The band formed in their hometown - Hawthorne, Calif., an L.A. suburb - when Brian Wilson brought together his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love and their friend Al Jardine.
"Brian would sit at the piano and we would gather around the piano, even before we played instruments. And Brian would be picking out these notes from the ether, like from the Four Freshman catalogue," said Jardine. "And he'd have each one of our voices on his right hand. And he say 'Al, this is you. Carl, dadadadada.' He had it all figured out."
They would layer those Four Freshman harmonies over Chuck Berry guitar licks. It was Dennis Wilson, the only surfer in the group, who suggested a theme:
"Mike and I started writing surf songs, you know. But I never surfed, and he never surfed, either," said Wilson.
"Did you feel the need to surf for any reason?" Mason asked.
"No. I never tried it."
The Beach Boys' first album, "Surfin' Safari," was released in 1962. By the following summer, they were the hottest band in America.
And their manager, the Wilsons' father, Murray, drove them hard:
"Oh, he was a huge problem," said Love. "Emotionally, he was abusive - emotionally and physically to his kids, and he was unbearable at times. Brian and I actually fired him."
"That must have been a difficult choice, firing?"
"It was. I mean, 'cause he's your uncle, their father - Brian, Dennis and Carl's dad," said Love. "He would say to Brian that he didn't know what he was doing. Beg to differ!" he laughed.
Brian Wilson was the fragile heart of the Beach Boys. He says he pushed himself pretty hard in the studio: "Yeah, I drove myself. I wanted to be a perfectionist, so I wanted to try to make really good records."
Wilson once said, "I was so afraid of my Dad that something got inside of me," and "In my life, being scared is probably the most driving force that I had."
When asked what he meant by that, Wilson replied, "I don't know. I'd rather not talk about that subject."
In 1964, Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown, quit touring, and retreated to the studio, while the rest of the group stayed on the road.
Love says that wasn't the beginning of the division within the group, though: "No, the division, in my opinion, was drugs. There was myself and Bruce and Alan who didn't partake. And then the Wilsons and other people around them were into anything and everything. And that, I was very upset about, did not like it. So it was a them-and-us situation for a while."
How long? "Long enough,"" said Love. "Long enough to do some damage."
But a friendly rivalry with the Beatles was spurring Brian and the band to new heights. 1n 1965, "Rubber Soul" was released. Wilson said he was so inspired upon hearing the Beatles' album, he went straight to the piano and "started plunking out chords."
Out came "God Only Knows," which Paul McCartney would call the greatest song ever written. It was on the influential album, "Pet Sounds."