The Beach Boys: trouble in paradise

Their music is so simple and timeless. The sound of The Beach Boys is powerfully distinctive, immediately recognisable for its summery beach-inspired sounds.

When The Beach Boys started, they were just enthusiastic youngsters making music in their family home. Brian Wilson and his younger brothers Dennis and Carl were joined by their cousin Mike Love and high school friend Al Jardine. Bruce Johnston signed on later in 1965.

Back then, The Beach Boys were happy and harmonious, but these days a bitter rift and Brian Wilson’s poor health mean it’s almost impossible to find them together in the one place. Still, his passion for the music still remains.

“Music is my life and you know I will never get tired of music, I always like music,” Brian explains.

But the band’s feel-good tunes gave no hint of their younger dark private life. The Wilson boys’ dad, Murry Wilson, was a cruel and violent man – and also happened to be their manager.

“He was sort of like a coach, he goes, ‘Get in there and do good music!’ ‘Okay dad, okay.’ I was scared to death of my dad,” recalled Brian. “He didn’t inspire me, he scared me into doing it. He scared me into making good music.”

Even with the pressure, The Beach Boys’ success continued to grow. Hit after hit saw them touring the world, including a visit to Australia in 1978. Yet not everything was going so smoothly – while in the country, one performance was so bad fans demanded their money back. The next morning, Carl Wilson was forced to publicly apologise for his behaviour, claiming he’d taken two Valium that day, and had consumed two Mai Tais that evening.

Mike Love revealed exclusively to Sunday Night that the poor performance was the result of something more serious – for the first time, disclosing that Dennis and Carl had purchased heroin while in Australia.

“Those guys buy heroin while we’re on tour in Australia, it wasn’t my cup of tea honestly, so I was mortified by that,” Mike admitted. “I think that was not a great thing for The Beach Boys to be involved with. I think our music and our way of life and what we always promoted is positivity and harmony. It didn’t fit.”

Dennis Wilson would lose his battle with drugs and alcohol, drowning in 1983. Carl passed away from lung cancer in 1998. Their losses are still hard, and only add to the complex relationship between the band’s surviving members, but in the end, their history and bond keep The Beach Boys together.

“I think lots of bands are famous for having issues and problems and breaking up and going separate ways, but then some people find that they’re in a good place and they keep on doing what they do,” Mike Love explained. “I have been one of the founders of The Beach Boys and been doing it every year since 1961, so it’s been a long-lasting profession, which is a great thing. It really is a blessing.”

The Beach Boys have collaborated with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a new album, bringing a new sound to their classic hits, which is available now from Universal Music Australia.

Reporter: Angela Cox

Producers: Kristy-Lee Lorraway, Andrea Keir