Chances are that if you've ever set foot on a beach or looked out onto the ocean, and have working ears, of course, then you've probably been impacted by The Beach Boys at some point in your life. Whether it was just a smile drawing slowly across your face or a deep and flowing appreciation for melody that came over you, somehow the music has likely affected you while listening to it.
Formed on the west coast in Hawthorne, Calif. in 1961, the group had no trouble earning loads of immediate popularity thanks to their luscious vocal harmonies and carefree Southern California attitude that reflected the interests of many of their listeners (i.e. fast cars, falling in love, and beautiful women). The group originally consisted of brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and family friend Al Jardine.
In 1962, the group signed with Capitol Records and the group flourished as a whole, but the creative engine behind their signature sound was singer/songwriter Brian Wilson, who had an almost genius-like ability to blend perfect harmonies between voice and instrumental sound. By 1966, the group had risen to the top of the charts and were rivaled only by The Beatles for American airplay on the radios. It was the battle between the British Invasion, with its pop rock sound, and the American rock and roll sound, which tended to rely more upon smooth melodies and innovative harmonies.
It was in 1966 that The Beach Boys released their all-time, most critically-acclaimed record, Pet Sounds, which was a personal creative "pet project" for Brian Wilson for many years. The album is still considered one of the greatest records ever in rock. The first single, "Good Vibrations," was quite a departure from their earlier simple surf rock style and demonstrated the group's ability to create a multi-layered, intricate and complex sound that was deeply-rooted in vocal harmony. Other songs from Pet Sounds, such as "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice," showcased Wilson and the band's ability to take an innovative look within themselves to create compelling lyrics to match their complicated sound. While the album marked a high note for the group, it started a slow and steady decline for Brian himself.
Starting in early 1967, Brian Wilson's mental health and substance abuse issues gradually took over his day-to-day life and his influence within the band waned when the stress became too overbearing. Though Wilson had already began work on a follow-up album to Pet Sounds, which was then-entitled Dumb Angel, but would eventually be released decades later by Wilson himself as Brian Wilson Presents Smile (though The Beach Boys did release a minimal and sub par version of it in 1967 called Smiley Smile, mostly sans Brian Wilson), the band leader's psychological and physical condition was too fragile for him to continue.
Throughout the rest of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, The Beach Boys continued to perform in one incarnation or another and release music, but they would never reach the acclaim or commercial success that they did before Brian Wilson's decline and eventual departure from the group. Brian Wilson did return to the group as a leader briefly in 1976-77, but the band broke up once again due to internal fighting, with Brian remaining neutral and opting to step back once again rather than battle over the group.
Over the last few decades, The Beach Boys have gone through legal battles over touring groups using their name, disputes over songwriting royalties and authorship, and so on. Despite Brian having left the band by 1988, the group did have a major hit that year with the song "Kokomo," which was on the film soundtrack for the movie Cocktail. It would mark their first No. 1 U.S. single in 22 years.
In 2012, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnson and David Marks (the last two having replaced the now-deceased Carl and Dennis Wilson) reunited briefly to celebrate the band's 50th anniversary. Mike Love and Al Jardine are currently the only surviving two band members still touring as the official Beach Boys group, with Brian Wilson once again focusing on his own music, though another reunion of sorts could always be in the mix, says the surviving Wilson. For more than 50 years, The Beach Boys have been spreading their good vibrations throughout the world... it looks like they'll continue to do so for some time.
Keep up with The Beach Boys here.