An American musical institution, The Beach Boys parlayed a repertoire of songs about surfing, cars, and girls into the basis for one of the country’s longest-lasting success stories.
The group formed in Hawthorne, California, in 1961 and included brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. Mike Love sang most of the leads while Brian led on many ballads. Dennis and Al also led on various songs.
The group started out as Kenny and The Cadets, Carl and The Passions, and finally The Pendletones (named after an “in” shirtmaker at that time). Brian, who was a fan of George Gershwin, Stephen Foster, and The Four Freshmen, began teaching the others intricate Freshmen-styled harmonies. Murray Wilson, father of the three brothers and a sometime songwriter, took the boys to his publisher Hite Morgan, who in turn took the group to Keen Recording Studios. Dennis, as the only member of the group who surfed, thought the sport would be a good subject for a song and suggested it to Brian. Brian then wrote “Surfin’” and with Mike wrote “Surfin’ Safari,” the songs they made into demos on a fall day in 1961.
Murray then took the demos to Herb Newman, who owned Candix and Era Records. On December 8, Newman signed the group, and Era’s promo man Russ Regan (later president of 20th Century Fox Records) suggested they change their name to The Beach Boys. (The group wanted The Pendletones and Candix wanted The Surfers; Regan pointed out there already was a group called The Surfers.) In December 1961 “Surfin’” by The Beach Boys was issued on X Records (Morgan’s Label) as a promo issue and on Candix.
Wilson steered the group to huge success around the world, and they scored a string of international hits between 1962 and 1966, including pop classics such as “Surfi’' USA”, “Fun, Fun, Fun”, “I Get Around”, “Help Me Rhonda”, “California Girls”, and “Good Vibrations”.
Until 1967, their international success and popularity put them among the world’s biggest acts of the time, such as the Beatles, who later cited Wilson’s work as a major influence.
Wilson’s creativity reached its apex during the mid-1960s with the Pet Sounds album (which, according to Paul McCartney, was an inspiration for The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), and many critics and music polls have named it one of the greatest pop albums ever recorded.
This was immediately followed by their biggest chart success, the million-selling number one hit single, “Good Vibrations”, which set new standards for pop-rock production and is still regarded as one of the seminal pop recordings of the era. Wilson then began work on a new album, originally called Dumb Angel, but soon re-titled SMiLE, on which he collaborated with lyricist Van Dyke Parks.
However, the combination of resistance from within the group and Wilson’s own growing personal problems led to the cancellation of the project in mid-1967.
Following a breakdown Wilson descended into mental illness and drug abuse in the late Sixties and 1970s. He partially recovered to try a career as a solo artist in the 1980s, with limited success. Wilson quit working with The Beach Boys on a regular basis after the release of The Beach Boys in 1985.
His final release as part of the group was on the 1996’s Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, a group collaboration with select country music artists singing the lead vocals.
Brian released a solo album, Brian Wilson, in 1988 and a memoir, Wouldn’t It Be Nice - My Own Story, in which he spoke for the first time about his troubled relationship with his father and his “lost years” of mental illness. The book was taken out of press some years later.
After considerable mental recovery, he released a second solo album, Imagination, in 1998 to some appreciation. Following this, he learned to cope with his stage fright and started to play live for the first time in decades, to great success, going on to play the whole Pet Sounds album live on his tours of the USA, UK and Europe. He now tours regularly as a solo act.
A new studio album, Gettin' in Over My Head, features collaborations with Elton John, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and his deceased brother, Carl Wilson. It was released in June of 2004. Eric Clapton played on the track, “City Blues”.
In September 2004, a re-recorded version of his previously shelved SMiLE album was released. The album had reached mythic proportions within Beach Boys’ fandom, and the 1966/1967 sessions had been heavily bootlegged. The 2004 recording featured his touring band, which consists of former Beach Boys’ guitarist Jeff Foskett and members of the Wondermints on vocals and instruments, and is classed as a Brian Wilson solo album. Notably, the song “Good Vibrations” featured Tony Asher’s original lyrics rather than Mike Love’s revised lyrics from the 1966 single version of the song. The album was both a critical and a financial success.
Wilson won a Grammy award for best rock instrumental for the SMiLE track, “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (Fire)”. He released a two-DVD "Smile" set, consisting of a documentary and a live presentation of the work. He planned a tour for the second half of 2005, as well as a Christmas album for Arista Records, called What I Really Want for Christmas.
Though no longer a part of The Beach Boys touring band, Brian Wilson remains a member of The Beach Boys Corporation.