How I came to appreciate the Beach Boys

Some bands I just like from the moment I first hear them. Others grow on me over time. Sometimes, returning to a band I hated sheds some new light. But I can only think of one band that I came to appreciate by actively arguing against them: the Beach Boys. While the Beatles versus the Beach Boys is not quite the knock-down, drag-out fight that the Beatles versus the Stones can become, there are a few Brian Wilson adherents out there who are worth setting straight and, of course, I often feel a duty to help out. Over the course of this noble effort, I didn’t find out that I was wrong. On the contrary, it is even clearer that the Beatles’ influence over popular music is both broader and deeper than the Beach Boys. What I did find out though is that the Beach Boys had a short burst of greatness and, for a brief moment in the mid-1960’s, may have been a half step ahead. I planned to build my arsenal by spending a lot of time in the Beach Boys catalog and what I found was largely what I expected: pre-rock pop music with great harmonies. Big deal. It had no teeth and with the exception of Dennis, they didn’t even surf. Superficial as it was, I could at least believe the Beatles wanted to hold her hand. What I had never paid much attention to prior to scouring the battlefield of my arguments for something volatile was that the Beach Boys also matured lyrically and musically and comparing timelines, they were a few months ahead of the Beatles (which would translate to years in the more recent release-a-record-every-three-years approach). Today! is vastly underrated. Pet Sounds, while not underrated by any means, was still a little too good for its own good at the time. Wilson did finally reach perfection with “Good Vibrations,” but it and aborted Smile sessions were the end of Wilson’s and the Beach Boys’ greatness. Smiley Smile and Surf’s Up are pretty good post-Brian-as-de-facto-leader albums, but pop music would be the same without them whereas the Beatles pushed the boundaries of pop right up to the end. Two records and single, albeit perhaps the best single of the 1960’s, were not enough to change my mind about the Beatles versus the Beach Boys, but it significantly changed my opinion of the Beach Boys on their own.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

2 thoughts on “How I came to appreciate the Beach Boys

  1. Chuck

    I laughed at your desire to enlighten those misguided Brian Wilson fans and show them the error of their ways. Doesn’t at all sound like you!

    Beach Boys sit pretty low in my eyes. In fact, as Animal Collective continues to fall from their mid-aughts height, their spot on my “Five Worst Artists of All Time” list might be coming up for grabs. The Beach Boys might be contenders for their spot. (And yes, Steely Dan continues to hold both the #1 and #5 spot on that list.)

    So reading about your conversion is interesting and makes me think that maybe I need to take a very focused deep-dive into those two albums and rethink my stance. The hard thing, though, is that I’ve got a stack of probably 50 albums next to my desk of things I’ve bought in the past ~year and haven’t listened to yet. I’ve got another 50 that I’ve only skimmed and that warrant a deeper dive. So am I going to push off albums I know I’ll love to spend 5 or 6 hours revising a couple of Beach Boys albums? I truly don’t know. If I do, though, I’ll add more here.

    Regardless of that, though, I really appreciate the context that you framed here. You’re not arguing that the Beach Boys are great or that Pet Sounds is the best album ever. You’re simply arguing that a band that has been largely relegated to state fairs and revival shows for the past 4+ decades had a brief and shining moment where they were at the vanguard and changed the world. That’s a totally different lens for looking at the Beach Boys, one that I’ll consider if I decide to go re-listen.

  2. bobvinyl Post author

    Before you dismiss those albums just for lack of time, keep in mind that they are mid-60’s pop records and clock in at 29 and 37 minutes. To me, Today! is the lost gem and you could listen twice in less than an hour. The last two minutes of Today! is a goofy conversation and not a song, so you’re now down to 27 minutes. It’s practically an EP.


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