The early 1960's California surfing culture provided the inspiration for one of the most popular, albeit brief rock and roll alternatives, surf music. Although surf music had been evolving since the late 1950's with bands like Dick Dale and the Del-tones, the Beach Boys popularized it in the mainstream.
Combining twangy guitars, instrumentals and long drum solos with rich vocal harmonies describing the privileged California perpetual summer, the Beach Boys tapped into a new white middle-class market. Despite the fact that the only surfer in the group was the leader, Brian Wilson, they wrote songs that focused on the sport and its golden-haired, sun-tanned image. Hailing from Hawthorne, California, The Beach Boys consisted of the three brothers Carl (1946-1998), guitar, Dennis (1944-1983), drums and Brian Wilson (1942), keyboards and bass, along with Cousin Mike Love (1941), lead vocals and neighbor Al Jardine (1942), guitar and bass.
Managed by their father, they began playing together as a group in 1961, calling themselves the Pendletones after a brand of surfing attire. Within months they made a demo recording of what would become their breakthrough single, "Surfin'". It was released in December of that same year, however the record company released the single under the name Beach Boys. although they could have changed the name, they decided to keep it to record their next four singles, which included the ballad "Surfer Girl" written for Brian's then girlfriend.
In May, 1963 the Beach Boys released their first full length album, "Surfin' USA", with Capitol Records. The title track featured a reworking of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen", as well as several covers of early prototypical surf rock bands. Within weeks the tidal wave of enthusiasm for surfing music flooded the nation.
although the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum and the anti-war movement was beginning, the Beach Boys continued to sing about cars, girls, high school, surfing, having fun, and California as the physical manifestation of the American dream. The Beach Boys music was undeniably optimistic, and they made no apologies for that fact.
By 1966 the band had been experimenting with new sounds and psychedelic techniques in response to the work the Beatles were doing. This resulted in the "Pet Sounds" project, which was a turning point not only for the band but also for Brian Wilson. The group's lead writer, arranger, and producer Brian Wilson had simultaneously starting experimenting with psychedelic drugs.
"Pet Sounds", although not as popular as some of their other hit albums, is considered their best, and gained the group the critical success that had eluded the until then. One of the songs on the original "Pet Sounds" play list was "Good Vibrations". It was taken off the album for more work and later released as a single. It garnered tremendous critical and commercial success, selling over a million copies and is considered by many to be one of the finest singles of all time. Following the success of the record, an aspect of the rock and roll lifestyle that he never quite adjusted to, Brian Wilson's behavior became more erratic, paranoid, and eventually resulted in his departure from the group.
Surf music went on to have an immense impact on psychedelic music and acid rock of the late 1960's, and endures as a timeless love letter to the romantic ideals of the early 1960's California sun and fun lifestyle.
Two of the original group members have died. Ironically, Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983, and his brother, Carl, succumbed to cancer in 1998. There is an unofficial Beach Boys fan site that has a lot of information about them:
Page author: A.E.