In early 1964, there could hardly have been an American teenager ignorant of the Beach Boys. Singing in immaculate harmonies about surfing, hot rods, girls, and root beer — as well as various combinations and permutations thereof — they soon found themselves riding an unprecedentedly high wave, so to speak, of postwar teen culture. On the other side of the pond, the Beatles had been hard at work playing to demographically similar, also-enraptured audiences. In February of 1964 the Fab Four arrived in America, and their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show alone put them on at least an equal footing there with the Beach Boys.
“The next opportunity for your average American Beatlemaniac to see the Beatles perform would have been at the movie theater watching the Beatles’ Washington D.C. concert at the Coliseum on a closed circuit broadcast on March 14 or 15, 1964,” says the blog Meet the Beatles for Real. “This was the first time in history that the closed-circuit was used for a concert. Previously, it had only been used to show boxing matches.”
The direct-to-theaters broadcast also included shorter opening acts Lesley Gore and the Beach Boys, the latter of whose performance was thought lost until its rediscovery in 1998. In the video above, you can see its entire 22 minutes at an audiovisual quality well exceeding most concert films of its era.
Beginning with “Fun, Fun, Fun,” the Beach Boys play a variety of early numbers that would turn out to rank among their most beloved songs, also including “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” and “Shut Down.” (“Long Tall Texan” would only be properly recorded 32 years later, with the late country singer Doug Supernaw.) The set even features “In My Room,” whose melancholic break from the surfing-cars-girls spectrum offered a sign of things to come from the group’s musical mastermind Brian Wilson. Unsuited to the stress of stardom, he would recuse himself from live performance the following year. This show thus marks the onstage zenith of the Beach Boys’ classic lineup of the Wilson brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis with Al Jardine and Mike Love. But as makers of classic albums — and classic albums pushed to heights of ambition by competition with the Beatles — they’d only just begun.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.