The Beach Boys
At first their career was steered by the Wilsons' father Murry, who engineered their signing with Capitol Records. Their early material focused on the Californian youth lifestyle (e.g. "All Summer Long", "Fun, Fun, Fun"), cars ("Little Deuce Coupe") and, as often as not, Dennis's hobby of surfing (as heard on "Surfin'", "Surfin' Safari," and many others). As did their great rivals the Beatles, the Beach Boys showed very fast development during this period, drawing upon the innovations of songwriters and producers such as Burt Bacharach and Phil Spector. They produced the enduring classic "California Girls" in 1965, a banner year for popular music which also saw similarly advanced singles by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds and James Brown. But it was the Beach Boys' role to create a myth of American freedom and a dream of adolescence (and, increasingly, to articulate a dread of what lay after adolescence).
As the 1960s progressed Brian Wilson began to withdraw from touring, concentrating on producing studio recordings of ever-increasing complexity. It was at this time that Bruce Johnston joined the group as a touring replacement for Brian. He later became an integral member. Brian's mastery of the recording studio culminated with Pet Sounds (1966), and a sequence of tracks (including "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" on Pet Sounds, and "Good Vibrations," completed after Pet Sounds) whose meticulously layered and inventive instrumentation (provided by the cream of Los Angeles session musicians) set a new standard for popular music. Lyrically and musically the album is one of the most evocative of the decade, with a distinctive strain of melancholy and nostalgia for youth. The album is still widely regarded as a classic.
Seeking to improve upon Pet Sounds proved too much for Brian. A perfectionist in the studio, he suffered a nervous breakdown while working on Smile, not helped by his reliance on both prescription and illegal drugs. Some of the tracks were salvaged and re-recorded for Smiley Smile. The 1967 album Wild Honey is regarded by some critics and listeners as equal if not superior to Pet Sounds and features a prescient cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her." Wild Honey and its hit single "Darlin'" also marked the end of the Beach Boys as a major commercial entity, with subsequent releases faring far less well than those previous.
Despite Brian's deteriorating health, the band continued to work, recording Friends, 20/20, Sunflower and 1971's Surf's Up, the title track of which was an original work from a 1966 collaboration with songwriter Van Dyke Parks, who had started working with Brian Wilson during the Smile sessions. 1973's Holland received mixed reviews. "Sail on Sailor," one of the most emblematic of Beach Boys songs, hit the charts in both 1973 and 1975.
During the 1970s Brian abused drugs and gained an enormous amount of weight. In 1977 the Beach Boys released the LP Love You, a collection of songs that reflected both his retreat from the world ("Johnny Carson," "Solar System") and his continued genius as a musical thinker ("Airplane," "The Night Was So Young"). "If Mars had life on it/I might find my wife on it" from "Solar System" sums up the oddball preoccupations of Love You, which has since gained the status of a classic within the Beach Boys' ouvre.
Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983, and Carl Wilson died in 1998 from lung cancer.
Currently, the group touring under the Beach Boys name consists of Mike Love and Bruce Johnston and supporting performers (often jokingly called The Jukebox). Brian Wilson tours under his own name with The Wondermints as supporting band, and Al Jardine tours with the Alan Jardine Family & Friends Beach Band, featuring his sons Matt and Adam, Brian's daughters Carnie and Wendy, and Carl's brother-in-law Billy Hinsche, among others. Due to a series of legal tussles in the mid-90's over the ownership of the Beach Boys name, and Brian's career as a solo touring artist, the original group no longer exists as a recording or touring unit.
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.