There are a lot of layers to The Beach Boys – some people think of the band in terms of their early hits that portrayed an idealized version of the California dream. There is also the genius of Brian Wilson, who created some of the most elaborate and beautiful arrangements in pop music history. Then there are the tragedies/soap operas that surround the group to include the death of Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson’s mental health issues, and the legal disputes between Brian Wilson and Mike Love. The group formed in the Los Angeles area in 1961 as the Pendletones. Upon the release of “Surfin’,” their first single, a label executive renamed the band The Beach Boys as a marketing ploy for the target audience. The group quickly signed to Capitol Records and scored their first Top 40 hit with “Surfin’ Safari.” The theme continued with “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Surfer Girl” – the latter a 1963 Top Ten hit that was actually Brian Wilson’s first composition. 1963 also saw Brian Wilson moving from the surfing concept with the sanctuary of “In My Room,” which acknowledged that the world can be a rather scary place. In 1964, Wilson penned the beautiful tale of romantic reassurance “Don’t Worry Baby.”
The Beach Boys continued to churn out first rate pop music with “I Get Around,” “All Summer Long,” “Wendy,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “California Girls,” and “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” Inspired by The Beatles, Brian Wilson crafted one of the most acclaimed albums in pop music history with Pet Sounds. The lyrics reflected emotional fragility and the music was a move away from traditional rock sounds to experimental baroque pop. Wilson continued his winning streak with “Good Vibrations,” a #1 single that took eight months to record. Wilson then planned another major concept album to be titled Smile, but due to outside pressures and his mental health issues, the record wasn’t completed (Wilson released his solo vision of that album in 2004). The pop hits became smaller and less frequent during the psychedelic rock era. The early 1970’s albums Sunflower and Surf’s Up received positive reviews, but their next major radio single was the 1975 cover of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.” Wilson would begin recording as a solo artist in 1988 as has happily returned to performing, even touring again with The Beach Boys in 2012. There are a small handful of true geniuses that have worked in the field of pop music and Brian Wilson is one of them.
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