For decades, the Beach Boys have been synonymous with “endless summer” and the sound of Southern California. Their lush harmonies and lyrical odes to the beach, surfing, and fun are perennial favorites, but there are also Beach Boys songs that are really dark. Some of their tunes tackle everything from mortality and lost love to madness. But don't be embarrassed when you look over these Beach Boys songs you never realized are messed up – their catchy choruses hide a lot of weird and gross stuff.
On the surface, the Beach Boys were an all-American band. Hailing from Hawthorne, CA, the group consisted of the three Wilson brothers (Brian, Carl, and Dennis), cousin Mike Love, and neighbor Al Jardine. Together they recorded some of the most beloved albums in music history. Pet Sounds is the band at its peak; the album’s groundbreaking recording techniques even influenced The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
However, fame wasn’t always easy, and those challenges were often reflected in the band’s lyrics. From Brian’s breakdown and Dennis’s addiction issues to the emotional abuse the boys suffered under their cruel father/manager, Murry, the reality of the group's personal suffering was often laid bare. These secretly messed up Beach Boys songs reflect the darkness hidden under a golden veneer of sun and sand.
"She Knows Me Too Well" Is About Emotional Abuse
"She Knows Me Too Well" appears on the 1965 release Beach Boys Today! Penned by Mike Love and Brian Wilson, the somewhat disturbing lyrics offset the song's lush harmonies. The protagonist is the type of man your mother always warned you about – jealous, insecure and possibly dangerous. As he explores his abusive behavior toward his girlfriend throughout the song ("I get so jealous of the other guy / And then I’m not happy till I make her break down and cry"), he deludes himself with the notion that everything’s all right in the relationship because "she can tell I really love her."8028Is this dark?
"I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" Is An Ode To Alienation
If you’ve ever felt lonely and adrift in the world, Pet Sounds’ "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times” might be your jam. The introspective Brian Wilson/Tony Asher-penned lyrics take the point of view of an empathetic, yet alienated, protagonist who can’t find comfort in any crowd.
In 2011, Wilson said, “Either I'm too far ahead of my time' or 'I'm not up to my time'... [Now] I do feel I was made for these times."
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- Albums: Pet Sounds
- Composer: Brian Wilson
"A Day In The Life Of A Tree" Is About The Earth Dying Due To Pollution
"A Day In The Life Of A Tree," an ode to ecology from Surf's Up, seems whimsical at first. It's written from the perspective of a tree – but it's being choked to death by pollution. Manager Jack Rieley sang lead and co-wrote the track with Brian Wilson:
"Brian and I had been talking a lot about the sorry state of the planet back then. Forests were dying; the air had turned brown, the Earth's future was beginning to appear hazardous to health. When Brian first played the chords and sang the tentative melody for me, he asked what the song should be about, and I suggested a single tree as metaphor for the earth; that single tree as metaphor for more than ecology."7128Is this dark?
"A Young Man Is Gone" Is A Sad Tribute To James Dean
In the early days of rock n’ roll, "splatter platters" were all the rage. "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan and Dean, "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson, and “The Leader Of The Pack” by the Shangri-Las were tunes that spoke of teen tragedy in melodramatic fashion. Unlike most of these pop hits, however, “A Young Man Is Gone," featured on the Beach Boys' 1963 album Little Deuce Coupe, was rooted in reality. The song "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring," written by Bobby Troup, was a favorite of the band’s. They reworked the lyrics and released it as a homage to actor James Dean, who died in a car crash on September 30, 1955.5825Is this dark?