The Beach Boys grew up five miles from the Pacific Ocean, so the lingo of surf music came naturally to them. Brian Wilson loved the tight harmonies of 1950s quartets, and this fascination set the Beach Boys apart from such other surf groups as Jan and Dean. Mix in a father who promoted records part-time, and you have the recipe for one of the most successful American bands of all time.
The three Wilson brothers, Brian, Carl and Dennis, grew up in Hawthorne, California, and for fun they worked out harmonies like those they heard on the radio. A cousin, Mike Love, sang with them, as did a school friend, Al Jardine. They recorded an original tune, 'Surfin',' and got enough airplay to earn a contract with Capitol Records. Murray Wilson, the Wilson boys' father, became their manager.
1962 saw the first album from the Beach Boys, Surfin' Safari, and the title cut hit #14 in September. This song and its follow-up, the #3 hit 'Surfin' USA,' helped start the surf-music craze nationwide. Through mid-1964, a string of Top Ten surf and hot rod hits followed, including 'Surfer Girl,' 'Fun, Fun, Fun' and 'I Get Around,' which was their first Number One hit.
With Mike Love leading the live act and hit albums and singles flowing uninterrupted, the Beach Boys were selling lots of vinyl and tons of tickets. Brian Wilson, however, was paying attention to the production work of Phil Spector and feeling a need to compete with the Beatles, and the result was a shift from albums that contained three singles and filler material.
Brian Wilson's efforts to be more artistic brought critical acclaim with the 1966 LP Pet Sounds, which spawned the Top Ten hits 'Sloop John B' and 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' but sold better in Europe than in the United States. The final step in the artistic process was a single, 'Good Vibrations,' which hit Number One in December, 1966.
Competition with the Beatles and drug use took their toll on Brian Wilson, and the next album project, Smile, served to create barriers between Brian and the other Beach Boys, rather than as a ticket to equal footing with the Beatles. A few less-than-successful album projects later, Capitol Records dropped the Beach Boys, who continued to record with moderate success.
Amid the career turmoil, the Beach Boys continued to be a top-drawing live act, and ticket buyers, who now saw them as an oldies act, never have gotten tired of the hits. As the original members shuffled in and out of the band because of long-standing tensions, tragedy struck: Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983, and Carl Wilson died of cancer in 1998.
The legacy of the Beach Boys is a string of unforgettable hits, great live shows attended by fans of all ages, and a near miss in achieving the level of recording artistry achieved by the Beatles. For the Wilson brothers, cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, as well as later member Bruce Johnston, it was an exciting ride, and a current Beach Boys show still carries the magic of 1962.
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