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The Beach Boys: This is an everyday story of the evolution of a long-lasting California band that started singing simple Four Freshmen style harmonies and using garbage cans as drums. The name changed, the production matured, the ever-youthful music stayed. The beards grew, the drum kit got better, hair greyed and receded.
The Wilson family-dominated act began as The Wilson Brothers, then became Carl And The Passions. This was suggested by Dennis Wilson in 1961, and an identity adopted for retro-sounding 1972 LP Carl & The Passions: So Tough. They metamorphosed into the similar-sounding Kenny And The Cadets. Songwriter Brian Wilson, the leader for their early career, was the first-billed Kenny.
A growing interest in surfing - both among the band and Californian youth - led to their third alias, The Pendletones. This was taken from the name of heavy Pendleton-trademarked plaid top worn by surfers and beach nuts. The group wore similar matching shirts on stage, an easy and cheap image. Plus, the name was a pun on "tone" recalling the success of Dick Dale's Del-Tones and other "tone" acts.
Their first record, 1961 release Surfin', was trial-pressed on Robert and Richard Dix's local X Records label. Herb Newman of Era Records wanted to issue it on the new State-wide Candix label, which had already had a surfing hit, the now long forgotten Underwater by The Frogmen. But Newman hated the Pendletones appellation, which he thought was too obscure. In a round of phone calls which the Wilsons knew nothing about, Candix A&R man Joe Saraceno played the freshly-cut demo to a record distributor. Saraceno said that he thought the group was called The Surfers. It turned out this pseudonym had been taken by another close-harmony act and Saraceno telephoned back to remark that he preferred something like, oh, say, The Beach Boys. Russ Regan of the local Buckeye Record Distributors took this as a cue. The moniker would also suit the image of the sporty song, put them together with Jan And Dean and was an echo of their West Coast origins, similar to The Coasters, briefly known as The Surf Boys.
The record was processed before the boys were told. They were scandalised and their father/ self-appointed manager, the outspoken Murray Wilson, had a therapeutic shout down the telephone - only to be told it was too late. Not only would it be expensive to reprint labels but also they had already been sent out to dozens of shops. The youngsters shrugged it off because they were pleased to have a record out; their father worked to make it a local hit. Hindsight suggests "The Beach Boys" was a better handle than the obscure Pendletones, which would have quickly sounded dated. Similar choices by other acts such as The Silvertones and The Quailtones were soon confined to the dustbin of musical history.
On the down side, critics claim the choice has subsequently suited only song subjects such as Endless Summers, hot rods, girls, sex, sea, surf, and sun sun sun. It did them little favours as they moved onto "deeper" subjects such as the environment on the Surf's Up album, aging, having children or world politics. Only drummer Dennis had a long-running interest in surfing - and he died in a swimming accident in 1983. The name also dated as the group aged well beyond boyhood. Britain has seen Boy George and The Pet Shop Boys face similar problems. What about The Beach Men? The Beach Granddads? Inspired: The City Surfers. Related: Wilson Phillips.
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