The Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock 'n
Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. This American sold more
singles and LPs then any other American band in history. They placed 36 hits in the Top 40, more
than any other American band and had a total of 56 songs make the Hot 100 hits, once again more than
any other American band.
Brian Wilson was born in Hawthorne, California in 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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
he 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
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. 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
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!"
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 of 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
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.
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
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
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
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