In Los Angeles in 1960, brothers Brian Wilson (born on 20 June 1942), Dennis Wilson (born on 4 December 1944), Carl Wilson (born on 21 December 1946), together with their cousin Mike Lowe (born on 15 March 1941) and a friend Al Jardine (born on 3 September 1942), spurred by Brian's love of vocal harmony groups and their father, Murry, who was a song-writer, formed a group initially called Carl and the Passions. They soon changed the named of the group to Kenny and the Cadets and then to the Pendletones (after the brand of shirts which they wore). Dennis suggested that they write a song about the current cult sport of surfing and Brian and Mike composed Surfin'. The song was published by a tiny recording company called Candix. When Candix went out of business shortly afterwards, Capitol Records picked up the group, now calling itself The Beach Boys.
In 1962, the Beach Boys first single for Capitol reached the top 20 but their second single failed. A string of hits began with their third Capitol single, Surfin' USA. By the end of 1963, the group had produced four LPs and Brian had emerged as a songwriter and producer of genius. In 1964, when Beach Boys Concert became the number one LP, the group had five albums in the charts simultaneously.
At first the Beach Boys were managed by the Wilson brothers' father Murry, but in 1964 the band sacked him. Murry responded by organising another group, which he managed and produced. His group, The Sunrays, had a hit with their second single, I Live for the Sun. They disbanded in 1967 and their singer/songwriter/drummer, Rick Henn, went on to compose songs with Brian Wilson.
By early 1965, the pressures of composing, producing and constant touring proved too much for Brian, who was also suffering from hearing loss in one ear, and he had a nervous breakdown. Brian decided to stop touring with the group. He was briefly replaced with Glen Campbell and then by Bruce Johnston.
Brian began working full-time in the studio, enlisting top session musicians to record backing tracks and then having the other members of the Beach Boys add vocals. The result was the number one single, Help Me Rhonda, and the album, Beach Boys Today, which set a new standard for rock music production quality.
In late 1965, the Beatles released their Rubber Soul album which raised the standard again. Brian decided that he would outdo the Beatles. He spent six months creating an album depicting a young man's growth to emotional maturity which is still one the best produced rock LPs ever. The album, Pet Sounds, was a critical success but a commercial failure, barely reaching the top ten and being the first Beach Boys LP not to be awarded a gold record.
Pet Sounds (1965)
From late 1966, Brian began to work feverishly on the Beach Boys next album which he intended to be his masterpiece. Brian started using marijuana and LSD, arguing that it was a necessary part of the coming psychedelic era, and working with lyricist Van Dyke Parkes. The other members of the group became increasingly hostile to Brian's behaviour and to Parkes' eccentric lyrics. The project dragged on to mid-1967 when the Beatles released their masterpiece, Sgt Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band. Brian was so disheartened that he also stopped work on his project. The group eventually cobbled together the album Smiley Smile which, after the great expectations that had been built up, all but destroyed their reputation.
The group continued to produce albums, with many of the songs written by other members of the band, while Brian increasing became a recluse in his mansion. The group's recordings had only limited success but their oldies-oriented live act made them one of the leading concert bands of the early seventies (rivalled only by the Rolling Stones).
In 1976, Brian returned to the band with a few songs on the album 15 Big Ones and a major part in the next album Love You. In 1981, Carl left the group to pursue a solo career but rejoined them the following year. In 1982, Brian was removed from the group after he became very obese but rejoined them in 1983 after Dennis' death by accidental drowning.
In the mid-eighties, Brian again quit the group to produce a solo album and autobiography in collaboration with his psychiatrist, Eugene Landy, who had effectively taken over his life. In an effort to force Landy out of Brian's life, the group sued Brian for defamation. Landy was eventually investigated by the California Board of Medical Quality and forced to surrender his licence to practice as a therapist.
By the early nineties, Brian was again back with the Beach Boys. A new studio album was being planned when, in 1998, Carl died of cancer. The group splintered into three, with Brian Wilson performing solo, the "official" Beach Boys led by Mike Love and the "Beach Boys Family and Friends" led by Al Jardine.
The Beach Boys featured in two movies:
- The Girls on the Beach (1965)
- The Beach Boys - An American Band (1985) (documentary)
Beach Boys (1970)