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When you think of the Beach Boys, chances are you picture surfboards, hot rods, and the warm beaches of sunny southern California. What you may not know is that behind the group's fun-loving image and carefree songs are years of hard work, career ups and downs, and personal tragendy. The Beach Boys are, in both their lives and music, more complicated than they first appear.

Much of the group's talent belongs to Brian Wilson, their lead songwriter, composer, and producer. The other band members—Brian's younger brothers Dennis and Carl, their cousin Mike Love, and high school chum Al Jardine—made significant contributions to the Beach Boys, but it was Brian's inventive way with rhythm and harmony that gave their music its distinctive sound. With songs like “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” and “Good Vibrations,” he used surf rock to push popular music into new creative territory. At the same time, his melodies showed the influence of traditional vocal groups like the Four Freshmen, whom he had grown up listening to. Under Brian's guidance, the Beach Boys were the musical link between the innocence of the 1950s and the experimentation of the 1960s.

They were also incredibly successful. From coast to coast—even in places where there was no coast—and around the world, they scored one hit record after another. They were top sellers well into the 1980s, and they remain fan favorites to this day. Even after their album sales began to taper off, fans, professional musicians, and rock critics alike acknowledged Brian Wilson as one of rock and roll's true geniuses. With that kind of a track record, what could have possibly gone wrong for the Beach Boys?

Practically everything, it sometimes seems. Their runaway success and the easy southern California lifestyle they helped define eventually became a trap for the band—a trap that not all of them survived. The emotionally fragile Brian took the pressures and indulgences of rock stardom hardest of all, and he spent several years in virtual hiding. As he put it in his 1991 autobiography, Wouldn't It Be Nice, “In those days I was content to live inside myself, a withdrawn mass of misery and confusion and fear.” In many ways, it's a miracle he survived.

But with the help of family and friends, and through his own determination, Brian Wilson overcame his fears and addictions. He no longer performs with the Beach Boys, but he is finally a happy and healthy man. Long before this hard-won contentment, however, there was the band: five southern California teenagers with a love of fast cars, perfect waves, and, most of all, rock and roll music.

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Musician BiographiesThe Beach Boys