Upon the announcement of the Beach Boys 2012 reunion tour, I felt it was time to reflect upon the band that inspired so many true rock musicians. Personally, I don’t understand the lure of this band. Perhaps it was my Midwest upbringing, or my age, having come of age twenty years after the band recorded Pet Sounds. Still, they are considered to be one of the greatest “rock bands” to ever come from California. The Beach boys started out in 1961, writing surf songs, and singing about life on the west coast. They were popular, they had a niche sound, and it was not dissimilar to other surf bands, if not for the lush harmonies. Their first album, titled Surfin’ Safari, was comprised of songs that resonated with a generation of kids that grew up in southern California. They borrowed tracks from Eddie Cochran and Vincent Catalano in order to fill the space required to produce a full-length album. The album spent nearly ten months on the US top 100 charts, and just about every kid knows the words “Come on baby, surfin’ safari.”
Beach Boys Go from Surf Songs to Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys went on to record ten albums from 1961 through 1965. The subject matter of the disks was mostly about surfing, and cars. They made a Christmas album and a disk made up entirely of cover songs. The Beach Boys were certainly a popular band, as some of their songs cracked the top ten, spending months high on the rock music charts. It was the album title Pet Sounds that took the Beach Boys in a different direction, and perhaps inspired a generation of musicians to go on to create rock music. Pet Sounds was mostly written by Brian Wilson, and Tony Asher provided lyrical support. Not only did Wilson take a cue from the Beatles Rubber Soul album, some would say that he basically copied the formula. Wilson stopped touring, reportedly dropped acid, brought in hired guns to play the instruments, and spent months layering the sounds. When the rest of the Beach Boys finally got to hear his creation, they were not too thrilled to see that Wilson was taking the band in a different direction.
Beach Boys Followed Musical Trends Instead of Leading Them
I never felt that the Beach Boys were anything close to rock and roll. They were certainly pop music creators. I’ll give them credit for that. Their songs have a lasting quality, and the Wilson family has a vocal styling that will never be repeated. What I can’t give them credit for is any type of originality. They followed the musical scene, never leading the way. Surf music had already come to the fore by the time that Surfin’ Safari was released. In fact, the Beach Boys covered a Dick Dale song on one of their albums, proving that the band broke no new ground. The Beach Boys harmonies were not unlike early “do-wop” groups of the 1950’s. The breakout album Pet Sounds was created in reply to Rubber Soul. Smiley Smile was a second crack at what Pet Sounds failed to do, that is launch the Beach Boys to higher ground. From there, the band was never quite the same.