The Beach Boys Defense
If you’re anything like me, you often sit around wondering: “What the hell is the deal with The Beach Boys?” The Beach Boys, for those of you who have never seen 50 First Dates, are a five piece rock band from Southern California that originated in the early 60’s. Front man Brian Wilson (not the bearded cup of poo corn that plays professional baseball) started the beach/hot rod-rock band while still in high school. For close to five years, The Beach Boys stuck to surf rock and found success, with hit singles such as “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surf City,” and “Do You Guys Get That We Are Into Surfing? Is It Clear? Because We Are, And I Just Want To Be Absolutely Sure That Nobody Gets It Twisted. We Are Very, VERY, Into Surfing. Probably More Than Most Other People.”
But in 1966 Brian Wilson decided to move away from the wave rock and experiment with the psychedelic noises of the mid-to-late 60’s. The result was Pet Sounds, which is widely regarded as one of the most influential albums of all time. In terms of main stream relevancy, The Boys slowly faded away until 1988, after Wilson’s departure from the band, when they released their first number one single in 22 years, “Kokomo.”
I give you this information because, to me, none of it makes any god damn sense. They started out as purely popular radio fodder that pumped out a ton of hit singles, evolved into an influential and experimental psychedelic band, and then, after years of consistent but fading success, returned to their roots and created one more hit single, without the help of the man that got them to the top. It’s like they went back in time, but replaced Brian Wilson with a wacky sax solo. They managed to top the charts, in a year where number 4 on Billboard’s “Top 100 chart was “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Do you understand why I can’t stop thinking about The Beach Boys?
Here is the point: The Beach Boys are the most under-rated band in the history of music.
This is a non-arguable point. I will create a defense for it, but I don’t need to, because this is fact. Allow me to give an example.
Let’s say you did not read the last 423 words I have written. The only information about The Beach Boys that you have is from your own experience. Someone asks you to give a top 10 artists of all-time list. The Beatles is most people’s first answer, and then you work your way through Hendrix, The Stones, maybe Elvis or Michael Jackson, you might even try to get cute and say some wrong ass shit like U2 or Pearl Jam. Whatever you say, I bet it doesn’t include The Beach Boys, which is fine. But what if I expand it to top 15 or top 20? Are they even in your top 50? A friend of mine said that she would be “shocked if they cracked the top 100.”
Well simpletons, lucky for us, Rolling Stones magazine has created an official list as voted on by their writers and people in the music industry that deals with this very topic. I get that there is no definitive authority on music ranks, but this provides a strong point of reference for the argument. Without looking, care to guess where the beach boys sit on Rolling Stones’ top 100 artists of all time? I like the Beach Boys more than most people, and I probably wouldn’t have guessed higher than 25.
They are 12th. Right after Bob Marley, and directly ahead of Buddy Holly and Led Zeppelin. Not impressed? Assuming Pet Sounds is their “best” album, where would you guess it sat on rolling stones top 500 albums of all-time list? I bet you didn’t say second, but that is exactly where it’s at. Are you fucking kidding me? Better than Thriller, and The White Album and London Calling and literally every album ever made except for one. The number one album, by the way, is The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Side Note: Pet Sounds came out a year BEFORE that album, and is frequently cited as the primary inspiration for Sgt. Pep.
So just to be clear, The Beach Boys are somewhere in the neighborhood of 12th greatest band of all time, with their masterwork album being the second greatest album of all time, and a large reason the #1 album even exists.
IF NOT FOR THE BEACH BOYS, THE GREATEST BAND OF ALL TIME MAY HAVE NEVER CREATED THE GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME.
Of course, I’m neglecting some important things. Right before Pet Sounds was released, The Beatles dropped Rubber Soul.It is widely believed that Brian Wilson made Pet Sounds in an attempt to top what The Beatles did the year prior, and he succeeded. The Beatles took the challenge and ended up making the previously stated greatest album of all time. And that was that. The Beach Boys became the Sammy Sosa to The Beatles’ Mark McGuire. Wilson followed up Sgt. Pepper with the single Good Vibrations in 66’ (widely regarded as The Beach Boys’ best single, and one of the greatest singles of all time, and also the name of seemingly every sex toy shop everywhere) which was to accompany their next album, Smile. Unfortunately, they never made it that far. A combination of Wilson’s mental instability and rampant drug use combined with incredibly demanding recording sessions ruined the project, and Smile never made it out. Eventually Smiley Smilewould be released with some of the re-worked tracks from Smile, but it was met with an underwhelming response. Can you imagine if they held it together long enough to put out Smile and it was even half as good as Pet Sounds? Would that have been enough to get them into the top 5 conversation? If that happens, do The Beatles somehow put out an even better album?
Not many bands have achieved the mass appeal that The Beach Boys have. Music enthusiasts can talk about the way The Beach Boys were pioneers of sound. Casual listeners, especially here in California, appreciate the fun and wholesome goodness of the band. Every one of their songs has the sing-a-long-get-stuck-in-your-head-all-day factor. Most people know a majority of the words to at least one Beach Boys song, if not more. And if you’re picking up your girlfriend’s grandma from the airport, The Beach Boys are a safe choice that everyone can enjoy. Go listen to Pet Sounds and try not to weep over how sneak attack awesome it is.
The Beach Boys have somehow created music that has loads of depth, but doesn’t require you to understand it to it to enjoy the music. Yet, somehow, for many people they are merely an interesting cliff note in the history of rock and roll.
I challenge you, in celebration of their supremely under-rated work, to slap on some board shorts, do some shrooms, and go on a Surfin’ Safari. Or some other beach shit. You get the point.