Things were not as hunky-dory as they seemed on the surface. Behind the scenes, the band struggled with toxic family members, overwhelming fame, and even encountered a run-in with one of the world’s most notorious serial killers. Here are some surprisingly dark facts about America’s most fun-loving band.
Beginnings With Brian Wilson
We start the story off with our leading man Brian Wilson, a main component in the Beach Boys. As something of a child prodigy in music, Brian's magnetic qualities, and a natural sense of leadership became to be the force that drove his brothers and cousin into the wonderful world of music and performance.
It all started when his parents went abroad for vacation and he was left with a few bucks to spend on his cousin and brothers. Instead of stocking up on a lifetime supply of candy, a natural reaction of any kid, Brian thought differently and instantly splurged on a bunch of instruments for him and his brothers. He even invited their cousins Mike Love (who ultimately did vocals) to join in on the jam.
Dad Wanted In
Evidently, something clicked because when their father Murry Wilson, got wind of his sons' talents, he wanted in. Murry became the first manager of his sons' band and was instrumental in creating the musical group. Of course, everyone knows, when you're mixing family with business, things can get a little messy.
Complex family dynamics side, Murray Wilson had his fair share of struggles in life and brought his issues into the working relationship with his kids. Since making music isn't easy, things can get heated pretty quickly and their father started to slowly reveal more and more of his violent nature.
Murray Had Weird Tendencies
Murry had some strange habits, many of them were the result of his rough childhood and struggles with alcohol. In his younger days, Murray had lost sight in one of his eyes in an assembly line accident and he was fitted with a fake eye ever since. While this shocking accident impacted on his life, he found a way to scare his children with it.
When the kids misbehaved, Murray would remove his fake eye and force his sons to stare straight into his eye socket. The sheer horror of being forced to look into a hollow socket where his eye once was terrified the young boys. Sounds like a scene straight out from a horror movie!
Time to Retaliate
The Wilson brothers stuck to the music and kept their heads down. For a while. Trying to ignore their dad's cruel antics, they eventually reached their limit and wanted to seek revenge. They started acting out and playing pranks on their father. Brian has spoken of some horrible memories over the years. Some we are sure he is not too proud of.
Murry wasn't happy at all with his son's actions and would beat him up afterwards. This went on multiple times and the feud kept on going until they were much older.
The Games Kept on Going
It's difficult to get over an abusive past, especially if you carry the physical effects with you all your life. Brian has mentioned how he even became almost totally deaf in his right ear since his dad used to slap him a lot there.
This happened right before his third birthday and it happened way more than once. Despite this slight impediment, he pushed on to write beautiful lyrics.
Only One Brother Surfed
The Beach Boys were called the Beach Boys for a reason, it's because they all lived on the sunny coast of Hawthorne, California. They were well known for their surf songs and overall fun beach vibes. Despite growing up beside a beach, and practically inventing surf music, most of the boys never actually rode the waves at all. In fact, Brian had a fear of the water!
Dennis Wilson though was the only brother who could surf. He'd take his board out to catch a few waves. At least someone could keep up the image!
Who’s the Drummer Today?
While Dennis could surf, he may have not been the greatest musician. The Wilson Brothers hit a speed bump when they couldn't figure out if Dennis could even contribute anything to the band. Even though the brother ultimately proved his talents, it took him more time to get used to playing the drums.
Despite his lack of skills in the drum department he was a great writer and singer and wrote the band's hit song: "Forever." Since the brothers didn't have a main drummer they would hire different people to supplement the drum beats in the beginning of their jam sessions.
The Original Band Name
Band names change over time, and they don't always stick it out until the end. The Beastie Boys were originally called the Young Aborigines while Bone Thugs-N-Harmony were called The Band-Aid Boys. The Pendletones was the original name of the Beach Boys back in the 60s, and they didn't even choose their new name.
The name was adopted because the surf outfits they wore bore the same name. They'd wear Pendleton shirts over their main outfits which consisted of a plain white tee, gray trousers, and a light flannel.
Homeless and Starting Fresh
The Wilson parents had a tough beginning and there's some correlation as to why The Beach Boys was a fitting name for the band. The Wilson family moved to California in the early 1920s from their home in Kansas due to the Great Depression.
They moved to the "Promised Land" in the hopes to start fresh and to give their sons a better life. When they arrived in California, things were so difficult that they were just living in a tent by the beach.
Hitting Things Off With a Bang
Things turned around for the family when the Wilson brothers made their first hit. At the start of their career, they already things off with quite a bang and released the beloved track "Surf City" in 1963. It would be the hit that cemented their iconic melodies.
The Beach Boys worked with Jan and Dean, an American Rock duo, on Surf City and gifted the song to them. It was memorable for its speedy drum beats and it even reached number one in the charts.
The Chuck Berry Feud
Charles Edward Anderson Berry was an American rock singer who was one of the biggest names in rock and roll. He was one of Brian's influences for the hit song "Surfin' USA" but Murry and Chuck got into a feud when Chuck mentioned how it sounded similar to his song "Sweet Little Sixteen."
After a few court cases, the conclusion was that the credits would go to Wilson in the end. After a couple of years, Berry was finally acknowledged and Wilson mentions in an interview that he was okay with sharing the song's credit.
Even though The Beach Boys produced upbeat and happy songs, their music brought out some crazy fan behavior. After slowly rising into fame, a lot of female fans who adored their tunes began resorting to some insane behavior. They began stalking them. Of course, it wasn't only women.
The Beach Boys were loved by teens across America and sometimes, some of the fans' unhealthy obsessions would lead to fights. Dennis Wilson ended up getting into a fight with a fan, resulting in some bad injuries. With a mix of overwhelming fame and alcohol, it seemed like Brian wasn't receiving this attention too well.
Touring Has Taken Its Toll
Touring can induce a lot of stress especially when you're the Beach Boys and have to constantly be on the road. Brian Wilson was particularly susceptible to nervous breakdowns and had a mild panic attack on the airplane one time. His bandmates and family would try to soothe his worries by comforting him but realized that it wasn't enough.
Wilson also sent a telegram message to his then-girlfriend Marilyn that he would call her as soon as they landed. The band collectively decided that it was best for Brian to take a step back and focus on himself. But now they were without their frontman.
Glen Campbell Replaces Brian Wilson For Now
After Brian's breakdown, the band had to come together and find a replacement. Glen Campbell was the ideal candidate and he still hadn't made a name for himself back then. Glen played as a session guitarist and went on tour with the Beach Boys for one year in 1964 to 1965.
He worked mainly on the Pet Sounds album with them and did everything that Brian was supposed to do. After being a touring member, he decided to focus on his solo career since he found that people liked his unique tone.
Brain Goes Down The Rabbit Hole
While Brian was recovering from the stress of fame, he had a lot of time to experiment around. His friend introduced him to psychedelics and his world turned 360 degrees. In the beginning, he claimed that the substance ignited his creativity and gave him new ideas for his music.
Unfortunately, too much of it made him feel uneasy and he says that it eventually made him more anxious. At some point, he got so paranoid that he thought people were watching his every move which eventually led him to stop experimenting with these substances.
He Was Hearing Things
Brian’s mental health was a never-ending saga. At one point he was even plagued with “auditory hallucinations.” He would hear these imaginary voices in his head and they were not saying pretty things.
It's hard to imagine that Brian was going through all this, all while creating some of the world's most amazing music.
The success continued, and so did the conflicts between father and sons. Just like how relationships suffer when the two people don't want to compromise, the same can be said for work relationships. The Wilson Brothers felt like their dad was running short on his end of the bargain. All the physical, mental, and emotional abuse was just too much for them to take and they decided to stick it to the man.
At first hesitant, they eventually mustered up the courage to fire their father in 1964. Murry was persistent in his approach, feeling like he was the one helping and guiding them to success. Needless to say, they saw it differently and pushed to sever all ties with their abusive father.
The Big Revenge
Murry was so infuriated by the band's decision that he decided to manage his own band. His new band would have such a similar style and tone to the Beach Boys that it felt more like a vengeful tactic than an actual musical pursuit.
The Renegades who consisted of Rick, Eddy, Byron and more were a rock and roll cover band at first. When Murry joined the team, he changed the band's name to The Sunrays. The Sunrays were a hit at one point but they could never match the level of the Beach Boys.
Brian Loves the Beatles
Brian Wilson had a deep passion for the Beatles and was a huge fan especially their sixth album Rubber Soul. The album played a huge role in coming up with Pet Sounds which the Beach Boys finally revealed to the public in 1966.
Paul McCartney listened to the album much later on and in turn, said he was a huge fan of Pet Sounds. Brian worked on the album by composing and producing every single track and his fans were amazed by the results.
Pet Sounds or Pet Noise?
Even Though Pet Sounds was well known for its intricate music and layering a lot of people couldn't grasp the meaning of some of the songs. The tracks incorporated bicycle sounds, horns, and other dissonant sounds that weren't pleasing to hear.
Despite this, it was considered one of the most progressive pop albums ever. The reason for the title of the album is that Brian was supposedly able to hear strange sounds such as dogs barking when there weren't any dogs around.
They Mastered The Cover Songs
The album "Pet Sounds" took a lot of time and effort especially from Brian's end and they were struggling to reach expectations from their fans. They weren't just preparing for "Pet Sounds," but they also had to release tracks prior to their new album.
So they focused on making covers and even covered "Barbara Ann" which would later become one of the best covers of their time. The band had many skills and making covers was one of their strong suits.
"I Know There's An Answer" was a hit song of the beach boys in Pet Sounds but it came with a ton of issues. Their cousin and the Beach Boy's central member Mike Love was ambivalent about using the track since it had a few references to psychedelics, and he tried to keep things a little more traditional.
The song also had a dissonant sound with tons of saxophones, harmonicas, and banjos integrated into it. The original name for the song was supposed to be "Hang on to Your Ego" but they realized they had to change it because Mike Love wasn't satisfied with it. As the lead singer, he had a lot of weight.
Tensions Were Rising
Brian Wilson and Mike Love were both treading on eggshells after the unfortunate dispute that led to court hearings because of their issue with one of their songs. Now, they had to focus on finishing the album together but they both still didn't have a clear head.
Love would repeatedly ask the members to play the same chord over and over again because he wasn't happy with it. He had his own issues that he was bringing to the table and it was hurting the band.
Mike Love struggled with his fair share of insecurities and doubts about the band. Even though he co-wrote many songs, he was upset by the actions of his family members towards those songs. He heavily resisted Brian's efforts to take the band in a different direction. Many bands at the time were adopting new experimental sounds and Brian was for this.
Love, however, wanted to keep that classic, beachy sound that boys were so good at. He was resistant to the new era of rock and his approach seemed to be clashing with Brian more and more.
Their Music Influenced the Beatles
Even though Mike and Wilson's arguments were too much to handle, they managed to produce the album successfully. The album was such a feat that even the Beatles adored and were influenced by it. Paul McCartney mentioned how "God Only Knows" was one of the most influential tracks in his career.
It fuelled him and his band to write "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band". Both "Pet Sounds" and the Beatles' new albums had a psychedelic-influenced vibe to their music which was reflected in both of their music.
There was Backlash
When The Beatles released their hit songs, they received backlash from the band that gave them the inspiration in the first place. How ironic isn't it? The Beach Boys and the Beatles' arguments became the trigger that turned things around once again and induced Wilson to seek a new sound.
The project was called "Smile" and he intended to pour his heart and soul into this, more than any other piece before it seemd. Whether this was to spite The Beatles or for the band's own good, we won't truly know the full reasons behind Wilson's decisions.
The Unfinished Album
Wilson had worked hard on project "Smile" but sadly it was never finished. In 1966, their 11th studio album was a mess. Wilson was working hard on the album alone and the stress from making it showed in the unfinished tracks.
He was trying to go for the "happy go lucky" vibe for the album just like "Good Vibrations" but only a few tracks had that energy. The structure of the album was falling apart and Wilson wasn't mentally sane enough to finish what he started.
Going on a Trip
The Beach Boys had undergone tremendous amounts of stress in their moments of creating Pet Sounds and their other albums. To counteract the stress and worries, they decided to take a step back and travel. Mike Love was the one who initially encouraged the band to travel to give them all a sound mind.
Mike Love mentioned how India was a beautiful and spiritual place that opened his mind to many possibilities. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi invited the Beach Boys for a meditation course and they were physically charged and more positive than ever before.
Bumping into Familiar Faces
Guess who happened to be in India at the same time as The Beach Boys? It was The Beatles! The two bands connected deeply in their time together in India and Mike Love even shared a few songwriting tips with Paul McCartney.
After their initial feud, there was some tension but they were able to reconcile and fix things right away. The two bands had a lot of fun in India and mentioned how it was a spiritual awakening and an extremely memorable place for them.
Dennis The Rebel
We've talked extensively about Mike's past, Brian's past but what about Dennis Wilson? Dennis didn't come to India like his bandmates and he opted to stay in the US. Not exactly looking to recharge, but more to keep partying. It was Dennis who seemed to dive deeper and deeper into the crazy rockstar life, and while it was fun for a while, things would prove to be a little too much in a short amount of time.
Dennis untimely divorced his wife and began to suffer from serious substance abuse. While the rest of the Beach Boys were on the path to enlightenment, Dennis was spiraling out of control.
Dennis Meets the Manson Family
Dennis was a wild soul and a surfer so naturally, he met some questionable folks. One day he was driving down the highway when he decided to pick up two beautiful young women hitchhikers.
Little did he know that these two girls were part of a crazed cult called the "Manson Family". In the beginning, he thought that they were just lost hitchhikers but his world was just about to turn upside down.
Dennis Wilson decided to bring the girls back to his place because why not? His relationship with the girls led him to his encounter with their leader, the notorious Charles Manson.
He found himself hosting Manson himself in his home. This was the man who would eventually make shocking headlines around the world for his bizarre cult and their terrible atrocities.
Wilson and Manson's Strange Relationship
Little do people know that Charles Manson also had a background in singing and writing. Wilson had met Manson once. Mike was shocked at first and thought to call the police but Manson instead kissed his feet.
The rock and roll star and the cult leader had a bizarre relationship that stemmed from their love for music and their desire for company. Dennis was a lost soul and turned to the cult as his source of happiness and security.
Hanging With the Cult
The Manson Family or should we say cult, had a bizarre list of activities that they'd perform together weekly. From taking psychedelic substances together to indulging in all-night parties, they truly lived the life of rockstars.
Dennis then brought him into the world of musical stardom and introduced Manson to Neil Young and even Gregg Jacobson who were both eager to meet him. Terry Melcher on the other hand wasn't fooled by Manson's allure and was wary of him as a person and declined his request to visit his home.
Dennis Helped Manson
Dennis and Manson's relationship grew very close because of their shared love of music and the hedonistic lifestyle. The Beach Boys even recorded a song for him called "Cease to Exist." Manson had picked the name and it wasn't a name the band vibed with.
One thing led to another and they got into a heated argument until Manson threatened the group. They started to notice Manson's anger issues and violent tendencies, which were later revealed in magazines and papers everywhere.
Dennis Makes a Mistake
Things went downhill when he got a 16-year-old girl pregnant. This was a weird time because the girl claimed she was related to Mike Love. Love didn't want to deal with Dennis' nonsense and decided to cut off ties and file a restraining order against him.
The impact of his relationship with the Mansons, coupled with his ongoing substance abuse made him spiral out of control. Dennis kept going as best as he could but in 1988, he gave in. He died in Marina del Ray, California at the ripe age of 39.
Opening up a Health Food Store
The Wilsons turned their attention to more things outside the world of music and in the 1960s, Brian decided to open up a health store called "Radiant Radish". The store was located off the corner of Melrose Avenue in the center of West Hollywood. The health store was short-lived and only lasted for two years.
Brian was a huge fan of vegetables and staying fit so he decided to open up his own produce joint. Unfortunately, Brian wasn't adept at taking care of the store and his mental health dwindled down - hence the eventual closing.
Brain Seeks Help
The Beach Boys banded together to save their friend, Brian from his misery. They called on the help of Eugene Landy, a psychotherapist to help him gain motivation again. Landy proved to be an interesting force in his life, but ultimately not an entirely positive one.
His clientele was diverse and even consisted of Alice Cooper and Gig Young! To the band's dismay, they discovered that Landy was trying to take advantage of Brian's mental health even urging him to cut communication with his bandmates. He even attempted to acquiring ownership over certain song rights and even wanted to be considered as a writer for one of Brian's songs.
Brian Meets Melinda
Brian met Melinda Ledbetter, a car salesman who eventually turned into the manager of Beach Boys. The two had a long-standing romance even during the time he was being treated under Dr. Landy.
She swooped into his rescue when she found out that Landy was manipulating him and taking control of his talents instead of treating him. Luckily, they were able to report Landy and he immediately had his psychologist license removed. Sometimes love truly does save other people (literally!)
Love and Mercy
Brian Wilson got the help he needed from his partner Melinda but he also made a drastic change to one of his famous songs."Love and Mercy" was released in 1988 and it was mainly credited to Eugene Landy his ex psychiatrist. While his methods seemed exploitative, he did appear to guide Brian to once again create great music.
He wrote it because Landy helped him with his music but later. The credits for Landy were taken off when he kicked him out of his life. Wilson became the sole writer of the song and mentioned how he tried his best to pour his personal struggles out into the music.
"Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take ya.." these lyrics will forever remain ingrained in our heads. "Kokomo" was one of the most famous tracks that The Beach Boys wrote. It even won the Kid's Choice Award for Favorite Song! It was such a hit that it reached number one in the charts back in 1988.
Flashback to about 22 years later where they released their first hit: good vibrations, the Beach Boys keep hitting the ball out of the park despite their multiple individual struggles.
During the Rock Hall of Fame, Mike Love decided to unleash some inner tension. The Beach Boys were invited for their induction ceremony, but things took a turn for the worse. No one truly knows what was going on in his head when Mike had the mic.
He bad-mouthed the Beatles and even, making the speech go down as one of the most bizarre occurrences in the Hall of Fame. He even threw a few punches a Mick Jagger who he mentioned was too scared to perform alongside The Beach Boys.
Bruce Johnston Missed The Boat
One of their members, Bruce Johnston was another person who was a highlight in the Hall of Fame but for a negative reason. He should've had been credited for his work with the Beach Boys during the Hall of Fame but he wasn't at all.
He entered the group around 4 years after they were established and he worked hard on the backup vocals and guitar playing. Bruce is a pure-bred Beach-Boy but unfortunately, the Hall of Fame didn't think he was important enough.
The Drama Commences Once Again
The drama never fails to leave the Beach Boys' lives. Mike Love decided to sue his cousins over songwriting credits on many of the band’s classic songs. The lawsuit cost millions of dollars.
Ultimately Love got credits for co-authoring 35 of the songs in question. The cousins still remained friends despite this hassle of a road bump in their music career.
Carl Wilson Passes
Time sadly came to an end for Carl Wilson, one of the founding members of the Beach Boys when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was well-loved by his family that they were all by his side when he passed away in Los Angeles.
Love had owned the license to the band's name and decided to keep it. This created the ultimate split and Bruce and Mike banded together to create their own music while the rest of the brothers went on to pursue solo careers.
Love Lashes Out Again
The Beach Boys regrouped in 2012 with all the living members of the band namely: Brian, Dennis, Al, and Carl. Unfortunately, Mike couldn't make it and told the guys that he didn't want to play with them anymore.
This caused stress again within the band and mixed signals for everyone. During a time of celebration which was supposed to be their 50th anniversary, Mike decided to raise hairs again with his remarks. Despite this, they still performed several live performances together in 2012 without him.
Strange clashes rose once again with you've guessed it - Mike and Brian. At this point, it shouldn't even be a surprise how the two have never seemed to get along. In 2020, he opposed his cousin's wishes to play at an animal hunting convention.
Mike wasn't a big fan of trophy hunting and decided to protest against his performance. The boycott had 100,000 signatures the following day to boycott their music for the performance.
It’s a Good Time to Smile
While the band saw many ups and downs, they still somehow stick together and created America's greatest music. The album "Smile" that took years to finish finally saw its release. The album garnered major success after its release date in 2004. Brian made sure that it was his baby to take care of without the help of his former bandmates. The creation of the album started as far back as 1966, so you can imagine the feeling they all had when finally all those years later, the public got to hear it.
The album captures the raw sounds of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. The album, with its perfect vocal performances, were incredibly produced. You could say Brian was a perfectionist in some way but in the end they all did it together.