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Rockphiles Artist Profile

The Beach Boys

Hawthorne, an unremarkable, middle-class community about 20 miles south of Los Angeles was the 1950s home of the Wilson family. Murray Wilson and his wife had three sons, Brian, Dennis and Carl. Murray was a frustrated song-plugger and sometime musician, driven and reportedly abusive. His sons - Dennis who liked to surf, Carl a footballer, and Brian, sensitive and musically talented - stepped carefully around him. Possessor of an explosive temper, Murray Wilson once struck Brian so hard that he impaired Brian's hearing on a permanent basis. Brian sought escape in a passion for popular music, and in particular the male harmony vocal acts of the day, such as the Four Freshmen.

As a family activity and encouraged by Murray, the Wilson boys would get together and sing. Cousin Mike Love joined the vocal get-togethers. A football friend of Mike Love's, Al Jardine, was added. An extraordinary vocal blend was born.

Care of Murray, instruments were rented, studio time was procured and, in 1960, a novelty record on the Candix label, called "Surfin'" by the Pendeltones, (the Beach Boys initial name), saw some minor chart action. It was enough for Murray to hustle a deal with Capitol Records.

In 1962, Surfin' Safari, the first album, with its attendant hit single, was released. By happy coincidence, the surf sound was breaking out, and the Beach Boys rode the wave. Al Jardine, who had been away at college, rejoined the band in 1963 for the album Surfer Girl, which also produced "Little Deuce Coupe" and the musically sophisticated, Phil Spector-influenced "In My Room."

It was at this point that Brian begged off touring and was ultimately replaced by Bruce Johnston. Brian now turned his attention to the studio full-time. That same year, with Brian now the band's producer and songwriter, the Beach Boys had five albums simultaneously on the charts. "Help Me Rhonda" was the next chart-topper, followed by the anthemic "California Girls," and the unexpected hit "Barbara Ann," named after a local bakery.

The release of the Beatles' Rubber Soul in 1966 spurred Brian to greater creativity. The result was the classic Pet Sounds, still considered one of the Beach Boys' finest works. That same year the Beach Boys also released the hit single "Good Vibrations," a tour de force of production and vocal harmony work, with Brian producing and arranging in tandem with a new friend and associate, Virginia-born musical wunderkind Van Dyke Parks. The single cost Capitol $50,000 to record, a huge amount for those days, and Brian spent 18 months completing the project, moving from one L.A. studio to another. However, in its first four days of release, the single sold 400,000 copies, and Capitol stopped complaining.

Brian continued to work and write with Van Dyke, but he was making a major artistic departure away from the Beach Boys initial direction of fun, sun and simplicity. The rest of the Beach Boys were concerned at Brian's consumption of LSD and marijuana, and didn't "get" Van Dyke. Brian felt he was being creatively held back. During this period of artistic struggle, lasting through 1969, the Beach Boys released albums Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends, and the single "Heroes and Villains," but the schism between the band members continued to widen. Tours continued, but Brian began a withdrawal into his own world, spending more and more time isolated at home.

In 1970, after a final 1969 release with Capitol, 20/20, the Beach Boys switched to Reprise, releasing the successful Sunflower album, followed by Surf's Up in 1971. Dennis injured his hand during the recording sessions and was replaced by Ricky Fataar on drums and Blondie Chaplin on guitar, both South African musicians.

The Beach Boys slid into a career rut during the 70s. They continued to tour, and to put out mostly mediocre records, while Brian's mental condition worsened. To add insult to injury, Capitol Records, their old label, repackaged and released a double Beach Boys' album called Endless Summer, which was a huge hit for the label, remaining on the charts for three years, going gold, and from which the Beach Boys received no benefit whatsoever. Demoralized and somewhat directionless, with Brian spending almost no time outside his bedroom, the Beach Boys shuffled despondently through the rest of the 70s, and into the 80s, leaving a scattered trail of mostly meaningless recordings and the air thick with rancor between the band members.

In 1983, the tragic drowning death of Dennis Wilson came as a severe wake-up call to the remaining members of the band. By this time, Brian had fallen under the spell of Dr. Eugene Landy, a psychiatrist of dubious reputation and bizarre behavioral therapies. Gene moved in on Brian with all the energy of Rasputin targeting the Romanovs. He did succeed in getting him out in public once more, but Gene also had his own private agenda, and appeared to be as affixed to Brian as a limpet mine to the hull of a battleship. He wrote a book with Brian, wrote songs with Brian, and was generally disliked as a parasite by everyone close to Brian. Finally, the Beach Boys sued Brian, mostly to get Landy out of the way, and Mike Love then sued Brian over songwriting royalties. With Landy effectively out of the way and the tension between Brian and Mike in abeyance, the Beach Boys headed into the 1990s.

Although the inter-band disputes which had become a way of life continued, the Beach Boys toured on through the early 90s. Brian remarried and continued to emerge from his cocoon, writing once more with Mike Love in 1995, and releasing a country album, Stars & Stripes Vol. 1, featuring the Beach Boys and Brian singing backing vocals. Disney produced and aired a TV documentary about Brian, featuring Brian singing a few Beach Boys classics. Then tragedy struck the Wilson family once more, as the easygoing and likeable Carl Wilson died of cancer in 1998, leaving the still fragile Brian as the last remaining Wilson brother.

Somehow, Brian kept things together and tentatively went on with the stage and the studio, supported by friends and family, buoyed by a realization of his importance to rock music. He continues appearances as a solo, while Al Jardine tours as the Beach Boys Family and Mike Love tours with the "official" Beach Boys.

In the continuing tradition of Beach Boys litigation, Al Jardine recently won an appeal that now allows him to sue Mike, Brian, the Carl Wilson Trust, Brother Records and other related parties for breach of fiduciary duty.

© 2004