The Beach Boys’ tight vocal harmonies, Chuck Berry rhythms and songs about the Southern California life-style were a direct response to the British Invasion. In the Beach Boys, America had found a band they could call their own, a sentiment that continues today.
The original group consisted of brothers Brian Wilson (keyboard and bass guitar), Carl Wilson (guitar), Dennis Wilson (drums), their cousin Mike Love (lead vocals and saxophone), and friend Al Jardine (guitar). All hailing from Southern California, they wrote songs about cute girls, big waves and hot rods that were instant hits even in land-locked states. On September 27 1964, The Beach Boys were the headliners on the season premiere of The Ed Sullivan Show. Taking the stage with hot rods, bright lights, and a slew of screaming girls, the boys set out to prove that America still had a rock and roll heartbeat that not even The Beatles could take away. That evening, they performed their smash hit, “I Get Around” (Number One on the charts for 13 weeks) and “Wendy.”
The performance went well, but this was one of the last appearances of Brian. The stress of touring and the pressures of writing for the group had become too much for him. He quit performing and was replaced temporarily by Glen Campbell, and then permanently by Bruce Johnston. Brian continued to write and produce the harmonizing hits the group was known for.
Their next appearance on The Ed Sullivan Showwouldn’t be until four years later. On October 13, 1968 The Beach Boys performed “Do It Again” and their number one hit “Good Vibrations” against a psychedelic background. A lot had changed in the music industry, and American culture in general, during those four years. Their simple songs about cute girls and fast cars had given way to more complex compositions. Brian had spent those years experimenting with advanced techniques in the studio, and more sophisticated subject matter. His creative peak was the album, Pet Sounds, which has been named one of the greatest albums of all time. Even Paul McCartney credits it with inspiring Sgt. Pepper. But Brian’s use of orchestral backgrounds and complex arrangements were apparently not what the masses wanted from The Beach Boys. The album’s poor sales furthered Brian’s decline into depression, drug abuse and mental illness. Although recorded during the Pet Sounds sessions, “Good Vibrations” was released as a single, and went on to become their biggest hit to date.
The Beach Boys continued to have great successes and suffer numerous tragedies. In 1974, the compilation album Endless Summer was a big hit, but they were now seen as old fashioned, not contemporary. Personnel changes, drug and alcohol abuse, and spiritual experimentation all added to the fragmentation and the eventual demise of the group. Dennis struggled with alcohol, and accidently drowned in 1983. In 1984, they played a concert for 750,000 people in Washington D.C, making The Guinness Book of World Records. In 1988, they had their first #1 hit in 22 years with “Kokomo” and they were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1998, Carl succumbed to lung cancer. The remaining members have fought legal battles over the right to use the Beach Boys name. In 2001, they were awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Putting aside any issues they once had, they reunited in 2006 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the album, Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys’ music has spread the myth of the California lifestyle for over fifty years, and they leave behind a legacy of good vibrations.