W is for the Wilson Brothers of the Beach Boys

In 1974, Capitol Records issued Endless Summer, the Beach Boys’ 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 Billboard album charts.

Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al, Brian
Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al, Brian

Murry Wilson was an entrepreneur, but he also had an interest in music, which he passed along to his sons, Brian, Dennis, and Carl, sharing his love of the tight harmonies of groups such as the Four Freshmen. He became their business manager, finagling for their group, which also included his nephew, Mike Love, and the brothers’ friend, Al Jardine (replaced briefly by David Marks), a recording contract with Capitol Records. He was a great motivator, though considered abusive.

But it was not the group, or Murry, who dubbed the group the Beach Boys. That was done by some record company employee, to capitalize on the band’s surf sound that was so popular. Ironic, since only Dennis knew how to surf.

Links to all songs; chart action is for US (Billboard).

Surfin’, #75 in 1962
Surfin’ Safari, #14 in 1962
Surfin’ USA, #3 in #1963
Surfer Girl #7 in 1963

They gained some big success, even after the British Invasion.

Dance, Dance, Dance, #9 in 1964

But Brian, arguably the creative force behind the band, tired of the road, preferring the safety of the studio. It was in this period the group put out the legendary Pet Sounds album:

Caroline, No, #32 in 1966 (billed as by Brian Wilson)
Sloop John B, #3 in 1966
Here’s the whole album.

Brian was replaced on the road, briefly by Glen Campbell, but more permanently by Bruce Johnston, who participated in the studio as well. Despite some decent albums, the group went into commercial decline by the end of the decade, with Brian’s participation spotty in the early 1970s, with his brothers and the others picking up the slack.

Long Promised Road, #89 in 1971

A funny thing happened 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 Billboard album charts. It was the group’s first multi-million selling record since ‘Good Vibrations’, and remained on the album chart for three years. The following year, Capitol released a second compilation, Spirit of America, which also sold well.” The new success of the old music brought Brian back to the fore and released some new music.

Rock and Roll Music, #5 in 1976

One of my favorite Beach Boys stories:

From 1980 through 1982, The Beach Boys and The Grass Roots separately performed at Independence Day concerts at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., attracting large crowds. In April 1983, [James Watt, Secretary of the Interior] banned the concerts, on the ground that the “rock bands”… had encouraged drug use and alcoholism, and had attracted “the wrong element”… Watt then announced that Las Vegas singer Wayne Newton, a friend and an endorser of President Reagan and a contributor to the Republican Party, would perform at the Independence Day celebration at the mall in 1983…. Vice President George H. W. Bush said of The Beach Boys, “They’re my friends, and I like their music”. Watt apologized to The Beach Boys after learning that President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan were fans of the band. Nancy Reagan apologized for Watt. The White House staff gave Watt a plaster foot with a hole for his “having shot himself in the foot”.

Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983. Carl Wilson died in 1998; I was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in May 1998 when it had a nice tribute to the Carls Perkins and Wilson; the band was inducted into the Rock Hall back in 1988.

The subsequent relationships within the group became more complicated than I need to explain here, but involving multiple bands. There was, though, a new album, featuring Love, Jardine, Marks, Johnston, and Brian Wilson in 2012, and a short-lived tour, the length of which Mike Love may (or may not) have been unfairly vilified.

I linked to a bunch of my favorite Beach Boys songs a couple of years ago, for Brian’s 70th birthday.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

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