Once again, Barbara at Life from the Roots has provided me with inspiration for a post. Thank you, Barbara!
She posted about the Beach Boys. I commented that the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean were the soundtrack to my childhood in Southern California.
But the Beach Boys were my brother’s music. That is not saying that I didn’t adore their music – I did – but I wasn’t the one in the family to “discover” or “own” their music the way I did with the Beatles or the Stones. My brother had the singles and some of the albums; there was no reason for me to ask for my own records. (Even though he would never let me play his music on my own.)
Even though I was a preteen when I discovered the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion, all of that music was really part of my teenage life.
But my childhood was defined by My Brother’s Music.
He had only singles (45s) until the very early sixties. And he had those little plastic thingies you had to put in the circular hole in the center to put it on the record player spindle. At some point it became possible to stack the records above the record that was playing, and after it had finished and the arm had retracted, the next record would slip down the spindle. I was fascinated by all these motions and by how the record player always knew what to do next.
I cannot remember the earliest music he would play, though one that has stuck in my mind is the song “Searchin’” by the Coasters. I also remember the yellow ATCO label. I must have been about three then. I also remember “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters, “Wake Up, Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers, “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino, “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley, “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly, and “Chantilly Lace” by the Big Bopper. I remember that my mother loved a lot of these songs, too. Dad was more a pure C&W guy.
But the music that defined my brother’s tastes for me was played by the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Perhaps that was because he looked like a surfer. He wasn’t one – we lived in San Bernardino and only got to the beach a few times when I was little – but he had the looks: blond hair, blue eyes, tanned easily. And in that Southern California sun I usually looked like a boiled tomato. More appropriate for a fan of the British Invasion.
My brother Don, who could pass for a surfer
But the music of the Beach Boys was so beautiful. Yes, beautiful. The harmonies of “Good Vibrations,” “Sloop John B,” “Help Me Rhonda,” and “California Girls” still give me chills. Other male groups made high-pitched/falsetto singing a part of their signature, but the Beach Boys made it work. It was a sound not to be spoofed but to be emulated.
And then there were the infectious rhythm and fun of “Surfin’ USA,” “Little Douce Coup,” “I Get Around,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” All this music makes me think not so much of the beach, but simply of the bright, glaring Southern California sun, long summer days with nothing to do but play and have fun, running through sprinklers, and that pathetic little blow-up wading pool we had. It makes me remember when we were glad to greet the dreaded 12-week TV rerun season, because who wanted to stay inside watching TV when you could be outside running around and acting goofy at 9:00 p.m. with your friends, music boppin’ in the background, while the sun was finally faded away for the day?
The Beach Boys singing "Surfin' USA"