Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Essentials: The Beach Boys - overview & introduction

DISCOGRAPHY
ALBUMS
1. Surfin' Safari (Capitol 1962) [r]
2. Surfin' U.S.A. (Capitol 1963)
3. Surfer Girl (Capitol 1963) [hr]
4. Little Deuce Coupe (Capitol 1963) [r]
5. Shut Down Volume 2 (Capitol 1964) [r]
6. All Summer Long (Capitol 1964) [hr]
7. Christmas Album (Capitol 1964)
8. Today! (Capitol 1965) [hr]
9. Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) (Capitol 1965) [A+]
10. Party! (Capitol 1965) [r]
11. Pet Sounds (Capitol 1966) [A+]
12. Smiley Smile (Capitol 1967) [A+]
13. Wild Honey (Capitol 1967) [A+]
14. Friends (Capitol 1968) [A+]
15. 20/20 (Capitol 1969) [hr]
16. Sunflower (Reprise 1970) [r]
17. Surf's Up (Reprise 1971) [r]
18. Carl & the Passions: So Tough (Reprise 1972) [r]
19. Holland (Reprise 1973) [hr]
20. 15 Big Ones (Reprise 1976)
21. Love You (Reprise 1977) [A+]
22. MIU Album (Reprise 1978) [c]
23. L.A. (Light Album) (CBS 1979)
24. Keepin' the Summer Alive (CBS 1980) [NO]
25. The Beach Boys (CBS 1985)
26. Still Cruisin' (Capitol 1989) [NO] {capsule review}
27. Summer in Paradise (Brother 1992) [NO] {cap}
28. That's Why God Made the Radio (Capitol 2012) [NO] {cap}
EPs
Four by the Beach Boys (Capitol 1964) [r] {cap}
Mount Vernon and Fairway (Reprise 1973) [r] {cap}
Pet Sounds Sessions/Sub Pop Singles Club EP (Sub Pop 1966/1996) [r] {cap}
Good Vibrations: 40th Anniversary Edition (Capitol 1966/2006) {cap}
LIVE ALBUMS
Concert (Capitol 1964) {cap}
Live in London (Capitol 1968/1970/1976) [r] {cap}
In Concert (Reprise 1972-73/1974) [hr]
Good Timin': Live at Knebworth, England 1980 (Eagle 1980/2003) {cap}
Songs from Here and Back (Hallmark 1974-2005/2006) {cap}
Live: The 50th Anniversary Tour (Capitol 2012/2013) [c] {cap}
Live in Sacramento 1964 (Capitol 1964/2014) {cap}
Live in Chicago 1965 (Capitol 1965/2015) [c] {cap}
Graduation Day 1966: Live at the University of Michigan (Capitol 1966/2016) {cap}
1967: Live Sunshine (Capitol 1967/2017) {cap}
COMPILATIONS
Best Of (Capitol 1963-65/1966) [c] {cap}
Best Of, Vol. 2 (Capitol 1962-65/1967) [c] {cap}
Best Of, Vol. 3 (Capitol 1961-67/1968) [c] {cap}
Stack-o-Tracks (Capitol 1963-68/1968) [r] {cap}
Endless Summer (Capitol 1962-65/1974) [A+]
Spirit of America (Capitol 1962-69/1975) [r] {cap}
Good Vibrations: Best Of (Reprise 1965-72/1975) [c] {cap}
20 Golden Greats (Capitol 1963-69/1976) {cap}
Ten Years of Harmony (CBS 1970-80/1982) {cap}
Sunshine Dream (Capitol 1964-69/1982) [r] {cap}
Rarities (Capitol 1962-70/1983) [r] {cap}
Made in U.S.A. (Capitol 1962-86/1986) {cap}
[Twofer Bonus Tracks] (Capitol 1962-70/1990) [r]
Lost & Found 1961-62 (DCC 1961-62/1991) [r] {cap}
Greatest Hits Vol. 1: 20 Good Vibrations (Capitol 1962-88/1995/1999) {cap}
Endless Harmony (Capitol 1963-98/1998) [hr]
Ultimate Christmas (Capitol 1963-77/1998) [r] {cap}
Greatest Hits Vol. 2: 20 More Good Vibrations (Capitol 1963-70/1999) [r] {cap}
Surfin' (Varese Sarabande 1961-62/2000) [r] {cap}
Greatest Hits Vol. 3: Best of the Brother Years (Capitol 1970-86/2000) {cap}
Very Best of (EMI 1962-88/2001) {cap}
Hawthorne, CA (Capitol 1960-99/2001) {cap}
Classics, Selected by Brian Wilson (Capitol 1963-2002/2002) [r] {cap}
Sounds of Summer (Capitol 1962-88/2003) [hr]
The Warmth of the Sun (Capitol 1962-86/2007) [r] {cap}
Summer Love Songs (Capitol 1963-71/2009)
Fifty Big Ones (Capitol 1962-2012/2012) [r] {cap}
The Big Beat 1963 (Capitol 1963/2013) [r] {cap}
Keep an Eye on Summer - Sessions 1964 (Capitol 1964/2014) {cap}
Party! Uncovered and Unplugged (Capitol 1965/2015) [r] {cap}
Becoming the Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions (Omnivore 1961-62/2016) [r] {cap}
1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow (Capitol 1967/2017) [hr]
1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow 2: The Studio Sessions (Capitol 1967/2017) [r] {cap}
BOXED SETS
The Capitol Years (Capitol 1961-69/1980/1999) {cap}
Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys (Capitol 1961-88/1993) [hr]
The Pet Sounds Sessions (Capitol 1966/1997) [hr]
The Platinum Collection (Capitol 1961-88/2005) {cap}
The Original U.S. Singles Collection (Capitol 1962-65/2008) {cap}
The Smile Sessions (Capitol 1965-67/2011)
Made in California (Capitol 1960-2012/2013) [c] {cap}
Pet Sounds: 50th Anniversary Edition (Capitol 1966/2016) {cap}

BOOTLEGS VOL. 1: THE EARLY YEARS
+ Christmas Sessions (bootleg 1964)
BOOTLEGS VOL. 2: THE WRECKING CREW YEARS
BOOTLEGS VOL. 3: SMILE
BOOTLEGS VOL. 4: THE BROTHER YEARS


THE CAPITOL-ERA SINGLES * = non-album track / ** = non-album version (not incl. alt mixes)
Surfin'/*Luau (Candix 1961)
Surfin' Safari/409 (Capitol 1962)
Ten Little Indians/County Fair (Capitol 1962)
Surfin' U.S.A./Shut Down (Capitol 1963)
Surfer Girl/Little Deuce Coupe (Capitol 1963)
**Be True to Your School/In My Room (Capitol 1963)
Little Saint Nick/*The Lord's Prayer (Capitol 1963)
Fun, Fun, Fun/Why Do Fools Fall in Love? (Capitol 1964)
I Get Around/Don't Worry, Baby (Capitol 1964)
When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)/She Knows Me Too Well (Capitol 1964)
Dance, Dance, Dance/The Warmth of the Sun (Capitol 1964)
Do You Wanna Dance/Please Let Me Wonder (Capitol 1965)
Help Me Rhonda/Kiss Me Baby (Capitol 1965)
California Girls/Let Him Run Wild (Capitol 1965)
*The Little Girl I Once Knew/There's No Other (Like My Baby) (Capitol 1965)
Barbara Ann/Girl Don't Tell Me (Capitol 1965)
[Brian Wilson solo:] Caroline, No/Summer Means New Love (Capitol 1966)
Sloop John B/You're So Good to Me (Capitol 1966)
Wouldn't It Be Nice/God Only Knows (Capitol 1966)
Good Vibrations/Let's Go Away for Awhile (Capitol 1966)
Heroes and Villains/*You're Welcome (Brother/Capitol 1967)
["Brian & Mike":] Gettin' Hungry/Devoted to You (Brother/Capitol 1967)
Wild Honey/Wind Chimes (Capitol 1967)
Darlin'/Here Today (Capitol 1967)
Friends/Little Bird (Capitol 1968)
Do It Again/Wake the World (Capitol 1968)
Bluebirds Over the Mountain/Never Learn Not to Love (Capitol 1968)
I Can Hear Music/All I Want to Do (Capitol 1969)
*Break Away/*Celebrate the News (Capitol 1969)
**Cotton Fields/The Nearest Faraway Place (Capitol 1970)

***

At the heart of the Beach Boys' legacy lies what could be termed a massive contradiction. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of their sixth single, which backed the innocently cocky "Be True to Your School" with the meditative "In My Room." An obnoxious wall of sound -- replete with cheerleading, baseball stadium sound effects, and lyrics about school decals, pom-poms, and being jacked up on the football game -- paired with a gorgeous ode to alienation, simple in many ways but inordinately complex in others, describing the most private of adolescent moments with gorgeous vocals resembling not so much the Four Freshmen as a Gregorian chant, painlessly and urgently begging to communicate with the listener. Reconciling these two images of teenage life requires a kind of knowing pain that was the defining facet of Brian Wilson's nearly unique sensibility, and his self-made mythology.

The same tension manifests itself throughout the band's catalog. On their earliest albums, the nasal voice of Mike Love is there in abundance, explaining, with the concise, worldly lyrical style of Chuck Berry, the pleasures of adolescence, from surfing to making out in the parking lot to seeing a movie at the drive-in. Never before was rock & roll, the music of danger, rebellion, and fucking, so universal and relatively safe insofar as it projected "suburban" values, but there was another side to the Beach Boys' coin. "In My Room" is an early example, but not the first. Indeed, Brian Wilson's crushing honesty and virtually flawless understanding of tortured emotion (teenage and otherwise) gave him the ability to create music that spoke with a kind of nakedness generally impossible to acheive in a pop arena without the advent of Spector schlock. The majority of the Beach Boys' fifty years of work doesn't support the myths of sun, surf and the American dream so much as sing their pleasures while doubting their existence in some scarcely audible undercurrent. The key to their longevity is the understanding that both worlds coexist in even the brightest and darkest of these multifaceted recordings; never comes a sky with no dark cloud, and never does an appreciation for joy, true joy, disappear in this music.

Their personal lives are irrelevant. Indeed, the Beach Boys' chaotic career was such that their music did not create problems for them so much as the music existed in spite of their problems. In the midst of turmoil, not to mention faltering airplay and sales, they careened forward, time and time again, until it was finally deemed not worthwhile. In the end, the music is what matters, and the music is all that matters. Who punched who, who married who, and who stayed in bed for a year has no bearing on the work that has survived the ensuing decades. But the broad story is the stuff of great Americana, for better or worse, and should be quickly addressed. Brothers Brian (bass, piano, vocals), Carl (guitar, vocals) and Dennis (drums, vocals) Wilson and their cousin Mike Love (vocals) formed the band at a moment when family patriarch Murry Wilson, a frustrated songwriter, happened to be away from their home in Hawthorne, California, long enough for them to illegitimately rent equipment and hash out a song about surfing, a trend for which only Dennis showed much enthusiasm. For the others, including family friend and rhythm guitarist Al Jardine, a novelty single about surfing was just a means to an end of having a record made.

Brian Wilson was the nexus of the group in its prime years, and he'd spent much of his teenage life dissecting Four Freshmen records and becoming something of a musical prodigy, especially in regard to vocal arrangements. When they signed to Capitol Records and began having success on a national level -- which eventually transcended novelty and became a remarkably consistent and long-lived kind of pop notoriety -- quickly the Beach Boys' trademark became less the surf-and-sand subject matter of their songs, the cars and beach themes falling away soon enough anyway, and more their impressively full harmony vocals and tricky, elaborate compositions. Brian wrote most of the band's music and would almost immediately begin to dominate recording sessions as a producer, soon enough stepping away from his day-to-day role as the group's bassist in order to concentrate increasingly on the creation of elaborate studio recordings, which made extensive use of overdubbing and, by the mid-'60s, the augmentation of session musicians (though contrary to popular belief, the actual Beach Boys did indeed play instruments on the vast majority of their records, including the perpetually underrated Dennis); his right-hand man, engineer Chuck Britz, would remember that the Beach Boys' harmony vocals would sound like shit while they worked out their parts with Brian, but as if by magic, when he put everything together the effect was nearly always sublime. His ear was all but unique in rock & roll, as was his attention to detail, and he was unquestionably the band's creative driving force during their best and most successful years.

Nevertheless, it's not true that Brian Wilson ever was the Beach Boys in a strict sense, nor is it true that they were a fully democratic band even after Brian retreated in the late '60s, at which time they'd remain permanently in his shadow. Rather, as Dennis himself would explain, they functioned above all as Brian's messengers. But Brian was never built for a rock star lifestyle; when Jardine temporarily left early in the group's career, the lineup was rounded out until late 1963 by David Marks (rhythm guitarist), and even after Jardine returned the extra member allowed Brian a chance to stay off the road and produce records, for the Beach Boys as well as other groups. He was an idiosyncratic producer who took inspiration from the massive, elaborate arrangements on Phil Spector's singles, as well as Spector's interest in combining instruments -- say, a guitar and a tack piano, or a tower of accordions -- to create a new sound. Where Brian departed with Spector was in his sincerity; though he felt himself inarticulate and generally used collaborators as his lyrical surrogates, he was not simply an entrepreneur for the common tears of bummed-out teens. He meant the sound of his best records to evoke something deep in the soul, and as a result turned the writing and production of the Beach Boys' records into a catharsis both for him and for his audience.

Such loftiness doesn't tell a satisfyingly full version of the story. The Beach Boys were all very young in the '60s, and the fact of being young is the primary state communicated by their music. What you hear on "I Get Around" or "Fun, Fun, Fun" -- crunchy, feverishly enthusiastic rock & roll -- is a feeling of infinity, the deliberately and wonderfully naive notion that none of this is ever going to change. It might seem logical enough to pronounce all this as Baby Boomer nostalgia, of which there's quite an overload, but the Beach Boys' best work has resonated strongly with subsequent generations because it actually speaks to something that is permanent, a freedom and abandon that isn't grounded to the early '60s at all. In exactly the same way, their legacy as a California band is vitally important to their impact on the surface, but in truth California and its exaggerated glories are just a stand-in for, yet again, freedom itself. They didn't particularly need to underline the poignance of this fallacy by singing about a creeping feeling of hollowness ("gettin' bugged drivin' up and down the same old strip") when they had to know that images of their unlined, smooth faces would inevitably be one day laid against the years that had harshly laid their dominion down upon them -- Brian, Mike and Al are old men now, a beautiful chance denied to both Dennis and Carl -- but they did so anyway, unforgettably, on their "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)," which with the pull and sweep of Greek tragedy watches youth fall away in just over two minutes.

Hearing the early Beach Boys singles up through 1965 or so is a transcendent experience; as with the Beatles' concurrent 45's, each seems to build on the last, constantly adding excitement, energy and artistry. Their stasis as artifacts of the past seems to melt when they're played loud; in particular, Dennis' drums come alive on a record like "Surfin' Safari" when you hear them on good speakers. Brian hated hi-hats and cymbals, and so Dennis can become buried in the mono mixes if you don't turn them up and let them breathe, but his pounding, unorthodox percussion patterns on "When I Grow Up" demonstrate Brian's meticulousness, and the Beach Boys' veracity as his collaborators. Such details were almost irreconciliable with the labored existence of a popular band on the road in the mid-'60s. For one reason or another, it wrecked Brian and he suffered a serious mental breakdown aboard a plane in late 1964, consumed by the pressure of expectations -- a new marriage, coping with Murry as a business manager and general meddler, being seen as the major breadwinner for his entire family in more ways than one, and all the while playing bass with the touring band. His decision to stop touring regularly with the Beach Boys is easily as momentous to rock & roll as the Beatles' similar ultimatum two years later.

In retrospect, things unraveled quickly, though at first the flood of hits continued and Brian reached new heights as a sonic magician, though his best works -- Pet Sounds, "Let Him Run Wild" -- seem to serve as evidence of both a man trying his best not to fall apart and of a growing distance in intent between Brian and his band. Bruce Johnston (bass, keyboards, vocals) replaced him at the live shows and soon became a full-fledged sixth Beach Boy, his voice extremely prominent on landmark songs like "The Little Girl I Once Knew" and "God Only Knows." Throughout 1965 and 1966, Brian reached an untouchable peak as a one-man force of pop bliss, but his gobsmackingly brilliant records from this period, from "Let Him Run Wild" to "Wouldn't It Be Nice," are suffused with despair and doubt. Doubt and regret, in fact, became the great themes of the Beach Boys' work in the mid-'60s, when Brian in particular seemed to focus on the precariousness of happiness, as well as how quickly a moment of contentment can turn. Again there is the contradiction: in the studio Brian was as controlled, professional and confident an artist as Orson Welles around the same age; but under the thumb of his dad, suffering from paranoia and the crushing pressure of being in charge of one of America's most successful performing units, he was still a scared kid. The turmoil of a spirited, popular, cool young professional articulating and recording the darkest thoughts of a stunted adult is what makes the likes of "God Only Knows," "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" and even "Don't Worry Baby" so unspeakably moving. It's as though Brian Wilson was somehow recording the act of growing up in all its rapidity and compromise. As in "Don't Worry Baby," he sometimes imagined a happy ending, a redemption, for the story; usually he couldn't. Pet Sounds, his magnum opus, ends with the sound of a passing train, a symbol of what? Stagnation? Escape? Suicide? The implications are chilling, regardless, after a record full of songs about doubt, dread, resentment and fear in the context of a romantic relationship and a general search for fulfullment.

But Pet Sounds also sounded incredible -- fresh, strange, gorgeous, sophisticated, but also beautiful in a manner arrived at painstakingly, passionately. It sold respectably but Brian was understandably disappointed that its depth and detail went mostly unnoticed (except in the UK, where it was widely lauded for its lyrical maturity and musical innovation); he went for something flashier with the incrementally recorded, sparkling "Good Vibrations," a wildly ambitious single boasting cheery, politely psychedelic Mike Love lyrics that went #1 and thereby validated Brian sufficiently that he set about recording an album of psychedelic Americana in the same piecemeal fashion, now with the lyrical assistance of Southern intellectual and slight blowhard Van Dyke Parks. Famously, this project grew in scale over several months until it became impossible to fulfill its creator's expectations, at which point it blew up in everyone's face. Capitol had already printed cover slicks when Brian took the project in a drastic new direction, first concentrating strictly on crafting an equally artsy follow-up to "Good Vibrations" called "Heroes and Villains" (which, again, was a sizable hit, but not at a level to satisfy Brian or his group) then to rerecord some of the Smile songs, ideas and fragments in a comically primitive, minimalist manner on a record called Smiley Smile. Though that album can now be heard as a tossed-off, singular masterpiece, it was met with confusion in 1967 and, combined with the abandonment of Smile and the cancellation of a potentially watershed appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, indicated strongly that the Beach Boys' moment riding the wave of the '60s had finally passed.

As a result of this massive derailment, Smile's relatively well-documented history has been pored over for decades, with entire books and -- eventually -- internet forums devoted to endless theorizing about the full extent of its contents and its conceptual breadth. The scrapping of the record has been attributed (sometimes through nothing beyond conventional wisdom) at various times to Capitol Records and, most famously, to Brian's bandmates, in particular Mike Love. The point of contention seems not to have been anything musical but rather the words Parks contributed and that Brian expected Mike and the other Beach Boys to sing. In interviews from the time, Dennis expresses awe at the quality of Smile, and Carl -- the band's musical leader on stage, so likely the most vital tastemaker in the group behind Brian -- is on the record as being in favor of the new direction as well, but legend has it that Al and Mike both detested the new, more ambitious songs Brian was writing and producing. This isn't really borne out by session tapes, which record a band quite willing to submit to its leader's whims, and why not? It had taken them to so much success in the past.

Undoubtedly there's some truth in the accusation that Love was Smile's undoing. He and Parks didn't get along and there was a widely remembered blow-up over the words to the song "Cabin Essence" specifically, but one must consider that Mike was acting to some extent on self-preservation. It's very easy to hate Mike Love, largely because he's made it easy; he's widely seen in and outside of the business as an asshole, his bullish talk in interviews and in meltdown moments like his speech at the band's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction are embarrassing to witness, and as a frontman full of bad jokes and ill-advised political commentary he's at best amusingly incompetent and at worst intolerably smug and witless, and it's hard to see how he's done the Beach Boys any real favors apart from some of his songwriting. But before the Beach Boys formed, his destiny was already laid out for him, having married young and already fathered a child -- which in turn led to estrangement from his family -- before reaching even the smallest scale of commercial success, with a career underway as a gas station attendant. The Beach Boys were Mike's livelihood, a ticket out of precisely the everyday drudgery whose existence the Beach Boys' biggest hits seemed intended to deny; lyrics about "sunny down snuff" and Chinese peasants watching crows fly overhead sounded false to him. Frankly, he wasn't wholly incorrect -- Parks was an uneven if not altogether misguided match for the Beach Boys' music, and this among other things (drugs, feeling overwhelmed, a general sense of frustration with the massiveness of the project) led Brian himself to wipe the slate clean and start over, unaware that he'd be hounded for the rest of his life over a project he left incomplete at age 24.

Smile's incomplete, unreleased status would haunt the Beach Boys permanently; it derailed their career, and its replacement with a trio of brilliant but, it seems, deliberately uncommercial, even anti-commercial albums -- Smiley Smile, Wild Honey and Friends -- has long been a subject of bemusement. These records were purportedly produced by the Beach Boys collectively but in fact remained primarily Brian's work, shedding the excess that had haunted Smile in favor of an inspired spontaneity. Modern interpretation seems to imply that Brian was content to allow the band to exist separately from the pressures of being a top-selling, commercially ambitious group. They began recording privately in his home studio and their music got increasingly funny, idiosyncratic and weird -- though no less adventurous than ever -- until the rest of the band began to play more of a role in composition and production starting in 1969. Brian was still a formidable writer and producer, but he was now strictly interested in recording music that interested him at the moment; on certain rare occasions, as when he shepherded the song "Darlin'" into existence via Redwood (the future Three Dog Night) and eventually the Beach Boys, his sensibility matched up with potential radio success, but far more often he was creating music without an eye toward what the outside world would think. Nearly invariably, this unchecked impulsiveness would result from then on in Brian's strongest work: the last four Capitol Beach Boys albums, "Til I Die," the Mt. Vernon and Fairway EP, the Love You album in 1977, and the Andy Paley sessions in the '90s.

The Beach Boys would continue to progress artistically for several years, if not always in the uncompromised fashion demonstrated by their '60s albums from Pet Sounds onward. Escaping their Capitol contract and signing to Reprise under their own resurrected Brother Records imprint, they issued work that was democratic and solid but also self-consciously "serious," making a sometimes vain attempt to sound "current" in a vastly different music industry than the one they'd entered. Sunflower, Surf's Up and Holland announced their forward-looking ambition, spearheaded in large part by Carl and new manager Jack Rieley (who, mortifyingly enough, was also a lyricist), on their front covers as much as in the music. If you're cynical, you can look upon it as the Beach Boys' fear of their own banality (exemplified by the ragtag humor and glorious smallness of "Busy Doin' Nothin'," "I Went to Sleep" and such) wrecking their artistic strength, but if so the ploy worked. Their declining commercial presence began to quietly reverse itself in the new and not unwelcome form of an FM-driven, solid mainstream rock band, which acquired an interesting texture when South African musicians Ricky Fataar (drums, percussion, keyboards, vocals) and Blondie Chaplin (guitars, vocals) joined. Fataar and Chaplin were in an Anglophile power pop band called the Flame that had captured Carl's attention; they were strongly influenced by the Beatles and the Stones, but also by Stevie Wonder, funk and prog rock. On top of offering a few of their own songs to the Beach Boys, they rounded out the lineup and gave it a fuller, meatier sound, contributing to the band's best and most freewheeling years as a stage act (captured on the sublime In Concert from 1974).

Throughout this period, Brian -- following an officially unexplained retreat from producing during 1968, often attributed to another psychological breakdown -- functioned more as simply a surrogate, sideline Beach Boy, but his sporadic songs nearly invariably were still their best: the haunting, shattered "Til I Die" demonstrates the gravity of his mindset as depression and drug use began to dominate his life, "Time to Get Alone" is one of the warmest love songs ever recorded, the Mike Love collaboration "All I Wanna Do" is like stepping into some sort of blissful alternate dimension, singles "Marcella" and "Sail on, Sailor" (despite awful lyrics on the latter) proved that he could retain the classic Beach Boys sound while pressing forward with it, and 1970's manic, restless, breakneck "This Whole World" is as brilliant as anything he ever wrote. The only other Beach Boy to approach this material in his compositions was Dennis, who'd started to come into his own during the Friends period and would eventually prove himself a formidable talent, crafting masterful, towering, terminally pained ballads like "Be with Me," "Forever," "Only with You," "Celebrate the News," "Lady" and "River Song," as well as "Slip on Through," one of the best pure rock & roll songs the band ever laid down. Carl, Al, Bruce and Mike had their moments as well, as did Ricky and Blondie, but in every sense they were still doing their best to fill Brian's shoes, with the oldest Wilson brother's involvement a prerequisite in their recording contracts. Perhaps that's why, even as they seemed to be steadily improving in their second life as a fully functional band on stage and record, the retreat into nostalgia began.

It really started with the devilishly catchy "Do It Again," one of the Beach Boys' last Capitol singles and the first of an embarrassing number whose entire premise is taking a "look back" to the glory days of surf and sand, California girls and a beautiful coastline. Once again, it's made clear that it was never about surfing but always about being young; everything Mike names in the lyrics as something he now longs to revisit is theoretically still available to him, but we know as well as he does that the "suntanned bodies and waves of sunshine" won't look the same way to him now. Given that this was already the case before the '60s had even ended (before they'd even ended by Joan Didion's definition with the Tate-LaBianca murders, a drama in which the Beach Boys played an uncomfortable role, culminating in one of Charles Manson's compositions appearing on the same LP as "Do It Again"), it would have seemed absurd at the time to contemplate that Mike would be espousing exactly the same sentiments fifty years later.

After Holland, with Brian in poor health and the band fragmented, Capitol released a stunning double-album hits package called Endless Summer, and this action more than any other signalled the end of the Beach Boys as a growing band. They'd release one more great album, Love You, which was part of a widely hyped two-record comeback for Brian as a producer that didn't last. Concert audiences were coming to see the band trot out the old hits, not new stuff, and now as the group aged the hits would come to sound increasingly hollow and desperate. In turn, the studio work began to dramatically suffer, first courting adult contemporary audiences, then shooting for empty-headed nostalgia, making one last bid for a current pop audience, then sinking once and for all into anachronistic claptrap before giving up completely. This isn't necessarily what any of the Beach Boys had expected or wanted. Compressed down to their classic five-man lineup in 1976, with Bruce rejoining a few years later after a long hiatus during which he gave the schmaltzy "I Write the Songs" to Barry Manilow, they toured as a well-oiled if sometimes under-rehearsed machine. There were many near-breakups, many all too public demonstrations of their regrettable dysfunction. Carl quit in the early '80s out of frustration with the band's artistic stagnation and strained relationship, then returned after a solo career failed to take off. On the few occasions when Brian was trotted out with them, he looked terrified and broken, showing the world the ravages of trauma and illness with which he'd never been given a chance to deal, save through recreational drugs. The group lost its heart when Dennis drowned in December 1983, though in a terrible way this loss briefly snapped them back into focus, and under Carl's leadership they played Live Aid, got some videos on MTV and recorded a not entirely embarrassing synth-heavy record with then-hot producer Steve Levine.

Brian was by now under the constant supervision of quack psychiatrist Eugene Landy, who got him off drugs and helped him shed his weight, then proceeded to abuse the relationship by shoehorning himself into every aspect of Brian's life, up to and including sharing songwriting credits and videotaping him 24 hours a day. In Brian's absence in 1988, one of the Beach Boys' many frivolous soundtrack contributions unexpectedly hit the big time, assisted by a Tom Cruise vehicle called Cocktail; "Kokomo" returned the Beach Boys to the top of the charts for the first time since 1966. Yet again, it was an empty, overproduced piece of Vegas-by-way-of-Florida sleaze with one hell of a swooning vocal hook from Carl (always and still the Beach Boys' greatest voice), and while it's undeniably an earworm, it's also an unfathomably empty final eulogy for the band, who'd never achieve so much radio play again.

Only two further albums followed before Carl succumbed to lung cancer in 1998, at which point the Beach Boys broke into three factions. Brian had escaped Landy's clutches in the early '90s and began to tour under his own name to widespread acclaim in the last year of the century; Mike fired Al, recruited David Marks and continued touring with Bruce Johnston under the legally allowed but vaguely sleazy moniker "the Beach Boys"; and Al formed his own band comprised of Beach Boys peripheral figures and family members. All three stage acts continued playing the old hits, with only Brian consistently recording new material, but even much of his solo work has its origins in discarded bits and pieces from long ago. The pull of seeing a living legend like Brian Wilson was irresistible to many, though, despite his voice's obvious demise; there were times, as in the year after he completed a version of Smile with his own band, when he looked exuberant and happy on stage, but there were far more times when it seemed questionable that he had much interest in continuing to do this. Meanwhile Mike and Bruce's Beach Boys still pack crowds into venues, even if the crowds skew older and older with each passing year and even if sometimes said venues are strictly county fairs and casinos on the oldies circuit (which, to be fair, is also true of Brian's band); Mike's obsessive protection of his own perceived legacy extends to the tyrannical precision of the group's stage act. Marks would remember not being allowed to improvise on solos when he rejoined the Beach Boys in 1997, and this more than perhaps any other factoid indicates how much had changed since the early '70s. Mike and Brian are both millionaires. One wonders how much longer either will press on.

One brief interlude to this narrative occurred in 2012, when the "original" Beach Boys (Mike, Al, Brian, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, so missing two of the three most vital members, therefore not "original" anything, but whatever) pulled their shit together for a so-called reunion tour and new album. The shows were well-received, and the album did better than could have been expected with critics and listeners. For this longtime fan, the entire affair was monstrous, an artificial extension of a half century-spanning decay, but I am very much in the minority on this point. And it doesn't matter anyway, because the whole affair quickly corrected itself after Mike, with the usual decorum, declined to continue the gig past the initially agreed-upon point and everyone continued their lives as though nothing had happened. Really, nothing had.

Clearly the arc of the Beach Boys is, for all their attempts at forging individual identities, part and parcel with the arc of Brian Wilson. Brian isn't infallible; in the last thirty years, he's written no more than a handful of songs of any value, and he's long passed any real sense of vitality as a performer. One must respect him for continuing to try to remain a working artist, but it also has to be questioned how much such fervently maintained market presence is necessary from even his perspective. Somehow the last Wilson standing despite everything that happened to him, Brian can on even his best days be hard to reconcile with the young, eager, fiery superstar on session tapes from the mid-'60s, effortlessly dictating his ideas to rooms full of musicians and parsing out every intricacy with an intensity that seems awe-inspiringly effortless. Trying to even match up the Brian Wilson of those days with the Brian Wilson who made Love You or his 1988 solo debut or even the one ranting about smog under the influence of god knows what substance in 1966 can be jarring, but when one looks hard at his story there's really no mystery to his decline. Many things played a role -- LSD, therapy gone awry, the turbulence and pressure of being at the helm of not only a popular band but one that involved most of his immediate family, the growth-stunting of becoming a major celebrity, idol and eventually a widely-proclaimed genius at such a young age, and the disturbing number of people who let him down and took advantage of him over the years -- and I personally once thought that drugs were entirely to blame for the Brian Wilson tragedy.

But as I've grown older and have become more aware of the delibitation caused by anxiety and depression, my feeling, admittedly from a great distance, is that in the end Brian Wilson is just another brilliant artist who suffered from mental illness (schizoaffective disorder is the official diagnosis), certainly shepherded along and perhaps even sparked by growing up in an abusive home. As he put it once: "In my life, being scared has been probably the most driving force that I have. Because I'm so afraid of life and the people in it." When he could ignore it and sometimes when he couldn't, he produced some of the greatest American pop music in history, music that will stand the test of time more than he would have ever predicted, but we can't expect even our greatest minds to suffer silently forever. Brian famously hated the water and didn't really know anything about surfing, the beach or cars, so for him these symbols of American youth always represented something else. Why does a simple boy-girl ballad like "Surfer Girl" have such resonance to a broad number of people who rarely or never set foot in or near an ocean? Of course the lovely melody and the stirring harmonies are a large part of the answer, and a large part of the Beach Boys' appeal in general, but maybe it's also because Brian wrote about these things in a way that made them seem hazy and unattainable, a longing for something far more distant than a beach. Maybe that's why these songs now seem to be about escaping to one's memories, because in truth what they're about is just escape itself, something Brian was longing for well before the Beach Boys were a going concern. We really don't have to wonder much at what Brian was telling us he needed, because he told us himself -- love and mercy, or better yet (with Roger Christian):

She told me, baby, when you race today just take along my love with you
And if you knew how much I loved you, baby, nothing could go wrong with you
Oh, what she does to me, when she makes love to me
And she says "Don't worry, baby, everything will turn out all right."


***

Like a lot of people I came to love the Beach Boys when I was a kid of 3 or 4, prompted specifically by "Little Honda" and David Lee Roth's cover of "California Girls," both of which were on a compilation LP called Beach Blow Out that I picked out at a discount store because I thought the painted girls on the front were pretty. This sounds made up but it isn't. In tandem with this, my brother was a gigantic fan and played Beach Boys tapes regularly, and kindly dubbed them for me. I played them over and over and over again for years. When I got a little older I found out he had most of the group's albums on either cassette or vinyl; in need of space at his apartment he left a box of LPs with us that contained the bulk. (As far as I can remember, he didn't have Smiley Smile, Friends or Love You; hard to imagine what I would have made of them as a child.) I listened to some a lot more than others and paid less attention to the '70s material, but they all got played a few times. One album that wasn't in the box was Pet Sounds, which I'm guessing he felt significant enough to keep with him. I found a duophonic copy at a yard sale around 1990 and it was my first time actually hearing "Wouldn't It Be Nice," which my dad had been singing since I was in the womb. The record did make an impression on me in that it seemed to have a different texture and a certain importance and melancholy -- it occurs to me now that one of the album's strengths is that it doesn't really announce itself as a break in tradition the way Sgt. Pepper does -- but I had no idea of its significance and didn't listen to it very much.

All roads lead back to the Beatles. I got bored with the Beach Boys in my early teens; I ended up with Endless Summer and Pet Sounds on CD as presents because they were the only non-budget releases by the band in print at the time. Sometime in 1997 I learned from a Beatles book about the Smile fiasco; to say the least, it intrigued me and I took to the library's internet connection to learn more. Eventually I ended up with some cassettes of Smile material sent to me by a kind person on the web -- my dad, still convinced that anyone you met online was going to come murder you if they had your mailing address, was livid -- and set about trying to put together my own interpretation of the structure of the record. I got Domenic Priore's splendid, fanzine-like text Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! through inter-library loan and bought fully into its mythos and crazy theories (since proven inaccurate but still wildly entertaining, and essential for the many key contemporary texts and pieces of evidence it gathers). I was becoming obsessed, like many before me, with the idea of Brian Wilson as some eccentric wunderkind and with Smile as a lost masterpiece that could somehow be pieced together by its far-flung acolytes.

As I found again when preparing this series of posts about the Beach Boys, Smile can really suck you in, but it's also exhausting. I reached a point when my fatigue would maybe have prompted me to put the matter at rest permanently, but then I remembered I had those two Beach Boys CDs stuffed in a box somewhere and decided to reinvestigate them, now that I'd learned a great deal about the legend surrounding their body of work -- until not long beforehand, I'd really thought of them as a sort of empty teen idol phenomenon, a version of the Beatles that never progressed beyond Please Please Me (now, of course, I'd contest both the idea that empty teen idols are a bad thing and the idea that Please Please Me isn't already a masterful album, but I was a surly teenager and that was my thinking then). About half of Endless Summer fell into place for me, and parts of Pet Sounds really intrigued me too; over the next few months I listened to them more and more. I also became invested in reading forums and learning everything I could about the band; regardless of everything else, they were and are a damned interesting phenomenon and I couldn't get enough. I've been on and off of Beach Boys forums ever since and, despite the rampant bitchery and the rather melodramatic pack mentality between the Brian and the Mike people, I greatly enjoy them.

It was probably another year -- during which, it's probably pertinent to note, I fell pretty hard into a crush on a close friend whose interest I never worked up the courage to gauge -- before I started thinking of Pet Sounds as one of my favorite albums. But "God Only Knows" didn't even take that long, and it was swirling around me constantly at the same time I was learning about the work Carl Wilson had done over the years to try and keep the group together, and was coming to think of him as sort of the hero of the story. I pulled out some of the old records I still had -- giving my turntable its first workout in many years -- and started listening specifically for Carl's lead vocals, and I gathered up the Smile tapes I had and realized that the reason "Wind Chimes" was my favorite song almost from the beginning was that Carl sang it. I tried to special order Carl's two solo albums from a music store but was told they were impossible to find. Right in the middle of all this Carl Wilson died; it was the first celebrity death that affected me so strongly, likely just because of timing. I was literally trying to convince a friend to care about which Beach Boy was which a day before I heard the news. It was before the internet was totally ubiquitous in my life, so I'd had no idea he was even ill.

My world was dominated by another favorite band, R.E.M., for most of 1998 and when I read an interview with Mike Mills singing the praises of Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, I got my brother to lend me a cassette he had of the twofer with both, and this specific event probably gave me the last kick into lifelong hardcore fandom. When the '70s reissues happened in 2000 I picked them up one by one; the twofers of the Capitol albums followed a year later, and then all the peripheral stuff like compilations. One moment I won't ever forget in the annals of my physical music consumption was when I got the Good Vibrations box for free, having joined BMG specifically for that purpose; the excitement of owning something so "big" was hard to describe, tempered only slightly by the knowledge that I was in my junior year of high school and should maybe have been doing something more with my youth, but that's okay. "Catch a Wave" came over my headphones in mono and at the instrumental break I was made a true believer permanently. There have still been interludes and caveats when I wanted nothing to do with them, and I can't say they are still my favorite band or even my favorite American band, but by and large they remain major for me, as CDs have graduated to files and files have graduated to sought-after near mint copies of the vinyl records. More than anything, what's prompted me to re-immerse myself in the Beach Boys this summer has been how easy it is. Their work is second-nature to me, and falling back into it is like revisiting a very comfortable childhood home, evoked so easily by those yellow and orange Capitol swirl 45s. A childhood home with lots of terrifying stories of corrupt psychiatrists, familial betrayals and serial killers... but maybe that's only appropriate.

***

One last note before we head into the depths of minutiae: I'm ordinary irritated when writers refer to famous people by their first names; during the Democratic primary this year I refused to say I was a "Bernie supporter" and I don't know why that was such a celebrated parlance. But with the Beach Boys, things are different; having three Wilsons in the band, plus a manager named Wilson, forces my hand in referring to Brian, Carl and Dennis (and Audree and Murry) by their given names, and for sake of consistency this generally requires me to also refer to the other two original members of the band as Al and Mike, and on occasion, Bruce, Ricky, Blondie and David. Thanks for understanding.

***

PARSING THE CATALOG + NOTES ON AVAILABILITY
When I first wrote a version of this discography over a decade ago, it was a fair bet that virtually everyone reading had at least a passing familiarity with the Beach Boys' music. As the culture has fractured, for better or worse, that's no longer necessarily the case; they remain a more famous band than the lion's share of American rock groups from the '60s, but interest in them has skewed older and older apart from a brief period in the mid- to late-2000s when their influence on college and indie rock outstripped the Beatles. These days there's no point in assuming anyone has some sort of monolithic hold on people's consciousness, and besides, being exposed to music is very different from hearing it completely. Luckily, the streaming era makes it very easy to send someone in the right direction on getting to know the Beach Boys. Everyone with even the tiniest modicum of interest in pop or rock music should be familiar with Pet Sounds, but if there is some way you can learn to live with the record for a while instead of approaching it with its pedestal in mind, you're likely to understand it far more than you will if you reach it expecting to be immediately blown away. The actual greatness of Pet Sounds lies in its malleability and how its emotional grace notes achieve a synchronicity to day-to-day life. Equally important is a representation of the Beach Boys' sunnier but almost invariably brilliant radio singles. There's no simple, complete collection of their hits but thematically, Endless Summer is the best of them all -- a wonderful, cohesive listen -- and it's now readily available on the streaming sites, physically easy to find (though not in print). Sounds of Summer is a more complete collection of their hits and will work nearly as well to explain the band in a concise way. If you love this material, my strong suggestion is to dive into the boxed set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys, a much easier suggestion to make now that you can hear it for free through a Spotify account.

At that point, you're likely to know whether you're on the verge of becoming a huge fan or not. If so, all of the '60s albums except Christmas Album are essential in some capacity, and most will want to stretch forward up through at least Holland, probably through Love You; apart from a song or two, everything after 1977 is skippable unless you become so fascinated you're some sort of sick, obsessive hardcore, in which case the rest of their work is covered at length in these pages. If you're liking the boxed set but are more inclined to keep things casual, I'd advocate a smattering of studio albums instead of exposing yourself to more of the numerous compilations: the truly crucial early Beach Boys albums are Surfer Girl, All Summer Long, Today! and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). If you're a bit more adventurous, Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends and 20/20 as well as Love You are delightful records and among the most unashamedly eccentric works of any major rock band. Holland is a conventional classic rock LP that requires fewer apologies than most of the band's early '70s material, though it's even more convincing on stage as heard on the fine live record In Concert, which proves that this often fractured and troubled band was at least briefly a dynamic and engrossing stage act.

Now for the availability question. In the vinyl era, every Beach Boys album through Wild Honey was mixed in mono; Surfin' U.S.A., Surfer Girl, Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down Vol. 2, All Summer Long, Concert and Christmas Album also had stereo mixes available. In 2012 Capitol issued much but not all of the '60s catalog on CDs that included mono and stereo mixes of these albums except Concert and Christmas Album, and added new stereo versions of the formerly mono-only records except Wild Honey, released on its own in stereo on the excellent 2017 set Sunshine Tomorrow, now streaming. Finally having a nearly complete catalog of the band's '60s output in mono available digitally (all of them also on Spotify) is a great relief after years of only being able to listen to Surfer Girl as its creator intended on vinyl, but the new stereo mixes are mostly disappointing; and worse yet, the truly definitive CD issues of the Beach Boys' albums are the 1990 twofer CDs of the Capitol albums, reissued in 2001 and joined in 2000 by similar sets dedicated to the Warner/CBS period. These discs used the stereo mixes when they existed, a bad decision cancelled out by the inclusion of often excellent bonus tracks on the '60s albums.

Throughout this discography I've tried to make careful mention of what officially released Beach Boys songs that you would actually want to hear have not made it to the streaming sites; the primary gap is the aforementioned bonus material included on the 1990 twofer CDs. The two latter-day albums Still Cruisin' and Summer in Paradise are absent from streaming and out of print on disc but you really don't want either of them.

THE SOLO WORK
Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston have all issued solo albums; Mike even has several unreleased records in the vault that are trainwreck terrible. None of these have very broad interest; Mike also had a side-project band called Celebration in the late '70s that never really caught on, though their sunny soundalike vibe and the occasional involvement of other Beach Boys might make them worthwhile for some. Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin's group the Flame released several albums in South Africa, but their key item is the Carl Wilson-produced The Flame, which has a few gems such as the Billy Preston-like "Get Your Mind Made Up." David Marks has recorded and self-released a number of solo albums and was also a member of a cult psychedelic outfit called Moon not long after departing the Beach Boys. I have not heard Marks' work alone or with Moon as of yet.

Carl Wilson's two albums, Carl Wilson and Youngblood are slick, professional affairs that suffer from lousy production and overwrought songwriting, despite occasional good moments and of course some wonderful singing. I have never heard Like a Brother, the album he recorded in the years before his death with AM blandos Gerry Beckley (America) and Robert Lamm (Chicago), but it features five lead vocals from him as well as four songs he cowrote, so it's likely worth a gander.

By far the best solo record issued by any of the Beach Boys is Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, a masterpiece too heavy to explore in any depth here; it will easily warrant its own lengthy essay, but any Beach Boys fan -- or fan of '70s pop, period -- who's not heard it is in for a treat. Bits and pieces of unreleased solo Dennis from throughout the '70s and early '80s have made their way down the pike in piecemeal fashion over the years on Beach Boys archival releases, but the 2008 reissue of Pacific Ocean Blue gathers the bulk of the music he completed for his prospective second solo LP, Bambu; it's the definitive study of this fine, underrated singer-songwriter.

Inevitably, Brian Wilson's work requires the most space. The unreleased record that was variously called Brian's in Love and Adult Child is covered in part four of our bootlegs section, though it feels even less like a Beach Boys album than Love You. 1988's Brian Wilson has a couple of knockouts -- "Love and Mercy" and "Melt Away" -- and generally works as a sort of distant cousin to Love You, though the pervading sonic influences of the day do have their way with some of the songs, as does the iron fist of Dr. Landy. The follow-up, Sweet Insanity, was rejected twice by Sire Records and brings forth all of Brian's eccentricities without the balance of charm provided on its predecessor; much of its material was eventually reworked. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times is an enjoyable, Unplugged-like record of an older Brian singing some of his old classics in a subdued, stripped-back setting. His collaboration with Van Dyke Parks, Orange Crate Art, sounds like Brian Wilson singing a bunch of Van Dyke Parks' songs, so your appreciation will depend on whether you can stand Parks more than I can. (Far as I'm concerned, the best thing he ever did was arrange strings for Joanna Newsom's Ys.)

The famous "Paley sessions" from the early '90s are a heap of fun, though erratic, but instead Brian copped to pressure and adult contemporary drudgery with the disappointing Imagination, an album that suffers even more than the 1988 Sire debut for its dire sonic trendiness, especially when the incomprehensible decision is made to "revise" two Beach Boys songs, "Keep an Eye on Summer" and "Let Him Run Wild." Outside of a couple of decent live releases, the next original record from Brian was the perfectly dreadful Gettin' In Over My Head, followed by his version of Smile in 2004, which is dissected in part 3 of our bootleg rundown. There were further stopgaps: a Christmas album that I've not heard, a serviceable Gershwin "reimagining," and a worthless album of Disney songs, but there have also been two further full-fledged studio releases: the ambitious That Lucky Old Sun is a bit overstuffed and annoyingly arty but sometimes impressive, while No Pier Pressure is a weird, confused bid for wide appeal that simply shouldn't have happened.

But the very best Brian Wilson solo disc you can buy isn't a studio or live album at all, it's the compilation Pet Projects, which collects most of the wonderful singles he produced for other artists during his mid-'60s peak. Not only is it a terrific listen and a great supplement for Beach Boys fans, it actually makes a strong case that he was as strong a producer for outside talent as Phil Spector and that this might well have been a lucrative and fulfilling future for him, had the pressure to continue with the band not been too great. Attempts to concentrate on such a career were sabotaged on multiple occasions by Murry and by other Beach Boys -- again, in a probable act of self-preservation -- and so this potentially life-altering change of pace for Brian never took off.

SUPPLEMENTAL READING
During preparation for this discography I tried to read every major, serious examination of the Beach Boys I could. By no means is this a complete or canonical listing, and chances are it will be updated in the future with further additions.

The two best pieces of critical writing about the Beach Boys I have read are in short form. The first is Jim Miller's remarkably perceptive overview of the band in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, which has long been a strong influence on my way of thinking about them and certainly on everything you'll read here. The other is the late Paul Williams' fine, impassioned essay about the Good Vibrations boxed set from Crawdaddy, also included in his book How Deep Is the Ocean?.

The definitive biography of the Beach Boys has yet to be written or published. Each existing volume has its advantages and shortcomings and none can be unreservedly recommended. Two come very close, however. Peter Ames Carlin's Catch a Wave is a biography of Brian Wilson rather than the band but as a well-crafted overview of the story as it's best understood, with solid writing and few factual inaccuracies or unnecessary tangents, it's difficult to fault. I'd direct anyone interested to delve into it before any other book. For the more seasoned fan, James B. Murphy's Becoming the Beach Boys stands as likely the most strongly researched and consistently surprising volume on the band's history yet to be published; unfortunately, like Mark Lewisohn's Beatles bio Tune In it ends at the beginning (somewhere in 1963) and unlike Lewisohn, Murphy -- a veterinarian by day -- has no plans to continue the story. Murphy's book altered Beach Boys scholarship like nothing else that's been published in many years, dredging up information, consulting new primary sources and correcting rumors and myths at a breathtaking rate, and it lays out once and for all a complete portrait of how the band came into existence. It's a bit dryly written, but when no one has even attempted to parse out the truth on such a scale, how can you really object? Again, the book is probably of interest only to hardcores, but if you are one it will quickly become one of the most essential texts.

As to the other major biographies: Stephen Gaines' infamously salacious Heroes and Villains is useful if you need insight into the Beach Boys' long string of bad luck re falling in with terrible people and their bizarre business and management choices, as its grasp of the facts on this front is solid enough, but Gaines loves to write the most lurid stories he comes across, and in most other areas the book should be taken as entertainment rather than as presentation of fact, given how many simple and easily verifiable errors it makes. Gaines also doesn't seem to possess much actual passion or interest in the Beach Boys' music, which feels like it should have been a prerequisite. The more worshipful The Nearest Faraway Place by Timothy White is sadly little better, especially considering that he's likely the writer who had the most complete access to now-deceased primary sources like Dennis and Audree, but the late White was unfortunately cursed with a turgid, pretentious prose style, and the book is oddly structured, with vast overemphasis on the background of California's history and the Wilsons' ancestry and quite a lot of other material that has little to do with the supposed subject of the book. There are several pages of skateboarding history thrown into the narrative, and he will pivot seemingly at random from talking about the Watts riots or the moon landing to the Beach Boys singing a new contract, or similar. It's an incredibly frustrating book, and rather poor as both narrative and scholarship.

Finally there is David Leaf's The Beach Boys and the California Myth, formatted in that hybrid text and picture-book format so popular in the 1970s, and now very difficult to track down despite being the first serious, unauthorized book to attempt to put together a definitive Beach Boys history. Leaf is unfortunately the source of a rather shocking number of long-pervasive myths about the Beach Boys, perhaps most infamously that they didn't play on most of their records, and the book is written with the unhidden agenda of putting across an idea that Brian Wilson was the entirety of the group's appeal and that they held him back from accomplishing all that he could have. Even if there is a bit of truth in this argument, Leaf's strong bias toward and almost sycophantic attitude toward Brian -- which could continue to manifest for the next couple of decades -- is hard to take.

More telling and unfiltered than almost any of the books is this harrowing letter to Brian from his father Murry in 1964, as clear and concise a vision of what abuse looks like as I've ever seen. You should be warned that if you read it, it will sour your day considerably, but you'll also come away marveling at how much Brian did manage to achieve.

Now for reference books. We've already discussed Domenic Priore's Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile in the essay above, but it should be considered essential. A brief, critical discography with good notes and a lot of wit, The Beach Boys: The Complete Guide to Their Music by Andrew G. Doe and John Tobler is a good rundown of the band's individual songs, covering everything up through 2004 including solo records, though there are a few since-disproven statements (like that Glen Campbell plays the intro of "Fun, Fun, Fun") and the book as a whole, while nice to have, is largely superseded by Doe's excellent website, Bellagio 10452, by far the most extensive gathering of hard information about the Beach Boys anywhere. That website lays waste to Keith Badman's The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary, a handsome book and attempted chronology that's unfortunately riddled with glaring mistakes and omissions. It's nice to have it for the illustrations, but its ignorance of facts and apparently incompetent research team render it largely useless. As Doe has pointed out several times, it plagiarizes large parts of his website and, most embarrassingly, spends the introduction laying out a history of Hawthorne... Hawthorne, New Jersey! Johnny Morgan's recent The Beach Boys: America's Band is another beautifully illustrated volume that serves no actual purpose.

Autobiographies exist for three Beach Boys, all semi-ghostwritten as is typical for the business. Jon Stebbins shepherded David Marks' The Lost Beach Boy, an enjoyably conversational rundown of his years in and out of the group, with a surprising number of revelations (Marks' parents kept very good records). Todd Gold, making heavy use of other people's existing books and under the thumb of Eugene Landy, threw together the shitshow Brian Wilson memoir Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story, which was quickly disowned by Brian and is best avoided, though it shows up in seemingly every thrift store in the country even now. As I was preparing this discography, Mike Love and Brian Wilson were both on the verge of publishing new memoirs, previewed by two excellent modern profiles of the former bandmates in Rolling Stone: Erik Hedegaard's of Mike and Jason Fine's of Brian. Having read both books in 2017 I can report that the only major surprise is how engaging and readable Brian's I Am Brian Wilson is -- written in stream of consciousness with real evidence of his personality throughout. There's equal evidence of who Mike really is deep down in his sniping, superficial Good Vibrations, a tedious litany of excuses and thin justifications for his often reprehensible behavior and just generally irritating attitude, though there are valuable insights into his character here and there. Most fans will probably want to read both books, and despite the coauthors' obvious presences, if nothing else they certainly are accurate reflections of what we know of their authors' outlooks and temperaments.

You'll find a much more exhaustive critical bibliography -- and a lot of other great stuff -- on Bret Wheadon's long-running BeachBoys.com, a deeper and more extensive exploration of the Beach Boys' career with reviews of every relevant album, compilation, solo record, book, film, DVD, on and on and on. Wheadon's site was a great help to me when I was first getting seriously interested in the band and it's still a phenomenal resource, and extremely tough-minded and well-written.

Most of the most dedicated, involved Beach Boys research goes on in the forums, but as the group has splintered, so has its fanbase. Log in to the Smiley Smile or Pet Sounds Message Boards and you'll see a whole lot of sometimes melodramatic bickering before you find anything useful; it's so toxic it actually put me in a rush to put this whole thing to bed, but I can't not mention what a great time I had on Usenet and on the old Cabinessence and Smile Shop boards way back when, exploring and obsessing when I had so much more time to do that sort of thing. The gold standard of Beach Boys scholarship these days -- and the person I most want to write a book -- is Craig Slowinski, whose session research has given us formerly impossible enlightenment about who played what on these records. You'll find some of his work here and a lot more of it in his capacity now as de facto Beach Boys historian with the notes he contributed to the Smile Sessions and (still in progress) Made in California boxes.

SUPPLEMENTAL VIEWING
Four large-scale documentaries about the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson have been made to date, each of them equally interesting for different reasons. The Beach Boys: An American Band is a bizarre, cornball affair with Brian interviewed literally from his bed, Al badly reenacting a football game at Hawthorne High, and Mike schmoozing through "Okie from Muskogee." The Brian-centric I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, directed by Don Was, is out on a DVD that also includes American Band and offers a low-key glimpse at Brian on the upswing circa 1995, with some very good and unusual interviews. Endless Harmony is the band-sanctioned response to The Beatles Anthology, only much (much) shorter; it's currently out of print but is notable for including interviews with all surviving members, including Carl just before his death. The best audiovisual overview of the Beach Boys' story is the A&E Biography episode about Brian, with well-chosen music and a sympathetic but balanced view laid out just ahead of his emergence as a major touring act. Bruce and Al give new interviews for that piece as well, as do many Beach Boys luminaries, like their former road manager Fred Vail and Brian's first wife Marilyn Rovell Wilson.

2015 brought Bill Pohland's Love and Mercy, a good biopic of Brian Wilson starring Paul Dano and John Cusack, and with the Carlin book as its primary source, it serves also as a nice introduction to the band's history and, more importantly, their music, with an excellent interweaving of their classics reconfigured as scoring. I have yet to see Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, but it's available from Criterion and is an essential artifact because it features Dennis Wilson's lone acting performance.

The Beach Boys are represented on DVD as a live band on the 1980 concert Live at Knebworth 1980, but while all five original members are present, it's not an exceptionally great show and everyone seems very tired. On the other hand, The Lost Concert finds them at the beginning of their career, wily and fresh-faced, but you're better off experiencing this via their wonderful sequence in Steve Binder's The T.A.M.I. Show, which offers numerous other great performances as well (against which it's quite impressive that they hold their own).

There's more Beach Boys material, good and bad, on Youtube than could reasonably be dealt with in a blog post. But some of the highlights I encountered while working on all this are:
- a wonderful 1969 concert that starts here
- performing "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone" on The Old Grey Whistle Test
- playing "Wild Honey" with Chaplin and Fataar in tow, 1972
- the only long audio interview with Dennis I've come across, from 1976
- a fairly lengthy 1984 video interview with Carl

Nosing around in the related videos for those should keep you busy for some time.

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NOTE ON THE DISCOGRAPHY
Rather than simply converting, correcting and posting my old Beach Boys commentaries from 2003, I decided it was necessary to wholly rewrite them for the most part, and in doing so I did my very best to ensure that I was reporting the facts related to the music as correctly as possible. I should thank Craig Slowinski, Andrew Doe and fellow North Carolina-based fan Lee Dempsey for answering strange questions I had during preparation of this storm of posts via the Pet Sounds and Smiley Smile Message Boards, and I'd also like to say that if any inaccuracy still made it through I would very much like to hear about it. Please comment or email me; my address is at the top of the blog.

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