Beach Gents

Good ole vibrations from the Beach Boys this summer

While Marks may put some bite back into the sound, don't expect the shows to sound just like the records. Aside from Brian Wilson's layered productions being impossible to duplicate on stage, the fact is, depending on the song, three or four of the original Beach Boys voices are missing on any tune. While Bruce Johnston, Matt Jardine and Carl Wilson were able to tackle Brian Wilson's vocal parts in the past, the stage show now, with Jardine and Carl gone, relies on Johnston and other band members to perform Carl's and Brian's lead vocals and Jardine's harmonies. Reports are it sometimes works, and other times it just doesn't sound like the Beach Boys.

The true Beach Boys sound was established back in '66 when Brian Wilson and company entered a new musical realm with Pet Sounds. A landmark recording in rock history, Pet Sounds is a musical statement that reveals how artists can combine catchy pop hooks, beautiful melodies, brilliant harmonies, dynamic production and vocals that only these blond-headed heads in their primes could pull off with insightful lyrics. Gone were the surf, girls and cars. In their place were Brian Wilson and Tony Asher's words about the joys and pains of romance, unrequited love, isolation and alienation.

"What Brian did with Pet Sounds," says Beach Boys historian David Leaf, "was to create art rock." Leaf is probably right. Prog-rock guitarist Steve Howe cites "Wouldn't It Be Nice" as the song that changed his approach to guitar playing, and Pet Sounds is really a rock rock and roll album in that it revolves around one connected thought from beginning to end. Critically acclaimed and credited by Paul McCartney as the inspiration for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album, Pet Sounds was poorly marketed by Capitol Records. It didn't know what to do with its surf group's venturing into uncharted waters.

Though Pet Sounds hit No. 10 on the album charts and clocked in four Top 40 singles, it was considered a flop by the band, whose previous albums had set a high standard.

Despite the disappointing sales of Pet Sounds, the group continued its artistic rise with the Smile sessions, which delivered "Good Vibrations," a production masterpiece that features more than 20 vocal tracks and could be the most artistic single ever to top the pop charts. Yet as the Beach Boys continued with the Smile sessions in '67, tensions within the group grew, as did Brian Wilson's use of drugs. There are several theories why Brian Wilson called off the sessions, but only he knows for sure, and his answers to the question constantly change. His decision denied the record-buying public some of rock and roll's greatest music, as unauthorized copies of the Smile sessions reveal Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys as being more advanced, technically and artistically, than any other rock band of the day. The problem was that the Beach Boys never finished its sonic painting. The Beatles did. It was called Sgt. Pepper.

After Wilson aborted Smile, the group went into a tailspin but bounced back in '68 with the underrated Friends album. Brian Wilson's contributions became erratic from '68 to '73, and the members of the Beach Boys changed from Wilson's messengers to a group with more input from other members, most notably younger brother Carl Wilson and middle brother Dennis Wilson, who were both progressing as composers and producers. The Beach Boys' albums from this period contain some of the best songs of the era, though most failed to chart and have been underappreciated for decades. "The late '60s/early '70s was probably my favorite period," says Johnston. "But the Beach Boys weren't at the top of people's mind during that time. We have, like, a blackout period during that time."

Between '71 and '73 that all changed, in part due to the contemporary nature of the band's music and in part due to the direction and marketing efforts of then-manager Jack Rieley. The band members shed the surfer-boy image and were again considered hip by the rock press. Rolling Stone, the same magazine that had dismissed the Beach Boys in '67, called Holland one of the five best albums of '73. The band was relevant again.

The new direction would not last, however. In '74 Capitol Records released a compilation of surf, girls and car songs from the early '60s called Endless Summer. A chart topper, Endless Summer sold better than anything the Beach Boys had done in years.

Endless Summer's success, combined with Jack Rieley's departure in '73 and Brian Wilson's not writing any new material, meant the group's tours would eventually focus on the hits and little else. "People, when they go to concerts," says Johnston, "if it's too long or they don't recognize it, they tend to kind of squirm."

Since '75 the band has released only seven albums of new material. Those records have been inconsistent at best, and some, such as Love You and MIU, are just plain embarrassing, though some fans would beg to differ. In '88 the band recorded "Kokomo," and it hit No. 1, 25 years after the last Beach Boys single reached the top spot. Despite the band's less-than-stellar work on tape over the past two decades (and, to be fair, there have been a few really good songs), it has remained a consistent summer touring band that gets thousands of fans to attend concerts of hits made famous more than three decades ago.

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