Regardless of what the current makeup of The Beach Boys looks like, there's no denying the music of the legendary band will continue to be enjoyed and beloved by generations of fans. Here's a look at 25 of the best songs from the greatest acts in music history.
Listed in chronological order.
The Beach Boys released their debut album Surfin' Safari in October 1962, but the title track and album opener was released in June of the same year. With "409" as its B-side, "Surfin' Safari" peaked at No. 14 on Billboard's Hot 100. Of the early surf-themed songs from the band, "Surfin Safari," perhaps more than any other tune of its type, encapsulated the surf culture of the time -- in a more mainstream and pop-tinged way.
"Surfin' U.S.A." just might be the most recognizable song in the vast The Beach Boys' catalog. It's Brian Wilson's rewrite of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen," and an overall celebration and homage to the California surf scene, specifically. The iconic song, which hit No. 3 on the Hot 100, has enjoyed a tremendous shelf, used in the movies, television, and commercials. Though, we're partial to its use the Michael J. Fox hit Teen Wolf, from 1985.
The surfer theme continues. The thing is, pop music fans of the early 1960s didn't seem to care that The Beach Boys were obsessed with this type of social lifestyle. Released in July '63, "Surfer Girl," which was eventually part of the album of the same name that came out later in the year, made it up to No. 7 on the Hot 100. Depending on who is doing the talking, "Surfer Girl" was one of the earliest songs, if not the first, that Brian Wilson composed. Regardless of the timeline, it remains a pop-rock classic.
The B-side to "Surfer Girl," "Little Deuce Coupe" found itself in the top 15 of Billboard's Hot 100. That just showed home popular the band was -- and continued to become in the United States. At the time, and over the decades that followed, the song has been praised for the composition of its "shuffle" rhythm. Something that was considered progressive in pop-rock at the time, and, perhaps, a hint of what was to come from The Beach Boys.
Reportedly an ode to the Wilson brothers' Hawthorne High School, in Hawthorne, Calif. The song, which includes the melody of said school's fight song which also happens to be the same as "On Wisconsin," from the University of Wisconsin. Complete with cheerleader chants, "Be True to Your School" reached No. 6 on the Hot 100, though as we are about to see, would be overshadowed by its stellar B-side.
So, here we are. The B-side to "Be True to Your School." Though that song actually charted better in the U.S., "In My Room" has been long been considered one of the key moments in The Beach Boys' legacy. It was also a moment of maturation for Wilson (and his infamous haven), who co-wrote the piece with frequent collaborator Gary Usher when it came to songwriting. In a sense that he took it more seriously, and had the confidence to think outside the box.
Like the title suggests, this is a fun, fun, fun song. The girl goes speeding off with her dad's "T-bird" and the fun ensues. Of course, not for the girl, in the end. While The Beach Boys started to become a bit more progressive with their sound, this Brian Wilson-Mike Love-penned tune is still a light, pop hit that had the energy of some of the band's earlier surf classics. "Fun, Fun, Fun" hit No. 5 on the Hot 100
"I Get Around" has the distinction of being the first tune from The Beach Boys to hit No. 1 in the U.S. Known for Brian Wilson's falsetto vocal work and some overall stellar harmonization, "I Get Around" is another iconic pop song, if there ever was one. And, a track that would cause some distress in the relationship between Wilson and vocalist Mike Love, who successfully sued his bandmate in 1994 to receive a co-writing credit on the single.
Serving as the B-side to "I Get Around" essentially invited success alone. However, "Don't Worry Baby" has the pop ballad muscle to hold its own among the band's legendary catalog of music. Another fine falsetto performance from Wilson, who sings lead on the track that was a top-25 hit for The Beach Boys. It's also been included on various greatest-songs-of-all-time lists, most notably by Rolling Stone.
According to I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir, this is the first song that Wilson apparently wrote under the influence of marijuana. Maybe that's why there is some paranoia to the track, which deals with a man's jealousy and lack of general self-confidence. Perhaps one of the darker, yet most honest, tracks from the band, "She Knows Me Too Well" is one of the better gems hidden among its more popular fare.
One of the more musically and structurally complex songs in The Beach Boys arsenal. This B-side to "She Knows Me Too Well" is known for its numerous key changes and metric modulation. All that in a little more than two minutes. The Beach Boys, or more specifically Brian Wilson, was digging deep inside for material for some time by that point. In this case, fast-forwarding to what he might be like well into adulthood. In the end, it was a top-10 hit for the group.
For a second consecutive calendar year, The Beach Boys earned a second No. 1 hit, this time with "Help Me, Rhonda." Another standout from Brian Wilson-Mike Love, however, with Al Jardine singing lead. In terms of "Help Me, Rhonda's" place in the lore of the band, it's a track that could have fit right in during the early 60s. This is somewhat significant since the group was about to put out one of the most unorthodox, yet influential, albums of the time -- and music history, for that matter.
We've thrown the word "iconic" around quite a bit when talking about the music of The Beach Days. "California Girls" just might be the most notable piece of iconography (reaching No. 3 on the Hot 100) within the band's Hall-of-Fame catalog. The Boys' wished every good-looking girl from around the world could hail from California. So did former Van Halen frontman, David Lee Roth, on his 1984 cover version. Truly a timeless classic.
The Beach Boys recorded several covers over the years. Each earning various degrees of success. No doubt, "Barbara Ann" is one of the band's best in that class. Though the Fred Fassert-written tune was a hit for the Regents in 1961 (No. 13 on Hot 100), The Beach Boys' version made it all the way up to No. 2. Dean Torrence, of Jan and Dean fame, shares vocals with Brian Wilson on the popular track.
The innovative and highly progressive Pet Sounds from 1996, is regularly considered one of the most influential albums ever recorded. Due to its high-quality production and complex and personal lyrical content. It's also been boasted as a Brian Wilson solo project since he essentially departed the band and secluded himself to compose the record, that was credited to The Beach Boys. The dreamy "Caroline, No" is the album's opening track, but was released as Wilson's solo debut in March 1966.
"The John B. Sails" is a popular Bahamian folk song from the early 1900s. Brian Wilson, with persuasion and help from bandmate Al Jardine, adapted it into the stellar "Sloop John B." With its own neo-folk, progressive vibe, "Sloop John B" fits in well on the highly innovated Pet Sounds album. The track is closing number on Side One and made it all the way to No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100 as the album's first officially released single.
Another classic from The Beach Boys off Pet Sounds. "Wouldn't It Be Nice" has been dubbed one of the first examples of "progressive pop." Hailed for its sophisticated arrangement, this track offers upbeat tempo and pace combined with rather melancholy lyrics -- about a young couple dreaming of an uninhibited, romantic adult relationship. The song reached No. 8 on the Hot 100 and is widely considered one of the great songs of the 1960s.
Critics and fans of The Beach Boys, alike, will claim this is the band's finest musical moment. The B-side to "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "God Only Knows" barely cracked Billboard's Top 40, yet its multiple vocal parts and innovative harmonies were like nothing really heard at the time. With Carl Wilson on lead vocals, the lyrics question how God would allow the main's character to go through life without a significant love interest. Invoking God, especially in the title, was something hardly ever seen in mainstream music in the 1960s. Roughly 20 session musicians playing various different instruments, were called upon to take part in the recording.
Hold the phone. We just said "God Only Knows" might be the defining moment of The Beach Boys' legacy. What about "Good Vibrations?" Following an arduous and expensive recording process, the song was nothing like the band had produced before, and certainly built off the innovation of Pet Sounds. It fit the budding psychedelic music scene of the mid-to-late 1960s. A 3 1/2-minute art-rock, acid trip that that had a major influence on rock giants like Queen and the Beatles. This classic hit number one in the U.S., United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Spain.
Much like "Good Vibrations," the process of recording "Heroes and Villains" was a grind. Particularly from Brian Wilson, whose obvious-compulsive nature, when it came to the overall process of writing, composing, and ultimately recording his music, was reaching legendary status. "Heroes and Villains" was The Beach Boys' take on a musical Western of sorts. And, did relatively well, making it to No. 12 on the Hot 100. For the casual fans of the band, it might not be a household hit but has a special place within its legacy.
"Do It Again" was a single that never made on an album. This was an homage to those early surf days of the band. Presumably, when they were innocent and eager. Still, it's a track worthy of inclusion on a list of classics. "Do It Again" reached No. 20 on Billboard's Hot 100. Over the years, the song has been re-recorded by Wilson and Love, separately, and reportedly was a serious influence on artists such as Neil Sedaka and Eric Carmen.
As a new decade dawned, a somewhat new sound was coming from The Beach Boys. There are some critics who have stated that "All I Wanna Do" was one of the first examples of alternative rock. The track featured the use of layering, reverb, and distortion that became a staple for late 1970s-early '80s acts like Sonic Youth. Carl Wilson produced the cut, while also playing 12-string guitar and electric sitar on the piece.
"Surf's Up" is one of the few popular tunes from the band that was not a hit out of the gate. Or years, for that matter. However, when Brian Wilson re-recorded it and added a string section in 2004 for his solo album Smile (which was originally intended to be a Beach Boys record), it picked up a second wind. Wilson's solo version was a critical success but also opened the door for a new generation of fans to discover The Beach Boys.
This might be the darkest track in The Beach Boys' catalog. Brian Wilson was in a bad place at the time. According to The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studio, Wilson threatened to kill himself and reportedly told his gardener to dig a grave in the backyard. However, Wilson turned his despair and obsession with death into music. "Til I Die" made it into the Hot 100, but should not be forgotten.
OK, "Kokomo" is as schlocky as soundtrack (Cocktail) songs come, but this is a definitive list. Therefore, it has a home here since it was a No. 1 single and nominated for a Grammy. Mike Love was the only Beach Boy in on the writing, along with John Phillips, of the Mamas and Pappas fame, and fellow '60s songster Scott McKenzie. It's not really the band selling out, but just a legendary act looking for a little more relevancy in what we thought was its golden years.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.