The Best Beach Boys Songs of All Time : I have shared my Beach Boys story before but it bears repeating. Prior to the 90s, I was not a fan. Like many rock fans who started listening to music seriously in the mid-70s, the Beach Boys were a joke, an oldies band singing outdated surf-rock. Sure, in my time coming across best albums list, I did hear of Pet Sounds but never took time to explore.
Then in the early 90s, I was introduced to the joy and wonder of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys by my good friend, film maker Eric Khoo. He let me borrow his entire Beach Boys CD collection and what a time of discovery that was! I was never the same again!
So, of course, I now recognise the greatness of the Beach Boys and they have a deserved spot in my Best Bands of All Time list. So let’s get into what I consider, in my humble opinion, to be the Best Beach Boys Songs of All Time. Alphabetical order! Let’s go surfin’ now …
California Girls (Summer Days (and Summer Nights!), 1965)
A casual listener of this song might recall the admiring lyrics and the memorable chorus without appreciating the ornate introduction that would seem more appropriate in a chamber music recital. Brian Wilson’s arrangements and production is what distinguishes the song from the hits of that special era.
Darlin’ (Wild Honey, 1967)
May have gained a second wind after being prominently featured in a popular sitcom recently but for me personally, “Darlin’” encapsulates the dynamic vocal prowess of the late great Carl Wilson. The youngest Wilson brother came to the fore of the band, in the absence of Brian, with the latter’s psychological issues post-1967 and the debacle of Smile.
Don’t Worry, Baby (Shut Down Vol. 2, 1964)
Brian’s attempt to reproduce his favourite song – The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, produced by his hero, Phil Spector. Arguably, his effort is more than capable of equaling that of Spector’s masterpiece. Brian’s falsetto has never been higher and fuller with the lyrics expressing anxiety and comfort simultaneously.
Friends (Friends, 1968)
Like Wild Honey, the Friends album was recorded in a home-made lo-fi production style that was not quite appreciated at the time but considered ground-breaking now. The title track is a wondrously melodic waltz that showcases once more, the band’s gorgeous harmonies.
Fun, Fun, Fun (single, 1964)
When coining the term ‘power pop’, The Who’s Pete Townshend cited “Fun, Fun, Fun” as a prime example of what this nascent genre was all about. Propulsive rhythms, dense vocal harmonies and memorable tunes were the order of the day. The lyrics – banal as they were – captured the imagination of American youth at the time.
God Only Knows (Pet Sounds, 1966)
Pet Sounds was, of course, Brian’s crowning achievement, universally recognised as one of the best pop albums ever. In that context, “God Only Knows”, stands out even more as a stunning apex – with a descending chord progression that could single-handedly bring one to tears and yearning lyrics which broke from tradition by mentioning “God” – considered taboo at the time. A masterpiece!
Heroes and Villains (The Smile Sessions, 1967)
There are many versions of this song floating around. The track originally featured on Smiley Smile – the inferior album salvaged from the aborted Smile sessions – is fine but cannot compare to this – a Smile-era version released as a bonus track on the Beach Boys Smiley Smile/Wild Honey two-fer in 1990. This version can also be found on the retrospective Smile Sessions box set released in 2011.
Surfer Girl (Surfer Girl, 1963)
A heartfelt teenage ballad literally. Brian’s first composition, written when he was mere nineteen years old. As usual, the yearning is palpable, expressing Brian’s innate desire to be loved, even in the milieu of the surfer culture. “Surfer Girl” is also notable as being the first recording with Brian credited as producer.
Surf’s Up (Surf’s Up, 1971)
Another track from the aborted Smile sessions, this version was cobbled together by the band and put on the Surf’s Up album, about seven years after it was recorded. Consisting of two distinct parts, the first sung by Carl and the second featuring Brian on solo piano. Gorgeous.
The Little Girl I Once Knew (single, 1965)
It might surprise many to learn but this under-rated single is probably my favourite Beach Boys song. Ahead of its time, and tremendously uncommercial due to its ‘dead air’ pauses – anathema to radio play – the song is an amalgam of styles, with classical flourishes, doo wop backing vocals and a precursor to Brian’s ambitions to come in the sessions for Pet Sounds and Smile.
Well, as usual, comments are appreciated – even if sometimes less than civil but that’s the risk of internet and social media nowadays. No big deal. Let me know what you think of this Best Beach Boys songs list at the Power of Pop Facebook page. Thanks for reading!
By the way, I did a Beach Boys deep cuts list in 2015 as well. Check it out!
…. still there’s more …