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Celebrating the Beach Boys' 50th year

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
From left to right: Dennis Wilson (1944 -1983), Al Jardine, Mike Love, Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson (1946 -1998) in a studio portrait circa 1962. From left to right: Dennis Wilson (1944 -1983), Al Jardine, Mike Love, Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson (1946 -1998) in a studio portrait circa 1962.
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Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
Beach Boys through the years
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Beach Boys concluding 50th anniversary year
  • Band's distinctive sound has permeated pop culture
  • Band has known its share of setbacks, but music is immortal

(CNN) -- In the beginning was the sun.

It was followed by the world and the surf, little birds and good vibrations, girls and cars and fun, fun, fun.

And to set it all to music? The Beach Boys.

On Tuesday, Capitol Records releases "Made in California," a Beach Boys boxed set that wraps up the legendary band's 50th anniversary year. The set includes all the hits, of course -- "Surfin' USA," "I Get Around," "Help Me Rhonda," "Good Vibrations," "Do It Again," ad glorious infinitum -- but also a variety of hidden gems, including tracks from the "Smile" sessions (which finally saw the light of day in late 2011), demos, alternate takes and even an essay Brian Wilson wrote in 1959.

The essay, incidentally, is called "My Philosophy." "The satisfaction of 'a place in the world' seems well worth a sincere effort to me," Wilson wrote at 17, suggesting that he wanted to make his place with music.

Little did he know that his philosophy -- let's call it a vision, really -- would influence popular culture, period.

The creative struggle of Brian Wilson

By crossing the rock 'n' roll of Chuck Berry with the tight harmonies of the Four Freshmen, adding an echo of Phil Spector and focusing on the sunny landscape of Southern California, the Beach Boys -- brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine -- invented a whole world.

Brian Wilson 'hopes you like his music'

It was a world that wasn't always good to them. The three Wilson brothers were haunted by the violence of their father, Murry. Love and Brian Wilson were at odds for many years. (They may be again, after the 50th-anniversary tour ended with some acrimony.) Dennis Wilson struggled with substance abuse and died in 1983. Brian, of course, has had his own very well-publicized demons.

But through it all has been the music, full of vulnerability ("The Warmth of the Sun," "In My Room," "Don't Worry Baby"), confidence ("I Get Around," "Do It Again"), grace ("God Only Knows," "Wonderful") and celebration ("This Whole World," "Surf's Up").

It's an instantly identifiable sound, even when done by others. All it takes is jangling guitars, a plinking piano and, oh, those heavenly harmonies.

"I've often felt that I was on a musical mission, to spread the gospel of love through records," Wilson once said.

We just have to listen.

Surf's up.

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