The Beach Boys: Members, Albums & Songs

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Practically everybody has heard of the Beach Boys. They're one of the most famous rock bands in US history. In this lesson, we'll explore their lives, careers, and biggest hits and see how they impacted the musical scene.

The Beach Boys

Hot sun, warm sand, blue water, and a freshly-waxed surfboard. Sounds like you're all set for summer. There's just one thing missing: the classic sounds of the Beach Boys. The world's preeminent surfing-themed rock band, the Beach Boys were one of the most innovative and influential musical groups of the 1960s. They sold over 100 million records, placed 36 songs on the US Top 40 charts (more than nearly any other band in history), and have three members in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Beach Boys captured the spirit of a generation, and have come to embody a nostalgic appeal for the promise of a bygone era.


Formation and Early Years

So, who exactly are the Beach Boys themselves? In 1961, the brothers Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, and Carl Wilson formed a band with their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. Based in Hawthorne, California, the group started playing local gigs under names like the Pendletons, Kenny and the Cadets, or Carl and the Cadets. They worked on developing their own sound, influenced by jazz, rock, and doo-wop music of the 1950s. Dennis, a regular surfer, prompted Mike and Brian to write their first surfing song, called Surfin' , which became a regional hit. At that time, the band had begun calling themselves the Beach Boys.

The Wilson brothers' father, Murray, took on the role of the band's manager. Although he was later found to be physically and psychologically abusive, he got them a record contract with Capitol. The band found a consistent sound under the musical genius of Brian Wilson, who was effectively the band's leader and writer of most of their songs. With Capitol, the Beach Boys started gaining a reputation. Surfin' Safari made it to number 14 on the top 100 list in 1962, with Surfer Girl reaching number 7 and Surfin' USA hitting number 3 in 1963. Brian continued to take a larger role in the band's success, with Surfer Girl being the first song he wrote and produced.

The Beach Boys in 1963


Between 1963 and 1965, the Beach Boys continued to top the charts with songs like Be True to Your School; Fun, Fun, Fun; and California Girls. They had come to represent a new style of rock music, called the California Sound or California Rock. Their songs embodied early 60s youth culture- focusing on surfing, girls, cars, and the mixed optimism and angst of growing up.

However, they were also noted for their innovative approach to music, largely thanks to Brian Wilson's talent as both a songwriter and producer. The watershed year, however, came in 1966. In that year, the Beach Boys released the album Pet Sounds, featuring songs like Wouldn't It Be Nice. Wilson's innovative use of studio experimentation to create the unique sounds and layers of the album is seen as one of the most significant events in rock music of the decade. In fact, even The Beatles later acknowledged that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was inspired by Pet Sounds.

Brian Wilson

The other major event of 1966 was the release of the Beach Boys' hit single Good Vibrations. Good Vibrations (which hit number one on the charts in 1966) is generally regarded as Brian Wilson's magnum opus, a song that both embodied the California Sound as well as engaged with the emerging psychedelic and counterculture waves of the late 60s. It took Wilson six months to produce the song, bringing in exotic instruments ranging from the harpsichord to theremin. It was one of the most innovative, influential and successful songs of the decade.

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