The group began as Kenny and the Cadets, Carl and the Passions, and finally the Pendletones. Brian, a fan of The Four Freshman , began teaching the others intricate Freshman styled harmonies. Murray Wilson, the father of the brothers and a frustrated songwriter, suggested that the boys approach his publisher, Hite Morgan, who owned a small recording and publishing company called Guild Music. The group intended to audition with some old favorites, but Morgan told them that they needed some original material to get recorded.
Dennis Wilson, the group's drummer, was hooked on the sport of surfing and suggested to Brian that it would be a good subject for a song. Brian researched the lyrics by talking to surfers at Los Angeles beaches, then wrote "Surfin" and with Mike's help, "Surfin' Safari". The songs were made into demos which Hite Morgan took to Joe Saraceno, the artists-and-repertoire man for Candix Records. He in turn played the tapes for Ross Regan, who worked at Buckeye Record Distributors. Regan thought the band sounded like another local group, Jan And Dean and suggested that the group change their name to suit the subject of their songs. "Something like the Lifeguards or The Beach Bums...something to do with the beach. I got it! Why don't you name them the Beach Boys."
In December 1961, "Surfin'" was issued on X Records as a promo. The catchy melody and youthful subject caught the attention of local teenagers and by February, 1962, "Surfin" hit Billboard's pop chart, starting at #118 and eventually reaching #75, selling over 50,000 copies. Having a hit record brought the group better bookings and on New Year's eve, they performed at the Long Beach Municipal Stadium in a memorial concert for Ritchie Valens. They were paid three hundred dollars.
A future in music seemed like a shaky choice and in February 1962 Al Jardine left to study dentistry. On February 8th, Brian, Dennis, and Val Poliuto of the Jaguars recorded six songs for Hite Morgan's Deck Records. In May, Candix went out of business and Murray Wilson, who had appointed himself as the group's manager, began taking their demos around to other labels. Several passed on the group, but Capitol's Nick Venet liked the demo of "Surfin' Surfari" and signed the boys in June. A master of "Surfin' Safari" was recorded with new member, David Marks, who had replaced Al Jardine. Marks was a 14 year old guitarist who's family lived across the street from the Wilson clan. By August 11, 1962 "Surfin' Surfari" reached #14 and the flip side "409" charted at #76. "Surfin' Safari" marked the beginning of the unique harmonies the group would become known for. This was a new kind of Rock 'n' Roll with Chuck Berry style rhythms and Four Freshman harmony.
The band's next release, "Surfin' U.S.A." written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, was so close to Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" that his lawsuit got him sole writing credits. By May 25th it had reached number three in the U.S.A., being denied the top spot by Jan And Dean's "Surf City", which was written by their friend Brian Wilson. The flip side of "Surfin' U.S.A, a hotrod song called "Shutdown", reached number twenty-three.
The next surfing / drag racing two sider was the groups' first ballad, "Surfer Girl" (#7 Pop, #18 R&B), along with "Little Deuce Coupe" (#15 Pop). The group's popularity was such that two Brian Wilson produced albums, released almost simultaneous, hit the Top Ten on Billboard's album chart; "Surfer Girl" (#7) and "Little Deuce Coupe" (#4).
In early 1963, Murray Wilson put the band on the road for a relentless string of concerts across America, but Brian became more and more resentful of the time away from home. He began missing concert dates, so many that Murray felt he had to bring in some help for live shows and called on Al Jardine to rejoin the group. For a time, both Jardine and David Marks toured with the Beach Boys, but continuing friction between Marks and Murray caused David to quit the band. He would go on to form his own group, David Marks And The Marksmen, which lasted only about a year before he joined Casey Kasem's group, Band Without A Name. Later, David worked as a studio musician with The Turtles before leaving show business.
The Beach Boy's next single, "Be True to Your School" reached number six on December 21, 1963. The song featured the march "On Wisconsin" and the cheerleading in the background was provided by three friends of the Wilson's, Barbara, Marilyn and Diane Rovell, who called themselves The Honeys. The flip side, "In My Room", which Brian recorded with studio musicians instead of the rest of The Beach Boys, went to number twenty-three.
The band's amazing success continued as one of their best rocker's "Fun, Fun, Fun" with Mike Love on lead vocal, reached number five on March 21, 1964. Brian and Mike had written the song after they heard Dennis say of his latest girlfriend, "we'll have fun 'til her daddy takes the T-Bird away."
Their records consistently reached the top ten, but it took a song that was written by Brian and Mike in a taxi en route to the Salt Lake City airport to make it to number one. In early June of 1964, "I Get Around" hit the top spot in the nation and was quickly followed by two more top ten hits, "When I Grow Up" at #9 and "Dance, Dance, Dance" at #8.
The demands to tour and produce more hit records was overwhelming and the next album would accomplish both. "The Beach Boys Concert" album, recorded in Sacramento, California, became the first 'live' album to top the charts. Murray Wilson however, never seemed to let up on the constant pressure he put on the band. He was a demanding and intimidating man who insisted on controlling the group's every move. Without his knowledge, the band reportedly sat him behind a studio mixing board that wasn't actually hooked up, to keep him harmlessly occupied.
Brian was a rather shy person by nature and finally cracked under the strain. On December 23, while on a plane trip from Houston to Los Angeles, Brian had a nervous breakdown brought on by the overwhelming schedule of writing, producing, recording, and touring. Despite protests by his brothers, Brian stopped touring with the band and guitarist / singer Glenn Campbell was brought in to perform for him on the road. Campbell had earlier worked as a session man with the group, recording the guitar intro to "Dance, Dance, Dance".
In 1965 The Beach Boys did a remake of Bobby Freeman's hit "Do You Wanna Dance" with Dennis Wilson on lead vocal. It went to number twelve. After just three months on the road, Glen Campbell had had his fill of the Beach Boys and was replaced by Bruce Johnson, formerly of a band called The Rip Chords who had reached #4 in the U.S with "Hey Little Cobra" a year earlier.
In the spring of '65, "Help Me Rhonda" became the group's second number one song, pushing the Beatles "Ticket to Ride" out of the top spot. Despite a hearing loss in his right ear, Brian continued to write and produce vocal harmony hits. One of them, "California Girls", had a memorable keyboard intro and with Mike Love on lead vocal, reached number three on August 28, 1965.
The Beach Boys' next hit song was truly an accident. While taking a break during a recording session, the band started to jam with Dean Torrance of Jan And Dean. The result was a sloppy version of a 1961 Regents' hit called "Barbara Ann". Complete with talking, clapping and partying in the background, the effort was released as a single and "Barbara Ann" soared to number two nationally with most fans not knowing that it was Dean Torrance singing lead vocal.
The band showed it's diversity as "Sloop John B", a 1927 folk song with Al Jardine on lead vocal, went to number three on May 7, 1966. It was followed by "Wouldn't It Be Nice", a song that was banned from radio stations at first because of the line: "...say goodnight and stay together." The record eventually got air play and went to #8 on the national music charts. The flip side, "God Only Knows", though it only reached number thirty-nine, had the distinction of being called the greatest love song ever written by Paul McCartney.
No longer touring, Brian Wilson concentrated on writing for the Beach Boys and using elaborate production techniques on the group's recordings. While the rest of the group was on tour, Brian began working on the "Pet Sounds" album, employing scores of studio musicians and utilizing advanced techniques. However, despite lush orchestral sound and songs such as "God Only Knows", "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "Caroline No" and "Sloop John B", the "Pet Sounds" album sold poorly compared to other releases.
Severely disappointed, Brian began work on the next album, first called "Dumb Angel", then changed to "Smile". While working on this project, Capitol Records released The Beach Boys next hit. It was a song that Brian and Mike wrote and Brian spent months working on. Recorded in seventeen different sessions in four Los Angeles studios and at a cost of over sixteen thousand dollars, was "Good Vibrations". The engineer would later say that the last take sounded exactly like the first, three months earlier. Influenced by Phil Spector, Brian built a heavily overdubbed and echoed Rock symphony that appealed to record buying teens. On December 10, 1966, it reached number one. Meanwhile, Brian began behaving erratically as rumors of heavy drug use circulated. It was reported that Brian had a giant sand box built around his grand piano so he could get inspiration from feeling the beach beneath his feet while composing.
Brian was often unhappy with the way his songs turned out and was known to destroy complete tapes in frustration. When the master tape for the "Smile" album was submitted to Capitol, they hated it and refused to release it. Another completely different set of recordings was made into an album that Brian called "Smiley Smile". It was released on the group's own recently formed label, Brother Records, distributed by Capitol. Peaking at only #41 in the U.S., its commercial reception in the UK was better as it reached #9 on British charts.
In the summer of 1967, Brian became interested in working with his friend Danny Hutton and two other singers named Cory Wells and Chuck Negron. Brian wanted to name the new group Redwood, and sign them to Brothers Records. That deal fell through when the other Beach Boys would only approve a contract that called for one single release. Hutton, Wells and Negron rejected the offer and walked away. A year later they had changed their name to Three Dog Night and eventually became one of the most successful bands in America. The failure to land them cost Brothers Records millions in royalties.
It took ten months for Capitol Records to release the Beach Boy's next single "Heroes and Villains", a complex but less commercial record which reached number twelve. Feeling that they could not compete with the new acts that had become popular, The Beach Boys pulled out of a scheduled appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June, 1967. The band met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in December after reading about the influence he had on The Beatles. Their fascination with his transcendental meditation culminated with a near disastrous tour with him in the spring of 1968. In between songs, The Maharishi would chant and try to enlighten the audience with his wisdom. The crowds often booed him off of the stage. Although the rest of the group eventually turned away, Mike Love became a life long follower of Maharishi Yogi.
Their next recordings were straight Rock, "Wild Honey" (#31 1967), "Darlin'" (#19 1967), "Do It Again" (#20 1968), and "I Can Hear Music" (#24 1969.) All good showings, but disappointing by Beach Boys' standards.
Meanwhile, drummer Dennis Wilson had become friends with a strange little man by the name of Charles Manson, who had dreams of becoming a singer / songwriter. Manson used Dennis to try to persuade the rest of the group to record some of his material and eventually the band did record a Manson composition called "Cease To Exist". The title was changed to "Never Learn Not To Love" and was released as the "B" side of the single "Bluebirds Over The Mountain", which climbed to number 61 in the U.S. in early 1969, giving Manson a hit record on Billboard's Hot 100. It took a while for Dennis to catch on that Manson was a "hanger on" and by the time Dennis ended the friendship, Manson had soaked him for over $100,000. On August 9, 1969, a group of Manson's followers brutally murdered Sharon Tate and other residents of a home formerly occupied by Beach Boys' producer, Terry Melcher, who had moved out just a short time before. They also killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca at their nearby residence. Manson and his associates were arrested on November 19th and when questioned by the press about his friendship with Manson, Dennis Wilson would only say, "I don't talk about Manson. I think he's a sick fuck."
In the summer of 1969, The Beach Boys recorded their last record for Capitol, "Break Away" (#63). Hoping to re-capture their earlier success, they then changed record companies and signed with Warner Brother's Reprise label.
In the late '60s, harder Rock and Psychedelic music was the style and The Beach Boys image suffered as they were perceived as an oldies group in the midst of the progressive Rock movement. That changed in 1970 when they appeared at the Big Surf Festival in North California, making fans out of the young, hip crowd. They solidified that status in February 1971, playing Carnegie Hall in New York to an overwhelming response and sharing billing with the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East in April.
1972 saw changes in The Beach Boys' on stage line-up when Dennis was sidelined after he injured his hand in a windowpane mishap. Bruce Johnson had a falling out with Jack Rieley, one of the group's management team and left for a solo career. They were replaced by Rick Faar and Blondie Chaplin of the South African group Flame.
On June 4, 1973, family patriarch Murray Wilson suffered a heart attack at his home and died. Neither Brian or Dennis attended their father's funeral.
Meanwhile, the band's Warner Brothers records failed to sell as well as their Capitol sides. A reissue by Capitol of "Surfin' U.S.A." in the summer of 1974 reached #6, higher than any of the six singles they had done for Warner Brothers. The Warner Brothers material was getting more creative input from the group and less from Brian, who had returned to the studio to produce the "15 Big Ones" album, so named for the number of the band's years in show business and the number of tracks included. The LP included "Rock and Roll Music", a single that brought the group back to the top five of the Billboard Hot 100. The album contained mostly oldies, but still managed to hit number eight in the U.S. and thirty-eight in the U.K. It was the most successful Beach Boys studio album in over ten years, though the critical reaction was less than kind. The album cover, art direction and logo was done by Dean Torrence and Jim Evans. By now Dennis Wilson was back behind the drums and Fataar and Chaplin were out. The group embarked on a long US tour, with Brian joining them for a handful of performances. That same year, The Beach Boys re-gained some respectability when they sang back up for Chicago's hit "Wishing You Were Here" (#11), and also sang harmony on B.J. Thomas's "Rock and Roll Lullaby" (#15).
In 1977, The Beach Boys signed with Caribou records and by 1979 charted with a Disco flavored remake of "Here Comes the Night" (#44) originally on their "Wild Honey" album. Another Caribou release, "Good Timin'" did even better when it cracked the Top 40.
Bruce Johnson rejoined the group in '79 and on July 4, 1980 The Beach Boys played a free concert in Washington, D.C. before a half million people, which became an annual event through the eighties.
Brian had spent most of 1971 to 1975 in bed, saying he was frightened, sad and confused. He was gradually brought out of his depression by therapist Dr. Eugene Landy, who helped restore Brian to not only a more normal way of life, but also to a functioning studio musician. Although Dr. Landy was generally dis-liked and mis-trusted by Brian's family and band mates, he is clearly responsible for Brian's recovery.
During the 1980s, Mike Love became the front man for The Beach Boys as the band continued to rely on old hits to support their constant touring on the oldies circuit. In desperate need of a hit record, Capitol released "The Beach Boys Medley", which strung together eight original hits into one seamless single. Popular with the dance crowd, it shot to #12 on the Hot 100, the band's best showing in five years. It was followed by a remake of the old Del-Vikings hit, "Come Go With Me", which rose to #18.
Sadness would again rule the band on December 28th, 1983, when Dennis Wilson, depressed over mounting debts and personal problems jumped over board from his yacht Harmony at Marina Del Ray Harbor in Los Angeles, saying he was going to look for some personal belongings he had thrown into the ocean a few years before. Although witnesses say he surfaced once and didn't appear to be in trouble, Dennis drowned. It was an ironic twist of fate for the only actual surfing Beach Boy. Brian, still having trouble coping with day to day life, could not muster the strength to attend the funeral.
1985 brought happier times as The Beach Boys recorded their best original single since the early days. With Mike Love on lead and Brian's strong falsetto, "Getcha Back" and its familiar harmony reached Billboard's number twenty-six spot. Next came "Rock and Roll to the Rescue" (#68 1986) and a remake of the Mama and Papa's "California Dreamin'" (#57 1986). The Beach Boys were given the honor of performing at Ronald Reagan's Inaugural in January 1985 and Live Aid the following July.
In 1987 they had a #12 hit with a remake of the surf classic "Wipeout", recorded with the Fat Boys rap group, but their best was yet to come. In 1988, John Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas wrote a song called "Kokomo" for The Beach Boys to sing on the sound track to the Tom Cruise movie, Cocktail. It had been 21 years since Mike Love had sang lead on a number one record, but "Kokomo" shot to the top of the charts during a 15 week stay. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award and although The Beach Boys were the sentimental favorites, they lost to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy".
By 1990, Brian Wilson's daughters Carnie and Wendy had formed the vocal group Wilson Phillips with Chynna Phillips, the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas. Their 1990 self-titled debut album sold over 10 million copies worldwide and scored three number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, making the trio the best-selling female group at the time. That same year, the group won the Billboard Music Award for Hot 100 Single of the Year for "Hold On", and in addition was nominated for four Grammy Awards and two American Music Awards. A second album, "Shadows And Light" contained tracks exploring issues such as child abuse and their estrangement from their fathers. Although the album peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 200 and was certified Platinum, Chynna Phillips decided to pursue a solo career and the trio split up. They would reunite to modest success in 2004.
Also in 1990, Brian released an autobiography entitled Wouldn't It Be Nice, of which his therapist Dr. Eugene Landy was largely responsible for the content. In a later lawsuit instigated by several family members including brother Carl and mother Audree, Brian testified in court that he hadn't even read the final manuscript. As a result, the book was later taken out of press. In a separate court decision, a conservator was appointed to oversee Brian's financial and legal affairs. In an attempt to head off that decision, Dr. Eugene Landy agreed in writing to step away from Brian so that he could show he was perfectly capable of running his own affairs, but the effort failed. However, by 1995 Brian's life was going well and he married Melinda Ledbetter, a former model he met several years earlier. The pair adopted five children over the next ten years.
Carl was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. He fought the disease bravely, performing with the band on tour right up until he passed away on February 6, 1998, at the age of 51.
By 2002, the remaining Beach Boys touring group had fragmented even further, with Mike Love and Bruce Johnston touring together, banishing Al Jardine from the band. Lawsuits and counter lawsuits flew back and forth over the rights to use the Beach Boys' name, the results of which prevented Jardine from touring as Beach Boys Family and Friends.
In November, 2005, Mike Love filed a lawsuit in US federal court, accusing Brian Wilson of promoting his 2004 album, "Smile", in a manner that "shamelessly misappropriated Mike Love's songs, likeness and the Beach Boys trademark, as well as the Smile album itself." Love objected to a promotion in which 2.6 million copies of a Beach Boys compilation CD were given away to readers of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper. The lawsuit said the giveaway undercut the band's sales.
By mid-June, 2006, the surviving members of The Beach Boys had apparently put aside all the lawsuits and nastiness to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their landmark "Pet Sounds" album and the double-Platinum certification of "Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys". Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston made their first appearance together since 1996 on the roof of the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles. Also on hand was David Marks, who filled in for Jardine in the early 1960s. When asked if the original band would ever take the stage again, Brian Wilson said: "There's a chance of that."
It wasn't until March, 2008 that the former friends finally reached a settlement of a long legal dispute over rights to the Beach Boys' name, after two days of talks mediated by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge. The agreement seemed to restore good vibrations among the three surviving members of the original group. Lawyers told the press: "Mr. Love and ... Mr. Jardine are looking forward to bringing more great Beach Boys music to the United States and around the world, particularly as they approach their 50th anniversary."
Al Jardine joined the Beach Boys for the first time since 1999 at a tribute for Ronald Reagan on February 5th, 2011. Brian Wilson was invited to join as well, although previous commitments prevented him from attending.
An anniversary show that would see Brian Wilson rejoin Mike Love and Al Jardine onstage appeared in doubt when Brian announced in May 2011 that he is very close to retiring from touring. However, the three remaining Beach Boys did come together to record a charity single called "Don't Fight The Sea" to raise cash for the relief effort in Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011.
In December, 2011 it was announced that despite Brian Wilson's previous claims to the contrary, he would reunite with Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks for a new album and 50th anniversary tour in 2012, starting April 24th in Tulsa, AZ. The band's 29th studio album, "That's Why God Made Radio", was released in early June and headed straight into the top three on the Billboard 200, their best chart position since October of 1974, when the greatest hits package "Endless Summer" spent one week at #1.
Sadly, when the reunion tour wrapped up at London, England's Wembley Arena with a 55 song show, it was followed with the news that Mike Love was set to continue without Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks. Love and Bruce Johnson, were slated to kick off a string of shows in Waco, Texas. In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Love said that the 50th anniversary tour was just meant to be a "limited run" and he had other tour dates that were already set up. "Like any good party, no one wanted it to end. However, that was impossible, given that we had already set up shows in smaller cities with a different configuration of the band -- the configuration that had been touring together every year for the last 13 years. It is not feasible, both logistically and economically, for the 50th anniversary tour to play these markets," Love explained.