Book Review: “The Beach Boys by The Beach Boys”

2024, Genesis Publications

When the Beach Boys’ “country” album ‘Stars and Stripes’ came out in 1995 Mike Love said, “Nothing’s much more Americana than the Beach Boys and country music combined”. In 2022, our Ljubinko Zivkovic made the case for the Beach Boys as Americana, although I’m not expecting ‘Stars and Stripes,’ an album of their classic songs given a country makeover, to be troubling our Classic Album strand any time soon. However, from the standpoint of understanding the development of the American music industry from the early sixties onwards the Beach Boys are one of the key voices, and that is what we have in this sumptuous artifact, subtitled as their “story told for the first time in their own words and pictures.”

What used to be called a coffee table book in format, and weighing several kilos we get a chronological journey through the first 20 years of the band’s life, with the opening pages of each chapter forming as good a potted history as you could hope for. The text is drawn from new exclusive interviews with Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston, with archive material from the late Carl and Dennis Wilson. It starts from their early days in Hawthorne California and ends with 1980’s Independence Day concert at the National Mall in Washington D.C. When this book inevitably inspires a proper Beach Boy’s biopic the ending on a stage in front of half a million people in 1980 is the natural place to roll the credits.

It’s not a book to read from end to end unless you are a Beach Boys obsessive, but is ideal to flick through picking out sections to browse. There is something on every page to grab your interest. The chapters on the beginnings of the band, include a brief feature for early member David Marks, including some fulsome praise from Brian Wilson. Each album gets a page detailing its recording and a quote from one of the main group members, as do a few key singles. The pictures are what make this book. The photoshoot for the Surfin’ Safari album featuring a board-filled pickup stuck in the sand is covered with a couple of pages of outtakes, a handwritten note from Brian Wilson on dress code and commentary from Brian and Mike Love. It’s one of many glimpses of the process of creating albums at a time when they were a new thing.

Later, new light is thrown on Brian’s concern about keeping up with the Beatles. In a series of photos of him at the sessions for ‘Smile’ he grips a Hofner bass of the type favoured by Paul McCartney like some sort of talisman. The early seventies credit new members Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar, although we don’t hear their voices. We do however get testimonials from fans as diverse as Roger McGuinn, and The Jesus and Mary Chain, all interesting but none of which add greatly to the narrative.

The transition from hit makers to albums band is documented with explanations from the people who lived it. One of the most insightful is Mike Love’s view of ‘The Beach Boys In Concert’ album, where he says, “we had stopped fighting our audience and overhauled the set list to showcase our hits.” Love’s increasing role in leading business decisions starts here, and the shifting dynamic between the members over the 20 years covered in the book is one of the most interesting aspects of it. You could look at The Byrds and Beatles as other bands where power shifted over the years and the business pressures it reveals explains a lot about the behaviour of members of all these groups.

You can look elsewhere for exposes on the Wilson brothers’ treatment at the hands of their father Murry Wilson. The curtain only lifts occasionally to show the soap opera going on behind the scenes, such as David Marks’ departure in 1964. Brian’s time under the sway of Eugene Landy is described as “controversial” and skated over as far as possible. But that’s not the point of the book. It is a celebration of one of the few groups in pop to truly deserve the description “iconic.” Stopping at the 1980 highpoint means that they don’t cover the career of nadir of the eighties and nineties. We do lose the late-career renaissance of ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio,’ but also the divisiveness that followed the 50th anniversary tour. If the intent was to make us fall in love with The Beach Boy’s music again then job done. I’ve listened to ‘Holland’ and ‘Surf’s Up’ while writing this and rediscovered why The Beach Boys deserve to have this triumph of research compiled about them.

One of the few worthwhile songs on the mostly desperate ‘Stars and Stripes Vol. 1‘ features Willie Nelson.

For the record, my personal favourite Beach Boys’ song – and an indication that they were veering quite close to Laurel Canyon singer songwriter territory at times on the ‘Holland‘ album.

About Tim Martin 247 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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toby codding

mike love was and still a creep