meta-script10 Memorable Oddities By The Beach Boys: Songs About Root Beer, Raising Babies & Ecological Collapse |
Beach Boys in 1965
The Beach Boys in 1965.

Photo: M. Macneill/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images


10 Memorable Oddities By The Beach Boys: Songs About Root Beer, Raising Babies & Ecological Collapse

Move over, California girls: America's band didn't just sing about waves and babes, or innovate with 'Pet Sounds.' They sang and played about everything, and the results were often wonderfully bizarre. Here are 10 of those deep cuts.

GRAMMYs/Mar 22, 2023 - 07:25 pm

Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

An ocean of ink has been spilled about how the Beach Boys went experimental in the mid-1960s. But there's a strong case to be made that they were avant-garde from the jump.

Think of their synthesis upon arrival: Surf music by non-surfers; Chuck Berry guitar stylings fused with the vocal harmonies of the Four Freshmen; Brian Wilson's continuation of the studio lineage of Phil Spector; their reflection and galvanization of a burgeoning youth culture, bringing the Pacific to landlocked kids the world over.

And as per their psychedelic-era masterpieces — the luxurious, confessional Pet Sounds and the universe-sized, eventually terminated Smile — Wilson has engendered a widespread, and correct, comparison to Mozart.

What began as a family band singing Christmas carols ended up lasting six decades. The Beach Boys' music encompasses such disparate themes as muscle cars, transcendental meditation, environmental collapse, "the church of the American Indian," and fantastical island getaways.

And all that just scratches the surface of this culture-shifting, endlessly relitigated, gorgeously weird band, an American phenomenon with no real analog. With roughly half a dozen divergent personalities (depending on the lineup), three of them bound by DNA, all of them geniuses in their own way, their catalog was bound to contain almost as many oddities and curiosities as simply great songs.

For their singular efforts, the Beach Boys are about to get their own GRAMMY celebration. On Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," a two-hour tribute special featuring a lineup of heavy hitters, including John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and many more, will re-air on CBS. The special is also available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. 

Naturally, this special homes in on the hits, from "Surfin' U.S.A." to "California Girls" to "Good Vibrations" and beyond. But if you'd like to go deeper, here are 10 memorably zonked deep cuts in their long voyage. (Note: this list focuses less on late-period collaborations and era-specific genre crossovers than core albums from their first two decades.)

"Chug-A-Lug" (Surfin' Safari, 1962)

The Beach Boys introduced themselves not just with a "Let's go surfin' now/ Everybody's learnin' how," but with a "Here a mug, there a mug, everybody chug-a-lug." So begins "Chug-a-Lug," the fourth song from their debut album, Surfin' Safari, wedged between "Ten Little Indians" and "Little Girl (You're My Miss America)."

Co-written by Gary Usher — the man responsible for their early "car songs"  — the message of "Chug-a-Lug" is simple: we, the Beach Boys, are drinking a lot of root beer. In the verses, the three Wilsons — Brian, Carl and Dennis — yak about girls and cars at the root-beer stand; then-guitarist David Marks and an unknown "Larry," "Louie," and "Guy" join in on the fun. ("Gary" is concievably Usher.)

But talk of being "glued to the radio," "ordering fries," "chas[ing] that chick," et al are peripheral to the thesis. The bouncing-off-the-walls rhythm evokes not merely nursing a soft drink with your friends, but madly guzzling it. "Give me some root beer," Love intones.

"Lonely Sea" (Surfin' USA, 1963)

It takes about five seconds of listening to the Beach Boys' earliest music to perceive a wounded heart in the center — and its owner is Brian Wilson. 

You hear it in his keening "Everybody's gone surfin'!" in "Surfin' USA." Ditto "Catch a Wave," when he pleads in falsetto, "But don't you treat it like a toy." And the sparse, spectral "Lonely Sea" seems to contain that fragile essence in microcosm.

"It never stops for you or me," Wilson sings, casting the Pacific as a metaphor for universal human angst. "It moves along from day to day." From "In My Room" to Pet Sounds and beyond, you can trace the DNA of "Lonely Sea" to every sad, lonely Beach Boys song in its wake — a number calculable only by NASA.

"Amusement Parks U.S.A." (*Summer Days [And Summer Nights!!*], 1965)

Starting around 1963's Surfer Girl, Wilson upped the ante with each successive Beach Boys album, interweaving their surfing and hot-rod songs with embellishments with harpsichords, harps, cheerleaders, marimbas, and other outside-the-box instruments. 

Some tunes in this pre-Pet Sounds era, from "Be True to Your School" to "The Little Girl I Once Knew," split the difference between the early hits' youthful exuberance and their psychedelic innovations. "Amusement Parks U.S.A." is one such example; while it's essentially about taking your girl to Disney, the whirling calliopes and sound effects render it a mind movie.

Instead of landing at wholesome and innocent like its predecessor, "County Fair," "Amusement Parks U.S.A." sounds like a Tilt-a-Whirl shaking apart, each shaky note and carnival bark adding to the heavy, leaden atmosphere.

Clearly, the psychological pressure was building; within a couple of years, it would burst. No matter how many reboots of their early hits they would go on to attempt, the Beach Boys would never quite return to the carefree universe of "Amusement Parks U.S.A."

"The Times They Are A-Changin'" (Beach Boys' Party!, 1965)

Every canonical masterpiece has its on-ramp or lead-up; what's Pet Sounds'?

Somewhat shockingly, the album immediately preceding Pet Sounds was Beach Boys' Party!, where our heroes recorded cover songs (and two cheekily rendered hits) in an intentionally offhanded, slapdash manner in the studio and layered party noises on top.

The result is a charming curio, and the album did give the world their hit version of "Barbara Ann." But amid doo-wop funnies like "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow," the inclusion of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" — Bob Dylan's Ecclesiastical folk hit about the passing of kings and values and generations — is a wonderfully puzzling one.

Al Jardine, the band's resident folkie, takes this one. "Al's gonna sing a 'test song!" one of the Boys, possibly Love, announces amid a clatter of funny voices.As Jardine warbles the 'test song's thunderously significant lines, the overdubbed revelers fall over themselves giggling.

"Little Pad" (Smiley Smile, 1967)

As forever carved in the annals of rock mythology, the hyper-ambitious, multitudinous Smile (was it a comedy record? A history book? A symphonic ode to the elements?) was never to be. Despite Wilson's 2004 reimagining and the later Smile Sessions boxed set, the world will never know exactly what the album would have ended up as.

Instead, the world got Smiley Smile; despite containing monumental cuts meant for the aborted work, like "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations," the world ultimately received it as an ersatz Smile. Or, as Carl Wilson famously called it, "a bunt instead of a grand slam."

Between those aforementioned hits are assorted oddities — outgrowths and fragments of the shelved material — including the deliciously stoned "Little Pad," which wanders from laughing fits to blissed-out humming to ukulele-laced daydreams of Hawaii. Like the rest of the album, it may have been at a different scale than Wilson hoped for, but it'll make you smile all the same.

"A Day in the Life of a Tree" (Surf's Up, 1971)

Something of a darker companion piece to its radiant predecessor Sunflower, Surf's Up also drew heavily from the Smile sessions. And despite tunes like the lighthearted "Take a Load Off Your Feet" and wistful "Disney Girls (1957)," it feels freighted with a brooding, defeated atmosphere — as well as a potent environmental and political conscience.

Much of the chatter about the album centers around Brian Wilson's magisterial ode to death, "'Til I Die," and the elliptical, Smile-salvaged masterpiece of a title track. Just as startling, though, is the ecological lament "A Day in the Life of a Tree."

"Feel the wind burn through my skin/ The pain, the air is killing me," Rieley laments over funereal organ and not much else. "Oh Lord, I lay me down/ No life's left to be found/ There's nothing left for me." Dark Beach Boys doesn't get much darker than this.

"Chapel of Love" (15 Big Ones, 1976)

Literal bell sounds ring in the Beach Boys' cover of the R&B-pop classic that the Dixie Cups made famous. Such is the rest of 15 Big Ones, a conscious step back from original material after the wonderful (and unfairly ignored) Holland and Carl and the Passions.

But what could have marked the Beach Boys plugging back into their roots after a decade of freewheeling experimentation — their Let it Be, perhaps — is something else entirely. 15 Big Ones coincided with their infamous "Brian's Back!" campaign, where they heralded the return of their troubled leader from a backseat role.

Instead of sounding like a retreat to an earlier template, though, 15 Big Ones is its own strange organism; even when the material is as happy-go-lucky as can be, the sound and execution are dense and enveloping — even vaguely menacing.

As the hook of "Chapel of Love" rolls on and on, the cumulative effect is less of puppy love than Sleep's doom-metal opus Dopesmoker.

"I Wanna Pick You Up" (The Beach Boys Love You, 1977)

The most divisive album in the Beach Boys' catalog by some margin, The Beach Boys Love You is considered by some to be their final masterpiece and a return to Pet Sounds-style magic; others regard it as a shocking example of outsider art by a rock institution.

The answer may lie somewhere in the middle. While tunes like "I'll Bet He's Nice" and "The Night Was So Young" are as beautiful as anything Wilson ever wrote, there's no accounting for the profound quizzicality of tunes like "Johnny Carson," "Honkin' Down the Highway" and the one-minute Roger McGuinn co-write "Ding Dang."

Honestly, about three-fourths of The Beach Boys Love You could be on this list, but there's arguably no more bizarre moment on the record than "I Wanna Pick You Up."

Therein, a ragged-sounding Dennis Wilson describes caring for an infant (or infantilized romantic interest?), from bathing to feeding to finally, soothing to sleep, leading to the unforgettable final line: "Pat, pat/ Pat, pat, pat her on her butt," with a repetition of the final word for emphasis: Butt.

"Hey, Little Tomboy" (M.I.U. Album, 1978)

Despite being more conventional than "I Wanna Pick You Up," "Hey, Little Tomboy" — a holdover from Wilson's uncompleted, big-band-influenced project Adult/Child — lands in a (somehow) even stranger zone. Here, a stereotypically boyish girl undergoes a transformation into a lipstick-clad, capital-W woman.

As one critic put it, "[It's politically incorrect in every way by modern standards, yet its innocence and simplicity are undeniably charming — and just so Brian."

But regarding this highly unorthodox creation, let's hear it from the architect himself: "It's about a little girl who is sort of a roughneck, and this guy convinces her to become a pretty girl… We're very happy with it."

"When Girls Get Together" (Keepin' the Summer Alive, 1980)

Dr. Love's lifetime inquiry into what makes California girls' psychologies really tick arguably reached its apogee with "When Girls Get Together," a cut from the obscure Keepin' the Summer Alive. The song is less fun in the sun than an austere march, complete with regal horns and tinkling mandolin.

"When girls get together/ They don't waste time on things like weather and stuff," Love announces. "They all just play around and never seem to discuss it enough." But just as he seems to establish that womens' conversations are frivolous, a heel turn: "This must have been going on prehistory/ They may not ever solve the mystery/ But they'll go talk until eternity."

Such are these Loveian koans, which will be carved into the Book of Boys for scholars to parse millennia from now. And such is the dual legacy of America's band: They gave us a songbook in turns blissful and ingenious, and delightfully, inexplicably strange.

The Beach Boys' Sail On Sailor Reframes Two Obscure 1970s Albums. Why Were They Obscure In The First Place?

Giles Martin
Giles Martin

Photo: Alex Lake | C A Management


Masterful Remixer Giles Martin On The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' The Beatles, Paul McCartney

Ahead of his spectacular, Dolby Atmos-elevated remix of the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' Giles Martin discusses the pressures and jubilation of handling such a precious album.

GRAMMYs/Jun 2, 2023 - 02:06 pm

Bicycle bells, Coca-Cola cans, sleigh bells, water bottles, French horn, Electro-Theremin — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Compared to even ambitious Beatles masterpieces like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, remixing the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is an entirely different beast. While the Fabs' recordings were often deceptively sparse — "Taxman" is guitars, bass, drums and vocals — Pet Sounds is an ocean of eccentric, melancholic, joyful sound.

Astonishingly — by today's standards — the album was initially recorded to a four-track machine. A student of the studio might assume that remixing the such a record would require  some form of sacrifice during the remixing process, wherein various elements would have to be buried, or excised, to bring another to the light.

Giles Martin, who has remixed Sgt. Pepper's, The White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be, and Revolver — and now Pet Sounds, for Dolby Atmos — has an incisive answer.

"Will I sacrifice taste or feel for the sake of it being an Atmos mix? If that starts getting compromised, then let's make it mono," two-time GRAMMY winner Martin tells "It doesn't make any sense to affect the integrity of a song for the use of technology. Technology should be there to serve the music, as opposed to the other way around.

"I don't want people to listen to an Atmos mix I've done; I want people to listen to a song," he continues. "My mix is just a small part in the process."

But sitting in complete darkness in a Dolby screening room on Sixth Avenue in New York City, it was difficult to think of Martin's touch as being a "small part."

This version of Pet Sounds was nothing short of revelatory — shining up each Beach Boy's vocals, unburying numberless exotic instruments, mapping the musical elements in physical space. All without compromising Brian Wilson's timbral and harmonic syntheses that characterize this art-rock cornerstone.

Read on for a candid interview with Martin about his remixing philosophy, moving from the Beatles space to the Beach Boys space and what he wants to improve about his methodology — in short, "everything."

The Atmos mix of Pet Sounds is available now on Amazon Music, Tidal and Apple Music; stream it here.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

During Beatles listening events, there's a little bit of tension between yourself and that fan community. This Beach Boys event seemed to possess a completely different energy — less antagonistic, more of a lovefest. What's it been like moving from the Beatles world to the Beach Boys world as per their fan communities?

I don't know — I think that I may not be perceiving it right [laughs].

I never felt that there was a huge amount of antagonism with the Beatles thing. I think to begin with, there was. With the early days of me, certainly, doing Love, ironically, there was a suspicion of what I was up to — what are my motives, and what gives you the right to screw around with these tracks, and who the hell do you think you are, and that sort of thing.

I think there's been a sort of shift in a level of trust, hopefully, that people don't realize that I deliberately do this to try and screw things up.

I was actually more nervous going to a Beach Boys playback than I was going to a Beatles playback. With the Beatles, I kind of know where I am — and regardless of what anyone may think, I probably have more experience on this than most other people do.

The Beach Boys, I don't. It's my first rodeo, if you like, so I was probably a bit more nervous addressing their audience.

"Antagonism" is probably too strong a word. Just a little bit of tension in the air, when somebody's like, "What happened to that guitar squeak at 2:01 on 'Taxman,' Giles? Would you like to explain yourself?"

That always makes me laugh. There are two guys who are those people, and they come and listen in the studios. They came around recently for something, and they were like, "Well, we heard something at this moment."

I'll always listen and respect what they say, but then I'll just go… I do have Paul and Ringo. So they'll just go, "Well, we think it's fine."

I think what you are alluding to is there's a sense of ownership that people have over Beatles music. But I think that's the case with Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys as well.

From a business standpoint, what's it been like docking your spaceship on a new mothership?

I pay no attention to the business side of stuff. It's the same record label, actually — Capitol. I have a really good relationship with them, and they're great.

They know what they're getting themselves into by asking me to do stuff, which means that generally, things will be late; I'll miss deadlines. But they also know that I'll take care. And I think part of my job is, obviously, listening to what people have to say, and listening to and collaborating with other people on this, and doing it.

What role did the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds play in your life up to this point? Obviously, you're steeped in this overall miasma due to your lineage.

It's funny: as I said to my dad [legendary Beatles producer George Martin], "It's amazing the work you did." And he was like, "Yeah, but I mean, compared to what Brian Wilson did when he was just on his own — you need to go listen to that." And so I did, and I suppose that there's an otherworldliness to it.

Just as a producer, or someone who loves music, Pet Sounds could not be ignored, because it's so intricate in the way it is, and it's an album that gets better the more you listen to it as well. And I hope that is sustainable in times of TikTok where people only have a short amount of time to pay anything attention.

I suppose that I wouldn't have agreed to do it if it wasn't important to me.You have to give it your all; you have to spend a lot of time listening to this music. It's such an important and influential record — not just for other people, but for me as well.

**You mentioned during the listening party that you didn't have to employ the same AI techniques to unglue the tracks as you did on Revolver. Can you elaborate?**

I wouldn't say it was unglued. If you imagine on, for instance, "That's Not Me," essentially, the band are kind of on three tracks a lot. So, they're stuck.

And "That's Not Me" has drums, organ, tambourine on one track. So, I can't move the organ or tambourine away from the drums. They have to be on one side. And I have bass and lead guitar on another track, so bass and guitar are going to be in the same place no matter what I do.

But there's an intent with this, where it's unlike having a band like the Beatles. This isn't really a band record; it's more of an orchestral record. It has a backing to it.

There's not really a drum kit on Pet Sounds, per se. There's drums on one or two tracks, but there's not really a drum kit. It's like orchestral percussion. So it's fine having those things glued together. Whereas on something like "Taxman," we have guitar, bass and drums — and only guitar, bass and drums going on for the whole song.

If you want to have a stereo record, you have to separate them — because otherwise, they're just on one side and the vocals on the other side; there's no reality. But with this, you have chunks of musicians in a room, and then you can create this real world around it.

**Brian Wilson rightfully soaks up the lion's share of the discourse around Pet Sounds; he crafted the record. But in this process, what did you learn about them as per their group dynamic? You alluded to their vocal precision during the listening event. I love Carl and Bruce's vocals on "God Only Knows." I know that Carl and Dennis played on the record in a limited capacity.**

I don't know what I learned that I didn't already know, apart from the fact that — this is what people miss — bands exist with resentment, and everything else. But bands exist because they're human beings in a room. The fact that you don't hear someone doesn't mean that they're not having influence.

With the Beach Boys, obviously, you hear their incredible harmonies. And Brian couldn't have done what he did without having the palette of outstanding musicianship, and the ability for these guys to harmonize and create these vocals that can't exist anywhere else.

So, that's what I suppose you hear. You hear the other members of the band come in on tracks, as you alluded to, and you suddenly think — not that it's a relief, but it's like, Oh my god, this is a band. This isn't just Brian. That's what I took from it.

**I could genuinely sit there and think about the Beach Boys on a conceptual level and be entertained for hours. But is there a danger of overthinking an artifact like Pet Sounds? Or is it a fount for infinite analysis and edification?**

No, I think you are absolutely right. You can take the fun out of it — and people do frequently — by being too pretentious about things. I find this quite amusing. It's almost like the song becomes the ownership of the journalist — or the expert, if you like — and not the person listening to it.

People are told what to listen to, and what to listen out for, in a sort of educational way: "You don't really understand this." It's that sort of thing: "If only you knew you knew how good this was, you'd be able to like it." That sort of conversation. "Music isn't like how it used to be, because it's not as good as this," and all this sort of conversation.

It's absolutely rubbish. It's like, let people enjoy what they want to enjoy. As long as you're passionate about something, it doesn't make a difference whether you like Megadeth or the Beach Boys.

You recently worked on a refreshed version of Paul McCartney's "Live or Let Die." That song is such a mind movie — and not just because it has James Bond roots. I'm sure you had fun with that one.

It was great. It's a bit like a lot of the projects I do; the expectancy is so vast spread.

It's quite tricky; how do you meet the expectation? Because one thing that mono or stereo or compression gives you, is it gives you loudness. You separate stuff in an immersive soundfield, you have to be careful that you don't start losing impact.

One thing that "Live and Let Die" has is impact. And that's the tricky thing about that song. But I'm really happy. It was actually a big mix to do; I can't lie. It was like, "Oh my god, here we go; I have to be fully qualified to do this mix."

But I'm really happy with it. I can't wait for people to hear it. I think it's super cool.

How do you want to get better at what you do? Where do you want to improve?

Oh, god. "Everywhere" is the answer. I think you are never done. It's only sometimes I hear things back and go, Oh, that actually sounds quite good. Oh, I did that. That's alright. Otherwise, you sort of hate everything.

I nervously watched you [all] through a screen in New York going, Oh my god, it sounds terrible. That's what goes through my head.

You still struggle with that, huh?

Yeah, of course. And then the thing is, I don't think, What if it sounds terrible? because of ego. It's, What if it sounds terrible because you guys really like this record and I need to do it justice? That's what goes through my head.

The Beach Boys' Sail On Sailor Reframes Two Obscure 1970s Albums. Why Were They Obscure In The First Place?

John Legend Brandi Carlile
(L-R): Brandi Carlile, John Legend

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


5 Memorable Highlights From "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys": Weezer, St. Vincent, John Legend & More

Drawing generation-spanning connections, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," which rebroadcasts Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS and is available on demand on Paramount+, was a world-class tribute to America's Band. Here are five highlights.

GRAMMYs/Apr 10, 2023 - 07:25 pm

Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

That's a wrap on "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," an emotional, star-studded toast to America's Band — as the core lineup of the legendary group bore witness from a balcony.

From its heartfelt speeches and remarks to performances by John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and other heavy hitters, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" served as a towering monument to these leading lights on the occasion of their 60th anniversary.

If you missed the CBS telecast, never fear: the thrilling special is rebroadcasting on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream on demand on Paramount+.

Below are some highlights from the Beach Boys' big night.

Read More: How To Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," Featuring Performances From John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, Weezer & More

Weezer Gave "California Girls" A Shot In The Arm

The Weez was a natural choice for a Beach Boys bash — the GRAMMY winners have worn that influence on their sleeve throughout their career — from the harmony-stuffed Blue Album. to their love letter to the West Coast, the White Album.

And while Fall Out Boy's transmutation of "Do You Wanna Dance" into supercharged pop-punk was a joy, Weezer's version of "California Girls" was satisfying in a different way.

Therein, frontman Rivers Cuomo threaded his chunky power chords into the familiar arrangement masterfully. His head-turning, song-flipping guitar work in the outro was also gracefully executed.

John Legend Sang A Commanding "Sail On Sailor"

The rocking-and-rolling "Sail On Sailor" leads off the Beach Boys' deeply underrated 1973 album Holland. On that cut, the lead vocal isn't taken by an original member, but one of their two South African additions at the time: the brilliant Blondie Chaplin.

Fifty years ago, Chaplin channeled the stouthearted tune through his punchy midrange; John Legend possesses a similar one. In his hustling, wolfish performance at the piano, the 12-time GRAMMY winner gave this dark-horse Beach Boys classic the gusto it deserves.

Read More: The Beach Boys' Sail On Sailor Reframes Two Obscure 1970s Albums. Why Were They Obscure In The First Place?

Brandi Carlile Stunned With A Capella "In My Room" Verse

Nine-time GRAMMY winner Brandi Carlile is an eminent and versatile creative force; it's easy to imagine her nailing almost any song in the Beach Boys’ catalog — even the weird ones.

That said, this was more or less a night of hits — so Carlile took "In My Room" head on, and the results were spectacular. Even better was when the backing band dropped out for a verse, highlighting the song's proto-Pet Sounds solitude and introspection.

"Now it's dark/And I'm alone, but/I won't be afraid," Carlile sang, only joined by two harmonists. Mostly unadorned, she radiated a sense of inner strength.

Norah Jones Gorgeously Pared Back "The Warmth Of The Sun"

"The Warmth of the Sun" has always been a fan favorite for its radiant vocal interplay, but Norah Jones proved it's just as powerful with one voice front and center. 

Sure, the nine-time GRAMMY winner had harmonists behind her. But while Brian Wilson shared the spotlight with the other Boys in the original tune, she was front and center, teasing out its mellow, jazzy undercurrents.

St. Vincent & Charlie Puth Plumbed The Atmosphere Of Pet Sounds

The Beach Boys' most famous album by some margin, 1966’s Pet Sounds, was well represented at "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."

Beck performed a witty "Sloop John B"; Mumford & Sons drew hymnal energy from "I Know There's An Answer"; LeAnn Rimes drew lonesome power from "Caroline, No."

But two performances in particular captured the singular atmosphere of the album — whimsical, hopeful, melancholic, longing, sophisticated, strangely exotic. One was Charlie Puth's "Wouldn't It Be Nice," which strapped on the album's aesthetic like a rocket and took off.

The other was St. Vincent’s captivating take on "You Still Believe In Me," which highlighted the harpsichord melody to spectral effect.

Near the end, when the three-time GRAMMY winner launched into the "I wanna cry" outro, it was hard to not get chills — the kind the Beach Boys have given us for 60 years.

How Brian Wilson Crafted The Beach Boys' Early Sound: A Symphony Of Inspirations, From Boogie-Woogie To Barbershop

Brian Wilson Recording Pet Sounds
Brian Wilson recording 'Pet Sounds' in 1966

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


How Brian Wilson Crafted The Beach Boys' Early Sound: A Symphony Of Inspirations, From Boogie-Woogie To Barbershop

Weaving together never-before-synthesized elements, the Beach Boys were a totally singular creation from the jump — and Brian Wilson is the primary man to thank.

GRAMMYs/Mar 31, 2023 - 02:28 pm

Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Pardon the non-oceanic metaphor, but imagine the Beach Boys' original sound as a pot of stew.

There's a mess of various ingredients, but the taste is unified and comforting. Generally speaking, you don't enjoy this dish — or this band's early hits — on an analytical, academic level; both simply provide a wave of sensation and association. Both just feel good.

Likewise, America's Band’s early sound was singular, a blast of pure feeling. But the veneer of simplicity belies that they drew it from a dizzying number of directions — long before they reached their innovative peak with Pet Sounds and its never-finished follow-up, Smile.

Just unpack "Surfin' USA," generally thought of as simple, straightforward fun: it's a Chuck Berry melody and riff, a surfing lyric and theme, the gleaming harmonies from the Four Freshmen and any number of doo-wop greats. They were all in the public consciousness, but nobody had synthesized them in this particular way until Brian Wilson came along.

To bring up Pet Sounds and Smile again: there's no dearth of reportage, nor musings, on how the Mozart of pop/rock worked his spellbinding magic. But how Wilson managed to craft the Beach Boys' early sound is just as flabbergasting.

For a full-throttle trip through the fruits of that inspiration, look no further "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," a two-hour tribute special featuring a lineup of heavy hitters, including John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and many more. "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

From the beginning, Wilson connected with the strengths of each member: basso profundo Mike Love's wordplay and swagger; brother Carl's punchy midrange and gleaming guitar; resident folkie Al Jardine's earthiness and likeability; brother Dennis' straightforward attack on the drums, powering the whole operation. (Within a few years of their inception, Dennis would blossom as a lead vocalist and songwriter in his own right.)

How did Wilson and the other Beach Boys absorb the raw ingredients of their sound — surf music, doo-wop, boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues? By having big ears, and bigger imaginations.

Right as he turned double-digits, Wilson began experimenting with various instruments — ukulele, accordion — but the piano was the skeleton key. Brian, Carl and Dennis' infamous-yet-galvanizing father, Murray, was a struggling songwriter who played piano; the family instrument became a tool for Wilson to analyze and dissect what crossed his consciousness on the radio.

"[I] started picking out the melodies of songs that I heard on the radio," Wilson recalled in his 2016 memoir, I Am Brian Wilson, citing tunes by the Chordettes, the Hi-Los, Nat King Cole, and more. Harmony singing soon grabbed his attention. The Four Freshmen were also something of an obsession, particularly for the colors in their harmonies.

"I tried to understand the way their voices were working," he continued. "To take their songs apart like they were clocks and then rebuild them for me and Dennis and Carl." The latter brother connected deeply with Black R&B, like the Penguins and Johnny Otis: "We had never heard anything like it," Wilson wrote. "They were just as sophisticated as the Four Freshmen, but different."

A harbinger of Pet Sounds-era Wilson: Murray would bring tape machines home, and Wilson seized upon their possibilities: not just as a method of getting ideas down, but for overdubbing. In the book, Wilson describes the first "real song" he ever wrote as the still-luminous "Surfer Girl," which drew inspiration from "When You Wish Upon a Star." It's hard to imagine him splicing that DNA without these simple machines.

Dennis, the only surfer in the group, added the ingredient that made everything else pop: his experiences within surf culture. This not only gave the nascent Beach Boys — formerly the Pendletones — a thesis and mission statement. Their embrace of surf culture made the separate components explode into something entirely new.

The rest is history: Wilson rapidly developing into a studio maven far beyond his years, a la Phil Spector; the introduction of avant-garde and classical elements in Pet Sounds and Smile; folk elements undergirding the spectacular Sunflower; Wilson digging into his California roots as an elder statesman on 2008's underrated That Lucky Old Sun.

And none of it would have happened if Wilson hadn't surveyed the ingredients at his disposal, as a very young man— and wove them into a symphony of flavors the world will never forget.

10 Memorable Oddities By The Beach Boys: Songs About Root Beer, Raising Babies & Ecological Collapse

The Beach Boys 1967
The Beach Boys in 1967

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Listen: 50 Essential Songs By The Beach Boys Ahead Of "A GRAMMY Salute" To America's Band

From "Surfin' USA" to "God Only Knows" to "Summer's Gone," here's a 50-song portal into the weird, inventive, and heart-stoppingly gorgeous catalog of the Beach Boys.

GRAMMYs/Mar 29, 2023 - 02:51 pm

Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

The Beach Boys are arguably still defined by their imperial phase in the 1960s — their string of infectious early hits that dovetailed with the psychedelic era, culminating in masterpieces like "California Girls," all of Pet Sounds, and "Good Vibrations." But that's not the full story.

Indeed, there are pockets of greatness throughout their entire 60-year run. Sure, you've heard "Catch a Wave," but are you hip to "Add Some Music to Your Day," their impossibly lovely gospel song from Sunflower? "Fun, Fun, Fun" is a staple, but have you beheld the head-spinning "Surf's Up," from the aborted Smile album?

Because America's Band's six-decade year voyage — the breadth of it — is about to get its own GRAMMY bash.

Back in April, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," a two-hour tribute special featuring a lineup of heavy hitters, including John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and many more, aired on CBS. “A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will now re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream on demand on Paramount+.

Ahead of this unforgettable special, take a trip through the Beach Boys' career with this 50-song playlist — full of those indelible early hits, mid-period deep cuts and late-career masterpieces. Listen to the playlist in full on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.

Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.

Read More: How To Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," Featuring Performances From John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, Weezer & More