On the surface of their earliest hits, there is little to suggest that the Beach Boys' destiny would prove more than a one-hit wonder stretched over the lifeline of a fad. Surf music had deeper roots than the hula hoop or the twist, but there was still the same sense of novelty when it emerged from Southern California to make its mark on the national charts. The sound was reverbed guitar, tribal drums, catchy chants about the pleasures of seaside recreation and simple melodies garnished, in the Beach Boys' case, by Chuck Berry licks and harmonies influenced by Brian Wilson's love of the Four Freshmen along with other early white vocal groups (the Four Preps "26 Miles" comes to my mind as a precursor of the Pacific's allure).
Composed of three brothers (Carl, Dennis and Brian), a cousin (Mike Love), and a school friend, Al Jardine (who left the group for school and was replaced by David Marks during these early albums), the group coalesced around the Wilson family piano in 1961, and found a raison d'etre in the burgeoning surf scene that Dennis frequented. As the Pendletons, they cut "Surfin'" in October of 1961; when it was picked up by Candix Records, they found their name changed to the Beach Boys. The record made a splash (!) locally and even touched the lower edge of the national charts. Capitol capitalized on their renown, signing the band at the urging of their father Murray who had assumed managerial duties, and by mid-1962, the Boys had cracked the Top 20 with "Surfin' Safari" / 409" quickly followed by "Surfin' USA / Shut Down," which made it all the way to No. 2.
The albums surrounding these hits, combined here in a two-fer, are understandably hurried and patchy affairs, with the well-produced hits gathered amid surf instrumentals ("Misirlou," "Let's Go Trippin'") and peculiar explorations outside their genre ("Ten Little Indians"), along with the first intimations of Brian facing the ocean's existential depths in "Lonely Surfer."