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The original California surfer musicians, the Beach Boys are one of the most successful and important American band of the rock music era. The band was originally formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, CA, by the three Wilson brothers: Brian (bass, piano, vocals), Dennis (drums, vocals), and Carl (guitar, vocals). Additional members were Mike Love (vocals), a cousin of the Wilsons', and Al Jardine (guitar, vocals). From the early beginning, the focus of the group's music was Brian Wilson, who combined a fascination with vocal harmony in the Four Freshmen mold with a love of Chuck Berry-derived rock & roll. Added to that was the subject matter of middle-class teenage life in Southern California. The result was massive popular success for the group during the first half of the 1960s, starting with their first chart entry, "Surfin' " in 1962. "Surfin' " was released on a local record label. Subsequently, the group signed to the major label Capitol Records, where they stayed for the rest of the '60s. But their early recordings have continued to turn up on one discount label after another ever since. To date, the most complete and best-quality version of the material is to be found on the 1991 DCC album Lost and Found! (1961-62).
The Beach Boys' first Capitol single, "Surfin' Safari," was released in June 1962 and became their first Top 40 hit. It was followed in October by a debut album of the same name. Similarly, in March 1963, Capitol released the single "Surfin' U.S.A.," which became the group's first Top Ten hit, and the Surfin'. By this point, Brian Wilson, who was composing nearly all of the material (with lyrics by himself, Love, and others), had taken over production of the group's records as well. Given the accelerated recording schedule of the day, it was an awesome task when coupled with his onstage performing duties. This is illustrated by the release of the Beach Boys' fourth album, the million-selling Little Deuce Coupe, less than a month after Surfer Girl. The album featured a version of their latest Top Ten hit, "Be True to Your School." The Beach Boys dominated the pop music of 1963, but in early 1964, the Beatles arrived in the U.S., followed by the rest of the British Invasion, and the Beach Boys felt the competition keenly. Unlike most American recording artists, however, the group did not suffer a drop-off in popularity. In fact, 1964 was another banner year for the Beach Boys, with the Top Ten singles "Fun, Fun, Fun," "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)," and "Dance, Dance, Dance," as well as their first number one single, the gold-selling "I Get Around," and three more gold albums, Shut Down, Vol. 2 (Vol. 1 had been a various artists album), All Summer Long, and their first number one LP, Beach Boys Concert. (There was also a Beach Boys' Christmas Album.)
The strain of all that work caught up with Brian Wilson, however, and at the end of 1964, he retired from onstage work with the Beach Boys, retaining his composing and producing duties. The group eventually settled on Bruce Johnston (b. June 24, 1944) as his replacement. The first product of this arrangement was the March 1965 album The Beach Boys Today!, which contained a version of their next number one single, "Help Me, Rhonda," followed four months later by the group's eighth straight gold album, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) and its single, the Top Ten "California Girls." Such recordings gave evidence of the expansion of Brian Wilson's musical imagination, which found him taking longer to make records that were more ambitious than the group's early teen anthems. While Wilson prepared his next opus, Capitol's release schedule was satisfied by The Beach Boys' Party! album, released in September, featuring a hit cover of "Barbara Ann." In March 1966, Wilson released "Caroline, No," which was billed as a solo single and made the Top 40. But he did not launch a full-fledged solo career at this time, instead completing the group's Pet Sounds LP (May 1966), which featured the Top Ten hits "Sloop John B" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and was universally hailed as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, though it did not sell as well as Beach Boys albums usually did.
Wilson trumped it with the #1 gold single "Good Vibrations," released in October. By this point, he was being hailed as a genius in the media, as he prepared a new album tentatively titled Smile. The album never appeared, however. A single, "Heroes and Villains" (July 1967), offered tantalizing clues to what would become a legendary unheard, unfinished masterpiece. But Brian Wilson, whether because of the pressure to top himself and compete with the Beatles and others, internal disagreements within the group, psychological problems, or drug abuse, ceded leadership of the Beach Boys, and their next album, Smiley Smile (September 1967), was produced by the group as a whole. At the same time, the Beach Boys suffered a commercial decline, and though they continued to release new albums - Wild Honey (December 1967), Friends (June 1968), 20/20 (February 1969) - and singles through the end of the decade, they ceased to be an important force in popular music. In 1970, the group switched to the Reprise subsidiary of Warner Bros. Records for a series of albums that sometimes drew critical approval without restoring their commercial appeal - Sunflower (August 1970), Surf's Up (August 1971), Carl and the Passions: So Tough (May 1972), initially packaged with a reissue of Pet Sounds, and Holland (January 1973).
The Beach Boys returned to prominence in the mid-'70s on a wave of nostalgia and a potent concert act that focused on their early hits. Capitol Records had repackaged their catalogue repeatedly, but Endless Summer, a June 1974 double LP compiling their early-'60s work, amazingly topped the charts, becoming their first gold album in seven years. In July 1976, the Beach Boys released 15 Big Ones, their first new studio album in more than three years and their first album in a decade to credit Brian Wilson as producer. The album spawned a Top Ten hit in a cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music," but the group's commercial appeal, at least as far as new recordings, was temporary. Subsequent albums The Beach Boys Love You (April 1977) and M.I.U. Album (September 1978) sold less well. Brian Wilson's "comeback" also proved elusive after 1977. The Beach Boys moved to their third major label with the release of L.A. (Light Album) on the Caribou subsidiary of CBS Records in March 1979. But neither that album nor its follow-up, Keepin' the Summer Alive (March 1980), did anything to change the group's commercial status. In December 1983, Dennis Wilson drowned. In June 1985, the group returned with The Beach Boys, their first new album in five years, which marked the end of their Caribou contract.
The Beach Boys recorded sporadically thereafter. In 1987, they
scored a surprising hit cover of "Wipeout," co-billed with rap act the
Fat Boys. In 1988, minus Brian Wilson, who finally launched a solo
career, they returned to number one with "Kokomo," from the hit film
Cocktail. In 1992, they released their first new album in seven years,
Summer in Paradise. Especially with the dawn of the CD era, the
extensive repackagings of Beach Boys material have continued apace. The
year 1993 finally brought a five-CD boxed-set retrospective, Good
Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys. In 1995, after the
resolution of various legal issues, lead singer Mike Love and Brian
Wilson began working together again, yet the partnership was quickly
derailed due to various tensions, and Wilson began collaborating with
Van Dyke Parks and working on a new solo album. The following year, the
Beach Boys released a collection of duets with country artists titled
Stars and Stripes, Vol. 1, and in 1997 a long-delayed box set compiling
material from the now-legendary Pet Sounds sessions finally appeared.
Another collection of rarities, Endless Harmony, followed in 1998 in
the wake of Carl Wilson's cancer-related death on February 6.
William Ruhlmann - All Music Guide
Official Homepage: thebeachboys.com
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