Why Do The Beach Boys Get Swept Away?

When we talk about the most influential bands of the ’60s, why do the Beach Boys get swept away by the wave of Beatlemania or get rolled by the Stones?

Beach Boys Lineup
Image courtesy of The Beach Boys website

During the ’60s, the Beach Boys seemed to have caught a wave, sitting on not just the top of the Billboard charts, but also the world. So why is it that “America’s band” from Hawthorne, California is rarely mentioned when talking about the great rock bands of the mid-20th century?

Comprised of brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, cousin Mike Love (uncle of NBA superstar Kevin Love) and friend Al Jardine, the Beach Boys’ first commercial hit was “Surfin’,” a two-minute ode to (you guessed it) surfing.

From there, the Beach Boys took off with songs like “Surfin’ USA,” “I Get Around” and “California Girls,” among others, detailing the car culture as well as California’s innocence and sun-streaked beaches.

During this time, the Beach Boys were everywhere and the world became enthralled with California culture. Soon, something would land on the shores of America that would shift the attention from sun-kissed California girls to four Brits with mop tops.

In 1964, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison made their way onto “The Ed Sullivan Show” and sang five songs in front of millions of screaming fans. Not only did a record 73 million people watch the Beatles in their first American appearance, but it also opened the door for other groups to penetrate the American Billboard charts.

Thus began the British Invasion. Groups such as The Who, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks arrived in the U.S. and changed the landscape of rock music forever. Compared to the rock bands already in the U.S., they had a harsher sound and dirtier image.

With the Beatles leading the charge, this effectively spelled the end of surf music, the genre that the Beach Boys were most known for and the one that they put on the map.

Considered by many music critics to be one of the best, if not the best, album of all time, “Pet Sounds” was an extreme departure from the surf music that the Beach Boys were known for.

As Brian Wilson, the de facto leader of the Beach Boys, listened to the Beatles and their style of music, he knew that he had to change in order to stay relevant.

“The one that really got me was “Rubber Soul,” Wilson said in his memoir. “Rubber Soul” is probably the greatest record ever. [It] sent me right to the piano bench.”

What would follow is perhaps the Beach Boys’ — but more so Wilson’s — magnum opus: “Pet Sounds.” Considered by many music critics to be one of the best, if not the best, album of all time, “Pet Sounds” was an extreme departure from the surf music that the Beach Boys were known for.

This is best heard in the song “God Only Knows.” This sappy love song features instrumentation not typically heard in rock songs; there are subtle gradations throughout the song in terms of harmony and rhythm. McCartney has stated before that “God Only Knows” is his favorite song due to the aforementioned complexities.

Though “Pet Sounds” was not a critical success, the album found global success as it influenced acts from all over the world. The Beatles, for example, began experimenting with sounds and instruments not typically seen in the recording studio.

Considering how “Pet Sounds” and “Good Vibrations” stand among music critics, why is it that mainstream audiences don’t consider the Beach Boys to be one of the more influential rock groups of the ‘60s?

This eventually culminated into perhaps the Beach Boys’ most famous composition, “Good Vibrations.” “Good Vibrations” was the first of its time, with a multitude of instruments creating a “pocket symphony” vibe. Production cost anywhere between $50,000 to $75,000 in 1965 (equivalent to almost $400,000 to $600,000 today) and Wilson used Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production technique to its fullest.

Furthermore, according to AllMusic’s John Bush, the song’s riff changes, echo-chamber effects and intricate harmonies announced the coming of the pop-experimentation era. Former Atlantic Records executive Phillip Rauls has said that “Good Vibrations’” use of the theremin caused many musicians to try and create music on acid, to see if they could replicate the song’s complexity.

As a result, “Good Vibrations” is considered to be the sixth greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. Considering how “Pet Sounds” and “Good Vibrations” stand among music critics, why is it that mainstream audiences don’t consider the Beach Boys to be one of the more influential rock groups of the ‘60s?

Is it because the Beach Boys are primarily known as a surf-rock group that sang about cars, girls and surfing? Or is it because the group is comprised of five white guys who didn’t seem like the typical rock-and-rollers, with their tucked in polo shirts and neatly combed hair?

Whatever the case may be, the Beach Boys should be included in the pantheon with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others. Their impact on rock music, pop music, how music is produced and music as a whole, is undeniable. Many artists have been influenced by them, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Flaming Lips and of course, The Beatles.

Besides, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” to have all those “Good Vibrations” back? “I Know There’s An Answer” but “God Only Knows” what that answer is.

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