It is frustrating when a lot of people like something you may despise.
If we at SeedSing are going to be a competent and commendable website, we need to give recognition to things that we may not like, or even hate in this case, but other people adore. We kind of did this on the podcast when I had my brother Seth on and he talked about his love for the Grateful Dead. I'm clearly not a fan of theirs, but Seth loves them and we gave him yet another platform to opine on why he loves them. I'm going to tackle a band that I truly despise for the greatest American band debate, but a ton of other people, easily in the millions, loves and adores. Today, I'm going to talk about, not really make the case for them, just talk about the Beach Boys.
Let's get this straight right out of the gate, I really, really, really hate the Beach Boys. They're bubble gum pop music in my opinion, and I think Brian Wilson is one of the most overrated musicians of all time. Had he not had a nervous breakdown, he wouldn't be the "icon" that he is today. There'd be no movies or books about him, he'd just be another run of the mill musician. He's not genius, not even close. So, have I laid out the fact that I really dislike the Beach Boys enough yet? I think so, but my hatred will bubble up throughout this post today. Let's get to why a lot of people, not me, think they're not only the greatest American band, but the greatest band of all time. First of all, they introduced, or some even say, invented the California surf rock sound. This sound was very popular in the 60's, and is kind of making a resurgence nowadays. People like to say that they have the best vocal harmonies of any band ever. I don't hear it, but fans seem to think they're the greatest. That's high praise to be told that you have the best harmonies of all time. That's a huge accomplishment in music. Brian Wilson is the unquestioned leader of the band, and he wrote and orchestrated pretty much all of their music. This is music to fans ears, but not that impressive to me because I don't like their music at all. Their music sounds simplistic, but fans adore this. He wrote their biggest hit "Good Vibrations". This song epitomizes California rock. It's poppy with an easy guitar riff and the vocals couldn't be anymore "beachy". That's what I like to refer to their harmonies as, "beachy". That means, to me, that they sound like they're singing on the beach, in every song. Kind of a happy go lucky vibe to their music, also known as "pop" music. Everybody knows the song "Good Vibrations", so, for all intents and purposes, that makes them one of the greats. That sentence just hurt my brain. God, I hate the Beach Boys. "Good Vibrations" came after their most critically acclaimed album, "Pet Sounds". I've tried with this record, and I just don't get it, but critics and musicians and fans adore it. It is the essential California rock record. People will tell you that they brought psychedelia to the masses with this album, but I'll take any Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix or even any YES album over "Pet Sounds" for my psychedelic music. "Pet Sounds" opens with another humongous hit, "Wouldn't It Be Nice". This song is not psychedelic, it's pop. The Beach Boys thrive with songs like these. "Good Vibrations and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" are in their wheel house and songs like these were massive hits because this is what the masses liked and still like. It's poppy and fun and while they may be sad lyrically, they sound happy, so fans like them and think they're happy songs. "Good Vibrations" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" are no different than current songs like "Honey I'm Good" by Andy Grammar or "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz. They're all bubble gum garbage, but the masses love it. They called the album "Pet Sounds" because they literally use pet sounds. This is like the stupid stuff Phish does, using vacuums as instruments, that people seem to think is innovative. It's not psychedelic, it's stupid. But, most critics heaped praise on the Beach Boys for doing this. They thought it was ingenious, and only a musical "genius" like Brian Wilson could pull this off.
Soon after "Pet Sounds", Brian Wilson started to lose his mind. This wasn't like Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd, who literally did lose his mind, I feel like this was, what some today would call, a media ploy. I feel like the Beach Boys wanted to be even more famous, so they made Brian Wilson go nuts. I'm sure he has a problem, but he's still alive and making music, so he couldn't have been that nuts. The Beach Boys, and more famously, Brian Wilson did gain even more notoriety after this. The band broke up after "Pet Sounds", but some iteration of the Beach Boys still made albums up to 2012, and they're still touring. What they may be most famous for, post Brian Wilson, is the fact that they recorded "Kokomo", but even bigger than that, they play live with John Stamos. This makes them very lame, in my opinion, but when "Full House" was a massive hit, being on the show multiple times, as the Beach Boys were, they were remembered and gained even more fame. Older fans would see this and think, hey they're still doing it. And younger fans, they loved them some "Full House" and teenage, and even a lot of adult women, loved them some John Stamos. They regained their old fans, and brought a whole new generation of fans by being on "Full House".
In 2004, Brian Wilson released the album "Smile" to huge critical acclaim. I believe the editor of this website, RD himself, bought this album when we lived together (ed note: yes I did). He would put it on, and I'd think, Jesus, this is crap. I think even RD hated it too (ed note: yes I did), but he would listen to it and try to like it. I don't get the love, but fans loved it. The love for the Beach Boys is very weird to me. They've won tons of Grammys and other music awards. Some magazine named them the most influential American rock band(bull shit) and they're still beloved to this day. I've said it many times, I HATE the Beach Boys, but if we are taking this debate seriously, they need to be mentioned. I know a lot of people will read this and call me a hater, and I definitely am a hater of the Beach Boys, but at least I took time today to put them in this discussion. I also know that I left out huge chunks of their career, but I don't care enough to mention any of it. I feel I covered what is best known and what made the Beach Boys famous.
This post was very hard for me because I'm a music snob and the Beach Boys boil my blood. But, I did it, I made the "case" for the Beach Boys as the greatest American band. I know this will read very different from my other greatest American band posts, but you have to put bands in this discussion, even if you dislike them. Go ahead Beach Boys fans and skewer me in the comment section, I know it's coming and I'm ready for it.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the other host of the X Millennial Man podcast. While writing this piece, Ty was humming along the Blue Jean Committee's hit song "Catalina Breeze". Follow Ty on twitter @tykulik.