Before we even knew how to get around, we had their voices in our ears. Mid-20th-century Southern Californians, even those condemned to Catholic grammar schools, had The Beach Boys’ elegant harmonies about Thunderbirds and chicks named Barbara Ann woven inextricably into their soundtracks. Long before Woodstock, the Boys’ summertime Hollywood Bowl shows were the true vanguard tribal gatherings. Their falsetto melodies DNA’d us, from crazy anthems like “Surf City” and “Be True to Your School” to poignant observations like “Surfer Girl” and aesthetic splendors like “Caroline, No” and “Good Vibrations.” When the Brits invaded, the only resistance they met was in the form of SoCal surfer girls who tore down “I Love You Beatles” stickers and replaced them with pictures of Brian, Dennis, Carl, Al, and Mike (and later Bruce).
My younger sister got a job cleaning Mike Love’s Mesa Lane house in the 1970s, and when he asked if she knew who he was, she kind of cleaned around him. So did the swirl of psychedelic subculture, though most former hippies feel residual tugs hearing “All Summer Long,” or mist a bit when “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” echoes in the rooms where they raised their own surfin’ girls and boys.
But you don’t have to be a boomer to love The Beach Boys. Any credible rock critic knows that their Pet Sounds album — Brian Wilson’s true masterpiece — is the indie-rock Rosetta Stone. You can hear it clear in great bands like Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear. Pitchfork, chief arbiter of the contemporary rock scene, recently asked its (young) staffers to vote for the best song of the 1960s. It wasn’t “Strawberry Fields,” or even “Like a Rolling Stone.” They picked “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys.
And why not? This is the band that made sunshine seem sacramental. Only God knows what we’d be without them. The Beach Boys play the Santa Barbara Bowl on Monday, May 28, at 6 p.m. Call (805) 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com for tickets and info.