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+.
When talk turns to the history of American pop vocal groups in the 20th century, the conversation begins — and ends — with the Beach Boys. These California siblings and their high school compadres reinvented modern music, taking listeners on a sonic journey with their melodic harmony-rich hits. More than 60 years on, the group is still considered a touchstone for today’s artists and the pinnacle of pop.
The Beach Boys formed in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne in 1961. The original lineup featured the three Wilson brothers (Dennis, Brian and Carl), cousin Mike Love and high-school friend Al Jardine. Initially, Murry Wilson (the siblings father) managed the group and helped land their first paying gig: opening for Ike and Tina Turner at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance in Long Beach on New Year’s Eve 1961.
It was an auspicious start to the year. That summer, the teenage quintet with a joie de vivre and a love of sun, surf, and sand signed to Capitol Records. The major label deal followed the success of their first two singles: "Surfin,’" which reached No. 3 on West Coast regional charts and sold 40,000 copies, and "Surfin’ Safari." The band’s debut full-length, Surfin’ Safari, climbed all the way to No. 32 on the Billboard charts.
The Beach Boys sophomore release, Surfin’ U.S.A., came out less than six months after their debut and saw Brian Wilson experimenting more with innovative studio techniques like double-tracking vocals. The album hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts — but the band's success and innovation had far from peaked.
1964's All Summer Long capped a year when the group played more than 100 shows around the world and recorded all or parts of four albums, largely leaving the beachy parts of their sound behind in favor of new sonic textures and more personal lyrics. Released in May 1966, Pet Sounds was the high point of this experimentation and cemented the group as innovators. The intricately arranged concept album peaked at No. 10 in the U.S., but reached second spot in the British charts. The record came to represent the future possibilities of pop and signaled a shift in music-making and studio wizardry. Today, it’s considered one of the most influential albums of the 20th century due to its pioneering production and introspective lyrics.
Dozens of artists have covered the album’s most well-known song: "God Only Knows," including: Glen Campbell, David Bowie, Olivia Newton-John and Wilson Phillips. Graham Nash cites "God Only Knows" as a significant inspiration to him when first learning the craft of writing songs.
All told, the Beach Boys released 29 studio albums, 11 live recordings and dozens upon dozens of compilations. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and they have been nominated for four GRAMMY Awards. The band have impacted everyone from contemporaries like the Beatles to current indie-folk rockers Fleet Foxes. Beyond commercial success — more than 100 million records sold, four No.1 Billboard hits and more than 33 Platinum and Gold Records (the greatest hits album Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys sold three million copies alone) — there are few genres these California kids have not had an influence on over the past six decades.
In advance of the re-airing of the television special "A GRAMMY Salute to The Beach Boys" on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS — which features Beck, Brandi Carlile, Fall Out Boy, Norah Jones, John Legend, Michael McDonald, Weezer, Charlie Puth and Mumford & Sons — GRAMMY.com shines a light on seven artists who count these sweet-singing melody-making trailblazers as essential to their musical education.
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
Listen to the vocal harmonies in songs like "Paperback Writer" and the complex arrangements, orchestration and time-shifts on "A Day in the Life" and try not to hear the sonic similarities. Pet Sounds came out the year before the GRAMMY-winning Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and early demos and acetates of the album ended up in the hands of the British band. Paul McCartney is also on record saying: "God Only Knows" is the greatest song ever written and he cries every time he hears it.
George Martin, the "fifth Beatle" and GRAMMY-winning producer who was the studio architect of some of the Fab Four’s biggest albums, heralded Wilson and acknowledged the Beach Boys' influence on Sgt. Pepper’s. "Brian is a living genius of pop music. Like the Beatles, he pushed forward the frontiers of popular music," Martin says in Charles L Granata’s book Brian Wilson And The Making Of Pet Sounds.
"There’s no greater world created in rock and roll than the Beach Boys, the level of musicianship, I don’t think anybody’s touched it yet," Bruce Springsteen said in the documentary Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road.
Listen to "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" from 2007s Magic, which sonically could have easily fit on Pet Sounds 40 years earlier. Or put on your headphones and zone out to "Hungry Heart," the Boss’ first top 10 hit and try not to hear the Beach Boys' influence in the arrangement. In the documentary, Springsteen praises Wilson, his friend and musical mentor: "[He] just took you out of where you were and took you to another place."
Surf-rock influencing punk-rock? You bet. The Ramones were well aware of, and influenced by, the SoCal music movement of the 1960s when they exploded onto the burgeoning punk scene in 1974.
The Beach Boys were one of the messiahs from the past they worshiped and looked to while crafting some of their most enduring punk rock anthems. "Rockaway Beach" was penned by bassist Dee Dee Ramone to mimic the style of the Beach Boys earliest surf-rock hits, but was sped up to match the punk rockers energy. Many of the Ramones’s song titles and lyrics — just like the California group — clung to the innocence of youth and name-dropped local attractions and experiences that kids growing up in the boroughs understood.
Take these lines from: “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” : “I’d rather stay here in my room/ Nothin’ out there but sad and gloom/ I don’t want to live in a big old tomb on Grand Street.” Remind you of the pensive “In My Room” perhaps? Or, how about "Oh Oh I Love Her So," from Leave Home? Joey Ramone sings of falling in love by a soda machine and then riding the coaster with his girl down at Coney Island all night long. The song even ends with a surf-rock riff.
Not long after moving from the East Coast to Los Angeles, Weezer’s lead singer and songwriter Rivers Cuomo bought a copy of Pet Sounds. The album would go on to influence the early days of the alternative-rock band and Cuomo’s approach to songwriting, especially on their self-titled debut.
Weezer once covered the Beach Boys' "Don’t Worry Baby" and, on the GRAMMY-nominated Pacific Daydream (2017) there’s a song called "Beach Boys." In an interview, Cuomo reflected on Wilson’s wide-ranging, everlasting influence: "To me, he’s one of the standout talents of the century or of our culture. I think I’m a pea in comparison. But I certainly emulate him as do countless others." On the forthcoming GRAMMY salute to the Beach Boys, Weezer covers "California Girls."
While his friends were studying algebra, a teenage Robin Pecknold was studying The Beach Boys — specifically how they created their complex stacked harmonies. This musical education began the foundation for his band Fleet Foxes and their approach to harmonizing and making music. In this interview on Brian Wilson’s website, the songwriter refers to the Beach Boys music as his "textbooks." "My parents bought me a four track for my1 5th birthday and I would practice stacking harmonies for hours on end," he recalled.
From the layered harmonies that open "Sun it Rises," the first track on the band’s self-titled 2008 debut, and the intricate orchestration that follows, the Beach Boys comparison is evident. Pecknold acknowledges this influence in the liner notes, writing: "Whenever I hear 'Feel Flows' by the Beach Boys, I’m taken straight to the back of my parents’ car on the way to my grandparents’ place, fourteen with Surf’s Up in my walkman and the Cascade Mountains going by in the window."
In that same interview posted on Wilson’s website, Peckhold raved about Brian Wilson's influence on him as a young musician. "I remember being so driven as a teenager by how much amazing music Brian made in his early 20s. That he was such a prodigious master of his craft, making Pet Sounds at the astounding age of 23, always pushed me to get as good as I could as a musician, as soon as I could," Peckhold reflected. "But at some point I accepted that haste is no substitute for brilliance, there is only one Brian Wilson."
And, if this is not proof enough, Fleet Foxes sampled Wilson’s voice from "Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" on the song "Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman" on 2020s GRAMMY-nominated Shore.
The French synth-rock quartet that formed in 1995 show how the Beach Boys' influence spans not only generations, but borders. This admiration for the California soft-rock sounds of the 1960s and harmonious pop is most apparent on the GRAMMY-winning band’s sixth album: Ti Amo. Just like Pet Sounds, these cerebral musicians mine the depths of human emotions on this record and find the spaces in between to shed light on what we all feel. In this piece, Phoenix discusses how Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys influenced the sunny sounds of this 2017 record that is a love letter to Europe.
The Sha La Das
Family harmonies? Check. Summer vibes? Check. Led by father Bill Schalda and featuring the sibling sounds of his three sons — Will, Paul and Carmine — this band hail from Staten Island. Growing up, the brothers often sang on the front stoop with Bill providing guidance. Later, they sang backup on the late Charles Bradley’s Victim of Love.
Listen to the old-soul and do-wop of "Summer Breeze" from the band’s 2018 debut Love in the Wind and you are transported to southern California, circa 1961, and the first time the sunny sounds of the Beach Boys came across the airwaves.
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