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beach boys

The Beach Boys will forever be associated with the sun, sea and surfin' lifestyle of California. The band's Brian Wilson once said "All I wanted was a band that played really good surf music." But the band became much more than background music for hungry surf and turfers at beach bars, emerging by 1966 as America's pre-eminent pop group and the only one able to challenge the success of the Beatles.

The simplicity of their early hits such as Surfin' Safari and Surfin' USA in which the thought "if everybody had a surfboard" was offered as a solution to all teenage problems, was replaced in later work by anguish, loss of innocence and wistful harmonies on tracks like God Only Knows and Heroes and Villains. The band's new experiemntal approach, led by main songwriter Brian Wilson, resulted in 1966's highly influential masterpiece album, Pet Sounds which not only influenced musical peers The Beatles (Paul McCartney calls it his favourite album of all time) but generations of future artists.

The Beach Boys were formed in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, California in 1961 by the Wilson brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl. They were soon joined by their cousin Mike Love and neighbour Al Jardine. They went through a series of cringe-inducing names (including the Pendletones and Kenny And The Cadets,) before being christened The Beach Boys by a local studio who had released their first single, Surfin' on the small Candix label. Soon the band's tyrannical father, Murray seized the opportunity to become their manager, producer and song publisher, a decision the band would come to regret when financial troubles would dog them later in their career.

The band signed to Capitol Records in 1962 and came to encapsulate Californian dreams. The hits came thick and fast with Brian writing most of the songs. Surfin' Safari, Little Deuce Coupe, I Get Around and Surfin' USA were effervescent feelgood anthems framing images of surf, sea and groovy beach chicks.

But by December 1964 the band's hectic recording and touring schedule had taken its toll on the painfully shy and sensitive Brian, (he had produced and arranged 6 albums in just over 2 years) and he suffered a series of nervous breakdowns. The episode signalled the end of Brian's live commitment to the band, instead he would concentrate soley on composing and recording.
The results of Brian's touring layoff (he had been replaced on stage by Bruce Johnston), were the albums Beach Boys - Today and Summer Days, containing some of Brian's creative highs including songs like Help Me Rhonda and Then I Kissed Her. But Brian's total immersion in the creative process also led to his experimentation with drugs. He first took LSD in the summer of 1965 and it changed his whole approach to his life and his music. "I smoked marijuana and took LSD," Brian told Mojo magazine in 2003. It got me deeper into the music but it scared me too. LSD was a very religious experience. I think my music is very spiritual."

LSD would heighten Brian's paranoia and he became obsessed with outdoing The Beatles and in 1966 he produced a work that would compare with anything the Fab Four produced. Pet Sounds stood next to The Beatles' Revolver and Dylan's Blonde On Blonde as the musically creative peaks of 1966. Created with lyricist Tony Asher the album featured a collection of songs encased in dreamy, ethereal arrangements - God Only Knows, Wouldn't It Be Nice and I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. The single Good Vibrations, not included in the album, was released later that year and soon became the band's biggest ever selling single. It's pioneering use of overdubs and complex vocal arrangements was a landmark in pop music.

Despite unspectacular sales the critical success of Pet Sounds spurred Brian on to his next project - the ambitious and experimental Smile album. Created and ultimately abandoned, the sessions for the album, written with collaborator Van Dyke Parks, have become the stuff of legend. Brian's mental condition was deteriorating. For the recording sessions at his home he had a giant sandbox put in his living room to recreate the feel of the beach ("it created a mood that was magic," Brian said recently. He also erected a dope tent in the den of his LA home. Recordings were also attempted at the bottom of an empty swimming pool and he asked his musicians to wear fireman's helmets to "get them in the mood." Oh, and Paul McCartney was recorded munching a carrot for the track Vegetables. It wouldn't happen at a Westlife recording session...

Unsurprisingly, Brian's increasingly suspect mental state meant the album was never released and the tapes were shelved although some tracks would surface on 1967 album Smiley Smile. To this day Wilson insists he doesn't know where the original Smile tapes are.
The failure to finish the album and Brian's unstable mental condition meant he would retreat even further from the world at large, spending much of the next 10 years in bed! A string of average, occasionally good Beach Boys albums followed. 1971's Surf's Up was the highlight of this period with its Smile-sessions title track and contributions from other band members. Dennis Wilson was emerging as a talented songwriter although his association with killer Charles Manson, before he went on his killing spree, would bring some unwelcome attention. Murray Wilson died of a heart attack in June 1973, but Brian and Dennis didn't attend their father's funeral.

Brian returned to the reins in 1977 with the Beach Boys Love You album which included some fine material but from here on the band became something of a nostalgic novelty act living on past glories and lucrative tours (without Brian) churing out the hits. In 1983 Dennis Wilson drowned in a boating accident in Marina Del Ray. The band struggled on, minus Brian, who'd left the band, again, a year earlier. In 1988 the band scored a surprise US No.1 hit with the cheesy Kokomo. And Brian returned to the musical arena that year with a critically acclaimed solo album under the guidance of his controversial therapist, Eugene Landy.

Legal battles soured the atmosphere around The Beach Boys in the 90's. The group sued Brian and Landy in 1991 claiming that Brian was insane and unable to look after himself. His medical condition was confirmed (extreme introversion and manic depression). Wilson reluctantly accepted a settlement by which he severed his links with his controversial doctor/guru Eugene Landy. In 1994 Mike Love won a case against Brian contesting writing credits on 79 of the band's songs. Carl Wilson died of cancer in 1998 effectively ending communication between Brian and the rest of the band. "Carl was our inbetween man," said Brian. "I miss him a lot." Original member Mike Love has now licensed the Beach Boys name and continues to perform under the name. Since Carl Wilson's death there have been two rival bands touring under the Beach Boys moniker, one led by Mike Love with Bruce Johnston. (They are set to tour the UK in November 2004). The other goes under the banner, Beach Boys, Family And Friends, and is led by Al Jardine together with Brian's daughters Wendy and Carnie and Jardine's two sons Matt and Adam. Brian released two critically acclaimed solo albums - 1995's I Just Wasn't Made For These Times and 1998's Imagination. Brian Wilson says he and Love no longer speak. "There's just three of us left now (original members Mike Love, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson) but we don't speak at all," says Brian. "Isn't that nutty?" But Wilson says he bears no animosity towards Love. "I'm proud of him, proud of his voice."

In 2002, realising the lasting legacy of his music and in his best health in years, Wilson decided to tour, performing the entire Pet Sounds album in its entirety in 2002 to critical acclaim, followed by a performance of the lost Smile album in 2003/4.
Wilson says he is happier now than he has been in years. "I loved the beach, and I lived on the beach for nine years. And then I finally moved inland. I'd had enough of the ocean. I'm happy where I am."

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