The Beach Boys Introduction
Few bands are as iconic as The Beach Boys. Their songs capture a stylized version of life in Los Angeles, and all of Southern California. They went from being an ordinary group of guys who would have to rent their instruments and rehearse in a house in Hawthorne, California, to international rock stars. They were the inspiration for countless other acts, most notably The Beatles, with whom they would come to compete directly. Their work continues to inspire others, and advertise Southern California's sunshine and beaches.
Why research The Beach Boys?
I grew up in Los Angeles, and have experienced much of what The Beach Boys' music portrays; sunshine, beaches, nice automobiles, among other things. I understand that their music is stereotyped, but I feel that there can be no better advertising for the Southern California region than the music of The Beach Boys. As Jackson Browne says, “The Beach Boys music
encompasses that background of being a kid in Southern California.” When I hear their music, I can feel the sunshine and hear the ocean's waves. I also admire the complexities of The Beach Boys' music, the first of their kind, where they experimented with multiple layers of sound, complex chords and even a capella, among other styles.
Who were The Beach Boys?
The Beach Boys' original members were Dennis, Carl, and Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Alan “Al” Jardine. They all attended Hawthorne High School, where they met, and The Beach Boys was formed in 1961. At first, they had trouble gaining attention. In fact, Al Jardine
decreased his involvement with The Beach Boys in late 1961 after feeling that the group was heading nowhere and was interfering with his studies. He was replaced by David Marks, but later rejoined as a full member in early 1962, when, thanks to Murray Wilson, the Wilson's father, The Beach Boys began earning more and more attention. The Beach Boys' lineup remained the same from 1962 through 1967. During this time, they had widespread success, and they were the only ones who could compete with themselves.
Brian Wilson was the creative mind behind the success of The Beach Boys. He sought to learn music producing. He wrote many of the songs and he was behind all the complexities that The Beach Boys music became known for, such as the multiple layers of sound and the
enharmonic and chromatic modulations. The musicians that worked with him all recognized that there was much more there than what met the eye; surfing and sunshine. Carol Kaye, in-studio bass player, who had recorded with numerous other groups advertising the same style of music as The Beach Boys, said that “Brian had something special from the start.” In 1964, however, on a flight from Los Angeles to Houston, he had a nervous breakdown, and began to cutback on his performances to focus much more on his songwriting and producing. This also led to increased drug use and mental instability. Brian sought help from a psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy, who many accuse of further isolating Brian. Brian Wilson became so reclusive, that the band had to record in his living room to coax him to join them. On orders of Dr. Landy, Brian Wilson played no part in “Kokomo,” their first successful song in twenty years.
After breaking up in 1983 after the death of Dennis Wilson, the members of The Beach Boys pursued their own musical careers, though Mike Love and Bruce Johnston retained the
name “The Beach Boys”. Brian Wilson, though rejoining the group briefly between 1976-77, later fully recovered from his drug and mental problems and removed himself from Dr. Landy's control. Carl Wilson died in 1998, when he succumbed to lung and brain cancer, resulting from years of heavy smoking. The remaining members of the band did occasionally reunite, most notably in 2006 in a ceremony to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their Pet Sounds album, and in 2011, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the group.
The History of The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys were formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Their first song to receive attention, albeit only at a local level, was “Surfin.” This song,
however, led them to sign on with Capitol Records. Seeing as their first success was with a surfing-themed song, they continued to write such music. Their subsequent songs released in 1963, “Surfin USA,” “Surfin Safari,” and “Surfer Girl” all garnered national attention. Their music was even popular in places like Arizona, where surfing is not even possible, due to the absence of oceans. To appeal to a wider audience, The Beach Boys also released automobile-themed music, such as “I Get Around,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” and “409.” Their initial success, which no other musical group could match, led Al Jardine to say “The hits came so fast, we were our best competition, our worst, most fierce competition.” They continued this way until 1964.
The partial departure of Brian Wilson in 1964 left a void in The Beach Boys. This fostered infighting among the members, which now included Bruce Johnston, replacing Brian Wilson on stage. This instability took a toll on the success of The Beach Boys. They began releasing albums that sold in dismally small numbers, such as: Smile, Sunflower, and Pet Sounds.
The band maintained that they had matured and gotten over producing music with the sole purpose of appealing to mass audience, and wanted to produce music that was about their feelings and emotions. Their fans and Capitol Records disagreed, and led The Beach Boys to form their own record label, Brother Records, which still controls The Beach Boys brand and intellectual property.
The Beach Boys' Musical Styles
In their beginning, The Beach Boys' main influence was rhythm and blues and doo-wop. Later, however, they combined jazz and surf, and were the main architects of their own
“industry,” as producer Terry Melcher put it. The main driving force behind this was Brian Wilson. Thanks to Brian's skill, The Beach Boys “were unafraid of doing sophisticated, a cappella glee-club arrangements containing multiple suspensions, passing formations, complex chords, and both chromatic and enharmonic modulations,” (Harrison 34) unheard of at the time. This music was upbeat and rather fast-paced, laced with positivity and relaxation. This would become the trademark musical style for The Beach Boys, and can be seen in songs such as “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “I Get Around.”
In their later years, beginning in 1966, with the release of Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys began to depart from that musical style and focus on more slow tunes, influence by more folk styles. This was due to increased drug use, mainly by lead songwriter, Brian Wilson. The new songs, the most popular being “Good Vibrations,” weaned away from beach-themed music, which had defined The Beach Boys ever since their formation. Unfortunately, the new songs did not fare as well as they had hoped, but the members of the band felt that they were maturing
The Musical Significance of The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys were musically significant in two ways; their lyrics really captured a colorful image of Southern California to market to the world and their musical style and
arrangement was unknown at the time. The Beach Boys became known worldwide, even behind The Iron Curtain, when they played in Czechoslovakia. Looking at one song in particular, “Surfin USA”, where many pristine beaches around Southern California are mentioned; from San Onofre to Los Angeles to Ventura County. This served as cultural marketing for all of Southern California.
The most notable group that The Beach Boys inspired were The Beatles. When The Beatles were beginning to gain fame, they were listening to the musical intricacies present in The Beach Boys' music. The Beatles would then incorporate many of The Beach Boys' musical styles. The Beatles and The Beach Boys would go on to compete on the world stage for audiences.
The Beach Boys are and continue to be an iconic American band. Their musical styles and lyrics are unparalleled. They are the sons of Southern California, and their music accurately and vividly reflects what Southern California is all about. Their music truly captures the 1960s, a truly special time for our country. A memorial now stands in Hawthorne, California, where the band, this legend, was born.
Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story. Dir. Alan Boyd. Perf. The Beach Boys. Capitol Records, 1998. DVD.
Harrison, Daniel. "Chapter 2: After Sundown - The Beach Boys' Experimental Music."
Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. 33-57. Print.
Kemp, Mark. "The Beach Boys Biography." Rolling Stone. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/the-beach-boys/biography>.
"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum." The Beach Boys Biography. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://rockhall.com/inductees/the-beach-boys/bio/>. Wilson, Brian, and Chuck Berry. Surfin' USA. The Beach Boys. Nick Venet, 1963. CD.
“The Beach Boys” Abstract
I will be researching The Beach Boys. They are a rock band formed in Hawthorne, California, right outside of Los Angeles, in 1961. Their original members were Mike Love, Alan “Al” Jardine, Carl, Dennis, and Brian Wilson. They all attended Hawthorne High School, where they met. Their music served to encapsulate an idealized version of Los Angeles and market it worldwide. This culture includes surfing, sunshine, relaxed atmosphere, and beaches among others, and often includes themes of teenage romance, automobiles, and attractive women. Their music, harmonious and fast paced, was the soundtrack of the 1960s, an era defined by the hippie counterculture.
The experienced initial success, though only locally, in 1961 with the release of “Surfin”. This caught the attention of Capitol Records, which signed them on and where they continued to release surfing-themed songs through 1963. Some of the most successful and popular songs are “Surfin USA,” “Surfin Safari,” and “Surfer Girl”. To make their music more relatable to other parts of the nation where surfing was not as common or even possible, The Beach Boys released several automobile-themed songs, such as “Shut Down,” “409,” and “Little Deuce Coupe”. During their first years, The Beach Boys churned out many albums leading Al Jardine to say that The Beach Boys were their own competition, as they were under pressure from Capitol to supersede their previous album's success.
After a slew of problems, specifically Brian Wilson, the head of the band, dealing with drug abuse and mental issues, they had several unsuccessful albums, including Smile, and Sunflower. There was one silver lining in 1988, with the release of “Kokomo,” part of the
soundtrack for Cocktail, a movie starring Tom Cruise. After several more years of instability and the death of Dennis Wilson in 1983, the group finally broke up in 1983. The remaining members were reunited in 2012 for their 50th anniversary celebratory tour.