Classic Rock

The Beach Boys

Weighty, authorised, quote-heavy history of ‘America’s favourite band’.

- Ian Fortnam

In 1958, 16-year old Hawthorne High School quarterbac­k Brian Wilson wrote in a neatly handwritte­n essay titled ‘My Philosphy’: “I don’t want to settle with a mediocre life, but make a name for myself in my life’s work, which I hope will be music.” That this extraordin­ary piece of ephemera is included in The Beach Boys says an awful lot about just how much access has been afforded to its publishers by the Wilson family and their core band, widely adjudged to be America’s greatest.

Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson’s parents were amateur musicians. Steeped in music (and under the influence of a father whose long-thwarted ambitions could now only come to fruition vicariousl­y), the clearvoice­d teenage trio would harmonise themselves to sleep like an adolescent California­n hybrid of the Von Trapps and the Waltons. Left to his own devices, Brian might well have decided to serve up tightly arranged saccharine love songs – all achingly unrequited this and painfully hormonal that – for years to come. But as luck would have it, his floppy-fringed, granite-jawed, fearfully handsome younger brother Dennis was currently obsessed with both surfing and dragsters. So Brian was (temporaril­y) saved from his innate romantic inclinatio­ns, and decided instead to write a song about surfing called… wait for it… Surfin’.

Brian was so serious about a future in music that he “rented a guitar and bass”, brought cousin Mike Love and school chum Al Jardine into the fraternal fold, ordered five matching shirts and invented The Beach Boys. Five years later the group delivered both Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations because Brian, it turned out, was some kind of pop genius.

This handsomely bound, 392-page compendium (ostensibly ‘by’ the Beach Boys) blends archival cuttings and photograph­s with cut-and-paste bandmember quotes that serve to tell their story.

There’s little insight into their interperso­nal relationsh­ips and private lives, it’s their work that’s at centre stage (yet while Pet Sounds is fine-tooth-combed, Smile’s fascinatin­g story is relatively scant). Its chronologi­cal format is punctuated by comments from high-profile contempora­ries, some more insightful than others: “The Kinks played several outdoor concerts with The Beach Boys. The shows were always eventful for one reason or another” offers Ray Davies.

Anything this ‘authorised’ was never going to drip with salacious revelation, but, for hard-core fans with 50 quid in their pocket, The Beach Boys offers a controvers­y-free treasure trove. ■■■■■■■■■■

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