• Image about Brian Wilson
Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

Fifty years after their debut album, the Beach Boys have embarked on a highly anticipated reunion tour. But as the group's surviving members attest, life for America's best band hasn't always been sunny.

I don’t want to talk about the Beach Boys anymore,” Brian Wilson says, barely five minutes into an interview. “I really don’t.”

The creative genius behind the Beach Boys should be giving off good vibrations about the band’s current 50th-anniversary reunion tour. But it’s hard to spread peace and love when you’re part of pop music’s most dysfunctional band. The Boys — who are all in their 60s and 70s now — have battled each other in courtrooms for years. But if they can bury the hatchet, the Beach Boys might rebuild their legacy as America’s greatest group and erase their image as an oldies act that just sings about having “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

That’s the only Beach Boys most people know. Dig deeper — past the catchy name and the early photos of clean-cut young men in matching striped shirts — and you’ll find pioneers who changed the way music sounds, who pushed the Beatles to make Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and who continue to inspire countless musicians today.

“You can’t underestimate how extraordinary those records are and how much they opened up a door of possibilities,” says Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, talking about mid-1960s songs like “Good Vibrations” and“God Only Knows.”

“They’re deceivingly simple,” says rocker Ben Kweller. “The weight and complexity of that music is amazing, but you don’t realize it until you sit down at the piano or guitar and try to play it. That’s why you don’t hear many Beach Boys covers — the songs are incredibly hard to play.”

“There’s a whole realm of casual listeners who will never understand the Beach Boys’ influence,” agrees Fountains of Wayne’s Chris Collingwood. “They don’t realize the connection between what’s on the radio now and what originated in Brian Wilson’s head.”

The first sound that electrified Wilson’s mind was the jazzy harmonies of the Four Freshmen. As a music-obsessed teenager growing up in the 1950s, Wilson wore out the grooves on his Freshmen LPs in his bedroom in Hawthorne, Calif., 15 miles south of Los Angeles.

“I figured out how to take the Four Freshmen to a higher level,” he says today. “Instead of just four-part harmonies, I’d come up with six- or seven-part harmonies.”