The Beach Boys
Fun, Fun, Fun in the Fort
It’s been more than 10 years since anyone in Fort Wayne has been able to yell “surf’s up” without tiny waves of irony breaking over their ankles. In the first place, there’s no surf to be up. (If only everybody had an ocean.) In the second place it’s been that long since The Beach Boys last played Fort Wayne. And if you’re going to yell “surf’s up” around here, you might as well wait for The Beach Boys to come back.
The wait is over. Let the yelling begin. The Beach Boys bring their 50 Years of Fun Fun Fun tour to the Foellinger Theater on Wednesday, September 3 at 7:30 pm.
But if you plan to attend the show and are inclined to shout “surf’s up” at some point, be aware that your outburst may be interpreted as a request for The Beach Boys song “Surf’s Up” rather than a stab at humor and that the likelihood of the Beach Boys playing “Surf’s Up” are zero. “Surf’s Up” does not figure in the Beach Boys set list these days. To hear “Surf’s Up,” wait for Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck to tour together again.
But don’t be sad. What you will hear from Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and the rest of the current Beach Boys touring band is what you probably want to hear anyway, namely the hits that have come to represent summer and all things surf, sand, cars and girls. It’s those hits – “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “California Girls,” “Kokomo,” etc. – that everyone wants to hear. It’s those hits, and Love’s recognition of their power, that have kept The Beach Boys on the road every year since they formed in 1961. And it’s those hits that made The Beach Boys the America’s best rock band.
That’s quite a statement. But when you look at the numbers, it’s hard to refute. Thirty-six Top 40 hits, four Billboard Hot 100 Chart toppers, more than 100 million records sold worldwide. Their songs have been covered by everyone from the Meat Puppets to Gene Clark.
On the rock n’ roll innovation front, The Beach Boys and the Beatles led the way for nearly all other aspiring bands in the mid 1960s. But while the Beatles had the songwriting skills of Paul McCartney and John Lennon and the production prowess of George Martin, The Beach Boys were kept aloft by the immense talents of Brian Wilson alone. Wilson wrote and arranged the songs, hired top-line session musicians to play them and then handled all of the production work himself.
The history of the Beach Boys is well known. Brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and Brian’s high school classmate Al Jardine formed the band in 1961 and later that year released a regional single, “Surfin’.” With the help of the Wilson brothers’ father, Murray, they got a record deal with Capitol Records. Their first album, Surfin’ Safari, came out in 1962. Their upbeat, carefree songs and intricate harmonies struck a chord with teenagers and helped ignite the surf rock craze. By the end of 1963 they had three full albums to their credit and Brian had taken over the production from Capitol’s own staff.
Throughout 1963 and 1964 the group toured non-stop, a schedule that proved too much for Brian, who decided to withdraw from the touring band and concentrate on songwriting and producing. Another friend, Bruce Johnston, was hired to take Brian’s place. With the band on the road, Brian spent his time in the studio writing and directing the top session players in Los Angeles to record the music. When the rest of the band returned, they would add vocal tracks. The freedom allowed Brian to explore his considerable talents to create the most innovative and complex pop music ever made.
Inspired by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, Brian began work on Pet Sounds, considered by many to be one of the most influential rock albums ever made. Critics raved, but fans took a much less enthralled view. After hits like “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “I Get Around,” songs such as “Caroline No” and “I Know There’s an Answer” proved to be a bit too introspective for average listeners. But Pet Sounds did give us songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B” and “God Only Knows,” staples of the current Beach Boys setlist. The Pet Sounds sessions also produced “Good Vibrations.” Though not released on the album, “Good Vibrations” marked a turning point in Brian’s production methods. Rather recording the song in a linear fashion, Brian took what he called “snippets” of songs and pasted them together. Though intricate and complex, the song is the most frequently played song in The Beach Boys’ repertoire.
While Brian was turning toward more deeply personal songwriting and increasingly convoluted production, the rest of the band felt the change in direction was not a good one. When the band returned from a tour of Europe in 1967, they were greeted with Brian’s latest project, the infamous SMiLE. Though the work was highly anticipated by critics and represented Brian’s most personal vision to date, he decided to shelve the record because of his bandmates’ reaction to it. (SMiLE was eventually released in 2011, though Brian, with the help of many others, finished the record and performed it live in 2004 with his own band.) The fallout from SMiLE pushed Brian more and more toward the mental and emotional problems that forced him into isolation for many years.
The 70s and 80s saw The Beach Boys continuing to tour, sometimes with Brian but most often without him. They continued to write and release albums and even scored some hits, namely with the songs “Kokomo” and “Do it Again.” In 1983 Dennis Wilson drowned after diving off a boat in Marina del Ray in Los Angeles. Carl Wilson died in 1998 from lung cancer.
In 2012 the remaining members, including Brian and David Marks, who had performed with the band off and on almost from its inception, recorded and released That’s Why God Made Radio, their 29th studio album, and embarked on a 50th Anniversary Tour. But the reunion was short lived, and soon Love and Johnston were back on their own with their version of the Beach Boys. (Jardine had left some years earlier.)
Throughout the convoluted and tragic journey of the Beach Boys, it was Mike Love who saw the value in keeping the surfing, girls and cars hits alive. He recognized the overwhelming power of nostalgia to keep audiences coming back for more good vibrations and fun, fun, fun. Brian Wilson followed his vision and his musical genius. Mike Love followed his desire to entertain.