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The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys are an American rock band, formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. Initially managed by the Wilsons' father Murry, the Beach Boys signed with Capitol Records in 1962. The band's early music gained popularity across the United States for its close vocal harmonies and lyrics reflecting a Southern California youth culture of surfing, cars and romance. During the early to mid-1960s, Brian Wilson's growing creative ambition and songwriting ability would dominate the group's musical direction. The primarily Wilson-composed Pet Sounds album and "Good Vibrations" single (both released in 1966) featured a complex, intricate and multi-layered sound that represented a departure from the simple surf rock of the Beach Boys' early years.Starting in 1967, Wilson gradually ceded control to the rest of the band, reducing his input due to mental health and substance abuse issues. Though the more democratic incarnation of the Beach Boys recorded a string of albums in various musical styles that garnered international critical success, the group struggled to reclaim their commercial momentum in America, despite the period when they were the primary competitors to the Beatles. Since the 1980s, much-publicized legal wrangling over royalties, songwriting credits and use of the band's name transpired. Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983 and Carl died of lung cancer in 1998. After Carl's death, versions of the band, fronted by surviving original members, continued to tour into the 2000s. For the band's 50th anniversary, they briefly reunited as the Beach Boys for a new studio album, world tour, and career-spanning retrospective box set.The Beach Boys have often been called "America's Band", and Allmusic stated that their "unerring ability…made them America's first, best rock band." The group had over eighty songs chart worldwide, thirty-six of them United States Top 40 hits (the most by an American rock band), four reaching number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Beach Boys have sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide and are listed at number 12 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2004 list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". The core quintet of the three Wilsons, Love and Jardine were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.Formation and first years (1958–61)At age 16, Brian Wilson shared a bedroom with his brothers, Dennis and Carl, in their family home in Hawthorne. He watched his father, Murry Wilson, play piano and listened intently to the harmonies of vocal groups such as the Four Freshmen. One night he taught his brothers a song called "Ivory Tower" and how to sing the background harmonies. For his 16th birthday, Brian was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He learned how to overdub, using his vocals and those of Carl and their mother. Brian would play piano with Carl and David Marks (an eleven-year-old longtime neighbor) playing guitars they got as Christmas presents.Soon Brian was avidly listening to Johnny Otis on his KFOX radio show, a favorite station of Carl's. Inspired by the simple structure and vocals of the rhythm and blues songs he heard, he changed his piano-playing style and started writing songs. His enthusiasm interfered with his music studies at school. Family gatherings brought the Wilsons in contact with cousin Mike Love. Brian taught Love's sister Maureen and a friend harmonies. Later, Brian, Mike Love and two friends performed at Hawthorne High School. Brian also knew Al Jardine, a high school classmate who had already played guitar in a folk group called the Islanders. Brian suggested to Jardine that they team up with his cousin and brother Carl. It was at these sessions, held in Brian's bedroom, that "the Beach Boys sound" began to form. Brian says: "Everyone contributed something. Carl kept us hip to the latest tunes, Al taught us his repertoire of folk songs, and Dennis, though he didn't [then\] play anything, added a combustible spark just by his presence." Love encouraged Brian to write songs and gave the fledgling band its name: "The Pendletones", a combination of "Pendleton" a style of woolen shirt popular at the time and "tone", the musical term. In their earliest performances, the band wore heavy wool jacket-like shirts which were favored by surfers in the South Bay. Although surfing motifs were very prominent in their early songs, Dennis was the only avid surfer in the group.Jardine and a singer friend, Gary Winfrey, went to Brian's to see if he could help out with a version of a folk song they wanted to record—"Sloop John B". In Brian's absence, the two spoke with Murry, a music industry veteran of modest success. The group performed a slower ballad, "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring", but failed to impress the Morgans. After an awkward pause, Dennis mentioned they had an original song, "Surfin'". With help from Love, Brian finished the song and the group rented guitars, drums, amplifiers and microphones. They practiced for three days while the Wilsons' parents were on a short vacation.In October, the Pendletones recorded twelve takes of "Surfin'" in the Morgans' cramped offices, David Marks was not present at the session as he was at school. A small number of singles were pressed. When the boys eagerly unpacked the first box of singles, on the Candix Records label, they were shocked to see their band name changed to "Beach Boys". Murry Wilson, now intimately involved with the band's fortunes, called the Morgans. Apparently a young promotion worker, Russ Regan, made the change to more obviously tie the group in with other surf bands of the time. Released in December 1961, "Surfin'" was soon aired on KFWB and KRLA, two of Los Angeles' most influential teen radio stations. It was a hit on the West Coast, going to number three in Southern California, and peaked at number 75 on the national pop charts. By the final weeks of 1961 "Surfin'" had sold more than 40,000 copies. Murry Wilson told the boys he did not like "Surfin'". By now the de facto manager of the Beach Boys, he landed the group's first paying gig on New Year's Eve, 1961, at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance in Long Beach, headlined by Ike & Tina Turner. Brian recalls how he wondered what they were doing there: "five clean-cut, unworldly white boys from a conservative white suburb, in an auditorium full of black kids". Brian describes the night as an "education"—he knew afterwards that success was all about "R&B, rock and roll, and money".Early successes with surf and hot rod-themed rock (1962–64)Although Murry effectively seized managerial control of the band, Brian acknowledged that he "deserves credit for getting us off the ground... he hounded us mercilessly... [but\] also worked hard himself". In the first half of February 1962, Jardine left the band and was replaced by Marks. The band recorded two more originals on April 19 at Western Studios, Los Angeles; "Lonely Sea" and "409", also re-recording "Surfin' Safari". On June 4, the band released their second single "Surfin' Safari" backed with "409". The release prompted national coverage in the June 9 issue of Billboard where the magazine praised Love's lead vocal and deemed the song to have strong hit potential. After being turned down by Dot and Liberty, the Beach Boys eventually signed a seven-year contract with Capitol Records on July 16 based on the strength of the June demo session. By November, their first album was ready—Surfin' Safari which reached 32 on the US Billboard charts. Their song output continued along the same commercial line, focusing on California youth lifestyle.In January 1963, three months after the release of their debut album, the band began recording their sophomore effort, Surfin' U.S.A., placing a greater emphasis on surf rock instrumentals and tighter production. It has been hypothesized that the shift to a sound more typical of the surf rock genre was in response to the Californian surfer locals who were dismissive of the band's debut as it strayed from the sound of other surf acts. After the moderate success of Surfin' Safari, Surfin' U.S.A., released on March 25, 1963 met a more enthusiastic reception, reaching number two on the Billboard charts and propelling the band into a nationwide spotlight. Five days prior to the release of Surfin' U.S.A. Brian produced "Surf City", a song he had written for Jan and Dean. "Surf City" hit number one on the Billboard charts in July 1963, a development that pleased Brian but angered Murry, who felt his son had "given away" what should have been the Beach Boys' first chart-topper.Sometime around late 1963, Brian Wilson heard the song "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes for the first time, which "revamped" Wilson's creative interests and songwriting. "Be My Baby" was later claimed by critics to be the epitome of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound production technique, a recording method that would fascinate Wilson for the next several decades. Wilson later in life stated: "I was unable to really think as a producer until I really got familiar with Phil Spector's work." Apart from Murry, Spector and the close vocal harmonies of Brian's favorite groups, early inspiration came from Chuck Berry. "Surfin' U.S.A." is a variation of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". A lawsuit eventually granted Berry writing credit as well as royalties from the record.At the beginning of a tour of the Mid-West in April 1963, Jardine rejoined the Beach Boys at Brian's request. As he began playing live gigs again, Brian left the road to focus on writing and recording. Around this time, Brian began utilizing members of the Wrecking Crew, session musicians also used by Spector. The session musicians were never an outright replacement for members of the band, but were used to augment arrangements or save recording time. The result of this arrangement produced the albums Surfer Girl, released on September 16, 1963 and Little Deuce Coupe, released less than a month later on October 7, 1963. This sextet incarnation of the Beach Boys didn't extend beyond these two albums, as Marks officially left the band in early October due to conflict with manager Murry, pulling Brian back into touring.Following a successful Australasian tour in January and February 1964, the band returned home to face the "British invasion" through the Beatles appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Reportedly, Brian wanted more time to complete their next album, yet their record label insisted they finish recording swiftly to avoid being forgotten in the throes of the impending "invasion". Satisfying these demands, the band hastily finished the sessions on February 20, 1964 and titled the album Shut Down Volume 2. Critics have found evaluating the album's worth difficult through the years. Though songs like "The Warmth of the Sun" and "Don't Worry Baby" are widely acclaimed and seen as impressive milestones in the artistic growth of the band, others have not lasted.In April 1964, during recording of the single "I Get Around", Murry was relieved of his duties as manager. Brian reflected, "We love the family thing – y'know: three brothers, a cousin and a friend is a really beautiful way to have a group – but the extra generation can become a hang-up". When the single was released in May of that month, it would climb to number one, their first single to do so. Two months later, the album that the song later appeared on, All Summer Long, reached number four on the Billboard 200 charts. The album was a swan-song to the surf and car music the Beach Boys built their commercial standing upon. Later albums took a different stylistic and lyrical path.The group's early songs made them major pop stars in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries. They had sixteen hit singles between 1962 and 1965. The Beach Boys were one of the few American bands formed prior to the 1964 British Invasion to continue their success. Their early hits also helped raise the profile of the state of California and associated the band with surfing, hot-rod racing, and the pursuit of happiness by carefree teens.Today!, Summer Days and production advances (1965)By the end of 1964, the stress of road travel, composing, producing and maintaining a high level of creativity became too much for Brian Wilson. On December 23, while on a flight, he suffered an anxiety attack and left the tour. In January, 1965, he announced his withdrawal from touring to concentrate entirely on songwriting and record production. For the rest of 1964 and into 1965, Glen Campbell served as Wilson's temporary replacement in concert, until his own career success pulled him from the group in April 1965. Bruce Johnston was asked to locate a replacement for Campbell; having failed to find one, Johnston himself subsequently became a full-time member of the band on May 19, 1965, first replacing Wilson on the road and later contributing in the studio, beginning with the vocal sessions for "California Girls" on June 4, 1965.During the recording sessions for The Beach Boys Today!, Love told Melody Maker that he and the band wanted to look beyond surf rock, to avoid living in the past or resting on their laurels. The resulting LP had largely guitar-oriented pop songs such as "Dance, Dance, Dance" and "Good to My Baby" on side A with B-side ballads such as "Please Let Me Wonder" and "She Knows Me Too Well".In June, 1965, the band released Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). The album included a reworked arrangement of "Help Me, Rhonda" which had become the band's second number one single in the spring of 1965, displacing the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride". Featured songs included "Kiss Me, Baby" and "Let Him Run Wild" that tapped into the youthful angst that would later pervade their music.In November 1965, the group followed up their US number three charting "California Girls" from Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) with another top-twenty single, "The Little Girl I Once Knew". It was considered the band's most experimental statement thus far, using silence as a pre-chorus, clashing keyboards, moody brass and vocal tics. Perhaps too extreme an arrangement to go much higher than its number 20 peak, it was the band's second single not to reach the top ten since their 1962 breakthrough. In December they scored an unexpected number two hit (number three in the UK) with "Barbara Ann", which Capitol released as a single with no band input. A cover of a 1961 song by the Regents, it became one of the Beach Boys' most recognized hits.Pet Sounds, "Good Vibrations" and the genesis of Smile (1966)During the mid-sixties, the group began exploring musical tastes from other contemporaneous acts, such as the Byrds and the Yardbirds.In 1966, the Beach Boys formally established their use of unconventional instruments and elaborate layers of vocal harmonies on their groundbreaking record Pet Sounds. An early album in the emerging psychedelic rock style, Pet Sounds has been championed and emulated for its experimental and revolutionary baroque instrumentation. In the same year, they released "Good Vibrations", one of their best known and most celebrated songs. The song made use of a Tannerin (an easier-to-manipulate version of a Theremin) which helped them claim a new hippie audience.Pet Sounds displayed Wilson's growing mastery of studio recording. His increasingly sophisticated songs and complex arrangements peaked with this work. Influenced by psychedelic drugs, Brian turned inward and probed his deep-seated self-doubts and emotional longings. The piece did not address the problems in the world around them, unlike other psychedelic rock groups. The album's meticulously layered harmonies and inventive instrumentation (performed by Los Angeles session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew) set a new standard for pop and rock music. It remains one of the most evocative releases of the decade, with distinctive lushness, melancholy and nostalgia. The tracks "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows" showcased Wilson's growing mastery as a composer, arranger, and producer as did "Caroline, No", which was issued as a Brian Wilson solo single, the only time he was credited as a solo artist during the early Capitol years. The album also included two instrumental tracks, "Let's Go Away for Awhile" and the title track. Because of his withdrawal from touring, Wilson was able to complete almost all the backing tracks for the album while the Beach Boys were on tour. They returned to find a substantially complete album, requiring only their vocals and a small amount of instrumental work to finish it.Despite the critical praise it received, Pet Sounds was indifferently promoted by Capitol and failed to become the major hit Wilson had hoped it would be. Its failure to gain wider recognition in the US hurt him deeply. Pet Sounds reached number ten in the US and number two in the UK, an accomplishment which helped the Beach Boys become the strongest selling album act in the UK for the final quarter of 1966; dethroning the three-year reign of native bands such as the Beatles.Seeking to expand on Pet Sounds' advances, Wilson began an even more ambitious project, originally dubbed Dumb Angel; in due course, the project became Smile. Its first fruit was "Good Vibrations", which Brian described as a "pocket symphony". The song became the Beach Boys' biggest hit to date and a US and UK number one single in 1966; many critics consider it to be one of the best rock singles of all time. It was one of the most complex pop productions ever undertaken, and was reputed to have been the most expensive American single ever recorded at that time. Costing a reported $50,000, more than most albums, sessions for the song stretched over several months in at least three major studios. According to Wilson, the electro-theremin work itself cost $15,000.In contrast to his work on Pet Sounds, Wilson adopted a modular approach to "Good Vibrations": he broke the song into sections and taped multiple versions of each at different studios to take advantage of the different sound and ambience of each facility. He then assembled his favorite sections into a master backing track and added vocals. The song's innovative instrumentation included drums, Hammond organ, piano, tack piano, two basses, guitars, electro-theremin, harmonica, and cello. The group members recall the "Good Vibrations" vocal sessions as among the most demanding of their career.While putting the finishing touches to Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson met musician and songwriter Van Dyke Parks. In mid-1966, Brian and Parks began an intense collaboration that resulted in a suite of challenging new songs for Smile. Using the same techniques as on "Good Vibrations", recording began in August 1966 and carried on into early 1967. Although the structure of the album and the exact running order of the songs have been subjects of speculation, it is known that Wilson and Parks intended Smile to be a continuous suite of songs that were linked both thematically and musically, with the main songs being linked together by small vocal pieces and instrumental segments that elaborated upon the musical themes of the major songs.Many factors combined to put intense pressure on Brian Wilson as Smile neared completion: his own mental instability, the pressure to create against fierce internal opposition to his new music, the relatively unenthusiastic response to Pet Sounds in the United States, Carl Wilson's draft resistance, and a major dispute with Capitol Records. Further, Wilson's reliance on both prescription drugs and amphetamines exacerbated his underlying mental health problems. Smile was shelved in May 1967, and would go on to become the most famous unreleased album in the history of popular music. Comparable to Brian Jones and Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson's use of psychedelic drugs—especially LSD—led to a nervous breakdown in the late-1960s. As his legend grew, the Smile period came to be seen as the pivotal episode in his decline and he became tagged as one of the most notorious celebrity drug casualties of the rock era.Release of Smiley Smile and Wild Honey (1967)Some of the Smile tracks were salvaged and re-recorded in scaled-down versions at Brian's new home studio. Along with the single version of "Good Vibrations", these tracks were released on Smiley Smile, an album which elicited positive critical and commercial response abroad, but was the first real commercial failure for the group in the United States. By this time the Beach Boys' management (Nick Grillo and David Anderle) had created the band's own record label, Brother. One of the first labels to be owned by a rock group, Brother Records was intended for releases of Beach Boys side projects, and as an invitation to new talent. The initial output of the label, however, was limited to Smiley Smile and two resulting singles from the album; the failure of "Gettin' Hungry" caused the band to shelve Brother until 1970. Compounding these setbacks, the group's public image took another hit following their withdrawal from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.Despite the cancellation of Smile, several tracks—including "Our Prayer", "Cabin Essence" and "Surf's Up"—continued to trickle out. Many were assembled by Carl Wilson and included on later albums. The band was still expecting to complete and release Smile as late as 1972, before it became clear that only Brian could comprehend the endless fragments that had been recorded. The original Smile project did not surface until the 2000s, when Wilson reunited with Parks to complete it. Wilson then released the re-recorded Smile in 2004 as a solo album, and this was followed by the band's version in 2011.The 1967 album Wild Honey features songs written by Wilson and Love, including the hit "Darlin'" and a rendition of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her". The album fared better than its predecessor, reaching number 24 in the US.Friends, 20/20 and initial interactions with the Maharishi (1968–69)After meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at a UNICEF Variety Gala in Paris, France on December 15, 1967, Love, along with other high-profile celebrities such as Donovan and the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh in India during February and March 1968. The following Beach Boys album Friends (1968) had songs influenced by the Transcendental Meditation taught by the Maharishi. The album reached number 13 in the UK and 126 in the US, the title track placing at number 25 in the UK and number 47 in the US, the band's lowest singles peak since 1962.In support of the Friends album, Love had arranged for the Beach Boys to tour with the Maharishi in the US, which has been called "one of the more bizarre entertainments of the era". Starting on May 3, 1968, the tour lasted five shows and was cancelled when the Maharishi had to withdraw to fulfill film contracts. Due to disappointing audience numbers and the Maharishi's withdrawal, twenty-four tour dates were subsequently cancelled at a cost estimated at US$250,000 (approximately US$1,610,000 today) for the band. This tour was followed by the release of "Do It Again", a single critics described as an update of the Beach Boys' surf rock past in a late-1960's style. The single went to the top of the Australian and UK single charts in 1968 and was moderately successful in the US, peaking at number 20.For a short time in mid-1968, Brian Wilson sought psychological treatment in hospital. During his absence, other members began writing and producing material themselves. To complete their contract with Capitol, they produced one more album. 20/20 (1969) was one of the group's most stylistically diverse albums, including hard rock songs such as "All I Want to Do", the waltz-based "Time to Get Alone" and a remake of the Ronettes' "I Can Hear Music". The diversity of genres have been described as an indicator that the group was trying to establish an updated identity. The album performed strongly in the UK, reaching number three on the charts. In the US, the album reached a modest 68.On April 12, 1969, the band revisited their 1967 lawsuit against Capitol Records after they alleged an audit undertaken revealed the band were owed over US$2,000,000 (US$12,860,000 today) for unpaid royalties and production duties. The band's contract with Capitol Records expired on June 30, 1969, after which Capitol Records deleted the Beach Boys' catalog from print, effectively cutting off their royalty flow. In November 1969, Murry Wilson sold Sea of Tunes, the Beach Boys' catalogue, to Irving Almo Music, a decision which according to Marilyn Wilson "devastated Brian".In late 1969, the Beach Boys reactivated their Brother label and signed with Reprise. Around this time, the band commenced recording two separate albums Add Some Music and Reverberation, the latter considered for their final Capitol release before the projects were combined to strengthen the result. At the time the Beach Boys tenure ended with Capitol in 1969, they had sold 65 million records worldwide, closing the decade as the most commercially successful American group in popular music.Sunflower, Surf's Up and change in sound, label and management (1970–71)In 1970, armed with the new Reprise contract, the band appeared rejuvenated, releasing the album Sunflower to critical acclaim. The album features a strong group presence with significant writing contributions from all band members. Brian Wilson was quite active during this period, writing or co-writing seven of the twelve songs on Sunflower and performing at half of the band's domestic concerts in 1970. Sunflower reached number 29 in the UK and number 151 in the US, the band's lowest domestic chart showing to that point. "Tears in the Morning", written and sung by Bruce Johnston reached number four in the Netherlands. A version of "Cottonfields" arranged by Al Jardine appeared on European releases of Sunflower and as a single, reached number one in Australia, Norway, South Africa and Sweden and the top-five in six other countries, including the UK.After Sunflower, the band hired Jack Rieley as their manager. Under Rieley's management, the group's music began emphasizing political and social awareness. During this time, Carl Wilson gradually assumed leadership of the band and Rieley contributed lyrics. On August 30, 1971 the band released Surf's Up, named after the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks composition "Surf's Up" . The song was the same arrangement as Brian's 1966 version, with Carl adding vocals and overdubs. Carl's "Long Promised Road" and "Feel Flows" with lyrics by Rieley are also standouts on the record. The track "A Day in the Life of a Tree" was sung by Rieley. Johnston produced the classic "Disney Girls (1957)", a throwback to an easier, simpler time. Johnston ended his first stint with the band shortly after the record's release, reportedly because of friction with Rieley. The album was moderately successful, reaching the US top 30, a marked improvement over their recent releases. While the record charted, the Beach Boys added to their renewed fame by performing a near-sellout set at Carnegie Hall, followed by an appearance with the Grateful Dead at Fillmore East on April 27, 1971.

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