been vulnerable to manipulation. I simply want to stop the infringers and stop the deception!”

There has been speculation that Love's lawsuit is an attempt to pressure Wilson into agreeing to let him continue to use the profitable Beach Boys name for his and Johnston's touring efforts.

Wilson’s website listed the following statement in response: “The lawsuit against Brian is meritless. While he will vigorously defend himself he is deeply saddened that his cousin Mike Love has sunk to these depths for his own financial gain.”

Legacy

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, with Mike Love delivering a speech that assailed Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Diana Ross. The band was chosen for the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2001, the group received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Brian Wilson was inducted into the UK Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in November 2006. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the Beach Boys #12 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

In 2007, the Beach Boys were inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

The group is frequently referred to when the topic of summertime songs comes up. About.com listed Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys, a 2003 compilation CD, as the greatest summertime hits CD.

Toni Tennille, of the duo Captain & Tennille, remains the only known "Beach Girl", having once sung with the Beach Boys while on tour.

The Wilsons' Hawthorne, CA 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 #1041 at 3701 West 119th Street), dedicated on May 20, 2005, marks the location. The Beach Boys continue to tour, with a backing band accompanying original members Mike Love and Bruce Johnston. Other "honorary Beach Boys", such as John Stamos and former member David Marks also make guest appearances on their tours.

Discography

) (1965)
  • Beach Boys' Party! (1965)
  • Pet Sounds (1966)
  • Smiley Smile (1967)
  • Wild Honey (1967)
  • Friends (1968)
  • See also

    Videography

    • The Beach Boys: An American Band, High Ridge Productions (1985) Biography of the band, notable for the first commercial release of excerpts from Smile, including Mrs. O'Leary's Cow. During the research for the film, the Beach Boys' recordings were copied to digital audio tape, many of which surfaced years later on bootleg CDs. Running time: 103 minutes.
    • Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, Palomar Picture (1995) Running Time: 69 minutes.
    • Brian Wilson: A Beach Boys Story, Biography (1999) Produced for A&E's Biography series. Running time: 100 minutes.
    • Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story, Delilah Films (2000) Documentary produced for VH1. Includes five bonus video clips and seven 5.1 surround sound audio mixes of California Girls; Kiss Me, Baby; God Only Knows; Surf's Up; Long Promised Road;; Sail On, Sailor; and Do It Again. Running time: 141 minutes.

    Beach Boys in Pop Culture

    Notes

    References

    • Whitburn, Joel, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 1992.
    • Wilson, Brian (with Todd Gold), Wouldn't It Be Nice, My Own Story, 1991. Nota Bene: It has been documented by numerous Beach Boys authors, including Andrew G. Doe, that Brian Wilson did not actually write this book and his participation in its creation was minimal. Please see http://www.btinternet.com/~bellagio/1991.html for details.
    • Complete Guide To The Music Of The Beach Boys, a book updated in 2004 as Brian Wilson & The Beach Boys: The Complete Guide To Their Music, author Andrew Grayham Doe.

    External links

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