History of the Beach Boys


Nothing says fun, fun, fun more than walking into the Arnold Hall at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and seeing attendees in their ’60s and ’70s who have “brought their own bottle”… of oxygen. Admittedly, the Academy is located 7,250 feet above sea level, but that did not stop the faithful from showing up in their Aloha shirts, which is ironic in itself, as a snowstorm was coming in over the Rocky Mountain foothills, immediately west of the Academy.


Beach Boys’ History

The Beach Boys are the quintessential West Coast “American’s Band,” who rose to popularity in the 1960s with songs that celebrated the:

  • hydrodynamics of board-based ocean-faring sports
  • internal combustion machine carburetion systems
  • complexities associated with teenage angst

Regionally, they had a hit with Surfin when the three Wilson brothers — Brian, Dennis, and Carl — plus cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine emerged on the pop music scene with tight and intricate harmonies. Mike Love co-wrote many of their hits with his cousin Brian Wilson. Brian’s lush vocals were a signature part of their sound, though he quit touring regularly with the band earlier in their career. Brothers Carl and Dennis died in the ’80s and individually Brian and Al occasionally perform separately with their own backing bands. Bruce Johnston joined The Beach Boys in 1965, replacing Glenn Campbell, who filled in for Brian when he retired from touring. Campbell’s career took off when he did a successful summer replacement variety show for the Smothers Brothers.

Trivia: before they were the Beach Boys, the band went by the name Pendletones. This was the common surf outfit of the early ’60s: Pendleton flannel shirts, over tee shirts, and khakis. I learned this at the Pendleton Wollen Mills in Oregon. And of course, I had to buy one. The one featured on these album covers is the Board Shirt, which Pendleton now calls Blue Beach Boys Plaid.


Surfin Safari

Beach Boys in Pendleton Shirts


On this tour, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston were joined by Mike Kowalski (drums), Randell Kirsch (guitar/vocals), Chris Farmer (bass/vocals), Tim Bonhomme (keyboards/vocals), Scott Totten (guitar/vocals), and John Cowsill of The Cowsills (keyboards/vocals/percussion) yes, those Cowsills, who had a TV show created about them, called “The Partridge Family.”

So, there were two of the original band at this performance, the legally required minimum to use the plural: Beach Boys. Nevertheless, this band was both influenced by The Beatles (“Rubber Soul”) and in return influenced The Beatles (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” after the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.”)


Personal Recollection of the Beach Boys

The last time I saw the Beach Boys was back in 1972 in San Francisco when they performed at the fabled Winterland Ballroom. I didn’t so much see them as experience them. I was up in the rafters, doing their light show, back in the days of overhead projectors, gels, and liquid dyes — a live multi-sensory musical experience. My roommate owned the second-largest light show company in northern California at the time. The tour at this time was captured in the live album “The Beach Boys in Concert,” but nothing compared to the live experience, back in the day of psychedelics. When the house lights came up, because of the audience’s consumption of combustible cannabis herbs, from the rafters it looked like a small forest fire had occurred.


Beach Boys Now

But that was then. This is now. To someone like me, who was born in Southern California and spent most of his life (so far) living on the West Coast, the Beach Boys were the background music for most of my life. However, my wife grew up on an alternate coast, and was forced to listen to alternative music, which she calls “classical.” To me though, this is classic rock and roll. Nevertheless, she was a good sport and allowed me to drag her to this concert.

The band took to the stage with 3 guitars, 2 keyboards, a drummer, and Mike Love on tambourine. They started with their signature hit:

  • California Girls

though to wow the local crowd, they did include the line “Colorado girls.” It should be noted that this song had a direct influence on The Beatles song “Back in the USSR.” The Beach Boys immediately went into:

  • Dance, Dance, Dance

which explores the musical and kinetic alternative “after 6 hours of school.” This was followed by the musical question:

  • Do You Wanna Dance?

which originally was sung by Dennis Wilson on lead. This was followed by:

  • When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)

which looks forward to what it would be like to be 18, 19, … 32. “Won’t last forever.”

  • Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

This cover of the 1956 hit for “Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers” in 1956 fit the mood. The Beach Boys’ falsetto and a cappella harmonies were lush.

  • Then I Kissed Her

This cover of the original Crystals girl group “Then He Kissed Me” fits the time of the early ’60s, but the original vocal was done by Dolores Brooks, so they had to be re-worded for a male lead. It was originally done by Al Jardine in 1965 for their “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” album.

  • California Dreamin’

while this fit the time and geography, this song, originally popularized by “The Mamas and the Papas,” just doesn’t work as well for the Beach Boys.

  • Sloop John B

This folk song, popularized by the Weavers and The Kingston Trio, was originally a West Indies folk song, though it did go into space, or at least the TV show “Lost in Space,” where Billy Mumy sang it.

  • Wouldn’t It Be Nice

This opening track to the 1966 album “Pet Sounds” was also the opening song to the 1975 movie “Shampoo.” featuring Warren Beatty.

At this point in the show, Mike Love, the leader of the band, began his conversation with the audience.

And now we’ll have Intermission, which will be followed by a nap. The next song is dedicated to the ladies. This will involve ‘cellphone audience participation’ so take them out.

At this point, folks took out their phones as the lights went down and the band played:

  • Surfer Girl

a song of unusually sweet harmonies. A girl came out and danced with Mike Love — she was obviously a dancer.

  • Do It Again

This song can only be described as “surf doo woop.”

  • Don’t Back Down

was one of my early favorites from the 1964 album “All Summer Long” with Brian Wilson’s original defiant soaring falsetto.

  • Catch A Wave

was next, a hit from 1963. I recall during one of my first skateboard phases when boards were moving from steel wheels to clay ones, Jan and Dean had a hit in 1964 when they re-worked the lyrics of this surfing song to become the hit “Sidewalk Surfin’.”

  • Hawaii

was next from the B side of the “Surfer Girl” album.

  • Surf City

also known by the statistically correct “Two Girls For Every Boy” this song celebrates target-rich dating environments. The falsetto even mentions a “surfer girl.”

This surf section of the concert ended with

  • Surfin’ Safari

One commendable service the Beach Boys have provided for years is geography lessons. Surfing locations unknown to the population who live west of San Bernardino are enumerated in several of their songs. This song is one of those instructional songs which mentions Huntington and Malibu, Rincon, Laguna, Cerro Azul, Doheny, Hawaii, and even Peru (which regular readers can attest, has very nice beaches.)

Mike Love spoke again about the next song:

This is a love song about a car. It only makes sense. You save up your money and buy it. It was a ’49 Chevy. It was not glamorous, but it got me where I wanted to go. Then you save up more money to fix it up.

  • Ballad of Ole Betsy

This was not one of their more familiar songs, but it segued into other less familiar love songs:

  • Getcha Back

followed by

  • (She’s My Girl, and I’m) Good To My Baby

But the next was an unmistakable love song hit:

  • Don’t Worry, Baby

Co-written by Roger Christian — whom I met in 1982 — he also co-wrote many other songs for the Beach Boys as well as Jan and Dean including “Cherry, Cherry Coupe,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Little Old Lady From Pasadena” and the aforementioned “Sidewalk Surfin’.” He’d been one of the “boss jock” radio personalities for the fabulously popular KHJ and KRLA, teen magnets that I listened to during the ’60s.

Mike then introduced the next song, one particularly relevant to this venue:

Next is one of the most patriotic songs ever written… no, not Surfin’ USA. It’s about people in uniform [crowd goes wild], actually about women in uniform. In cheerleading uniforms.

  • Be True to Your School

Mike next introduced another section, which he called

Esoteric Automotive Classics.

  • Cherry, Cherry Coupe

though not very familiar, was immediately followed up by

  • Little Deuce Coupe

which my wife thought was “Little Juice Coupe” but was able to figure out due to the endless repetition.

  • 409

a truly righteous song, which tells about how Mike

…saved my pennies and saved my dimes…

to purchase this 4-speed, dual quad, positraction vehicular legend.

  • Little Old Lady From Pasadena

who belied the used car salesman fable about a “little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays.”

  • Shut Down

talks about a race between a Superstock Dodge and a Corvette Stingray, which discusses the heartrending teen difficulties of rear transmission weight on slick tires and the advantage of fuel injection over ram induction. I learned everything I know about cars from this song.

  • I Get Around

This #1 monster hit, their first on the US charts, confused me at the time. During my pre-dating years, I did not understand why

“None of the guys go steady ’cause it wouldn’t be right,
To leave their best girl home now on Saturday night.”

Did this mean that if they left them home, the girls would go out with other guys, or that they didn’t go steady because they were taking the girls out on Saturday night already? Were they out racing for “pinks?” I’m still not sure I understand.

Mike then explained that:

My cousin Brian Wilson was very influenced by the “Four Freshman” who did what was known then as “modern harmony” which we would now call “carbon dating harmony.” We do this next song “a cappella” which means “naked.” OK, maybe not “naked” but “without instruments.” We did it for Reagan’s second inauguration.”

  • Their Hearts Were Filled With Spring

And next, speaking of teenage angst, a song that every teenager could identify with:

  • In My Room

This was followed by one of the Beach Boys’ most theologically contemplative songs, indeed it was one of the first pop songs to start the title with:

  • God Only Knows

It was originally sung with just three voices, Carl Wilson as lead, with his brother Brian and Bruce Johnson. Paul McCartney of The Beatles admitted that this song is “on the top of my list” of his Top 10 songs. Some claim that The Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” was inspired by this tune and that the album it came from, “Pet Sounds” released in 1966, was John Lennon‘s main influence for “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967). Bono said that “the string arrangement on ‘God Only Knows’ is fact and proof of angels.”

  • Good Vibrations

Another #1 hit, the Beach Boys’ most symphonic and powerfully produced song.

  • Kokomo

This is one of their more recent hits from 1988, the first #1 since “Good Vibrations,” and was featured on the soundtrack for the Tom Cruise movie “Cocktail” and indeed the word appears in the lyrics. Another geography lesson, this time in the Caribbean, it mentions Aruba, Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahama, Key Largo, Montego, Martinique, Montserrat and Port-au-Prince.

  • Help Me Rhonda

had the crowd on their feet. Originally sung by Al Jardine, it remains a particularly enthusiastic song.

The show then concluded with:

  • Surfin’ USA

Another song that features a geography lesson, including Del Mar, Ventura, Santa Cruz, Trestle, Narabine, Manhattan (beach), and Doheny again… followed by Pacific Palisades, San Anofree, Sunset and Redondo Beaches in Los Angeles, as well as La Jolla further south, and even as far as Waimea Bay, Hawaii. This song brought a flag down behind the stage.

But the crowd wouldn’t leave, and Mike Love came out and said:

OK, if you insist…

as they did a couple more for an encore.

  • Barbara Ann

with members of the audience coming on stage to dance, and

  • Fun, Fun, Fun

a great re-working of Chuck Berry‘s 1958 “Johnny B. Goode” tune. This song was a common closer for their mid-70s concerts, as it was here.



Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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  1. Garry Holman on March 10, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Thanks from a decades-long Beach Boys fan for a fun trip down Memory Lane. Your comments about “409” reminded me of one of my all-time favorite bits of music review punditry, namely the critic who observed that “409” was “a really great song about a really lousy car.”

    Re your puzzlement over “I Get Around,” the significance of “None of the guys go steady…” is — at least in my opinion — fairly straightforward. That a guys would have to “leave their best girl home now on Saturday night” can mean only one thing, namely that their cars — and Saturday night cruising — are more important than their girlfriends. Of course, growing up in SoCal during the 60’s as you did, I can’t imagine there were too many girls who would have put up with this for too long, so the “not going steady” thing would have ended up pretty much self-fulfilling. Since sex at that time was for married folks only (reference to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”), girls at that time didn’t have the kind of influence over their boyfriends that girls today have (reference to one of my favorite Sam Kinison routines about female influence). As another astute pundit observed about cars, “A guy usually has enough time and money for a girlfriend [or wife] or for a Jaguar, but not for both.”


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