What were the roots of the classic Beach Boys sound?
June 2, 2012 11:46 AM   Subscribe

What were the roots of the classic Beach Boys sound?

We were lucky enough to see the reunited Beach Boys last night in Berkeley and they were pretty terrific. Listening to all those classic songs made me think about what a distinct sound that is. Are there apparent roots to that classic Beach Boys sound? Did it come fully formed from whole cloth? It's so distinct that I can't help but wonder if it's a recombination of obvious elements that I'm just not seeing or if it was truly a "bolt out of the blue" sort of thing.
posted by Senor Cardgage to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The Four Freshmen and other vocal harmony groups of the 50s were an important influence.
posted by pipeski at 12:04 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's actually an album out "The Roots of the Beach Boys"

Track Listing here

Definitely not out of whole cloth. The Surf sound started in the late 50s and they really took that and the harmonies to hear and added the 60s Pop sounds to it. A good example of a root sound can be something like Eddie Chochran's Summer Time Blues add some harmonies like The Mysticsand you'll start getting close to early Beach Boys
posted by bitdamaged at 12:05 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some (maybe many?) of their songs use the 12-bar blues format/progression.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:31 PM on June 2, 2012

Here's a test. Position your mouse over this YouTube link, but close your eyes before clicking. Keep your eyes closed for the first 18 seconds of the music, and try to figure out if you're listening to the Beach Boys or Chuck Berry. Now listen to the first 16 seconds of this. Not much difference, is there?

Music never "comes fully formed from whole cloth." Everyone has influences, and the Beach Boys had some very strong ones. They considered themselves competitors with the Beatles: Pet Sounds was a response to Rubber Soul, and Revolver was a response to Pet Sounds, etc.

Do you think Brian Wilson was listening to the Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes for You" when it came out in the late '50s? I'll bet he was.

As usual, Wikipedia discusses some of their influences. For instance:
early inspiration came from the driving rock-and-roll sound of Chuck Berry and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound production.[23][24] Musically, two of their early songs were influenced by others: "Surfer Girl" shares its rhythmic melody with "When You Wish Upon a Star", while "Surfin' USA" is a variation of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen".[25] A lawsuit officially granted Berry writing credit and royalties from the record.
posted by John Cohen at 12:36 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yeah, Phil Spector's production style was a huge influence.
posted by neroli at 2:38 PM on June 2, 2012

Don't forget Jan & Arnie/Jan & Dean. Brian was listening to and studying them long before Brian ever wrote a thing.
posted by caclwmr4 at 2:54 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wikipedia: History of Surf Music.
posted by Rash at 3:15 PM on June 2, 2012

Also see the Beach Boys' Formative years section.
posted by Rash at 3:23 PM on June 2, 2012

I think also that vocal music of an earlier, squarer era - glee-club style close harmony of the 40s and 50s - was a big influence on their vocal sound. There's a lot of doo-wop in what they do, though you have to be alert to make the connection, because their immediate influences were doing the whitewashed version of that.

You might also see this MeFi Music thread discussing the Beach Boys sound.
posted by Miko at 8:36 PM on June 2, 2012

The biggest element as noted above was Brian's obsessive analysis of the Four Freshmen's harmonies, and his love of doo-wop, especially Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. But there's another element, that came from Carl Wilson and David Marks learning and teaching each other how to play Chuck Berry and Ventures and Dick Dale licks on Fender Jaguars with that jangly tone and no sustain. Mix that surf guitar tone with the Chuck Berry rock'n'roll beat and Brian's 4-5 part harmonies, and you'll sound like a cheap copy of the Beach Boys.
posted by Devoidoid at 6:54 AM on June 3, 2012

Where Did the Beach Boys' Sound Come From? — An article in The New Republic, posted a few days after this AskMe! Hmm.
posted by John Cohen at 3:55 PM on June 11, 2012

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