Surfboards, hot rods, and polka-dot bikinis are props for the iconic California band of the 1960s: The Beach Boys. Brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin, Mike Love, and Brian's high school friend, Al Jardine, got together in their hometown of Hawthorne, CA to record a novelty track, "Surfin'", which became a 1961 hit in the LA area under the name "the Pendletones." They would rename themselves the Beach Boys, and signed with Capitol for their 1962 album debut, Surfin' Safari. The next few years, they scored a string of surf-rock hits (though only Dennis actually surfed): "Surfin' Safari", "Surfin' USA", and "Surfer Girl." Some of their most popular tunes, not necessarily surfing-related, emerged between 1963 and 1965: "Little Deuce Coupe", "Help Me, Rhonda", and "California Girls" were a few of the hits that cemented their legendary sound: Summery, carefree pop with gorgeous harmonies rarely matched in the years since.
By 1964, Brian was no longer touring with the group, confining himself to the studio as a group member and producer—Bruce Johnston would be his replacement on the road. Inspired by the Beatles' Rubber Soul in 1965, Brian and the rest of the group set out to make a more mature pop record, releasing Pet Sounds in 1966. Its songs are widely considered to be the Beach Boys' very best, and its lush aesthetic and ornate production influenced pop for years to come. While not a hit in America at the time, it was very popular abroad, and later that year, the single "Good Vibrations" was released, another hit indicative of their studio innovation. Working towards a follow-up to Pet Sounds proved troublesome, as Brian worked with lyricist Van Dyke Parks on a legendarily unreleased project called SMiLE. His drug consumption and mental instability alienated him from the rest of the group, and his attempts at competing with the Beatles' innovation were foiled by the 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The group released the fractured, peculiar Smiley Smile in 1967 instead, featuring several of the songs they had been working on for SMiLE. Around this time, they lost the edge and popularity they formerly had with young record-buyers, and while they continued to produce stellar (if oddball) pop—1967's Wild Honey, 1968's Friends, and 1969's 20/20 all stand up really well, though overlooked at the time—these records went mostly overlooked. Their line-up would shift a decent amount as the '70s set in, with a more shared approach to songwriting and production taking place—you'd hear touring members Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar on the records alongside the Wilsons and Bruce Johnston. They released their share of notable records in the '70s, including 1973's Holland and Brian's dramatic comeback records: 1976's 15 Big Ones and the following year's Love You. That said, the innovative Pet Sounds and earlier surf rock hits would remain the high notes in their history—a fact reflected in the band's eventual evolution into a touring nostalgia act, with Brian and Dennis fully disengaged from the group. The 1974 Endless Summer compilation, a collection of their earlier hits, was a surprise bestseller, and still remains one of the band's highest-selling releases.
Although Brian's mental health was the Achilles' heel of the band, it was his brothers who made the surprise exits: Dennis drowned in 1983 after a single album, the cult classic Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977, and Carl, who left the group in the early '80s around the same time as Brian and Dennis, tragically succumbed to cancer in 1998. There were a handful of "Beach Boys" releases during the '80s and '90s, and they scored a hit in 1988 with "Kokomo", but most activity from their camp consisted of Brian's solo career—in 2004, he completed the SMiLE project with the assistance of Van Dyke Parks and the Wondermints—and the touring group led by Love.