Boys No More: Are the Beach Boys Rebooted or Merely Rebranded?

Categories: Concert Preview
Beach Boys 50th Anniversary (Robert Matheu).jpg
Robert Matheu
Nobody wants to deflate expectations or deprive Beach Boys fans of reason for celebration. And yet, the announcement late last year that the band had decided to reunite seems to warrant a cautionary note. After all, two of the original key players -- brothers Dennis and Carl Wilson -- are no longer around, and there's no denying how essential their contributions were to the band's keynote harmonies and instrumental efforts.

That makes this reunion more a hodgepodge, one that features musicians who participated in the band's tangled trajectory at different times rather than the original band reborn.

Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Brian Wilson are the core of this new revival, even though Jardine's consistency can also be questioned. He left twice, first during the band's initial incarnation (only to reappear once the hits started coming) and then permanently quit in 1998, following the death of Carl Wilson. Although he can't be considered a constant, his 2010 album, Postcard From California, effectively replicates the Beach Boys sound. Brian, the Beach Boys' original mastermind, quit touring with the band in the mid-'60s, the victim of anxiety and paranoia. There was the famous incident in December 1964 when the band was on a plane about to embark for a tour when Brian literally had a breakdown and had to be removed. Glen Campbell was eventually brought in as his substitute.

For well over a decade, Brian stayed off the road, hiding at home while playing his piano in a sandbox, plotting new masterpieces like Pet Sounds and the aborted Smile album before drifting away from the band until his much-heralded return in 1976.

Yet even after several tours that lasted into the early '80s, Brian's relationship with the band wasn't entirely repaired. By the latter part of the decade, he was completely disenfranchised from the band and embarking on a solo career. In the '90s, he reemerged, playing Pet Sounds in concert and revisiting Smile, all with the help of an L.A. band called the Wondermints, which was so adept at re-creating the original arrangements and the Beach Boys harmonies that the idea of a reunion seemed somewhat moot. 

Brian's permanent substitute became Bruce Johnston, who's more or less remained in the fold ever since Brian gave up his active involvement. Naturally, he's touted as part of the reunion ensemble. Still, it could be argued that once Brian left, the Beach Boys became more a brand than a band. 

After Jardine's departure, it was left to the ever-pandering, posturing, and self-promoting Mike Love -- with Johnston as his willing but unassuming sidekick -- to usurp and exploit the Beach Boys name by carrying on with a group of anonymous surrogates who attempted to replicate the band's sound.

Perhaps the most curious addition to the remade roster is David Marks, more or less the Pete Best of the band. Marks sang, played rhythm guitar, and recorded with the Beach Boys through their first four albums, participating in such early hits such as "Surfin Safari," "409," "Surfin USA," "Shut Down," "Surfer Girl," "In My Room," and "Be True to Your School." 

He also played more than 100 concerts with the early incarnation of the band, joining it on several early stateside tours and in its initial string of national TV appearances. Still, his tenure with the band was relatively brief -- Love invited him back in 1971, but he declined -- and his contribution to the band's sound, especially as a guitarist, was quickly overshadowed by Carl's ever-increasing input. 

To be fair, there's no shortage of bands that claim a comeback based only on a partial roster of original members. The Moody Blues, Buffalo Springfield, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Temptations, Chicago, and the Four Tops are all examples of classic acts that have reclaimed their branding despite the absence of key colleagues. 

Still, there's something disingenuous about a reunion that's missing some important players, specifically two members of the family that built the band from the ground up. Likewise, when the reincarnated Beach Boys made its bows at the Grammy Awards recently, it looked like the front line was merely going through the motions, with most of the heavy lifting done by the band that was in the background and out of the spotlight. Indeed, the real purveyors of those classic sounds came courtesy of the Wondermints, Brian's best backing band by far. 

This treatise isn't intended to shatter the spirit of what the Beach Boys stand for -- sing-along songs, a steady whiff of nostalgia, and maybe, just maybe, those classic harmonies. Likely, the fun, fun, fun provides enough impetus to keep fans singing along to the point where they either don't care or no longer notice.

The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour. 8 p.m. Friday, May 4, at Hard Rock Live,1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets coast $57.75 to $114.25. Call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.


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8 comments
Norailroad
Norailroad

And another thing:  you say the addition of David marks is "curious"?  He wrote/played the guitar parts, breaks, and solos for a dozen of the band's greatest early songs, including Surfin' Safari. As a soloist he was in those days sharper and superior to Carl who wisely played rhythm when a searing solo was needed (as in 409 for example).  As far as I know Pete Best is not on any early Beatles records. Look, I don't want to seem unkind on line, but the BB reunion--and the new single and album by the way--is a blast not only for LA fans like me but for millions of spiritually hungry fans. That's why I have to be so stern in my critique of your poor work. Won't kill my buzz.

Norailroad
Norailroad

Mr. Zimmerman, You have manufactured a crisis that does not exist and you have spoken from ignorance and in folly; I do not know what subjects you DO know about, but the endless error in your essay proves that you know nothing about the BB. Delete this essay before you cause further shame to yourself and your paper.  Better yet, go to a show and perceive the love, harmony and historically-earned camaraderie among the band's members and then retract this rubbish you have published. Do you not see a pattern in the comments in response to the idiocy you have printed?

John Thomas
John Thomas

Some of your points are valid, but should be directed at Mike Love's group, not the reunited Beach Boys. Love's group has him as the only original member, along with Bruce Johnston and a bunch of hired backup guys. There's your disingenuous group. 

The reunion features a far more real version of the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson is there, satisfying many fans who say "No Wilsons = no Beach Boys." Al Jardine's participation over the years and in this reunion is not to be questioned - he only left briefly in 1963, and Love somehow fired him (he did NOT quit) after Carl Wilson died. At first I thought of Dave Marks as a footnote addition, but his guitar playing helps fill Carl's absence, and he looks and acts like a rock star more than the others. He does add more legitimacy to the reunion.

This reunion is about nostalgia and having one last go-round to say thanks to the fans. Yes, Mike Love has seen to it that the group is now a brand, not a real band anymore. It's been that way since the 90s at least. My bet is that even after all the original members are dead, there will be 5 guys hired to pretend to be the Beach Boys. And audience ignorance & apathy will probably let them get away with it.

Beacboyofhampton
Beacboyofhampton

Wow! This article Sucks!! Even if Mr. Zimmerman is not a fan I think he should do a little more research on how many fans the Beach Boys have.  Brian Wilson has a huge following, almost like a cult, and that is cool.. .  I have seen the Beach Boys perform at least 50 times throughout my life starting back in 1983.  I have seen Brian perform with them on a rare occasion in the late 80's.  A number of years ago I saw Brian Wilson perform Pet Sounds with the Brian Wilson Band, aka The Wondermints, what I have never seen is any of these songs performed live as they were on the album so many years ago.  I think the Beach Boys reunited and put aside differences mostly for the fans.  There was a lot of pressure for them to reunite from fans.  Sure there is money involved but does anyone like working for free? This is probably their last opportunity to rake in a little money, create an album, and satisfy fans of what they have always wanted: Peace, Music, and HARMONY!!

Mitch Cooley
Mitch Cooley

Wow...what is the POINT of this essay?? The fact is that (with the exception of early 70's members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin) every living member of the Beach Boys is on this tour; and even just tribute is given to the late Carl and Dennis via video on "God Only Knows..." and "Forever". And talking about Al Jardine's "consistency" (an odd choice of word) is also pointless. He is still the core of the original line-up; and though David Marks voluntarily quit the band due to conflict with Wilson's father/manager Maury, he was an integral part of the band's first four album and many hits. Then the article takes the obligatory swipe at Love and Johnston carrying on as the Beach Boys in recent years; as if it is an insult to the other original members and Brian specifically, who not only gave his blessing, but benefits financially as his compositions continue to be performed publicly, spurring sales and keeping 'the brand' front and center. I agree with KeLLiN; such cynicism...

KelliN
KelliN

Wow, such cynicism.. Sure, it would be great if Denny and Carl were still with us. They remain very much missed. However, the remaining guys are doing a terrific job. Sure, the backing band is a key element, but let's not give them all the credit. No one can kill a guitar like David Marks. Besides, today's current, much younger artists have help on stage too, so what's their story? All in all, as someone else said not too long ago, this is a great time to be a Beach Boys fan. Who cares if they aren't boys anymore??

Larrygo107
Larrygo107

I attended the concert in the Dallas area. Wouldn't it be nice if Carl & Dennis were there. However, seeing Brian, Mike, Al, Dennis, & David on stage was awesome. They represented themselves well. Along with the rest of the musicians, the concert was awesome. There were also tributes paid to Catl & Dennis. While the current Beach Boys may be older, paunchier, and not quite as great as they once were, their music is timeless and as great as it ever was. The concert was absolutely FUN, FUN, FUN!

James Walton
James Walton

They guys up there are not a "hodgepodge of musicians who participated at various stages of the bands history" they are the only remaining, as close as you can get, original members all dating back from the 60's.  Yes they are not in their prime but I feel they are putting together a dignified farewell tour for the fans KelliN - a great time to be a Beach Boy fan, I remember the 70's and 80's living in Liverpool no one would admit to being a fan.  Today however opinions have mellowed and people are beginning to re-discover the great back catalogue the band has.Mitch spot on - Personally I am not a fan of Mikes methods and from reports he does appear rather controlling but if it wasn't for his dedication (possibly financial) I really don't think the band would be here today.

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