So Misunderstood: The Beach Boys

If you’ve ever talked music with me in person, conversation has likely drifted toward my assertion that The Beach Boys were the most misunderstood band in history.  Initially, the person hearing this stance is taken aback.  Certainly I couldn’t mean those Beach Boys, could I?  The lovable surfer boys who sang tunes about fun in the sun, little deuce coupes and California girls couldn’t be that complicated, could they?  Not only could they, but they were. In fact, when I created the ‘So Misunderstood’ tag, I had a piece on The Beach Boys in mind.

Though most people have become acquainted with the strange evolution of the band through movies, books or songs by Barenaked Ladies, the depth of The Beach Boys strangeness remains largely unpublicized.  Musically, Brian Wilson earned the label of ‘genius’ even early on in the band’s career.  Songs like “Lonely Sea” and “At The Drive-In” hinted at the experimentation and introverted lyrics that would be developed much later on albums like Pet Sounds and Surf’s Up.  Like their Liverpudlian counterparts, The Beach Boys grew out of their button-down phase, but not before recording nearly twice as many albums as The Beatles in the same amount of time.  The abundance of accessible pop tunes makes it easy for casual listeners to overlook The Beach Boys’ later, more unusual records.

Pet Sounds was an unexpected success, though even Mike Love and Al Jardine questioned Brian’s shift in direction.  With part of his own band against him, Brian would try to write his magnum opus, Smile.  Legendarily, that album never got released in its entirety (until Brian revisited it in 2004 with a very large new backing band), though tracks from the project were scattered across a number of late ’60s and early ’70s records.  Those albums also explored Brian’s really weird side, with discs like 1973’s Holland including a song cycle about Big Sur, and 1977’s Love You, which heavily employed the use of Brian’s new favorite toy: the Moog synthesizer.  Sure, these albums (alongside pretty much everything post-Pet Sounds) were failed comeback attempts, but while they may not have yielded critical or commercial acclaim, they cemented The Beach Boys as one of the most unusual and unpredictable bands in America.

Of course, I haven’t even touched on the great stories of the band fighting with Murray Wilson during the sessions for “Help Me Rhonda,” or Capitol Records’ reluctance to release Pet Sounds at all.  For those tales, you’ll have to catch me in person.

Watch: The Beach Boys – “Don’t Go Near The Water” from Surf’s Up (1971)

(this clip features guitarist Blondie Chaplin and drummer/Rutle Ricky Fataar, who were brought in to the touring group by Carl Wilson after Brian and Dennis were unable to perform)


~ by E. on January 8, 2010.

2 Responses to “So Misunderstood: The Beach Boys”

  1. one step, two step, talk about a new step.
    I’m a genius, too, y’know!

  2. It’s criminal that America knows so little about “America’s Band.” Most European countries appreciated the Beach Boys more than we ever did. Check out the albums Sunflower, Carl & The Passions, Surfs Up, Holland and open your musical mind.

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