The fact only one of the Beach Boys surfed didn’t stop them from becoming the quintessential surf band of the 1960s. Whereas the Beatles and the Rolling Stones spent the later years of the decade exploring progressively darker material, the Beach Boys never abandoned their original MO (apart from on a couple of minor songs, but everyone’s allowed the odd mistake). This was a group that didn’t just embody the California Sound, but that pioneered it. If a song didn’t include at least one reference to cars, surf, and girls, it didn’t get on the album. It was teenage and it was a tiny bit trivial, but it was glorious. It didn’t last. By the 1970s, the Beach Boys were over in all but name. They carried on releasing records, but with ever-diminishing returns. But a bad end doesn’t devalue a beautiful beginning. Get ready for some good vibrations as we count down the 10 best Beach Boys songs of all time.
10. Barbara Ann
Barbara Ann isn’t big and it’s not particularly clever. It doesn’t matter anyway. A cute little ditty about a girl named Barbara Ann who likes to take you by the hand and set you rockin’ and a-rollin,’ it’s a simple pleasure that’s designed to do nothing more and nothing less than give you a couple of minutes of easy listening.
9. All Summer Long
Before drugs and drink had their wicked way with the Beach Boys, they were simple guys with simple tastes. They wanted nothing more than “t-shirts, cutoffs and a pair of thongs.” The perfect day involved sun, surf, and possibly a girl. Nothing more, nothing less. “All Summer Long” captures that moment in time. A bittersweet note may creep in at the end when they realize that “won’t be long till summertime is through,” but while it still lasted, it was glorious.
8. Surfin’ USA
As coed.com rightly notes, “Surfin’ USA” is probably the best known Beach Boys song. And for very good reason. At a time when teenagers when starting to wear black, read Nietzsche, and worry about what was blowing in the wind, “Surfin’ USA” represented a very different set of values and a very different lifestyle. The worst thing in life was missing the perfect wave and there was nothing that couldn’t be put right with some sun and some sand. It’s heady stuff.
By the 1970s, the band was on the cusp of turning from the teenage dream into the middle-aged nightmare. But before they got remarketed, relabeled, and cast out to dry as an oldies band, they had a few more tricks to play. “Forever” is one of them. Showing just how far he’d come since the band’s earliest days, Dennis Wilson stepped up to the plate and delivered one of the most innovative tracks the band had ever made. As faroutmagazine.co.uk, says, “Forever” makes it clear that the middle Wilson brother had found his voice, and it was as poised as we all expected.
6. California Girls
“California Girls” is a simple, tasty piece of pop candy that delivers exactly what you want from the Beach Boys – sun, surf, and girls. Lyrically, it’s not very much more than a salute to the feminine attractions of the boys’ home state. Musically, it’s something else, with enough sophistication and enough precision to deserve an awful lot better than the Beatles’ dire parody “Back in the U.S.S.R.” gave it.
5. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is an iconic opener to an iconic album. The band would never better “Pet Sounds” – while “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” isn’t necessarily its best song, that says more about the other songs than it does about it. The intimacy of the lyrics, which center around a young couple too young to get married but old enough to dream, is perfectly counterbalanced by the sunshine quality of the melody. The only tragedy of the single was the fact that when you flipped it over, you got “God Only Knows” and quickly forgot all about it.
4. Don’t Worry Baby
If you’re looking for the perfect pop song, look no further than “Don’t Worry Baby.” A homage to the boppy sounds of early 60’s girl groups, “Don’t Worry Baby” is a tender little ballad with a simplicity and purity that doesn’t just pay tribute to the splendor of the Ronettes “Be My Baby,” but comes as close as any song ever has to matching it.
3. I Get Around
Whatever else the Beach Boys sometimes were on their albums, they were always fun. Considering one of their members was a manic depressive and another was an (admittedly short-lived and ultimately hostile) acquaintance of Charles Manson, ‘fun’ wasn’t necessarily something that came easy to them. But whatever was happening in their personal lives, it didn’t interfere with the music. “I Get Around” is a little wonder. Filled with sunshine and surf, it’s the ultimate West Coast anthem. Gorgeously simple and completely free of the preaching and proselytizing that was happening elsewhere on the music scene at the time, it’s fun. Pure, simple, fun. And there’s nothing more glorious than that.
2. Good Vibrations
According to Wikipedia, “Good Vibrations” was the most expensive single ever recorded at the time of its release. It was money well spent. A chart-topper in both the UK and US, its complexity, structure, balance, and sheer elegance makes it one of the most important songs in the Beach Boys’ cannon, and one of the finest of the entire era.
1. God Only Knows
In any league table of greatness, there can only be one winner. And the winner here was always going to be, can only be, and shall ever be “God Only Knows.” This isn’t simply a good song. It’s not even just a great song. Rather, it’s quite possibly “the greatest song ever written.” Paul McCartney said so, and if ever there was a man who knows a thing or two about great songs, it’s him. A masterpiece of emotion, rhythm, and lyrical intricacy, “God Only Knows” is Brian Wilson’s masterpiece. His pursuit of perfection may have ultimately led to the band unraveling (and him too), but it also gave us one of the most heavenly pieces of pop ever created. If you only have time for one Beach Boys song on your playlist, make it this.