The Beach Boys are an American rock band. Formed in 1961, the group gained popularity for its close vocal harmonies and lyrics reflecting a Southern California youth culture of cars, surfing, and romance. 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 was initially composed of 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 Class of 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 number 12 in the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. According to Billboard, 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 recreational 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 the death of Carl Wilson, founding member Al Jardine was ousted by fellow-founding member Mike Love. Currently, the surviving members of The Beach Boys continue to tour in three separate bands - "The Beach Boys Band" with Love, Johnston, and a rotation of backing musicians; Al Jardine's "Endless Summer Band" with Jardine, his sons, and several former Beach Boys backup musicians; and Brian Wilson with a 10-piece band including members of The Wondermints and longtime Beach Boys backup guitarist/singer Jeff Foskett. Love retained the rights to the name "The Beach Boys" after a legal dispute.
The first Beach Boys record (released December 1961) after having their band name changed from The Pendletones: this is the record's first pressing, on X Records
Brian Wilson was born in Inglewood, California in 1942, and his family moved to nearby Hawthorne when Brian was two years old. At the age of 16, 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 16th birthday, Brian had 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. Brian taught Love's sister Maureen and a friend 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 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. The Pendletones name was derived from the Pendleton woolen shirts popular at that time. In their earliest performances, the band wore the heavy wool jacket-like shirts, which were favored by surfers in the South Bay. In 1962, the Beach Boys began wearing blue/gray-striped button-down shirts tucked into white pants as their touring "uniforms." This was the band's signature look through to 1966.
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 straightforward rendition of "Sloop John B.", but failed to impress the Morgans. 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 Candix 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.
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 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.
German 1962 single release of Surfin' Safari.
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 thirteen-year-old neighbor and friend of Carl's, replaced him (Jardine, at Brian's request, rejoined the group in July 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... 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 not only 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.
The Beach Boys in their heyday, 1965
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 had stopped touring. In 1963, when Al Jardine returned, Brian left the road; but when David Marks quit, Brian had to return in his place. 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 sunnier pop tunes, with darker ballads on the reverse side. This pattern was also evident on some of the band's singles, with songs such as "Kiss Me, Baby" released on the B-side to "Help Me, Rhonda" and "Let Him Run Wild" on the B-side to "California Girls", each featuring Brian Wilson's lead vocals and foreshadowing the youthful angst that would later pervade Pet Sounds.
In November 1965 the group followed up their #3 summer smash "California Girls," 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 and was a cover of a 1961 song 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 cover songs or even stitched-together comedy bits. Brian 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!"
Main article: Pet Sounds
"God Only Knows"
Sample track from Pet Sounds
Wilson's growing mastery of studio recording and his increasingly sophisticated songs and complex arrangements would reach a creative peak with the acclaimed LP Pet Sounds (1966). Pet Sounds is regarded as one of the finest albums of all time and is on many music lists as one of the greatest albums of all time, including TIME, Rolling Stone, New Musical Express, Mojo, and The Times. According to Acclaimedmusic.net, Pet Sounds is the most acclaimed album of all time by music journalists.. 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 seminal Beatles' album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
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 distinctive strains of lushness, melancholy, and nostalgia for youth. 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. The album also included two sophisticated instrumental tracks, the quiet and wistful "Let's Go Away for Awhile" and the brittle brassy surf of the title track, "Pet Sounds". 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.
One of the Beach Boys' defining songs.
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 Greatest 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 schizoaffective disorder.
Main article: Smile (Beach Boys album)
The original cover of Smile. More than 400,000 Smile covers were produced; they were kept in a warehouse in Pennsylvania before being destroyed in the late 80s. Today, there are reportedly fewer than a dozen original Smile covers in existence.
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.
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 style formula. Moderately successful in the US at #20, the single 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; he eventually became withdrawn and detached from the band. To fill his creative void, the other members began writing and producing 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 Carl's production of the Ronettes' "I Can Hear Music", which became their last top 40 hit for seven years.
In 1969, 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 the famous 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 unfocused and inconsistent. It did not make an impact on the charts.
The Beach Boys came up with 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, 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.
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 multi-million selling record since "Good Vibrations", and remained on the album chart for three years. The following year Capitol released another compilation, Spirit of America, also sold well. With both compilations, the Beach Boys suddenly became relevant again 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 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", based solely on the their juggernaut touring schedule and the material written and produced by Brian over a decade earlier.
Blondie Chaplin left the band in late 1973 after an argument with Steve Love, the band's business manager (and Mike's brother), 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.
Under Guercio, The Beach Boys staged a highly successful 1975 joint concert tour with Chicago, with each group performing some of the other's songs, including their previous year's collaboration on Chicago's hit "Wishing You Were Here". 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 officially released any albums of new material since 1973's Holland. While their concerts continuously sold out, the stage act slowly changed from a contemporary presentation-oldies encores to their entire show comprising of mostly all pre-1967 music. Performances of Smiley Smile to Holland material would eventually be phased out, replaced specifically by their hits from 1961 to 1966. This decision frustrated serious fans of the band for many years to come.
15 Big Ones marked the return of Brian Wilson as a major force in the group in that it was the first album he produced 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, 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. Another project included singing back-up for Eric Carmen on his Top 40 hit, "She Did It" in 1977.
For the remainder of 1976 to early 1977, Brian Wilson spent his time making sporadic public appearances and producing the band's next LP Love You, a quirky collection of 14 songs mostly written by Brian alone, including more "fun" songs ("Honkin' Down the Highway"), a mature love song ("The Night Was So Young")?a 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 synth and drum-machine backing tracks. The Beach Boys were expected to finish them, but because of time constraints the majority of the material was released as Brian's originally recorded demos. The result was an uneven, incomplete effort and not a commercial success. Despite its flaws, 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.
Unfortunately, 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 at some point 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. was recorded at Maharishi International University in Iowa (now Maharishi University of Management) at the insistence of Mike Love. Dennis and Carl made limited contributions to the project; the album was mostly produced by Alan Jardine and Ron Altbach, with Brian appearing as the role of "Executive Producer". Regardless, despite a handful of interesting tracks, the album was largely a contractual obligation to finish out their association with Reprise Records. Reprise likewise did not promote the album.
At the same time of the M.I.U. album release, The Beach Boys signed with CBS Records (now part of Sony/BMG). They received a substantial advance and reportedly agreed to a guaranteed minimum of one million dollars per album. However, CBS was not satisfied with preliminary reviews of their first product-L.A. Light Album. The band realized at this point that Brian either could not or would not write and produce the required material. As a stop-gap measure, Bruce Johnston returned to the group as both a member and this time as a producer. The Brian and Carl song "Good Timin?" became a US top 40 single. The album featured outstanding performances by both Dennis (cuts intended for his second solo effort Bambu) and Carl ("Full Sail"). The group also enjoyed moderate success (if not indifferently received) with a 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's role as well as performing on the album. Sessions took place at Western Recorders, the site where Brian produced many of his most enduring songs as well as Al Jardine's barn studio in Big Sur and Rumbo Studios in Los Angeles. Brian contributed some inspired production ideas occasionally as seen in the television special the band made for the album's release. Even though Dennis Wilson was credited, this was the first Beach Boys album not to feature Dennis (due to his ongoing personal problems). He was not in the Keeping the Summer Alive television special and was asked not to participate in the recording project. Carl Wilson had discovered a young talented drummer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist by the name of Scott Mathews and though Mathews was signed to Capitol Records, Carl asked him to join the band. Mathews jumped at the chance to record with his long-time heroes but ultimately chose not to join the band because of his blossoming career in the studio as a producer and songwriter plus (much like Brian), his dislike for touring.
Late 1970s ? present
The Beach Boys with President Ronald and First Lady Nancy Reagan, 1983
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.
Dennis Wilson was the first Beach Boy to release a solo album, entitled Pacific Ocean Blue, on August 22, 1977. A follow-up album entitled Bambu was recorded with friend and musician Carli Mu?oz but remained unfinished and unreleased until Pacific Ocean Blue was re-issued in 2008.
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. President and First Lady Nancy Reagan spoke up for the group, and President Reagan presented Watt with a bronze sculpture of a foot that had a bullet wound, indicating that he had shot himself in the foot with the decision. 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 an eponymous album 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 movie Cocktail, becoming their biggest-selling hit ever. It was written by John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Mike Love, and Terry Melcher. As well as producing and co-writing several of the band's later songs and albums, Melcher was a long-time friend of Bruce Johnston, and the duo recorded together as Bruce & Terry and The Rip Chords, both surf acts with a very similar California sound, before Johnston formally joined The Beach Boys. 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. In 1990, the band, featuring John Stamos on drums, recorded the title track of the comedy Problem Child. Stamos later appeared singing lead vocals on the song "Forever" (written by Dennis Wilson) on their 1992 album Summer in Paradise.
Members of the band appeared on television shows such as Full House, Home Improvement, and Baywatch 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.
After years of heavy smoking, Carl Wilson succumbed to lung cancer on February 6, 1998 after a long battle with the disease. 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.
Many legal difficulties developed from Brian 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 Brian Wilson and his management. Love alleged 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 alleged, includes five of Love and Wilson?s co-authored hit Beach Boys songs, and was done to promote Wilson's solo CD, Smile (Brian Wilson album). Love also claimed that Smile and Good Vibrations were marketed using the Beach Boys? names and images without permission. The complaint sought 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 stated at the time: ?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 was 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 lawyers suggested in legal filings that Love was seeking to assert as personal claims the rights of the corporate holder of the Beach Boys trademark, Brother Records International, in which Love and Wilson are both shareholders.
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.?
Love's 2005 lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice on May 10, 2007 as to all the defendants, including Wilson. In a series of rulings, the court rejected all of Love's claims, including the claim that Smile was a Beach Boys project as to which Love deserved compensation from Wilson directly. The court subsequently ruled that Love had to pay the legal fees of all the defendants as well.
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.
Richard Daniel Roman's Latin pop summer classic "Vive El Verano" is dedicated to the Beach Boys.
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.
The remaining Beach Boys (Love and Johnston, minus Brian & Jardine) are currently on tour this summer.
Main article: The Beach Boys lineups
Current official members
Mike Love ? lead vocals (1961?present)
Bruce Johnston ? keyboards, vocals (1965?1972, 1978?present)
Current touring members
Scott Totten ? guitars, vocals (1999?present)
Christian Love ? guitars, vocals (2007?present)
Randell Kirsch ? bass, vocals (1999?present)
John Cowsill ? drums, vocals (1999?present)
Tim Bonhomme ? keyboards (1999?present)