Click Here To Purchase The Beach Boys FAQ: All That's Left to Know About America's Band

Author: Jon Stebbins

Publisher: Backbeat

ISBN-10: 0879309873:   ISBN-13: 978-0879309879

Perhaps The Beach Boys FAQ is not the ultimate, definitive history of the band—if such a thing is even possible—but Jon Stebbins has provided a valuable service for anyone who loves, likes, or is simply curious about one of the most  complex stories in rock.

Stebbins clearly knows his territory. He wrote the 2000 Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy, the 2007 The Lost Beach Boy (a biography of founding member David Marx), and has written and produced documentaries for the BBC on the band. As demonstrated in his descriptions of press conferences and the May 2005 dedication of the Wilson family home as a historic monument,   Stebbins knows all the members of the inside circle as well as many participants who’ve come and gone over the years. As a result, his book is an even-handed overview of the story with both criticisms and critiques of the group’s hits, stumbles, failures and feuds for the past 50 years.   

What should surprise many readers is learning that Brian Wilson was indeed a creative genius who led the group from 1961 to 1966, but the Beach Boys were a band in every sense of the word. For one example, one important corrective in the book is the fact the group played their own instruments on most of the early recordings and not session musicians. For the most part, the “Wrecking Crew” and other studio players came along after 1966. The early distinctive guitar lines came from David Marx before fights with Murray Wilson lead to his departure—and the band was never the same. Mike Love gets his due as lyricist and front-man. Carl and Dennis Wilson are credited for their vocals as well as their songwriting, especially in the years when Brian was out of the loop. Even Murray Wilson, rightfully vilified for his abusive parenting, gets credit for being the engine that put his sons on the musical map.

It’s the wide range of the personalities involved and their relationships that provides much of the complexity to the story. Add to that just how long the Beach Boys have been around and how much they have changed. In the 1960s, they were singing about the joys of fuel-injected, gas-guzzling hot rods—in the 1970s, they were advocates for the environment. During the ‘60s, Brian was a pioneer and innovator steering the ship. Then, the band became a democratic entity that fell into a cycle of flops and successes, looking to their old hits for revenue while trying new creative directions that often fell flat with the fans.  

During this history, Stebbins does answer many frequently asked questions. He has sections on who sang lead on what songs, what instruments were played by whom, and who were the girls who served as muses. He discusses all the players who were quasi-Beach Boys on and off-stage. Clearly, he feels the Beach Boys were finished by 1985, a band without Dennis and Carl. Stebbins is credible and authoritative, but he makes no claims to objectivity. He’s a passionate fan describing much of the music, but he also cringes when talking about projects gone awry, trying to analyze the tortured mind of Brian, and admits the personality of Mike Love can grate on the nerves.

Because of Stebbins’s emphasis on the band’s evolution until the mid-1980s, some latter-day Boys events are missed in his often exhaustive, annotated lists. For example, he has a detailed section on Beach Boys concerts and TV appearances, but missed the October 1982 use of concert footage in William Shatner’s T. J. Hooker. He doesn’t mention the criminally-overlooked 1985 “Getcha Back,” the 1991 “Crocodile Rock” remake for an Elton John tribute,  or the 1986 “California Dreamin’” with Roger McGuinn on 12-string guitar and John Phillips on sax. When covering the “reunions” of the past decade, he left out “Don’t Fight the Sea,” a track from Al Jardine’s solo 2010 Postcards from California. It included vocals from all the Wilsons, Mike Love, Bruce Johnson, and Jardine himself, making the song more of a full Beach Boys performance than many an official Beach Boys release.   

Then again, covering every nook and cranny of the Beach Boys saga would require an encyclopedia. The essentials are all in FAQ making it an indispensible part of any rock library. Again, the correctives to the group’s legacy alone are worth the price of admission, providing a balance that is often missed when writers focus on Brian as if the others were merely supporting players. You can’t have exquisite harmonies or the most famous family feud in rock without a wider cast of characters.

Click Here To Purchase The Beach Boys FAQ: All That's Left to Know About America's Band