When asked to name a band they associate with summer, most people - regardless of age – are likely to point to The Beach Boys.
Their breezy, harmonic music is perfect for a sitting in the sun sipping a cocktail – they’ve even got “beach” in their name for crying out loud.
On Tuesday co-founder of The Beach Boys and the man largely recognised as the driving force behind their early work, Brian Wilson, turns 81.
In this week’s Life In Songs we take a look at the band’s long career as we attempt to tell their story through their own songs, as well as highlighting some of their influences which can still be felt today.
There’s something of a theme to the early Beach Boys LPs, the first three of which are called Surfin’ Safari, Surfin’ USA and Surfer Girl. The band’s first single fits the theme nicely, though no-one can even agree who really wrote it. It’s fair to say the group weren’t making waves yet.
Surfin’ USA (Surfin’ USA, 1963)
The real breakthrough came with another surfing song, a reworked and rewritten version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Sixteen’. It became The Beach Boys’ first top 10 hit and remains one of their best-known songs and has featured in everything from Rush Hour to Teen Wolf.
I Get Around (All Summer Long, 1964)
If ‘Surfin’ USA’ brought unexpected success then ‘I Get Around’ was the reaction: “my buddies and me are getting real well-known”. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2017 and has been covered by groups as varied as Pennywise, Ten Masked Men and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
California Girls (Summer Days and Summer Nights, 1965)
Allegedly conceived by Wilson the first time he took LSD, he himself has named it as the quintessential Beach Boys song. As with many of their tracks its authorship is disputed: Mike Love was awarded a song writing credit in 1990 after a legal battle and said he wrote “every syllable” aside from “I wish they all could be California girls”.
Wouldn’t It Be Nice (Pet Sounds, 1965)
There are very few who would argue with the assertion that Pet Sounds was the Beach Boys’ high point. It’s frequently cited as one of the first concept albums, meaning The Wall, Ziggy Stardust, American Idiot and good kid, m.A.A.d city can trace their lineage back to it. ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ was recorded with 16 studio musicians, and took close to three months to complete.
God Only Knows (Pet Sounds, 1966)
The definitive song on the band’s definitive album. Paul McCartney described it as “the greatest song ever written”, Bono as “fact and proof of angels” and Barry Gibb pointed to ‘God Only Knows’ as what the Bee Gees had been trying to get close to for their entire career.
Heroes and Villains (Smiley Smile, 1967)
By the late 1960s the Beach Boys were deeply uncool, so much so that it was rumoured their decision to pull out of the Monterey Pop Festival at the last minute was to avoid comparison to the likes of The Who and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix himself described ‘Heroes and Villains’ as “a psychedelic barbershop quartet” and Smiley Smile was panned by contemporary critics.
Don’t Go Near The Water (Surf’s Up, 1971)
The group would eventually return to critical and commercial acclaim, just as they returned to the surfing theme. Surf’s Up saw the band take a more activist stance with ‘Don’t Go Near The Water’ telling the listener NOT to surf due to the polluted state of the water.
Endless Harmony (Keepin’ The Summer Alive, 1980)
Conflict within the group and Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental ill-health saw The Beach boys listless as the 1980s dawned. Keepin’ The Summer Alive, the last album to be recorded with Dennis Wilson before his death by drowning, is generally accepted as the nadir but this song, the final track, has something of the old magic.
Summer’s Gone (That’s Why God Made The Radio, 2012)
Almost certainly the last ever Beach Boys album, That’s Why God Made the Radio is a fitting epitaph if not quite reaching the heights of the group’s best work. ‘Summer’s Gone’, with Brian Wilson on lead vocals, is easily the best thing on it and ends with the lines: “We laugh, we cry/We live then die/And dream about our yesterday”.
Wilson and the Beach Boys’ influence on popular music is still apparent today – here are five songs that wouldn’t exist without him.
Paperback Writer (The Beatles, 1966)
The Beatles and The Beach Boys had something of a rivalry in the 1960s but a respectful one. ‘Back In The USSR’ directly lifts from ‘California Girls’ in the bridge and McCartney said ‘Paperback Writer’ was consciously written to sound like Wilson and co.
Rockaway Beach (The Ramones, 1977)
The Ramones are among those who have cited Brian Wilson and co as an influence and Dee Dee Ramone consciously looked to emulate The Beach Boys on this cut from Rocket To Russia.
Sparky’s Dream (Teenage Fanclub, 1995)
The Beach Boys are credited as pioneers of the power-pop genre and you won’t find many better examples than this track by Bellshill’s own Teenage Fanclub.
Island In The Sun (Weezer, 2001)
Rivers Cuomo and co have been open about the foundational influence of The Beach Boys on Weezer, and even named a song after the group after them on 2017’s Pacific Daydream. Their best “Beach Boys with distortion” moment came in the form of ‘Island In The Sun’ though.
Feeling This (Blink-182, 2003)
Blink-182 probably aren’t the first band you think of when someone says The Beach Boys, but bassist Mark Hoppus has named Pet Sounds as his favourite album and you can hear that influence on the chorus harmonies of this career highlight.