The Story of the Beach Boys’ First Professional Concert
Over time, the Beach Boys' sunny harmonies would become a sort of sadly ironic counterpoint to the band's turbulent history behind the scenes. But on Dec. 31, 1961, with their entire career stretched out before them, the group was paid to deliver that soul-stirring sound to a live audience for the very first time.
The concert, held in honor of the late Ritchie Valens at the Long Beach Auditorium, boasted a lineup that included headliners Ike and Tina Turner, and came just a few days after the Boys made a free appearance during Dick Dale's Dec. 23 show in Newport Beach. If it all sounds like a bit of a whirlwind, it was. In fact, the group had only recorded its first single, "Surfin,'" back in October and released in early December.
The result was a nerve-wracking experience for co-founder and chief songwriter Brian Wilson, whose struggles with stage fright would eventually lead to a long cessation from touring. It also wasn't lost on Wilson that the Beach Boys came from a musical and social background that was distinctly different from the evening's headliners – as well as many of the kids in the audience.
"We were asking each other what the hell we were doing there," Wilson told the Telegraph in 2005. "We were five clean-cut, unworldly white boys from a conservative white suburb in an auditorium full of black kids."
Band members were each paid $60 for their brief performance, according to Friends of the California Archives – not a bad sum for kids who were relatively unknown at the time and still in their teens to boot. Current Beach Boys leader Mike Love saw the show as an opportunity to strengthen his grip on the fame the band was working hard to achieve.
"I was so nervous. We only did three songs, and we were on the bill with maybe 10 acts," Love reflected in a separate 2005 interview. "The Ikettes had a song called 'I'm Blue (The Gong-Gong Song).' We were in awe of them, because they had such a great groove and we were so green and new to live performance. But I actually made a decision after that show that I wasn't going to get nervous anymore because that would just hurt me. And that's been my philosophy ever since that first concert."
It wouldn't be long before the group had bigger crowds to play for: The Beach Boys scored their first national hit the following year with the title cut from their debut Surfin' Safari, which broke the Top 40 in the fall of 1962. And in 1963, with the No. 3 hit "Surfin' U.S.A.," they started a four-year string of 18 Top 40 singles that still dominates the Beach Boys' live set list today.
"It's fantastic to be able to go out onstage and do songs that were recorded 45 years ago and have people sing along to them," Love said in a 2008 interview with Mojo. "If you listen to oldies radio in the U.S., the Beatles and the Beach Boys and Motown are the three most performed musical genres of anybody who recorded during the '50s and '60s and '70s. If you look at the music and what it's meant to hundreds of millions of people over 45 years, that's the big story."