Formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961, the group included brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. Mike sang most of the leads while Brian led on some of the vocals.
The group began as Kenny and the Cadets, Carl and the Passions, and finally the Pendletones. Brian a fan of the Four Freshman, began teaching the others intricate Freshman styled harmonies. Murray Wilson, the father of the brothers and a songwriter, took the boys to his publisher Hite Morgan who in turn took the to Keen Recording Studios. Dennis the only member of the group who surfed thought that it would be a good subject for a song and suggested it to Brian. Brian then wrote "Surfin" and with Mike wrote "Surfin' Safari," songs they made into demos in 1961.
Murray took the demos to Herb Newman, who owned Candix and Era Records. On December eighth Newman signed the group. Ross Regan, Era's promotion man, suggested they change their name to the Beach Boys. In December 1961 "Surfin' was issued on X Records as a promo and Candix. On February 17, 1962, "Surfin" hit the national pop charts, reaching #75.. On New Year's eve the group performed at its first important show as the Beach Boys at the Long Beach Municipal Stadium in a memorial concert for Ritchie Valens. They were paid three hundred dollars. In February 1962 Jardine left to study dentistry. On February 8th, Brian, Dennis, and Val Poliuto of the Jaguars recorded six songs for Hite Morgan's Deck Records. In May Candix went out of business and Murray Wilson, now the groups manager, began taking their demos around. Several labels passed on the group, but Capitol's Nick Venet liked the demo of "Surfin' Surfari" and signed the group in June. a master of "Surfin' Safari" was recorded with new member David marks, who had replaced Jardine. On August 11, 1962 "Surfin' Surfari" reached #14 and the flip side "409" charted at #76. In early 1963 Jardine returned and Marks his replacement left. "Surfin' Safari" marked the beginning of the unique harmonies the group would become known for. This was a new style of rock and roll with Chuck Berry rhythms and Four Freshman harmony. "Surfin' U.S.A.," written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, was so close to Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" that his threat of a lawsuit got him sole writing credits. By May 25th it had reached number three in the U.S.A.; it went on to reach number thirty-two in England and number nine in Australia. The flip side, a hotrod song, "Shutdown," reached number twenty-three. The next surfing/drag racing two sider was the groups' first ballad "Surfer Girl" (#7 Pop, #18 R&B), along with Little Deuce Coupe" (#15 Pop). The Beach Boys "Surfin' U.S.A." went all the way to number two, denied the top spot by Jan and Dean's "Surf City," written by their friend Brian Wilson. the group's popularity was such that two Brian Wilson produced albums, released almost simultaneous, hit the top ten; Surfer Girl (#70) and Little Deuce Coupe (#4). The Beach Boy's next single, "Be True to Your School" reached number six on December 21, 1963. The flip side "In My Room" went to number twenty-three. One of their best rocker's "Fun, Fun, Fun," with Mike Love on lead and a Chuck Berry intro, reached number five on March 21, 1964. The first number one came next as "I Get Around," with Love again on the lead, hit the top spot in early June 1964. More hits followed in 1964 with "When I Grow Up" (#9) and "Dance, Dance, Dance" with Brian on the lead (#8). Conducting their first major U.S. tour in September, 1964, The Beach Boys Concert album, recorded in Sacramento, California , became the first live album to top the charts. However, on December 23, while on a plane trip from Houston to Los Angeles, Brian had a nervous breakdown brought on by an overwhelming schedule of writing, producing, recording, and touring. Brian stopped touring with the band and guitarist/singer Glenn Campbell was brought in to perform for him on the road, who was replaced by Bruce Johnston in April, 1965. In 1965 the Beach Boys did a remake of Bobby Freeman's hit "Do You Wanna Dance" with Dennis Wilson on lead, it went to number twelve. By April Bruce Johnson of the Ripchords, had replaced Campbell. In the spring of 1965 "Help Me Rhonda" became the groups second number one pushing the Beatles "Ticket to Ride" out of the top spot.
Despite a hearing lose in his right ear, Brian continued to write and produce vocal harmony hits. One of them "California Girls" had a memorable keyboard intro and with Love on lead reached number three on August 28, 1965. Then "Barbara Ann" soared to number two nationally with Dean Torrance of Jan and Dean on lead. "Sloop John B,'" a 1927 folk song , with Al Jardine went to number three on May 7, 1966. It was followed by "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (#8). The flip side, "God Only Knows," though it only reached number thirty-nine, had the distinction of being called the greatest love song ever written by Paul McCartney.
No longer touring, Brian Wilson concentrated on writing for the Beach Boys and using elaborate production techniques on the group's recordings. While the rest of the group was touring Brian began working on the Pet Sounds album, employing scores of studio musicians and utilizing advanced studio techniques. However, despite lush orchestral sound and songs such as "God Only Knows," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Caroline No," and "Sloop John B," Pet Sounds sold poorly compared to other releases. Severely disappointed, Brian began work on the next album Smile. While working on this project Capitol Records released the Beach Boys next hit. It was a song that Brian and Mike wrote and Brian spent six months working on. The song recorded in seventeen different sessions in four Los Angeles studios and cost over sixteen thousand dollars, was "Good Vibration". Influenced by Phil Spector, Brian built a heavily overdubbed and echoed rock symphony that appealed to the public. complexities and all. On December 10. 1966 it reached number one. Meanwhile, Brian began behaving erratically as rumors of heavy drug use circulated. For whatever reason Smile was not released. Pulling out of a scheduled appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June, 1967 The Beach Boys met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi In December. Their fascination with his transcendental meditation culminated with a near disastrous tour with him in the spring of 1968. The group's next recordings were straight rock, "Wild Honey" (#31 1967), "Darlin'" (#19 1967), "Do It Again" (#20 1968), and "I Can Hear Music" (#24 1969.)
In the summer the Beach Boys recorded their last record for Capitol, "Break Away (#63 1969). They then signed with Warner Brother's Reprise label and charted May 7, 1970 with "Add Some Music to Your Day" (#64).
In the late 60s the Beach Boys imaged suffered as they were perceived as an oldies group in the midst of the progressive rock movement. That changed in 1970 when they appeared at the Big Sur Festival in North California, making fans out of the new hip rock crowd.
They solidified that status in February 1971, playing Carnegie Hall in New York to an overwhelming response and sharing billing with the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East in April.
In 1972 Dennis was sidelined after he injured his hand because of a windowpane mishap. Bruce Johnson left for a solo career. They were replaced by Rick Faar and Blondie Chaplin of the South African group Flame. Meanwhile, their Warner Brothers records weren't as high quality as their Capitol sides. A reissue by Capitol of "Surfin' U.S.A". in the summer of 1974, reached #6, higher than any of the six singles they had done for Warner Brothers. Brian returned to produce the 15 Big Ones album. The album included "Rock and Roll Music" that brought the group back to the top five for the first time in ten years. The album contained mostly oldies and hit number eight. By now Dennis was back and Faar and Chaplin were out.
That year the Beach Boys sang back up for Chicago's hit "Wishing You Were Here" (#11).
In 1977, the Beach Boys signed with Caribou records and by 1979 charted with a disco flavored remake of "Here Comes the Night" (#44) originally on their Wild Honey album.
Johnson rejoined the group in 1979. On July 4, 1980 the Beach Boys played a free concert in Washington, D.C. before a half million people, which became an annual event through the eighties. Mike Love became the front man for The Beach Boys during the '80s, as Brian Wilson began a rehabilitation program under therapist Eugene Lundy between 1985 and 1988.
In December 1983, Dennis Wilson drowned while swimming alongside of his boat at Marina Del Ray Harbor in Los Angeles, an ironic twist of fate for the only actual surfing Beach Boy.
In 1985 the Beach Boys recorded their best original record since the early days. With Mike Love on lead and Brian's strong falsetto "Getcha Back" and its harmony right out of the Mystics "Hushabye," reached number twenty-six.. Next came "Rock and Roll to the Rescue (#68 1986) and a remake of the Mama and Papa's "California Dreamin'" (#57 1986).
The Beach Boys performed at Ronald Reagan's Inaugural in January 1985 and Live Aid the following July. In 1987 they had a major hit with a remake of the surf classic "Wipeout," recorded with the Fat Boys rap group.
In 1988, the Beach Boys had a number one hit with the Jamaica-rhythm "Kokomo," from the film Cocktail, with Mike on the lead.
By 1988, Brian Wilson's daughters Carnie and Wendy had formed the vocal group Wilson Phillips with Chynna Phillips, oldest daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas. Their debut album produced five hits, including "Hold On," "Release Me," and "You're In Love." By 1993 Wilson Phillips had disbanded. Carnie and Wendy Wilson soon recorded the Christmas album Hey! Santa and later recorded as The Wilsons for Mercury Records. An amazing barometer of their appeal is that between 1961 and 1981 they were only off the charts two years, 1972 and 1979.
The Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Fallbrook, CA 92028