Reporter: Allison Langdon
Producers: Nick Greenaway, Sandra Cleary
If summer had a sound, it would be the Beach Boys. Millions have grown up and grown old bopping along to their music.
Their songs take us back to a simpler time when all you needed to be happy was the sun on your back and the sand underneath your feet.
But behind the scenes, the Beach Boys were going through all kinds of Hell.
Drugs, breakdowns, legal spats, and the deaths of key band members, threatened to wipe them out for good.
Now, 50 years since they first harmonised, they're back with a new album and a world tour.
And after spending some time with them on the road, Allison Langdon can say they are as carefree and as passionate as their lyrics.
The Beach Boys will be touring Australia in August/September 2012 - for more information go to Ticketek.
ALLISON LANGDON: 50 years on, and the melody, the harmony is still there. The Beach Boys, led by their maestro Brian Wilson, singing around the piano, just like the good old days.
BRIAN: It’s like going back to 1965. Our harmonies come booming out of the speakers. We’re all going, “What? We made that sound? How did we do that?” Yeah.
ALLISON LANGDON: And a lot of that sound is yours.
BRIAN: Well, we all have distinct voices, all of us together is greater than the sum of our parts when we sing harmony.
ALLISON LANGDON: A new album, a new world tour celebrating their 50th anniversary, and the Beach Boys still draw packed houses. A convention of baby boomers in loud shirts reliving a golden time in their lives, the sounds of an endless summer. So, I mean, tell me, at the end of the concerts, you know, is it wild parties and girls, or is it a cup of tea and straight to bed?
BRUCE: Well, wait a minute. Yeah, we have so many of my groupies there but the problem is there’s no place for them to put their walkers. You know but other than that is everything’s fine…
MIKE: Oh don’t...please don’t air that. Please.
ALLISON LANGDON: Is he always like this?
ALLISON LANGDON: Before the Beatles, before the Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees, there was another boy band that emerged from Southern California. A group led by lead singer Mike Love and his cousin, Brian Wilson, the oldest of three brothers in the band.
ALLISON LANGDON: Did you have any idea, Brian, when you’re first starting out that you were on to something that the world would start pay-…?
BRIAN: Well, when Mike and I wrote ‘Surfing’, I knew we were into something original. I knew we were going to be an original rock-and-roll group.
ALLISON LANGDON: I mean you guys were mucking around playing music in the suburbs, weren’t you? David, you were just the little kid next door.
DAVID: Yeah, Brian’s brother, Karl, and I learned how to play guitars. I was 10, Karl was 12, and we were learning the Chuck Berry riffs off the radio and we mixed that with Brian’s sophisticated vocal arrangements, and it created a unique new sound that no one had ever heard before.
ALLISON LANGDON: The musical genius of Brian Wilson combined with the commercial instinct of Mike Love saw the sound waves of the Beach Boys circle the world, tapping into a surfing culture set to explode.
ALLISON LANGDON: I’ve just got a clip that I wouldn’t mind showing, if this is all right.
ALLISON LANGDON: Have a look.
MIKE: Oh my god.
AL: What’s it? Oh my god, not that.
ALLISON LANGDON: See I look at that, Mike’s dance moves in that clip.
DAVID: He was ahead of his time.
AL: Oh, he’s way ahead of them.
ALLISON LANGDON: He was ahead of his time?
AL: Yeah, yeah.
ALLISON LANGDON: Have you still got those moves?
DAVID: Oh yeah.
AL: He spins. He does a spin on stage you won’t believe. And he does a couple of spins.
MIKE: No, one of my favourites was doing the monkey with Annette.
ALLISON LANGDON: It may look daggy today, but their songs became anthems. Hits then, classics now, drawing fans old and new. What is it about your songs that can have kids up and dancing, grandparents dancing and everyone in between?
DAVID: The music itself sounds happy. The lyrics are positive. I look out in the audience and see the little children. They know all the words to all the songs and the senior citizens are dancing in the aisles. It’s amazing.
BRUCE: It’s like a surfing Disneyland. You’ll see these generations all enjoying what they grew up with at different times, but they’re still connected by it and I see that a lot at our concerts.
ALLISON LANGDON: The Beach Boys clearly still revel in the backstage camaraderie. But while their music might be all about fun, fun, fun, offstage, there have been a lot of very dark times - starting with Brian Wilson’s father, Murray, the band’s first manager.
BRIAN: But he was just a very, very, very rude person. You know, he didn’t know how to get along with people and he just beat us up a lot.
ALLISON LANGDON: That abusive relationship sowed the seeds for Brian’s eventual mental breakdown, and although he continued to write some great music, he became increasingly reclusive and drug-dependant. Brian, for you, how difficult was that battle with drugs?
BRIAN: Well, some of the drugs left my brain in an unstable kind of a condition. What I mean, robbed me of emotional security, made me too sensitive. Of course, the upside of that is I’m sensitive enough to write sensitive music, so that’s the upside - the music. The downside is the storm drain in the brain.
ALLISON LANGDON: He survived, but his brother Dennis, the band’s drummer, did not - drowning while under the influence of alcohol and drugs in 1983.
MIKE: I think the problem was Dennis got a little overly attracted to alcohol and cocaine, and different things, and that led to his early demise, I believe. The one thing that I regret having influenced any of us in the group is the drugs.
ALLISON LANGDON: Watching so much self destruction, Mike Love along with Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine chose a much cleaner alternative to deal with stardom. They turned to transcendental meditation, joining the Beatle’s famous pilgrimage to India.
AL: It really helped to kind of swim under the current you might say, go under the wave, the negative wave. We go the other way and…
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you think that saved you?
AL: Oh yeah. Without a doubt.
BRUCE: I have a drug that I do every day. It’s Beach Boys music. I never I never sank into the quicksand of the drugs but I’ve always been astounded by this music.
ALLISON LANGDON: In the end it was their music, not their many personal dramas, that would define the Beach Boys. In 1988, 27 years after they started; they recorded their biggest hit ‘Kokomo’. And to this day, maintain the creative well hasn’t dried up. Do you have another ‘Kokomo’ in you?
BRIAN: I have an arrangement for Honeycomb. ‘Well it’s a darn good life, and it’s kind of funny, how the lord made to be, and he made a honey. The honey be lookin’ for a home. Then he called it...’ That’s another Kokomo.
ALLISON LANGDON: There will never be another band like the Beach Boys, and their fans know it. This world tour, which will bring them to Australia in August, is not only a celebration of their survival, but also their unique sound.
BRIAN: We could say no group is our musical equal. As Beethoven said that ‘No, no man is my musical equal’, I think we have the opinion that no group is our harmonic equal.
MIKE: As far as the special ingredient of what we do is love, love of harmonies, the love of getting together and creating that sound. Has nothing to do with fame or money or anything, it’s just the love and I think that’s what people pick up on.
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you think that’s why you’ve lasted so long?
MIKE: Yeah I agree, absolutely.
ALLISON LANGDON: So this is the 50th reunion tour. Is there going to be a 60th?
BRIAN: No, a 75th.
ALLISON LANGDON: So if you’re around for a 75thm you’ll be doing it?
MIKE: Yeah, looking forward to it.
ALLISON LANGDON: Mike, you promised me something at the end of the interview. That is impressive.