meta-scriptBrian Wilson Is A Once-In-A-Lifetime Creative Genius. But The Beach Boys Are More Than Just Him. | GRAMMY.com
Brian Wilson Is A Once-In-A-Lifetime Creative Genius. But The Beach Boys Are More Than Just Him.

The Beach Boys

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Brian Wilson Is A Once-In-A-Lifetime Creative Genius. But The Beach Boys Are More Than Just Him.

Brian Wilson is inarguably responsible for the Beach Boys' most flabbergasting creative triumphs, from 'Pet Sounds' to "Good Vibrations." But as a new boxed set, 'Feel Flows,' shows, they could have kept on blossoming under his brother Carl's leadership

GRAMMYs/Aug 27, 2021 - 10:58 pm

The Beach Boys may be the only canonical band in their league to be essentially cleaved in two, commanding two separate audiences. But it goes even deeper than that: Fans tend to understand them via two incompatible narratives.

One is that Brian Wilson—a once-in-a-lifetime harmonic innovator and studio visionary by the age of a typical college student—can do no wrong, only muzzled by that meddling Mike Love. The other is that their critically acclaimed mid-'60s experimental period—Pet Sounds, "Good Vibrations"—was where their run as hitmakers ended. Through that lens, their Brian-free 1988 tropical hit "Kokomo" wasn't a trapdoor into kitsch, but a desperately needed comeback after years of zero hits.

Such is the reductive, binary discourse surrounding these classic rock legends: It's "Brian good, Mike bad" or some form of the opposite. This brings us to the 1970s when Brian took a backseat due to mental health issues and creative demoralization. If Brian Wilson "walks on water"—as Love once put it—this may seem like the beginning of their long sundown. Dennis Wilson himself said it: "Brian is the Beach Boys. He is the band. We're his f***ing messengers. He is all of it. Period. We're nothing. He's everything."

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Again, Brian is a national treasure, but his drummer brother was wrong on this—and a new boxed set proves it once and for all. Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf's Up Sessions 1969-1971, which arrived August 27, contains brilliant remasters of those two excellent, underrated albums from that fork in the road, plus plentiful outtakes and live tracks. Gorgeous songs like "This Whole World," "Add Some Music To Your Day" and "Don't Go Near the Water" show they could have continued like Pink Floyd post-Syd Barrett, making masterpieces without their erratic founding genius.

More importantly, Feel Flows underlines the radiant and lionhearted soul of Carl Wilson over and over. When Brian's struggles became untenable, his brother assumed the role of musical director without drawing attention to himself or making a big deal about it. And although they spent the following decades looking over their shoulder for Brian to return, Carl helmed the band throughout the '70s and beyond. When he died in 1998, the center gave way and the members toured as separate entities.

The Beach Boys. Photo courtesy of UMe.

"I think in a post-Brian Wilson world when the band started touring extensively in the late '60s and especially the early '70s, it was clear that Carl was the leader of the band," Erik Long, who produced a major Beach Boys concert in the '80s and was close friends with Carl, tells GRAMMY.com. "I think what stood out about Carl is that when you were with him, he made you feel more special than he was. That's a remarkable feeling."

The largely home-recorded Sunflower came out in 1970, which was indisputably primetime for singer/songwriter music: Carole King's TapestryJoni Mitchell's Blue and Neil Young's After the Gold Rush came out within a year of it. That was the album where the Beach Boys grew out of their Pendleton shirts and rebranded themselves as a commune of hairy, soulful folkies. On the cover, they pose with their children in verdant climes; Al Jardine rocks cowboy getup; Love looks like he never left Rishikesh. They'd grown up.

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While the music is a little more commercial and lighthearted than Pet Sounds, it's no less lush and cohesive. Here were six singer/songwriters at full bore: Dennis bared his soul with the majestic "Forever"; almost-founding-member Bruce Johnston wrote the loping, lovesick "Dierdre"; Al Jardine and Love have several co-writes. And Carl's musical and personal qualities shine through almost every note of it—especially when he takes one of his warm, punchy vocal solos, like on the goosebumps-inducing "Add Some Music To Your Day."

"Carl wasn't really credited for this, even though he was on the original track sheets, but he was producing this overall and just kind of quietly, methodically making sure everything was getting finished," Beach Boys archive manager Alan Boyd tells GRAMMY.com.

Feel Flows producer and engineer Mark Linett agrees, contrasting Brian's and Carl's temperaments and approaches. "Brian tends to be very instinctive," he tells GRAMMY.com. "Get it down, get it done quickly. As opposed to Pet Sounds, where the musicians recorded en masse, "When multitrack recording came in and became more a matter of layering vocals and different parts, I think Carl was better at dealing with a long-haul type of thing."

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The Beach Boys got darker and more ecologically conscious with 1971's Surf's Up, whose shadowy cover features a defeated-looking Native American slumping on his horse. Whereas Sunflower was a democratic effort with Brian still part of the team, he was scarcely involved with its moodier, more scattered follow-up.

In his relative absence, Carl shone even brighter, contributing signature songs like "Long Promised Road" and, yes, "Feel Flows." Elsewhere, Love lets off some social commentary with "Student Demonstration Time" and Johnston slams it out of the park with his drop-dead gorgeous "Disney Girls (1957)." While the title track is a majestic Brian holdover from 1967's never-finished Smile and it contains oddities like the dirge "A Day in the Life of a Tree"—crooned by their then-manager Jack Rieley—Surf's Up is a rough-hewn classic.

To be clear, there is nothing quite on par with "God Only Knows" or "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)" or "Good Vibrations" on Feel Flows. But it shows how their branches were growing in fascinating directions nonetheless, especially in the wealth of previously unheard bonus material.

Carl Wilson. Photo courtesy of UMe.

Could they have built on the funk of "Slip On Through," heard here in a trippy, groovy alternate version? What if they got deeper into the delicacy of "At My Window," giving us a run of Incredible String Band-style acoustic albums? To say nothing of the hard rock in these live tracks, which this band rarely gets credit for: What would the Beach Boys look like as unadulterated stadium rockers?

We'll never find out because the Beach Boys opted to take half-measures in Brian's absence. Given his monster talents, this is somewhat understandable. There are a small handful of other quietly great, Carl-helmed Beach Boys records throughout the 1970s, like 1972's Carl and the Passions — So Tough and 1973's Holland. But whether due to creative insecurity or outside pressures, that was it for their imperial reign as artists, even if they remain unbelievably popular and beloved six decades after they formed.

But while Feel Flows teases what could have happened, it also shows what did: With Carl as their center and essence, the Beach Boys pushed beauty into the world even when Brian couldn't be there for it. There's a very visible and celebrated genius at the center of this story, and most of the attention is heaped on him as a result. But the reality is so much sweeter: There were six of them.

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Why This Viral Beach Boys Cover, Meant To Heal A Grieving World, Almost Didn't Happen

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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

Photo: Alex Lake | C A Management

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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 GRAMMY.com. "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?

5 Memorable Highlights From "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys": Weezer, St. Vincent, John Legend & More
(L-R): Brandi Carlile, John Legend

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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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

How Brian Wilson Crafted The Beach Boys' Early Sound: A Symphony Of Inspirations, From Boogie-Woogie To Barbershop
Brian Wilson recording 'Pet Sounds' in 1966

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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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.

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