W is for the Wilson Brothers of the Beach Boys

Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al, Brian
Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al, Brian

Murry Wilson was an entrepreneur, but he also had an interest in music, which he passed along to his sons, Brian, Dennis, and Carl, sharing his love of the tight harmonies of groups such as the Four Freshmen. He became their business manager, finagling for their group, which also included his nephew, Mike Love, and the brothers’ friend, Al Jardine (replaced briefly by David Marks), a recording contract with Capitol Records. He was a great motivator, though considered abusive.

But it was not the group, or Murry, who dubbed the group the Beach Boys. That was done by some record company employee, to capitalize on the band’s surf sound that was so popular. Ironic, since only Dennis knew how to surf.

Links to all songs; chart action is for US (Billboard).

Surfin’, #75 in 1962
Surfin’ Safari, #14 in 1962
Surfin’ USA, #3 in #1963
Surfer Girl #7 in 1963

They gained some big success, even after the British Invasion.

Dance, Dance, Dance, #9 in 1964

But Brian, arguably the creative force behind the band, tired of the road, preferring the safety of the studio. It was in this period the group put out the legendary Pet Sounds album:

Caroline, No, #32 in 1966 (billed as by Brian Wilson)
Sloop John B, #3 in 1966
Here’s the whole album.

Brian was replaced on the road, briefly by Glen Campbell, but more permanently by Bruce Johnston, who participated in the studio as well. Despite some decent albums, the group went into commercial decline by the end of the decade, with Brian’s participation spotty in the early 1970s, with his brothers and the others picking up the slack.

Long Promised Road, #89 in 1971

Funny thing happened in 1974: “Capitol Records issued Endless Summer, the band’s first major pre-Pet Sounds greatest hits package. The record sleeve’s sunny, colorful graphics caught the mood of the nation and surged to the top of the Billboard album charts. It was the group’s first multi-million selling record since ‘Good Vibrations’, and remained on the album chart for three years. The following year, Capitol released a second compilation, Spirit of America, which also sold well.” The new success of the old music brought Brian back to the fore and released some new music.

Rock and Roll Music, #5 in 1976

One of my favorite Beach Boys stories:

From 1980 through 1982, The Beach Boys and The Grass Roots separately performed at Independence Day concerts at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., attracting large crowds. In April 1983, [James Watt, Secretary of the Interior] banned the concerts, on the ground that the “rock bands”… had encouraged drug use and alcoholism, and had attracted “the wrong element”… Watt then announced that Las Vegas singer Wayne Newton, a friend and an endorser of President Reagan and a contributor to the Republican Party, would perform at the Independence Day celebration at the mall in 1983…. Vice President George H. W. Bush said of The Beach Boys, “They’re my friends, and I like their music”. Watt apologized to The Beach Boys after learning that President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan were fans of the band. Nancy Reagan apologized for Watt. The White House staff gave Watt a plaster foot with a hole for his “having shot himself in the foot”.

Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983. Carl Wilson died in 1998; I was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in May 1998 when it had a nice tribute to the Carls Perkins and Wilson; the band was inducted into the Rock Hall back in 1988.

The subsequent relationships within the group became more complicated than I need to explain here, but involving multiple bands. There was, though, a new album, featuring Love, Jardine, Marks, Johnston and Brian Wilson in 2012, and a short-lived tour, the length of which Mike Love may (or may not) have been unfairly vilified.

I linked to a bunch of my favorite Beach Boys songs a couple years ago, for Brian’s 70th birthday.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

25 thoughts on “W is for the Wilson Brothers of the Beach Boys”

  1. As is not exactly a secret, I have four copies of Pet Sounds: two LPs, a CD, and the four-CD box set. (Does that make seven copies?)

    My favorite Forgotten Single by the Boys is “Sail On, Sailor,” which was released twice (’73 and ’75) and failed to make Top 40 either time. Blondie Chaplin (!) does the lead vocal, quite spiffily. (By ’75, Chaplin had left the band.)


  2. Well, you know how much I love the Beach Boys. Pet Sounds is my favorite album of all time, and I’ve listened to SMiLE so often that my wife kind of never wants to hear it again. My Dad used to have an 8-track that he’d made of all his favorite Beach Boys songs, and he used to play it on Saturday mornings while he made pancakes, so they were the first band to make a major impression on me.

    When I was about 12 years old, I made a copy of my Aunt Mary’s Endless Summer cassette. I played it in the car and my old man was just so darn happy. I love that compilation, and it’s been out of print forever. I was so pleased to find it seven or eight years ago on eBay.

    True story: I want “Surf’s Up” played at my funeral. That should bum everyone out for a while.


  3. I can still remember all the words to their songs! Takes me back – way back – to the carefree days of youth!

    abcw team


  4. Next to The Beatles, The beach Boys were my all time favourite band when I was a teenager, I just loved them. ‘I get around’ reminds me of a holiday down in Cornwall on a surfing holiday! I loved Pet Sounds too favourite album..
    They did a lovely recording ‘In my room’, which I loved…What about the much hallowed ‘Good Vibrations’, a great hit in the UK,

    Best wishes,


  5. Great songs and really cool background – didn’t know most of it. As always, a pleasure visiting! Have a great week and happy (belated) Father’s Day.


  6. Roger, I didn’t know that the song, “God Only Knows” was by the Beach Boys! It is the best part of one of my favorite films, the highly underrated “Love Actually.” The combination of that song and the point in the movie where it appears (no “rosebudding” from me!) brings me to tears every time I see the movie! Thanks for a lovely tribute on ABC! Amy


  7. The very first concert my husband (then a boyfriend) and I went to was to see the Beach Boys. It was at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver and the year was 1976. It was our Christmas gift to each other. I remember clearly the excitement, the music, the ‘Good Vibrations’ … and my bell-bottomed Seafarer jeans and platform shoes!


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