The Beach Boys began so nicely: Surfing! T-Birds! Fun! Surfing! By 1965, the quintessential surfer band was rising to critical and commercial heights comparable even to The Beatles. Then Brian Wilson started taking drugs and created perhaps the best album and best single of all time. Then he did even more drugs, and consequently went schizophrenic and lost The Beach Boys the majority of their fame.
I can’t think of another band that ever dominated a genre as much as The Beach Boys owned surfer rock from 1962 to 1965. During these years, The Beach Boys sung about nothing but cars, girls and beaches, but tapped at young love and enthusiasm in a way that everyone could experience viscerally.
But then Brian Wilson began to feel some curiously good vibrations, and The Beach Boys became much older very quickly. 1966’s masterpiece, Pet Sounds, was a result of Brian Wilson’s exponentially growing genius and appreciation of acid. It really should be considered his solo project, since the other band members were mainly delegated to vocals, while Wilson orchestrated the complex and transcendental musical arrangements that allowed the album to reach a level of sophistication never reached again in pop music. That same year, The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson) released “Good Vibrations,” considered by many to be the greatest single in rock history and the word “theremin” began to enter the daily conversations of hipsters around the world.
But everything in moderation! It was bad enough that Brian Wilson’s sense of competition with The Beatles led him to have a nervous breakdown after hearing Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time, but his ambitious “teenage symphony to God,” SMiLE, had to be abandoned when he began to really lose his mind from all that mind-expansion.
At the time, Wilson was referring to SMiLE as a giant leap in terms of sophistication and depth even from Pet Sounds, but he became psychologically incapable of finishing it, and didn’t release it until last year in what must have been at least a slightly neutered version. For a perspective on Wilson’s state of mind at the time, look no further than his ode to vegetables, “Vega-Tables:” “I threw away my candy bar and I ate the wrapper / And when they told me what I did I burst into laughter.” Very funny, Brian Wilson!
Archived article by Jared Wolfe
Sun Staff Writer