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671832 Posts in 27041 Topics by 3971 Members - Latest Member: kindofgreen September 20, 2021, 08:14:44 AM
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Author Topic: A newbie to the Beach Boys----advice needed  (Read 2256 times)
zooeyhall
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« on: August 21, 2021, 11:38:07 AM »

As an older teenager (18) I've very recently become interested in the Beach Boys.  Both their music, and their story.  The only thing I've really known about them, is that they were famous for those "surfer songs" in the 1960's.  Also my older uncle has often talked about them.

 I've done some general Internet searches, and there seems to be TON of stuff out there about them.  Knowing how information you find on the Internet about something, can vary enormously in quality and reliability, I found this discussion group.  And not wanting to simply explore for information willy-nilly,  I was hoping for some advice from "experts" on the BB.

Can anyone advise on a sort of "Beach Boys 101" syllabus.  Something essential for anyone new to get introduced to their music?

They seem to have a huge volume of musical work out there.  Both as a band, and as individuals.  Can someone recommend a list of their "must listen to" songs and albums?

There are also numerous books on Amazon about the group and its members.  Which of them would be on a list for "essential reading"?

I've noticed there have been several TV movies made about them.  Knowing how TV movies can vary in quality and historical accuracy, are there any recommended ones to view?

Youtube has many videos about them.  Are there any especially good ones that a Beach Boys novice should view?  Links would be appreciated!

I know that I'm probably a generation or two younger than many of their fans on this board.  So I hope I'm not asking a ridiculous or obvious question(s) here.  I've tried to find this information doing searches, but without success.

Thanks for any advice!







« Last Edit: September 06, 2021, 12:46:00 PM by zooeyhall » Logged
Joshilyn Hoisington
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« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2021, 11:49:48 AM »

You've come to the right place, and your questions are really good ones.

One strategy you could go for as an intro would be to listen to all the singles chronologically.  It's less taxing than trying to listen to the whole catalog, but also less desultory, and you'll immediately have a sense of their progression from the beginning of your fandom, which could be good.

Every book on the Beach Boys has to be read critically.  I think the Peter Ames Carlin one is one of the more respected.  Books by Jon Stebbins are also something we can vouch for here.

Don't watch the TV movies yet.  Just don't.  Wait until you have a better sense of the reality of the group.  You could watch Love & Mercy, which while not entirely "accurate" is at least a relatively respectful treatment.

YouTube is all over the place, of course.  I have a Beach Boys channel that is very nerdy, as does a fellow called Adam Marsland.  If you search for my name you'll find my channel - Adam's is called Pet Squares.

I'm sure others will have plenty of advice too.
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« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2021, 12:27:44 PM »

Welcome!

Just a few basic starting points, of course it could be expanded greatly as needed!

For an overview of the music, and I agree with Joshlilyn that hearing the singles chronologically would be a great starting point, I'd recommend first one of the "greatest hits" type of compilations. "Endless Summer" from 1974 was where a lot of fans got started, but since then there have been more inclusive and updated albums like "Sounds Of Summer - The Very Best Of The Beach Boys" which hits on all the important singles through the years.

I'd also absolutely recommend as essential listening buying the album "Pet Sounds" and listening to it in full. That's the masterpiece. Once you've digested the greatest hits like the "Sounds Of Summer" compilation, definitely have Pet Sounds right beside it. From there, your musical tastes will lead you to the next steps, whether it is more of the 1962-66 classic Capitol era, the late-60's post-Pet Sounds era on Capitol, or the early 70's Brother/Reprise years. I'd definitely start with those eras before going further, that's where the magic happened.

Once you've gotten more history of the band, definitely look for a Smile collection, like the 2-cd overview that came out when the deluxe box set did about 10 years ago. Again, pure magic, especially with a general knowledge of the backstory.

I'd say absolutely, 110%, avoid any movies about the group at all costs. Go for the documentaries instead. "An American Band", "Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story", "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times", the David Leaf "Smile" documentary...all worth watching for the clips and interviews as a starter.

For books, some of the good ones are out of print and have gotten pretty expensive, so I won't recommend any yet. You can find lists anywhere online like Amazon.  Smiley  But the Peter Ames Carlin bio of Brian is a solid read, as is Brian's "I Am Brian Wilson".

Good luck!
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« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2021, 01:39:30 PM »

As an older teenager (18) I've very recently become interested in the Beach Boys.  Both their music, and their story.  The only thing I've really known about them, is that they were famous for those "surfer songs" in the 1960's.  Also my older uncle has often talked about them.

 I've done some general Internet searches, and there seems to be TON of stuff out there about them.  Knowing how information you find on the Internet about something, can vary enormously in quality and reliability, I found this discussion group.  And was hoping for some advice from "experts" on the BB.

Can anyone advise on a sort of "Beach Boys 101" syllabus.  Something essential for anyone new to get introduced to their music?

They seem to have a huge volume of musical work out there.  Both as a band, and as individuals.  Can someone recommend a list of their "must listen to" songs and albums?

There are also numerous books on Amazon about the group and its members.  Which of them would be on a list for "essential reading"?

I've noticed there have been several TV movies made about them.  Knowing how TV movies can vary in quality and historical accuracy, are there any recommended ones to view?

Youtube has many videos about them.  Are there any especially good ones that a Beach Boys novice should view?  Links would be appreciated!

I know that I'm probably a generation or two younger than many of their fans on this board.  So I hope I'm not asking a ridiculous or obvious question(s) here.  I've tied to find this information doing searches, but without success.

Thanks for any advice!









Welcome! I think the advice given by Joshilyn in this thread is excellent. In fact, I would say there are few people in the Beach Boys fandom who even approach the level of knowledge of the music that Joshilyn has.

Anyway, just speaking for myself, I got seriously into the Beach Boys about 20 years ago, when I was around 17. My story was as follows:

1> At the time I was getting into them, the band was best known for two things: Brian Wilson's compositional/arranging/production "genius", best exemplified by albums like Pet Sounds, and their early "sun and surf" hits. I was less interested in the latter at first, but over the years I have ended up in a place where I probably love the early "sun and surf" stuff more than almost anything else (although I love it all).

2> Brian's "genius" is indeed best displayed on certain Beach Boys albums, especially those of the mid '60s, including but not limited to Pet Sounds (1966) and The Beach Boys Today (1965). Many people would also class 1970's Sunflower with these, although it is much more collaborative among the band members and less strictly Brian's than the pre-1968 music. There are also the Smile Sessions to wade into, the body of music that produced "Good Vibrations" and a lot of other fascinating stuff along the same lines. This was the stuff of legend 20 years ago (at the time, most of it had not been officially released), but I am a bit cool on it.

3> At first I was probably most interested in the band's quirkiest and most whimsical music, a series of albums with very low-key and idiosyncratic production and varying degrees of "homemade" feel. They were made after the collapse of the Smile sessions and sort of represent Brian's regrouping after that. These albums include Smiley Smile, Wild Honey (both 1967) and the more elegantly produced Friends. The synthesizer-driven Love You from 1977 is of a piece with this music in some respects, although its sometimes harsh and unsettling sound is more characteristic of where Brian was in the late '70s than in the "homemade" period. This material vies with the "sun and surf" stuff for my favorite Beach Boys, but it's quite a different experience overall.

4> Many people will point to the singles as capturing the "sun and surf" era better than the albums, but I think the Surfer Girl (1963) and All Summer Long (1964) albums are excellent in themselves (albeit with some charming filler that's typical of the era).

5> Many fans give up on the band after the Love You album (or even before!). I wouldn't go that far, but it's probably fair to say that 90%+ of the band's musical legacy is captured on the albums and singles they released between 1962 and 1977. Everything after that is basically of scholarly interest (I happen to think the 2012 "reunion" album, That's Why God Made the Radio, is really good -- and, of course, there's the famous 1988 single "Kokomo").

6> There are a lot of solo albums by all of the band members, but (with one exception) I wouldn't sweat them just yet. Drummer Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue (1977) is the one Beach Boys solo project that is generally regarded as a masterwork in itself and that has a certain following of its own outside the Beach Boys fandom. It is probably closest in tone and sound to Love You of the Beach Boys' work, and it was made around the same time. And indeed, those two albums may be the most divisive in the whole Beach Boys discography. Many (most?) fans appreciate their starkly emotional qualities and the rough-hewn voices that deliver them, but many fans have no patience for either. All of the other solo albums (including Brian's) have stuff that's worth hearing, and I like many of them, but they're marginal to the story.

7> The Peter Ames Carlin book, Catch a Wave, gives a good (if not flawless) overview of the story. It's short and very readable, and most of its oversights are of basically academic interest. The 2014 biopic Love and Mercy is, in its way, a good introduction to Brian's world. There is a lot more to the Beach Boys than Brian Wilson, but I think Love and Mercy tells a moving story with a lot of good music, and without egregiously bending the truth.
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zooeyhall
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« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2021, 02:43:13 PM »

Wow!  I just want to say "thank you" for all the excellent advice.  I am reading them all, and going to check out all the recommendations.

Discussion groups like this one, are a great place to find intial information on a topic.  Especially when staffed by people who are obviously experts in the subject.

Again, thanks!
« Last Edit: August 22, 2021, 06:48:51 AM by zooeyhall » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2021, 03:14:44 PM »

There’s no single best way, but all the advice here is good. For me personally, I started with Pet Sounds, followed with a one-disc hits compilation, and then bought the 1993 boxed set. It’s five discs and really suggests the amazing, brilliant sprawl of the music. It’s not perfect, by any means, but I was hooked by that.

You can find it online starting around $25, which is an awesome deal if you want a physical product.
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« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2021, 03:20:29 PM »

Thank you Wirestone for mentioning the '93 box set! How did I forget that one!  Grin

Seriously though, that '93 box set "Good Vibrations - 30 Years Of The Beach Boys" is as good an overview for a beginner as can be found in one package. And if the price is right, I'd second what Wirestone said and recommend grabbing a copy, alongside "Pet Sounds" of course. It has an overview of Smile material, just over 40 minutes worth, and all the key songs up to 1989, and a cool booklet with a good overview of the band's career up to that point. My only complaint - "Let Him Run Wild" is not on the set, one of the greatest tracks Brian wrote and produced in the mid-60's golden era.
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« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2021, 03:23:44 PM »

And grab the "Love & Mercy" DVD or stream too if you can. When I said avoid those other movies, I meant the ones about the band, and they're some of the worst revisionism if not outright fraud ever to be released about the group. Love & Mercy is a biopic about Brian, not the band, and it's a great film too with some amazing acting and direction, besides the topical subject matter.
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« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2021, 04:16:50 PM »

There are some ancient fanzines, some quite good - but avoid “Friends of The Beach Boys” and “Celebrate the Newsletter” at all costs!!!
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« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2021, 04:37:11 PM »

Jon Stebbins - Beach Boys FAQ. Best book on an overview of The Beach Boys.

My favorite book on The Beach Boys is Peter Aimes Carlin’s Catch A Wave, but that’s more a book about Brian Wilson. If you read those two books and you are still itching for more, get The Nearest Faraway Place by Timothy White (I think that’s who it was by). It is a boring as hell read if you don’t want to hear about the eons of family lineage prior to The Beach Boys members living, but man it shows perfectly exactly why The Beach Boys were such a beam of glorious light during that era of cars, surfing, and love.

Must listen to songs (solo and band)

River Song - Dennis Wilson
Midnight’s Another Day - Brian Wilson
Surfer Girl - Beach Boys
Surf’s Up - Beach Boys
I Get Around - Beach Boys

Must listen to albums (solo and band)

Beach Boys Today! - Beach Boys
Pacific Ocean Blue - Dennis Wilson
Pet Sounds - Beach Boys
Brian Wilson Presents Smile - Brian Wilson
Sunflower - Beach Boys

Must watch movies

Love and Mercy
Brian Wilson Songwriter (1962-1969)

One thing I highly recommend is reading Peter Aimes Carlin’s ‘Catch A Wave’ book and listening to the albums as he reviews/writes about their making. Doing that was probably the most memorable thing about my fandom…outside of meeting Brian himself. But Peter has a way of really immersing you into each album, and being able to listen to the albums as you read about them is such a treat.

And with streaming services it’s really easy to listen to these albums.

The most important thing: just enjoy the music. And don’t let anything ruin your love of the music.
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« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2021, 05:19:24 PM »

Thirty years ago, when I really started getting into the group, it was a different world.  As it was for many if not most other areas of life, the internet was a total game-changer. As a new fan, you have access exponentially greater amounts of material and information compared to what was available three decades ago.

Nonetheless, the resources that really blew my mind back in the day were David Leaf's book, The Beach Boys and the California Myth (1978), Domenic Priore's book "Look, Listen, Vibrate, Smile" and the Malcolm Leo documentary, "The Beach Boys: An American Band" (1985).
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« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2021, 09:19:30 PM »

Thanks for joining us, Zooey--we are maniacs but the most recent data suggests that 89% of us at least mean well!!  Grin

Joshilyn's advice (essentially to listen chronologically) is definitely the wisest approach, IMO, and is most conveniently accomplished by following Wirestone's great tip and obtaining the 1993 box set.

If you aren't able to get the set, then another place for a solid introduction would be the CD "Classics," which features 20 Beach Boys tracks selected by Brian Wilson. The tracks are mostly in chronological order and this collection is (IMO) about 90% undisputed greatness.

Another CD that covers additional ground is called "The Warmth of the Sun," which has a bit of overlap with "Classics" but covers more ground. The track listing looks a lot like the promo CD that was put out in 1993 as a teaser for the boxed set. This one is not in chrono order but has a nice flow for listening, giving you some interesting contrasts without being too jarring.

Don't be shy about asking any questions here when there are things you want to know more about. Glad to have you with us!
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« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2021, 10:24:00 PM »

My favorite era is between Surfin' USA and Friends when Brian was in charge (1963-1968). But they continued to make great music after that well into the 70s, with Love You being the last great album as far as I'm concerned. Their output is very hit-and-miss after that but there are some gems here and there and I'm even a bit of a Kokomo apologist I have to say. Overall, lots and lots of brilliant music to discover! As far as solo material goes, I know I'm in a minority here but I think Brian's first solo album (self-titled from 1988) is by far the best BB solo record. Many others prefer Dennis' Pacific Ocean Blue.

As far as their story goes, my favorite documentary film about the band is Endless Harmony from the late 90s. The one book about them I really love is Back to the Beach by Kingsley Abbott, which is mostly a collection of articles and interviews from various sources.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2021, 11:20:50 PM by phirnis » Logged
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« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2021, 07:19:46 AM »

Knowing how information you find on the Internet about something, can vary enormously in quality and reliability, I found this discussion group.  And was hoping for some advice from "experts" on the BB.

Can anyone advise on a sort of "Beach Boys 101" syllabus.  Something essential for anyone new to get introduced to their music?

This will be an unpopular opinion, but honestly, skimming Wikipedia is fine and probably the best "Beach Boys 101" syllabus. Most of the essential topics (Brian Wilson's biography, Pet Sounds, Smile, etc.) have well-researched articles and will answer basically all your questions. It's less overwhelming and time-consuming than watching documentaries and reading entire books (and because of various agendas involved, you'll have to read/watch a lot of them to get the full picture).
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« Reply #14 on: August 22, 2021, 08:15:39 AM »

Start with Endless Summer. Go to the Beach with this playing. If you get to the Beach too fast, turn around and drive aimlessly until the albums over. There are other, more comprehensive hits packages out there but this one's an old standard and focuses on their pre-Pet Sounds, Summer-themed songs.

Buy and listen to Pet Sounds several times.

Listen to Smiley Smile before The Smile Sessions to get an impression of the want that used to exist.

Like many people said here, the biopics are to varying extents inaccurate but An American Family had alot to do with my first deep dive into the band, so maybe you'll just find them interesting/motivating.

Do not form preconceived notions about their albums based on "critical consensus" before listening to them yourself (especially with the post-Holland stuff).

The Beach Boys In Concert (the book) is a really thorough and interesting reference for their live career if you are particularly enthusiastic about them on stage or like reading about minutia.
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« Reply #15 on: August 23, 2021, 11:12:47 AM »

In addition to everything mentioned above:
The Beach Boys by Byron Preiss - this is long out of print, but it is findable.  It's a great study of the music.  This was the only Beach Boys book that my town library had, and I spent a lot of time with it in my newbie days.
50 Sides of the Beach Boys - profiles of 50 songs.  I really enjoyed this book.  It is in print.
Mike Love's book - this tells his side of the story, as well as a lot of Wilson family history that had not really been told before.

I Just Wasn't Made For These Times - excellent documentary about Brian from 1995, which has new recordings and a companion soundtrack album.

Once you get acquainted with Pet Sounds, Endless Summer, and the Good Vibrations box set, make sure you check out the Feel Flows box.  This is coming out on Friday, and focuses on the 1969-71 period - a very prolific time that has often gone ignored (at least in the US).
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« Reply #16 on: August 23, 2021, 06:08:40 PM »


I would recommend Steven Gaines Heroes and Villains as a great starting point on reading up on the Beach Boys - other than being quite out of date now, I think it is an excellent introduction to the band.
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« Reply #17 on: August 23, 2021, 08:09:36 PM »

Do be aware that, if you happen to come across a book titled Wouldn't It Be Nice, purportedly written by Brian Wilson and Todd Gold, the book is NOT an autobiography. Brian didn't co-write it, Eugene Landy did.

Brian's for-real autobiography is I Am Brian Wilson, co-written with Ben Greenman.

In general, if a book title says it's the "true story," it often isn't, imo. And for that reason, I do NOT recommend Gaines' Heroes & Villains, which leans heavily towards tabloid fodder.
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« Reply #18 on: August 24, 2021, 12:14:22 AM »

The Beach Boys by Byron Preiss - this is long out of print, but it is findable.  It's a great study of the music.  This was the only Beach Boys book that my town library had, and I spent a lot of time with it in my newbie days.

Oh, yeah.  I totally second this, and I too poured over every page of my local library's copy.  The Preiss book is actually the first place I saw the Smile Shop cover in full color, as other sources like Leaf's book only had black-and-white photos.  Again, it was a different world before the internet changed everything. 
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« Reply #19 on: August 24, 2021, 06:30:13 AM »

Just in case we're overloading you with content and you want to start slow, check out this compilation they put out for their 50th anniversary:

https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_k9fmNgWFLsa30y5cV1sazVWD9-BcB17eM&feature=share

It's a good sampler of the band that covers their entire career, not just the early surfer/car hits.  It gives you a decent idea of what the band is about.  Then you can branch out and explore the other suggestions being made in this thread.  The Made In California box set that came out around the same time goes more in depth but that would be worth listening to as well. 
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« Reply #20 on: August 24, 2021, 07:13:23 PM »

I do NOT recommend Gaines' Heroes & Villains, which leans heavily towards tabloid fodder.


Unfortunately to get to know this band, really, you've got to be prepared for some muck raking. There's a fine line between tabloid fodder, and the space this band has occupied over the years.

I stand by my recommendation.
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« Reply #21 on: August 24, 2021, 07:27:30 PM »

I do NOT recommend Gaines' Heroes & Villains, which leans heavily towards tabloid fodder.


Unfortunately to get to know this band, really, you've got to be prepared for some muck raking. There's a fine line between tabloid fodder, and the space this band has occupied over the years.

I stand by my recommendation.
I agree with Emdeeh. Gaines gave the Beatles the same treatment.
The Preiss book is much more factual. And I still have a soft spot for David Leaf's book. Those two did it for me.
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« Reply #22 on: August 29, 2021, 01:53:10 PM »

I do NOT recommend Gaines' Heroes & Villains, which leans heavily towards tabloid fodder.


Unfortunately to get to know this band, really, you've got to be prepared for some muck raking. There's a fine line between tabloid fodder, and the space this band has occupied over the years.

I stand by my recommendation.
I agree with Emdeeh. Gaines gave the Beatles the same treatment.
The Preiss book is much more factual. And I still have a soft spot for David Leaf's book. Those two did it for me.

I accept the point the two of you are getting at.

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« Reply #23 on: August 31, 2021, 09:23:22 AM »

Getting into specific books, the Preiss book is essential and I've had it and referenced it for years, but the band members were given individual veto power over the final publication, which means they could (and did) edit out topics they didn't want published. The Gaines book had sources which were very close and also had some pretty strong biases based on events happening at the time, which is understandable. But while Gaines went for more of the headline-grabbing details, it's not like he pulled them out of thin air, and I think his book gets chastised more often by people who wouldn't have wanted certain issues to be made public, and those who didn't want certain sources to give their versions of events for similar reasons. That said, there is a lot of great behind the scenes info from Nick Grillo in Gaines's book that didn't get mentioned elsewhere.

Priore's LLVS was the one for me, I was obsessed with it. And I only ever had the first edition, that was enough to fuel the obsession with that music. I wish the Leaf book wasn't so hard to find, it's also essential reading. And Timothy White's book, to paraphrase what I've written before about it in much more detail, is essential because White went into some deep background info about things happening around the band's history, and pulled it together to explain why, for example, the band was singing about a Chevy 409 instead of another engine, and how and why the family and band history intertwined as amazingly as it did with the history of Southern California and the scene in which the band found themselves writing and singing songs celebrating that scene. Hence the book's title. Some readers think it's too much detail, but I for one do not: That's the fabric onto which the band history was imprinted, and it shows that hardly any of this history happened in a vacuum.
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« Reply #24 on: August 31, 2021, 10:44:33 AM »

Do be aware that, if you happen to come across a book titled Wouldn't It Be Nice, purportedly written by Brian Wilson and Todd Gold, the book is NOT an autobiography. Brian didn't co-write it, Eugene Landy did.

Brian's for-real autobiography is I Am Brian Wilson, co-written with Ben Greenman.


 LOL I Am Brian Wilson is almost entirely composed of slightly rewritten passages taken from Wikipedia. You can tell because it has all the same misconceptions that used to be printed on Wikipedia, like the band recording at Wally Heider's studio in San Francisco. It's a cheap, poorly researched biography written by a ghostwriter who was obviously not familiar with the Beach Boys, as evidenced by absurd errors like the claim that Brian used an Eltro Information Rate Changer in 2004 for the recording of She's Goin' Bald.

This is in addition to the 15% of the book in which Ray Lawlor and Brian's publicists recite anecdotes and quotes involving other famous musicians. And of course, maybe 1% of content that probably did come from Brian's mouth, like a previously unpublished anecdote about being in a mental hospital in the late '70s, or everything that he calls "quite an experience."
« Last Edit: August 31, 2021, 10:48:00 AM by terrei » Logged
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