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10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About the Beach Boys

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Tom Lohr loves holidays—just not Christmas. He is still bitter about not getting the GI Joe Gemini capsule as a present in the mid-60s

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys

Interesting Facts About The Beach Boys

Few bands can define an era or a sound; The Beach Boys have done both. The period from 1962 to 1964 was chocked full of songs about cars, girls, and surfing. While there were many groups that cranked out a surfing song or two, it was The Beach Boys that started the craze and provided the template for others to emulate. There are few bands whose music has endured as long as the tunes from Southern California's favorites sons. Songs by The Beach Boys are played regularly on the radio, at sporting events, and in television and movies.

As a group that has been cranking out music for over 50 years, The Beach Boys have experienced some interesting events and have stories to tell. After two made-for-television movies and one biopic of the group's founder, there are still facts about The Beach Boy's that many fans are not aware of. Here are ten of the most interesting.

1. Sued Over “Surfin' USA”

Perhaps their most iconic hit, "Surfin' USA" hit number three on the music charts in 1963 and propelled the group to stardom. It is such a powerful, happiness-infusing song that it has re-charted when covered by others. If there is one Beach Boys' hit that most people will recognize, "Surfin' USA" is it.

The only problem is, the song is basically rock 'n roll legend Chuck Berry's 1958 hit "Sweet Little Sixteen" with surfing lyrics. The Beach Boys were huge Chuck Berry fans, and "Surfin' USA" was meant to be something as a tribute to Chuck, who was during a brief stint in prison at the time. He threatened to sue over musical plagiarism, but the group's manager/father, Murry Wilson, managed to work out a deal that funneled most of the profits from the song to Berry. Chuck was also eventually given writing credits for the song.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

2. Brian Spread a Little Too Much Wealth

By the time the surfing craze had caught on as a coastal sport, the music sensationalizing it soon followed. The Beach Boys founder and leader Brian Wilson had taken his brother's and bandmate's advice and written their first hit "Surfin'" based on the growing popularity of the sport; it seemed any song about surfing would make the charts. Brian Wilson was working on the aforementioned "Surfin' USA" when he was visited by an established California duo named Jan and Dean who were interested in recording a surfing song of their own.

Brian was extremely busy cranking out songs for the Beach Boys and decided to give Jan and Dean a half-finished piece Brian was calling "Surf City." Jan and Dean took Brian up on his offer, recorded the song and released it the same year as "Surfin' USA."

While "Surfin' USA" charted well at number three, "Surf City" became Jan and Dean's only number one hit and topped the charts in July 1963. Despite being friends with Jan and Dean, Brian's manager and record company were furious at him for giving away a hit to a competing group and record label.

3. Friends Helped Make Hits

The Beach Boys' record company knew that the surfing craze would not last forever. Attempting to strike while the iron was still hot, Capitol Records pressed the group for more albums. The pressure to keep cranking out new material led to the innovative Beach Boys Party! album.

The group decided to drag a bunch of seldom used instruments, like bongo drums, into the studio and record themselves goofing off and singing. It would be like a Beach Boys party, which is where the album got its name.

It was recorded over a few days in 1965 at Western Studios, where artists from various labels also recorded. During one of the sessions, Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean sauntered in while taking a break from recording down the hall. Dean was asked what he would like to sing, and he settled on "easiest, stupidest" song he knew. He spent all of about ten minutes in the studio singing the falsetto lead on that one song. That song was "Barbara Ann" and wound up being the only hit from the album and one of The Beach Boys' most popular tunes.

Dean Torrence today

Dean Torrence today

4. Shannon Is Gone

In 1976, Henry Gross had a chart-busting hit called "Shannon." Until that point, Gross was best known as one of the founding members of Sha Na Na and was the youngest person, at age 18, to perform on stage at the Woodstock Festival.

Henry embarked on a solo career and in the early 1970s and often crossed paths with The Beach Boys while touring. He became fast friends with the group's lead guitarist, Carl Wilson, and was invited to Carl's house to talk about music.

Carl had prepared an elaborate lunch, but before they could enjoy it, Wilson's two Huskies raided and devoured the food. Their conversation turned to dogs, with Gross admitting he had an Irish Setter named Shannon that often pulled the same stunt. Carl admitted he had had an Irish Setter called Shannon as well that had been hit by a car and killed a few months before.

After returning home, Gross quickly penned "Shannon" as an ode to Carl Wilson's dog. As an added touch, Gross sang some of the song in falsetto as a tip of the hat to Beach Boy's founder Brian Wilson, who often sang falsetto.

Henry Gross

Henry Gross

5. The Famous Fill-In

In late 1964, while kicking off a tour in Houston, Brian Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown. It was severe enough that he had to quit the tour and return to California. The group scrambled to find a replacement; they needed someone that could play bass and sing Brian's hallmark falsetto. They decided on a respected studio musician that had played on several of their recordings. A quick phone call to Los Angeles and Glen Campbell was on a jet to Dallas to meet the group. He filled in until March of 1965, when Bruce Johnston formally joined The Beach Boys.

As a thank you for filling in, Brian Wilson wrote and arranged a song specifically for Glen. The song "Guess I'm Dumb" was never a huge hit, but retrospective critical acclaim has made it one of Glen's all-time top recordings.

Glen Campbell on stage as a Beach Boy

Glen Campbell on stage as a Beach Boy

6. The Infamous Babysitter

In 1968, The Beach Boy's lead singer Mike Love had dinner at his cousin and bandmate Dennis Wilson's home to meet Dennis' new pal. Dennis had become involved with an aspiring musician that lacked talent but could provide the drummer with one of his most ardent vices: girls. The dinner turned out to be too weird for Love, and he split. Something he could not quite put his finger on was off about Dennis' new friend, a guy named Charles Manson.

Later that year, Love and his wife split after she revealed she was having an affair with Dennis. She and Love's cousin would sneak off for romantic interludes. But someone had to watch their children while she was off doing the nasty. On at least one occasion, they got one of the Manson girls named Susan Atkins to babysit. Atkins would later be a willing participant in the slaughter of eight people in the gruesome Manson murders.

The One Must-Have Beach Boys Album

Susan Atkins and Charles Manson

Susan Atkins and Charles Manson

7. The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

Besides being rock stars, the members of The Beach Boys also had normal lives when they were not cranking out surf tunes. That meant they had families. Brian Wilson married Marilyn Rovell of the female surf music trio The Honeys. The pair had two daughters, Wendy and Carnie Wilson.

In 1989, Wendy and Carnie teamed up with the Chynna Phillips to form one of the great groups of the early 1990s: Wilson Phillips. Proving that musical DNA can be inherited, Chynna was the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and Papas. Wilson-Phillps enjoyed gold record success before breaking up in 1993.

Wilson Phillips

Wilson Phillips

8. They Are a Cast of Many

When people think The Beach Boys, they typically recall the original core members: brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. But the fact is, The Beach Boys have been a revolving cast of musicians for most of their careers.

After their first single, "Surfin'," was released, Al Jardine went off to dental school. He was replaced by neighbor David Marks. A few years later, Jardine rejoined the group, and Marks quit after a falling out with the band's manager and the Wilson boys' father, Murry Wilson.

Then Brian had a breakdown and was replaced by Glen Campbell. Campbell finished up a tour for Brian and went off to pursue a solo career. Glen's spot was filled by Bruce Johnston who took a hiatus for several years in the 1970s before rejoining the group. There have been other musicians plugged into the group throughout the years, including actor/drummer John Stamos.

The only constant in The Beach Boys' lineup has been lead singer Mike Love. He has fronted the group since its inception. If you see The Beach Boys perform today, Love is the only original member on stage. He is flanked by Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965.

The early Beach Boys. David Marks on the far right.

The early Beach Boys. David Marks on the far right.

9. They Were Bigger Than the Beatles

It is hard to imagine that any group was more popular than The Beatles. Once the Fab Four hit the United States, they dominated the charts. And while The Beatles and Beach Boys were musical rivalries, they were also friends. They were, after all, working for the same record label.

The peak of the beach/car genre of music was 1963–64; afterward, The Beach Boys turned out some hits, but they were moving in a different direction musically. The group's star power began to fade in 1965, and by 1966, The Beatles had totally eclipsed The Beach Boys in popularity . . . in the United States. Hits that barely cracked the Top 40 in America became huge successes in Europe.

Across the pond, The Beach Boys were enjoying a resurgence. In 1966, New Music Express, the authority on music in the UK, had its annual poll for top groups and performers. In previous years, The Beatles had ruled the polls, but in 1966, The Beach Boys were handily chosen as the best vocal group in the world. For a time in Europe, in the late '60s, The Beach Boys were indeed bigger than The Beatles.

The Beatles

The Beatles

10. They Headlined One of the Largest Concerts Ever

If you look up lists of the largest concerts in the United States, you will find some pretty impressive numbers. Simon and Garfunkel's concert in Central Park drew 500,000 fans and usually makes the list. Others had crowds in the 500,000 range that are mentioned, but suspiciously absent from the list are The Beach Boys. Those who make the lists either do not think The Beach Boys are cool enough or simply did not do their homework, but the fact remains the group headlined one of the largest concerts ever in the United States.

In the early 1980s, The Beach Boys played a free July the 4th concert on the National Mall in Washington D.C. several years in a row. An out-of-touch secretary of the interior in the Reagan Administration considered them a hard rock act and not family-friendly despite the concerts pulling in around 500,000 each July. He replaced them in 1983 with Wayne Newton. Unfortunately for Secretary James Watt, President Reagan and his wife Nancy were huge Beach Boy fans. Reagan subsequently invited the boys to the White House, and they played the nation's capital again on July 4th, 1984.

With help from the previous year's publicity, in which Secretary Watt called Beach Boy concert goers the "wrong element," the 1984 event drew 750,000 spectators. It truly is one of the largest concerts in United States history. However, just like naming the best football or baseball teams of all time, opinions heavily outweigh facts for those compiling the data.

The Beach Boys' number one fan

The Beach Boys' number one fan

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