Of the many manifestations of California throughout the years – Gold Country (1849), Yosemite Valley & Natural Beauty (1864), Ravaged by Earthquake & Fire (1906), Glamorous Glenn (1947), Anti-War & Free-Speech Protests (1964), Valley Girls (1980), Silicon Valley (1971-present) – perhaps the most valuable & long-lasting image has been that of tanned beauties lounging on the sandy coast: Beach Boys & Surfer Girls.
Gidget, the 1957 novel by Frederick Kohner about his surfing, beach-loving daughter, gave rise to countless movies and TV spin-offs. The Ventures, a “band that spawned 1000 bands” began their surf-rock procreation in 1958.
However, it was The Beach Boys, formed in 1961, who immediately contributed Surfin‘, and by 1963 had penned the perpetual west-coast anthems Surfin’ Safari, 409, Surfer Girl, and Surfin’ USA, muscling the state’s surf culture and it’s left edge musings to the fore of global consciousness.
California would never be viewed the same.
The tumultuous history of The Beach Boys and the Wilson brothers (Brian, Carl, & Dennis) has been well documented, yet the importance of the band and the image it gifted to the West Coast cannot be overstated.
The resurrection of their sunshiny, sand-and-salt-water pop has been a long time coming.
Preempting The Beatles by a full year, The Beach Boys initially had a tanned leg-up on the Brits. Within a year of the invasion the battle was over, after 1963 The Beach Boys would never again out chart the Fab Four. By the mid-60s rock had turned more serious. Lennon, Dylan, Wilson, and everyone else began pushing the sonic-envelope utilizing every trick available.
In 1966 The Beatles released Rubber Soul, an album heavily influenced by Dylan*, an album that, unbeknownst to the world, would start a bi-lateral battle between Wilson & Lennon. Wilson later announcing:
I really wasn’t quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs… that somehow went together like no album ever made before. I really am challenged to do a great album.*
Pet Sounds was Wilson’s response and his final masterpiece, and while both Lennon and Dylan lionized the album, it became apparent that beyond the fine edge of musical & psychedelic experimentation was a precipitous cliff. The rim crumbled and claimed another mind. This time that mind was Wilson’s, and he was pushed by Lennon and the Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Van Dyke Parks, a lyricist Wilson recruited to help on Smile noted that Brian collapsed. “What Broke his heart was Sgt. Pepper.“* Wilson was a victim of one of the greatest rock battles ever waged.
It has been 45 years since Brian Wilson’s fall and The Beach Boys have finally returned to the base of the hill – home of the sunshiny, sand-and-salt-water pop not seen since the early 1960s. That’s Why God Made the Radio is a Mecca of sorts. While Pet Sounds, Smily Smile & Wild Honey are amazing, TWGMtR signals the resurrection of the happy-go-lucky Beach Boys and all that they’ve embodied. With the current pretense of California sliding toward Fiscal & Legislative Ineptitude (2012), The Beach Boys illuminate the darkness with a flamethrower, reminding that happiness can still exist during difficult times.
The truth is, the sun will always shine last on the state of California.
The Beach Boys load us up on twilight induced nostalgia and restore our faith that, by simply watching a crashing wave, good times always can and always will exist. Life is a a state of mind.
And now you know.
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Rubber Soul came out in December of 1965, not 1966.