THE BEACH BOYS 50th ENDLESS SUMMER
By Don Graham
For a kid from the Great White North in the sixties, California was just a name on the map, a place where the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Lords of Flatbush had deserted New York for. And “Surf ‘was the name of a popular laundry detergent.
Then along came the Wilson brothers, Brian, Carl and Dennis with their cousin Mike Love and good friend Al Jardine, all from Hawthorne, California, singing songs about waves, surfing and California sun. Suddenly my bedroom with my stereophonic, hi-fidelity record player blasting out these hot new sounds, was sunny, hot and filled with beach sounds, even in the middle of February at 15 below zero (F), and snow up to the second story window.
The Beach Boys quickly became known as “America’s Band” and Brian Wilson’s songwriting style and love of harmony soon became the signature of the California sound of surfing,cars and high school romance. Brian was a big fan of the Four Freshman and at 16 was teaching his brothers the intricate harmonies that would help define The Beach Boys sound. What the Everly Brothers did for two part harmony, the brothers and Al and Mike did for five part harmonies. They are the watermark for harmony parts for all vocal groups today. As the Everlys influenced the Beatles so did the Beach Boys influence a generation of it’s own.
And now 28 albums, 36 top 40, 56 top 100 records and 50 years later The Beach Boys are back with a new 2012 release “That’s Why God Made the Radio”. Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Mike Love have survived, while brothers Dennis (1983) and Carl (1998) have passed. Five decades later they are still making relevant music.
The group started off in a typical fashion for a band in the sixties. Through a series of friendships, blood relations and coincidences the five man group of Brian, Dennis, Carl, Mike and Al came together and were originally named The Pendeltones, after the brand name of the striped shirts popular in the time period. Dennis was the only brother who surfed and he suggested that his brothers write some songs to celebrate his hobby and the lifestyle it spawned in Southern California.
Father Murry (correct spelling) Wilson arranged an audition for The Pendeltones with Hite and Dorinda Morgan, local music publishers. When a ballad they performed failed to impress them, Dennis suggested that they play a new song they were working on called “ Surfin’ ”. Brian said it wasn’t finished and was told to come back when it was. With the help of Mike Love, Brian finished it and brought it back to the Morgans. Hite Morgan deemed it a hit and so they went into the cramped quarters of Morgan’s offices and recorded “ Surfin’ ”. When the boys eagerly opened the pressed records on the Candix label, they were shocked at the name on the label. Expecting to see The Pendeltones they instead saw The Beach Boys. Apparently a young promo man had decided that The Beach Boys would give them a better chance at success. The budget wasn’t there to re-press so it was released as The Beach Boys. That was late 1961 and Murry, although not a fan of surfing music, sensed there was money to be made and the name was kept. The record was a moderate success peaking at #75 but by early 1962, on the strength of a rough demo,The Beach Boys were signed to Capitol Records. By November of that year their first album “Surfin’ Safari” was released. Surfing was a big part of The Beach Boys repertoire, but so were other Golden State pursuits like hot rods and the freedom of being young in the state of perpetual summer in California. “Little Deuce Coupe”, “409”. “Shut Down “I Get Around”, “ Fun, Fun Fun” and “ Be True To Your School” are some of the songs that got The Beach Boys started and burned into the psyches of the sixties youth.
By 1964, Brian was starting to suffer from the anxiety attacks and stress disorders that would plaque him for the rest of his life and was replaced on tour by a session guitarist named Glen Campbell on bass. Campbell remained with the band through ’64 and ’65 until his own career demanded that he leave to pursue his television and recording schedules.
The Beach Boys toured Canada in the sixties and Canada’s answer to the Beatles, J.B and the Playboys from Montreal had the opportunity to open for them on several occasions. Bill Hill, Playboys lead guitarist and currently co-owner of Montreal’s Chestnut Tree Productions, was reached at his studio and remembers those dates fondly. “We opened for them quite a few times and at different stages of their incarnations. I remember Glen Campbell being the bass player a couple times and then later Bruce Johnston was in the band. Bruce wrote the Barry Manilow hit “I Write the Songs.” We got to open for quite a few big names back then, the Dave Clark Five and a host of others. The Beach Boys were one of nicest bunch of guys. They had a ton of hits but treated us like equals. I still remember walking by their dressing room and hearing them do vocal warm ups singing Beatle songs in five part harmony. Amazing!!”
By the mid-1960s, Brian's creative ambition and songwriting would dominate the group's musical direction. The primarily Brian-composed Pet Sounds album and "Good Vibrations" single (both released in 1966) featured a complex, intricate and multi-layered sound.
In 1974, Capitol Records issued Endless Summer, the band's first major pre-Pet Sounds Greatest Hits package. The record sleeve's sunny, colorful graphics caught the mood of the nation and surged to the top of the album charts, a first for the band. It was the group's first multi-million selling record since "Good Vibrations", and remained on the album Charts for three years. The following year, Capitol Records released another compilation, “Spirit of America” which also sold well. With these compilations, The Beach Boys became one of the most popular acts in rock, propelling themselves from being the opening act for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to headliners selling out arenas in a matter of weeks. Rolling Stone magazine named The Beach Boys the "Band of the Year" for 1974, solely on the basis of their juggernaut touring schedule and material written over a decade earlier.
The group is also one of America's best-selling acts, having sold over 100 million albums worldwide since their debut in 1962. Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Also by 1988, Brian Wilson had officially left The Beach Boys. It was during this period, however, the band unexpectedly scored their first number-one hit single in 22 years with "Kokomo", which had appeared in the movie Cocktail. Written by John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Mike Love, and Terry Melcher, the song managed to become the band's largest selling single of all time.
And now in 2012, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group’s inception, a new studio album, (#29) “That’s Why God Made the Radio”, reunites the surviving members, Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine as well as Bruce Johnston and long time collaborator David Marks. This is actually the first record Marks appeared on since “Little Deuce Coupe.”
The twelve track album is a lot like a high school reunion and the blend and sound of the vocals is incredibly youthful. “That’s Why God Made the Radio”, the first single off the CD, is remarkable in that it fits today’s sound but also could have released 50 years ago and blended in back then as well.
So if you can’t wax down your surfboard and rev up your little deuce coupe to head out on a surfing safari, then pick up a copy of “That’s Why God Made the Radio” and transport yourself, if not in body then a least in spirit, to the world the Endless Summer and the incomparable Beach Boys!
Editor’s Note: ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio’ is available thru iTunes. Visit the Jukebox and listen to Beach Boy hits @ http://www.tropicalglen.com/Jukebox/Groups/BeachBoys/Tribute.html