Mondays with Mitch: A half-century on, their music still captures youth
It was 50 years ago this summer that a couple of guys were sitting in a California garage, noodling around with a song. Their names were Mike and Brian. As Mike recalls, "It didn't take that long. Just a few minutes." And when you read the final ...
It was 50 years ago this summer that a couple of guys were sitting in a California garage, noodling around with a song. Their names were Mike and Brian. As Mike recalls, "It didn't take that long. Just a few minutes." And when you read the final lyrics you believe him:
Surfin' is the only life
The only way for me.
Now surf, surf with me
Bom Bom Dit Di Dit Dip
Bom Bom Dit Di Dit Dip ...
Mike and Brian, along with two of Brian's brothers and a family friend, took the song to a local record company, which had wanted them to do a folk tune like the Kingston Trio.
Instead, the kids gave them this little ditty, called -- no surprise -- "Surfin'."
And the Beach Boys were born.
I don't know which stuns me more: that these guys have been around 50 years, or that I still remember their first hit. But there is something undeniable about the Beach Boys legacy, something that says there is music, and there is iconic music. Why do songs like "California Girls," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," or "Fun Fun Fun" still sound fresh, still make people smile, still throw a beam of sunshine over the coldest day?
It has to be more than the chords, right?
"We really wanted to do something that was us, and surfing was a reality in Southern California," Mike Love told me in talking about their first hit song last week. The Beach Boys, in their current incarnation, were coming to suburban Detroit for a concert. Of course, many of the names that made the original group so special weren't there -- including Brian Wilson or his now-departed brothers, Dennis and Carl. But at this point, even the Beach Boys name is an institution.
"Surfing was part of our environment -- part of the landscape -- part of the language and the dress and the attitude where we lived -- and yet nobody had done a song about it," Love said.
"Surfin' " -- maybe the least well-known of the Beach Boys hits -- was their first entry into that genre. Ironically, as the years passed, the guys in the band, most of whom were decent surfers, had less and less time in the ocean. Every summer was spent on tour. Even as songs like "Surfin' Safari" and "Surfin' USA" became progressively bigger hits, the men singing them were pretty much landlocked.
In time they sang about cars ("Little Deuce Coupe," "409"), about school ("I Get Around," "Be True To Your School"), about the innocence of youth ("When I Grow Up To Be A Man," "In My Room") and eventually, about psychedelic spirituality ("Good Vibrations").
But throughout it all, one thing was constant. Their sound was unique. And you hummed along with their songs.
As is probably obvious, I am a huge Beach Boys fan. I admire the genius of Brian Wilson's arrangements, his harmonies, his innovative use of sounds and instruments. That he did this on such simple infrastructure as "In My Room" or "Don't Worry Baby" only makes it that much more impressive.
And there is no shame in being serious about music and serious about the Beach Boys. Even the Beatles were envious of their work.
Still, there is something about finding out that the Beach Boys, as a band, are 50 years old, and Love is in his 70s.
In "The Picture of Dorian Gray," the lead character never aged, only a hidden portrait of him showed the decay of deeds and years.
In real life, the Beach Boys have it better. Their hairlines, waistlines and birthday cakes may tell one story, but their music tells another. It tells the same magical tale it did the day they took a garage-created tune and started singing it into microphones.
They stay young every time we hear them.
And, gratefully, we do, too.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.