The Beach Boys are an American rock band, formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961. The group's original and best known 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 to 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. By the 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.
The Beach Boys have often been called "America's Band", and Allmusic has stated that their "unerring ability ... made them America's first, best rock band." The group have had over eighty songs chart worldwide, thirty-six of them United States Top 40 hits (the most by an American rock band), four of those 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 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
1958–1966: The Beach Boys under Brian Wilson
Formation and first years (1958–61)
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. He failed to complete a twelfth-grade piano sonata, but did submit an original composition, called "Surfin'".
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, drawing tremendous applause for their version of doo-wop group the Olympics' "Hully Gully". Brian also knew Al Jardine, a high school classmate who had already played guitar in a folk group called the Islanders. One day, on the spur of the moment, they asked a couple of football players in the school training room to learn harmony parts, but it wasn't a success—the bass singer was flat.
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, derived from the Pendleton woolen shirts popular at the time. In their earliest performances, the band wore the 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 band-member who surfed. He suggested that his brothers compose some songs celebrating his hobby and the lifestyle which had developed around it in Southern California.
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. In September 1961, Murry arranged for the Pendletones to meet publishers Hite and Dorinda Morgan at Stereo Masters in Hollywood. 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'". Brian was taken aback—he had not finished writing the song—but Hite Morgan was interested and asked them to call back when the song was complete.
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. When they auditioned again a few days later, Hite Morgan declared: "That's a smash!" 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. The limited budget meant the labels could not be reprinted.
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'". However, according to Brian, "he smelled money to be made and jumped on the promotional bandwagon, calling every radio station..." By now the de facto manager of the Beach Boys, Murry got 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". The boys went home with $50 apiece.