Why The Beach Boys Matter
Review by KC Carlson
It’s a pretty tall order to tell the Beach Boys’ oft-confusing, decades-long history in a 176-page, 5″ x 7″ book, but Tom Smucker does an admirable job in Why The Beach Boys Matter, recently published by Music Matters/University of Texas Press. I admire someone who can write well about such a complex subject in such relatively short space. It’s important to note some of the many bands that didn’t have the longevity of The Beach Boys, starting with The Beatles, and working down a list which also includes Led Zeppelin; Crosby, Stills and Nash; the original Supremes and The Temptations; Pink Floyd; and of course the still-active Rolling Stones (the exception to this list).
The Beach Boys formed in 1961, and versions of the band (most without leader Brian Wilson) are still touring today. Brian famously finished Smile (begun in 1967) — with much help — presented it in concert in 2004, and pretty much toured it for the next decade. Brian’s also still playing concerts, but not with the same frequency of past tours.
But that’s what’s been happening now(ish). Why The Beach Boys Matter is an overview of pretty much everything that’s gone before, with a lot of juxtaposition to place the music within its time(s). Not only does Smucker cover the music in detail, he describes exactly why it’s still important today — and why seemingly every new generation still embraces it.
Separating it from the music a bit, the story of The Beach Boys is also a fascinating story of an American family, sometime united but more often not. That’s here as well. Each original group member gets their own solo chapter in the book, but there are also chapters called “Fathers, Shrinks, and Gurus” and “Girlfriends, Wives, and Mothers” that explain a lot. Smucker also makes a brave attempt at deciding “When Did The Early Sixties End?”
There are chapters on the “Second-Best Pop Album Ever” (Pet Sounds) and “The Best Unreleased Pop Album Ever” (the aforementioned Smile). There’s additionally a brief discussion on whether Smile could have been the American Sgt. Pepper that will spin your brain around for a few minutes.
This looks to be a fun book line of mini-rock band histories from Music Matters, as I see that there’s also a Why The Ramones Matter volume, written by Donna Gaines. I wonder how long I’ll have to wait for a Why The Wondermints Matter volume?