Personalities | The Beach Boys | Sixties | Rock

America’s most successful pop group, graduating from fun-in-the-California-sun surf and hot-rod songs to multi-textured, intricately arranged numbers of exquisite harmonic structure, The Beach Boys initially achieved fame with a line-up consisting of the Wilson brothers, Brian (born 20 June 1942), Dennis (1944–83) and Carl (1946–98), together with their cousin Mike Love (born 15 March 1941) and Brian’s high school friend Al Jardine (born 3 September 1942).

Harmonizing Together

1950s vocal outfits such as The Four Freshmen and The Hi-Lo’s were the inspiration for Brian to form his own group and write songs that stand among the most beautiful and sophisticated in all of popular music, largely built around stunning five-part harmonies. And it was the surfing of middle brother Dennis that served as the starting point for the lyrical content.

Growing up in Hawthorne, a Los Angeles suburb just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Wilsons and their cousin Love were well versed in harmonizing together by the time that Jardine joined the fold and his mother helped rent instruments and book studio time for the teens to record ‘Surfin’’, co-written by Brian and Love. Without any formal training, Carl took up the guitar, Brian and Jardine alternated on bass, Dennis drummed in rudimentary fashion and Love was the main lead vocalist, while the brothers’ abrasive, bullying father, Murry Wilson, relied on his experience as a song plugger to manage the fledgling band, initially named The Pendletones in homage to their preferred Pendleton shirts.

Released on the tiny local Candix label in 1961, ‘Surfin’’ climbed to No. 75 on the Billboard chart and helped secure the renamed Beach Boys a contract with Capitol Records. However, disappointed with the low returns earned on the nearly-hit record, Jardine made what could have been one of rock’s most disastrous decisions – and there have been plenty of those – when he quit the band to pursue a dentistry degree. In his place, The Beach Boys recruited another friend, 15-year-old David Marks, and set about recording their first album, Surfin’ Safari, which was released in late 1962 along with a single comprising the title track and, as its B-side, ‘409’, which made the Top 20 and helped ignite the surf rock craze while setting the early pattern for pairing a surf song with one about hot rodding.

Rapidly Growing Abilities

As the band caught fire on first a local and then a national level, Capitol began demanding new material at a frenetic rate, placing a huge burden on Brian and necessitating plenty of filler in order for The Beach Boys to record and release no less than four more albums by the end of 1963. Still, there were numerous classic tracks along the way, including ‘Catch A Wave’, ‘Little Deuce Coupe’, and the sublime harmony-laced ballads ‘Surfer Girl’ and ‘In My Room’, all of which displayed Brian’s rapidly growing abilities as a songwriter, arranger and producer, the latter heavily influenced by his admiration for Phil Spector and his much-vaunted...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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