The 1960s saw both The Beatles and The Beach Boys reach their musical peaks. Both bands enjoyed immense success on a global basis during this decade, but what were their opinions of each other? Did they see each other as inspiration, or as pure rivals?
In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the relationship between The Beatles and The Beach Boys, to understand where their inspiration came from and the bands affected one another.
Were The Beach Boys Rivals Of The Beatles Or Did They Drive Inspiration?
To the outside world, The Beatles and The Beach Boys would have appeared to be strong rivals. It’s hard to imagine that one would have inspired the other, or that either’s music would have suffered without the influence of the other.
But were The Beatles and The Beach Boys strict rivals, or were they a source of inspiration to one another? Read on to discover the truth of the relationship.
Who Are The Beatles?
Forming in 1960, The Beatles were a British band with a cult-like following. The band was made up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, with their music incorporating elements of traditional pop, rock and classical music. Their genre later expanded further to include psychedelic music and hard rock.
The Beatles were discovered by local Liverpool record store manager, Brian Epstein, who described his first meeting with the band in 1961 as love at first sight. Epstein spent the months that followed bombarding the leading music companies with recordings of the band until Parlophone (part of the EMI label) finally awarded the band a contract.
Quickly after their first album was released, The Beatles amassed an impressive following which became known as Beatlemania. However, the fame became too much for the band, who announced the end of their touring career in 1966 and finally went their separate ways in 1970.
However, The Beatles legacy still remains today, with the group often celebrated as one of the greatest bands of all time.
Who Are The Beach Boys?
American rock band The Beach Boys were formed in California in 1961 and originally consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, along with their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. Brian Wilson acted as composer, arranger, producer and manager for the band in those first few years.
Their first hit came in 1963 with “Surfin’ USA” and the band continued to enjoy success throughout the 60s. However, towards the end of the 1960s, Brian Wilson was struggling with mental health issues and the band’s popularity was faltering. At the end of the 60s, Brian gave up control of the band to prioritise his declining mental health.
The Beach Boys still exists today, although the line-up has changed over the years and is now somewhat condensed when compared with 1961. With over 100 million record sales across the globe, The Beach Boys remain a renowned name in the music industry.
When The Beatles Met The Beach Boys
Despite their rivalry, The Beatles became friends with The Beach Boys during the 1960s. This stemmed from Paul McCartney’s appreciation for their music.
In April 1967, Paul McCartney visited Brian Wilson’s home in Los Angeles. During the visit, he praised the band for their work and told them that ‘God Only Knows’ was one of the most beautiful songs he had ever heard.
At Wilson’s home, McCartney played ‘She’s Leaving Home’ on the piano for Brian and his wife, Marilyn Rovell. Wilson later recalled: “We both just cried. It was beautiful”.
During the same visit, Paul visited the studio with Brian, where he gave his opinion on parts of the unfinished Smile. It is said that McCartney contributed percussion to “Vega-tables” by chewing a stick of celery rhythmically into a microphone. It’s not known whether his contribution made it into the final cut, but we’d like to think it might have!
After the studio visit, the pair held a spontaneous party, where it’s said that Brain directed, John Phillips played piano, Mary Phillips was on drums and Paul McCartney played violin.
It’s thought that Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney are still on good terms today, catching up each year to discuss music and family.
How Did The Beatles And The Beach Boys Influence Each Other?
There is clear evidence in the singles and albums that were released by both The Beatles and The Beach Boys of their influences upon each other. Both bands were vocal in their appreciation for each other’s music and the adaptations to their style in response are obvious to see.
We like to think that each band spurred the other on in the creation of new material, pushing each other into new realms of greatness with each single that was released.
In December 1965, The Beatles released the album ‘Rubber Soul’, which featured a fuzz bass and a sitar.
It’s important to remember that at this time in music history, albums typically contained lots of filler songs. This meant that bands could sell albums at a higher price point than singles, without the added work that came with producing numerous high-quality songs.
However, on hearing the album, Brian Wilson commented that the album “went together like no album ever made before”, having “no poor tracks”. This was a first for the 1960s and was a contributing reason for the success of ‘Rubber Soul’.
Brian Wilson was so inspired by ‘Rubber Soul’ that he rushed straight back to the studio to work on The Beach Boys’ new material.
Wilson spent the coming months working on an album to rival ‘Rubber Soul’. He didn’t want to fall into the trap of padding out a few decent singles with filler tracks – he wanted every song to be a hit. It was from here that ‘Pet Sounds’ was born.
Brian Wilson was quoted as saying: “Rubber Soul blew my mind. I liked the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing. It was a challenge to me to do something similar. That made me want to make Pet Sounds, I didn’t want to do the same kind of music, but on the same level.”
It was in May 1966 that ‘Pet Sounds’ was released, designed to rival ‘Rubber Soul’. The album included hit tracks such as ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘God Only Knows’, which featured effective harmonies and powerful instrumentation. It has been said that ‘Pet Sounds’ built upon the success of ‘Rubber Soul’ and then took it to a whole new level.
And it’s safe to say that The Beatles were impressed. Bruce Johnston reportedly flew into the UK to play ‘Pet Sounds’ at a party that McCartney and Lennon were attending. It’s said that they demanded to hear the album twice and then spent the rest of the night huddled around a piano. Later that evening, John Lennon called Brian Wilson to congratulate him on the album.
However, it was Paul McCartney who was possibly the biggest fan of ‘Pet Sounds’. He was even quoted as saying: “It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I played it to John so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence.”
The Beatles Hit Back With Revolver
By 1966, The Beatles were growing tired of touring and decided that their August 1966 tour would be their last. A week before this tour, The Beatles responded to the success of ‘Pet Sounds’ by releasing a rival album, titled ‘Revolver’. This album included chart-topping hits such as ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’.
‘Revolver’ built on the use of studio technology which was first seen in ‘Rubber Soul’, combined with sophisticated lyrics and a new style which included classical string arrangements and psychedelia. This experimentation led to ‘Revolver’ earning itself a name as one of the greatest and most innovative albums in the history of music.
It’s clear to see the influence of The Beach Boys in ‘Revolver’. For example, you’ll notice similarities in the vocal styles in tracks such as ‘Good Day Sunshine’ and ‘For No One’. It’s difficult not to wonder if this inspiration is one of the contributing reasons for the album’s huge success.
Did Revolver Pull The Trigger That Caused Wilson’s Mental Health?
Soon after the release of ‘Revolver’ came the turning point for The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, when he had a mental health crisis. However, was it the release of ‘Revolver’ that caused Wilson’s breakdown?
At the time, Brian Wilson was working on the The Beach Boys’ Smile album and was struggling to complete it. One day, whilst driving in his car under the influence of drugs, the newly released ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was played on the radio. His passenger at the time, Michael Vosse, recounts “he just shook his head and said ‘They did it already – what I wanted to do with Smile. Maybe it’s too late.’”
Not long afterwards, Wilson decided to abandon the Smile album amidst the ever-increasing pressure that he was struggling to handle. According to author Steven Gaines, one factor which contributed to this decision was the “wonderous and different-sounding quality” of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, which Wilson felt he couldn’t compete with.
However, in 2014, Brian Wilson responded to a fan’s question on his website, denying that hearing ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ had “weakened” him but admitting that he enjoyed the “very weird record”.
We’ll never know whether ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ did indeed contribute to Brian Wilson giving up on ‘Smile’ or ultimately stepping down as band manager, but one thing is for certain: as well as rivalry between the bands, there was also a friendship.
As The Beach Boys moved forwards without Brian Wilson, The Beatles were focusing their time in the studio after retiring from touring. During a flight back to London in November 1966, McCartney had a new idea for a song. It was based on an Edwardian military band which later transformed into the concept of ‘Sgt. Pepper’.
‘Sgt. Pepper’ was again heavily influenced by The Beach Boys. During production, the band reviewed the work of rivals and selected ‘Pet Sounds’ by The Beach Boys as the most significant competitor. McCartney, in particular, admired the harmonies and instrumental sections of the track. ‘Pet Sounds’ became the main musical inspiration for ‘Sgt. Pepper’, with McCartney even admitting that they “nicked a few ideas” from the track.
‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was released in May 1967 and spent 27 weeks at number one in the UK charts, along with 15 weeks at number one in the US charts. This reflects the incredible success that The Beatles were experiencing at this time. The album includes famous songs including ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ and ‘A Day In The Life’.
Producer of The Beatles, George Martin, was later quoted as saying “I believe that without Brian Wilson’s inspiration, Sgt. Pepper might have been less of the phenomenon that it became. Brian is a living genius of pop music. Like The Beatles, he pushed forward the frontiers of popular music.”
There is no doubt that The Beach Boys had a profound influence on ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. But then, ‘Pet Sounds’ would never have been what it was without The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’. We could go round in circles all day with this!
What Is Paul McCartney’s Favourite Song?
Paul McCartney has made no secret over the years of admitting that his favourite song was not performed by The Beatles. We’ve already discussed McCartney’s reaction upon hearing the ‘Pet Sounds’ album for the first time. In fact, he is quoted as saying “It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I played it to John so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence.” He even admits buying his children each a copy of the album for their “musical education”.
During an interview with a Japanese radio station in 1990, McCartney was asked for his top ten favourite songs of all time. Without hesitation, he named ‘God Only Knows’ by The Beach Boys as his all-time favourite song – a high honour!
The Beatles vs The Beach Boys: The Battle Of The Bands
Now that we’ve established the influences that each band had on one another, we’re going to put both bands to the test in the ultimate battle of the bands. Which band will come out on top: The Beatles or The Beach Boys?
Let’s begin by considering how long each of these bands was active for. After all, their total years of success has to count for something, right?
The Beatles officially formed in 1960 in Liverpool. However, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been playing together since 1957. The band was originally known as The Beatals, later changing their name to The Silver Beatles which was then shortened to The Beatles. The band enjoyed ten years of making music before separating in 1970, bringing their music career as a group to an end.
The Beach Boys were formed soon after The Beatles, in 1961, in sunny California on the West Coast of the USA. The band are still together to this day, meaning that their music career has now spanned over 60 years – an impressive feat for any band!
Although The Beach Boys have enjoyed more years of making music, does this make them more successful, or were The Beatles right to end their music careers on a high rather than allowing themselves to fizzle out over the years?
Total Number Of Songs Released
Let’s move on to the total number of songs released by each of the bands throughout their music careers.
The Beatles released an impressive 213 songs over the course of their decade-long music career. That’s a huge 21 songs per year, or one song every 17 days. No wonder they were exhausted by the end of the 60s!
On the other hand, The Beach Boys have produced a whopping 413 songs of their own. However, this is only equivalent to just under 7 songs per year, leaving them trailing behind The Beatles when it comes to work produced throughout their careers.
Next, we’ll look at how each of the bands performed in the charts, both in the UK and the USA.
The Beach Boys had 2 UK Number 1 hits, spending a total of 3 weeks at Number 1 in the UK. However, they are beaten by The Beatles who racked up an impressive 17 Number 1 hits, with their name spending a total of 65 weeks at Number 1. But was this success replicated in The Beach Boys’ home country of the USA?
When it comes to the Billboard Hot 100 charts, The Beach Boys secured 4 Number 1 hits, with 55 of their songs making it into the Hot 100. Despite the USA being their homeland, they were beaten by The Beatles who secured a huge 20 Number 1 singles, with a total of 71 songs reaching the Hot 100.
Unfortunately for The Beach Boys, they never saw the chart success that The Beatles enjoyed, despite their longer career span.
We’ve discussed how the bands performed in the charts, but how did they fare on stage?
The Beach Boys have performed a total of 4314 concerts over the past six decades, averaging an impressive 71 concerts for each year that they’ve been active. Reports indicate that The Beach Boys are currently in discussions about a 60th anniversary reunion tour, although this is yet to be officially confirmed.
In comparison, The Beatles performed an outstanding 1,400 concerts across the globe in the space of just four years, averaging 350 live performances each year – an impressive feat for any band. However, their live music career was relatively underrated, with their studio career far more successful. For this reason, The Beatles ended touring in 1966 to focus on their studio career.
Finally, let’s move onto the number of record sales that each of the bands have enjoyed over the course of the past six decades.
In 2016, The Beach Boys were reported to have sold over 100 million records across the globe, an incredible feat that many bands could only dream of achieving. But was this success beaten by The Beatles?
By 2016, The Beatles had sold almost 260 million records, making them the best-selling artist of all time. This puts The Beatles ahead of music legends such as Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson when it comes to record sales.
The Beatles vs The Beach Boys: Which Band Comes Out On Top?
Although The Beach Boys have enjoyed a far lengthier career than The Beatles, with over six times the number of years active, The Beatles will always be our winner when it comes to the battle of the bands.
Releasing an average of one single every 17 days whilst performing an average of 350 concerts per year, there’s no denying that The Beatles were a force to be reckoned with. And their name lives on – there aren’t many people alive today, young or old, that haven’t heard of The Beatles.
Their songs are played in houses, cars and restaurants across the world on a daily basis, with their tunes making up an important part of brass band repertoire. The Beatles have become a legend that will be around for many more years to come.
However, The Beatles wouldn’t have become what they did without the strong influence of The Beach Boys.
The Beatles And The Beach Boys: A Career Of Influence And Unlikely Friendship
With a similar style of music, The Beatles and The Beach Boys should have been natural rivals, albeit on opposite sides of the globe. However, the bands became unlikely friends and influenced each other’s music in many ways.
We’ll never know the full extent of that influence, but one thing is for certain: neither band would have become what they are today without the influence of the other.