Your Basic Beach Boys Bookshelf
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Your Basic Beach Boys Bookshelf

by Andrew G. Doe

It's undeniable that, however highly we may regard Our Boys, the cold hard world out there doesn't really seem to care that much, as a swift comparison of the number of tomes devoted to things Wilsonian with those concerning, say, Dylan or the Beatles, graphically demonstrates. However, this paucity is more than balanced by the fact that, by and large, what is available is usually pretty good (although, not unlike the BBs musical canon, the odd clunker lurks...).

Of the five books published in the latter half of the seventies, David Leaf's The Beach Boys & The Southern California Myth (1979, reprinted with additions in 1985 as The Beach Boys) stands head and shoulders above the pack. Sadly, it's been out of print for many years, but is essential in any form. Byron Preiss' 1979 The Beach Boys, equally unavailable, suffers from being an authorised tome, but compensates with numerous quotes and extracts from articles (unfortunately undated) and some splendid illustrations (beware the later reissue that dispenses with the pics !); recommended with reservations.


As with the Preiss book, John Milward's Silver Anniversary boasts some superb full color photos combined with a text best described as enthusiastic. It is, of course, out of print, but worth grabbing if seen. Chances are you can get Steve Gaines' 1986 Heroes & Villains - The True Story Of The Beach Boys out of your local library...but beware: it is riddled with appaling errors, and is best regarded as a novelisation of brian's story. A cracking read, but not to be taken as gospel. An essential item for SMiLE freaks is Domenic Priore's Dumb Angel Gazette #2, a dense volume which handily, if not exactly neatly, corrals all the existing printed wisdom concerning said album. The problem here is that, whilst an outstanding compiler, Priore displays a decidedly dogmatic attitude that becomes tedious after a while: no-one ever knew how SMiLE fitted together except Brian, and to claim otherwise is mischevious at best.


The first major book of the 90's remains the most contentious. Allegedly Brian's autobiography, Wouldn't It Be Nice is in reality a low-grade cut and paste job that shamelessly rips off the aforementioned Leaf and Gaines tomes (the latter with errors uncorrected) whilst elevating the odious Gene Landy to near-sainthood...yet some still maintain it is indeed Brian's work. Go figure. A far, far better book is Tim White's The Nearest Faraway Place, whilst Stephen J. McParland's coverage of the Wilson/Usher of the mid-80s - The Wilson Project & Tape 10 - gives the true and terrible picture of the Landy era. 1997 saw two excellent compilation volumes, Kingsley Abbott's Back To The Beach and Paul Williams' How Deep Is The Ocean - both demand your attention... and for sheer compression of information, The Complete Guide To the Music Of The Beach Boys deserves a mention..


1999 saw another excellent gathering of old writings in Add Some Music To Your Day: Analyzing and Enjoying the Music of The Beach Boys, the cream of the much mourned Add Some Music fanzine (1978-1985): as is often the case (or so it seems), it was shortly joined by a similar collation from the Beach Boys Australia 'zine, SMiLE, Sun, Sand & Pet Sounds, an alternately amusing, intriguing and irritating volume. The following year saw the publication of Jon Stebbins' compelling biography of Dennis The Real Beach Boy. Strangely it was rapidly followed by another DW bio. - Adam Webb's Dumb Angel - which inevitably suffered in comparison. Most recently we've had The Beach Boys Pet Sounds - The Greatest Album Of The 20th Century, Kingsley Abbott's excellent overview of the making of that classic album. For the statistically minded, Brad Elliot's monumental discography is a goldmine (even though it's over 20 years old and the long-anticipated update is now looking increasingly unlikely), while The Rainbow Files does much the same for CD, admittedly in a decidedly convoluted format. Dwight Cavanagh's Smile File is an immensely useful aid to untangling the various fragments, while Stephen McParland's In The Studio with Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys: Our Favorite Recording Sessions is essential reading to all info junkies, being not only a through run-through of some 100-odd sessions from 1961-1970, but also a masterly untangling of the mess that was the Candix sequencing.

Andrew G. Doe

In the following list, essential books are printed in bold type, those out of print (to the best of my knowledge) are in italics

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