The Beach Boys Documentary (Review)

That’s the straight-forward title of the new documentary that’s streaming on Disney+.  If you’re a Beach Boys fan, you’ll enjoy it and learn even more about one of America’s top bands.  Only snippets of their songs are used, so novices are encouraged to stream some of the group’s biggest hits and the Pet Sounds album, and then watch the documentary.

Like the recent book, The Beach Boys by The Beach Boys, there are a lot of archival comments by all of the members.  The comments are insightful, plus there are recent interviews with original members Mike Love and Al Jardine.  In addition, there are contributions from musicians who were influenced by the band.

Director Frank Marshall does a really good job of selecting the most important aspects of the group’s development.  It’s difficult to get The Beach Boys story told in less than two hours.  Sure there are details left out, but overall it’s a welcome summary of the band.

The Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis & Carl, plus 1st cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardin were the original Beach Boys.  The documentary explains the group’s lineup changes and additions for touring and recording.  The band built a great library of material based on surfing, cars, girls, and sunshine.  Then when Brian Wilson stopped touring, he spent time writing and arranging The Beach Boys best album, Pet Sounds.

By now, fans know the album was not a successful seller when it was released in 1966.  Yet it’s thought to be among the greatest albums ever recorded.  The documentary accents the fact that Pet Sounds turned platinum in 2000, 34 years after its release, but that’s only one-million copies.  Obviously, Pet Sounds is still under-appreciated by the general public.  The album has been compared to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, but those sold around 30-million copies each.  The Beach Boys and The Beatles were fans of each other’s music, and influenced one another mostly during 1965 & 1966.

One of the positive aspects of the documentary is how it shows The Beach Boys were more than just Brian Wilson.  Brian gets credit for being a musical genius, and there wouldn’t have been The Beach Boys without him, but the contributions of the other members are highlighted too.

Mike Love may have busted some awkward moves as a live performer, but he quickly wrote lyrics when needed for “California Girls” (in the recording studio hallway) and “Good Vibrations” (dictating to his wife as he drove to the vocal session).  He also provided lyrics and lead vocals for dozens of other hits.  Carl Wilson took over more lead vocals when Brian had problems with drugs and his mental health.  Carl also produced some of the group’s recordings.  You’ll see that all of The Beach Boys were multi-talented.

For example, Bruce Johnston wrote “I Write The Songs”, which won the Grammy Award for Song Of The Year in 1978.  Bruce says the “I” refers to God, because of the way songs often seem to come to songwriters in a spiritual way.  Johnston also wrote “Disney Girls” for The Beach Boys.  Art Garfunkel did a great cover version.

The documentary cleverly takes us full circle from The Beach Boys’ first album cover shoot, to the remaining members of the group at the same location 61 years later.  The Beach Boys documentary is not all sun and fun, but it’s worth taking the safari through it.

Extra:  Random notes made while viewing the documentary…

We hear the impressive separated vocal parts of “Don’t Worry Baby”.

Brian says he was “pretty jealous” seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, but “They got us off our asses.”

On Brian’s breakdown in 1967 he said… “I was a millionaire, and I was able to get ahold of all these drugs, and they messed me up.”

Bruce Johnston said at one time in the early 70s The Beach Boys were so uncool their concert fee actually dropped to just $5,000.

The 1974 release of Beach Boys hits, Endless Summer, went to #1, sold over 3-million copies, and made the group a successful live act again as their early songs reached newer generations.

Of course when Mike Love sued Brian Wilson to get credit for writing lyrics for some songs (he won), there was this headline:

At least the documentary is no bummer.

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