The Beach Boys
About The Beach Boys
In their early-’60s inception, The Beach Boys were nothing less than the sound of America. But over the next half-century, they’d come to symbolize its divided soul, and the psychic tug-of-war between flag-waving optimism and darker truths. After forming in the L.A. suburb of Hawthorne in 1961, brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and high-school pal Al Jardine defined the sunny California fantasy forevermore with wave-riding soundtracks like “Surfin’ U.S.A.” As the surf fad dried up, Brian expanded his primary-songwriter role to become the band’s all-knowing creative director and, on mid-’60s delights like “California Girls,” he refashioned The Beach Boys into the male equivalent of the girl groups ensconced within Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Brian’s auterist vision—and his increasingly poignant songcraft—achieved peak clarity with 1966’s chamber-pop masterpiece Pet Sounds, the album that inspired The Beatles to venture into Pepperland and heralded rock’s elevation into high art. But Brian’s obsessive tendencies dovetailed with his worsening mental health (spurred by the lingering trauma of an abusive upbringing), resulting in the abandonment of Pet Sounds’ would-be grandiose follow-up, Smile (which was strip-mined for 1967’s loopy psych-pop pastiche Smiley Smile). As Brian entered an extended period of seclusion, the band took a more democratic approach in the studio, resulting in a series of irreverent, eclectic records—epitomized by 1971’s self-effacing Surf’s Up—that were proudly out of step with the dominant acid-rock trends of the day, but whose inspired fusion of soul, psychedelia, and orchestral pop would be later reclaimed by future generations of home-recording indie savants. The subsequent decades have seen a whirlwind procession of lineup changes, legal infighting, tragedies (the deaths of Dennis and Carl in 1983 and 1998, respectively), and surprise late-career novelty hits (1988’s Club Med perennial “Kokomo”). But the eternally youthful promise embedded in their music ensures that, when you hear a Beach Boys classic, the American Dream feels real all over again.