We’re reaching the top of my Top 50 Beach Boys Songs countdown, so it’s pretty much genius pop music all the way, with this section featuring some of their most enduring 60s classics.
20 – Fun, Fun, Fun
One of the songs always guaranteed to get fans on their feet in the encore at Brian Wilson or Beach Boys Band gigs, the Chuck Berry style guitar lick at the start kicks off a track that more than lives up to its name. Fun, Fun, Fun is pretty much a quintessential Beach Boys song, making you smile and feel nostalgic for a more innocent age.
19 – Sail On, Sailor
One of the most enduringly popular songs from the mid-70s era, Blondie Chaplin’s big moment in the sun still gets used in films by directors like Martin Scorsese and it’s a classic. Added to Holland at the request of a record company demanding a hit, it was written by many different people (though largely advertised as a Brian song) and producer Carl had the foresight to recognise that Blondie sang it best after a few other attempts at lead vocals.
18 – All Summer Long
In my opinion the greatest summer song ever recorded and the soundtrack to every lovely sunny day, in my head at least. In the mid-60s, Brian Wilson was writing and producing pop music at a level most normal musicians couldn’t even get close to, and at an astonishing (with the benefit of hindsight, damaging) rate. This is an almost perfect example of a pop song.
17 – I Can Hear Music
Carl Wilson had been the baby of the band when they’d started out, but by the late 60s/early 70s, with Brian fading fast, he started to step up to the plate as a songwriter and producer, having already established himself in the previous few years as the best singer in the band. This cover of I Can Hear Music provided yet more evidence for that, but also showed that he could produce Wall Of Sound-esque songs just as well as his brother.
16 – Surfin’ USA
A huge song that completed the Beach Boys’ transition from local favourites to international superstars and helped make wannabe-surfers out of people from every country in the world. Sure it totally rips off Chuck Berry’s Sweet Sixteen and only really adds a list of beaches to it, but just put this song on at a party and watch how many people start pretending to surf.
15 – Darlin’
A scorching rocker by Brian and Mike, this is one that had existed in a few forms before eventually being rewritten as Darlin’ and was almost given away before the rest of the band convinced Brian that they should keep it. Good plan. With storming vocals by Carl, it’s one of the best songs to come from the years immediately following Brian’s breakdown and shows that he was still very able to produce top quality stuff.
14 – Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
The sweetest love song Brian Wilson ever wrote (with the help of Tony Asher’s lyrics). Even the title is lovely. Don’t Talk is one of the few Beach Boys songs where there aren’t any backing vocals, and Brian is the only member of the band to appear on it, but its production is so lush and beautiful that you don’t even notice, while his vocal performance is heartbreakingly perfect. “Listen to my heart… beat” may be my favourite moment of any song.
13 – Wouldn’t It Be Nice
The opening track from Pet Sounds and the first few seconds introduce the album perfectly. Amazing production, wistful lyrics and harmonic vocals showcase everything that the album has to offer all in one neat package. And even though the lyrics are yearning for something seemingly just out of reach, it’s still a remarkably happy song, like dreaming of these things is almost as good as having them.
12 – I Get Around
One of those quintessential 60s Beach Boys classics, I Get Around has lyrics that makes them sound like some mildly threatening teen gang rather than a bunch of clean-cut boys who mostly weren’t even thrill-seeking enough to surf. But a lot of their songs from this era were about evoking a mythical image of California and this does it really well, helped by some of the best usage of backing vocals in their entire catalogue (which is saying a lot).
11 – Don’t Worry Baby
I’ve pointed out a few key turning points in the development of the band and their songs, but this is another one. In essence, Don’t Worry Baby is another car song, written by Brian with local radio personality and car freak Roger Christian. However, lyrically and musically it’s a world away from the others, with the protagonist drawn into a dangerous race with a rival and drawing comfort and solace from his girl. It’s a beautiful and sensitive song with great vocals and will always be one of my favourites.
I've been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys and their upcoming new album and world tour by listing my top 50 songs. Here's part three, a mix of sweet little gems, tracks from SMiLE and their first (but certainly not last) dip into the world of nostalgia.