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Friday, May 10, 2024

May 10, 2024: Beach Blogging: The Beach Boys

[Released on May 11, 1964, “I Get Around” would go on to become the first #1 hit for The Beach Boys. To celebrate that sunny anniversary, this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of beachtastic texts, leading up to a repeat Guest Post from one of our up-and-coming BeachStudiers!]

On three ways to contextualize the iconic beach band (beyond the early 60s surfing culture contexts I wrote about in Monday’s post).

1)      Kids and Cars: I’ve long noted that the one layer of Bruce Springsteen’s work that has never quite resonated with me is his obsession with cars; that perspective of mine hasn’t changed, but it’s certainly worth noting that the intersection of car culture and American rock music long predates the Boss. The Beach Boys certainly did their part to contribute to that tradition, including one of their biggest early hits “Little Deuce Coupe” (1963) among many, many others. And they, along with the role of car culture in films like Rebel Without a Cause (1955), can help me appreciate just how much cars contributed to the period’s youth counter-culture; not everyone had an ocean to surf, and most folks couldn’t make a guitar talk, but just about every American kid could dream of getting away from it all in a coupe.

2)      The Beatles and Competition: The Beach Boys and their surfing and car songs might have dominated the first couple years of the 1960s (alongside all the surfing culture I discussed on Monday), but soon enough a different oceanic influence would take over the American musical and cultural landscape—the invasion of The Beatles and so many contemporary and subsequent bands from across the Atlantic. The Beach Boys were on the same record label, Capitol Records, as The Beatles U.S. releases, and apparently Brian Wilson in particular was very frustrated by all the attention the Fab Four received, later noting that The Beatles “eclipsed a lot we’d worked for, eclipsed the whole music world.” While of course Wilson’s psychological state was famously fragile and such stressors didn’t help, it’s nonetheless also the case that the competition with The Beatles led The Beach Boys to create one of the most experimental, unique, and greatest albums in American rock history, Pet Sounds (1966), which would go on to directly influence The Beatles as well.

3)      “Kokomo” and Classic Rock: The question of when rock music turns into “classic rock” is an interpretative one, and of course one that can make fans feel real old. I would argue that as early as 1971, with their album Surf’s Up, The Beach Boys were making music that was overtly designed to tap into nostalgia for their earlier music and that early 60s surfing craze, which could be a case for calling that album “classic rock.” But while that’s a debatable point, I don’t think anyone would argue that 1988’s “Kokomo,” which was recorded for the Cocktail soundtrack and became the group’s first #1 hit since Pet Sounds, was anything other than an overt (and entirely successful) attempt to recapture those 1960s vibes, one that extended into an entire album, Still Cruisin’ (1989). Which went platinum, proving that, fresh or classic, there remains a place for beachtastic pop music.

Guest Post this weekend,


PS. What do you think? Other beachtastic texts you’d highlight?

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