The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys in 1966 during the Pet Sounds cover photoshoot. From left to right:
Carl Wilson (lead guitar), Brian Wilson (bass), Dennis Wilson (drums), Al Jardine (rhythm guitar), Mike Love (vocals)

I've been listening to The Beach Boys perhaps longer than any other group on this page, because I remember quite well listening to them often in my dad's car growing up. Of course, at the time I didn't fully appreciate all that they had to offer. I liked them because they had songs like Fun, Fun, Fun and they were the catchiest things I'd ever heard! Even though there was more to them, I didn't realize that until I gave Pet Sounds a listen in college and discovered what a wonderfully imaginative band they were. But it's just as easy to enjoy them on a much simpler level just as easily. Dance, Dance, Dance is not only a great danceable tune, but the arrangement (both vocals and instruments) is fantastic as well. That's really what makes them such a great listen.

Just like with their rivals from across the pond, The Beatles, The Beach Boys gradually evolved from simplistic pop to something far more engaging. And it was very gradual; starting with the minimal surf pop on their first record, Surfin' Safari, the band slowly evolved into what would eventually become their highest achievement, the Pet Sounds album and the Good Vibrations single. Had Brian been able to continue on, no doubt the Beach Boys would've been able to climb ever higher, with Brian's infamous SMiLE project that only resurfaced in 2004. But fate was not kind to the group, and their history is marred with all sorts of shenanigans. No need to go into that here. Anyway, of course the band did still continue on after Pet Sounds, but without Brian for the most part. And what's a Beach Boys without Brian?

The Beach Boys provided some of the best vocal harmonies I've ever heard, but let's face it: it was all carefully supervised by Brian, the brains behind their success in their heyday. He was the one creatively pushing the band in new directions, ridding themselves of their surf pop label. The elaborate arrangements on the later albums are in a league of their own, reaching a peak yet to be seen elsewhere in Pet Sounds. After just a few albums, it became clear that using session musicians in the studio was necessary to adequately perform the complex parts. So after just a few albums, the band was transformed from a self-contained rock 'n' roll group to Brian, songwriter, singer and producer, his four vocalists, and a squad of studio musicians. Occasionally, the original Beach Boys would appear on a song, such as Girl Don't Tell Me, but nearly everything was performed by studio musicians other than vocals by the time 1964 rolled around. Of the original members, perhaps Carl Wilson is the only one with much noteworthy instrumental ability: his surf style guitar solos in the early days were often quite exciting and effective.

Due to an abundant amount of pressure from Capitol, the band's record label, Brian was always having to churn out new music. This meant, alongside works of near genius, Brian also had to let some songs that weren't quite as strong onto the albums to make sure there was enough material. The unfortunate reality is that finding a really strong Beach Boys album before Pet Sounds is very difficult; some fare better than others, but most of the time you're bound to find masterpieces like Don't Worry Baby next to tripe like In the Parkin' Lot. Not to mention the plethora of pure filler tracks like Our Favorite Recording Sessions, or the fact that the Surfin' U.S.A. album has 5 (five!!) instrumental tracks. From a vocal group! It was not the best circumstances for Brian to work under. Nonetheless, Brian did coordinate so that all of his best ideas made it onto one album, then when the label wanted another album a week later or so, he could dump a bunch of his lesser tracks onto it. See the amazing Today! album versus, say, Party!.

Anyway, blah blah blah, somehow if you've managed to never hear one of the biggest groups from the 60s, then I suggest you listen to this group if you like any of the following: immaculate vocal harmonies, unique song arrangements, or catchy melodies. Because they're perhaps the peak of all of them.

Surfin' Safari
Rating: 1
Release date: 10/29/62
Favorite song: Surfin' Safari
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Surfin' Safari4Brian/Mike
County Fair1Brian/Gary Usher
Ten Little Indians1Brian/Gary Usher
Chug-A-Lug3Brian/Mike/Gary Usher
Little Girl (You're my Miss America)1Catalano/Alpert
4093Brian/Mike/Gary Usher
Heads You Win-Tails I Lose2Brian/Gary Usher
Summertime Blues2Cochran/Capeheart
Cuckoo Clock1Brian/Gary Usher
Moon Dawg1Weaver
The Shift1Brian/Mike
This is... not an easy listen. Please Please Me is a masterpiece next to this one. There's hardly anything worth really listening to on here, and most of it sounds really similar. Dennis has about one drum beat he uses for every song, Brian's got the "walking bass" line in every song, and Mike does almost all the lead vocals. And let's face it, it's missing the most important ingredient of all: Brian's falsetto! Not to be found at all on this album, how disappointing. There's not much good to say about this album; the cover of Summertime Blues is kinda cute, as is the ridiculously childish Surfin' which sounds primitive compared even to the other songs on here. There are a few highlights though. Surfin' Safari is certainly primitive, but it is genuinely catchy and you can hear the blueprint for future Beach Boys songs in that chorus, which must've been especially cool if you were hearing this for the first time in 1962. Great rockin' solo from Carl too, who was what, 14 at the time of this album? Maybe 16, either way he was young. 409 is another catchy number, as is Chug-A-Lug, a great song celebrating all the wonders of root beer. Anyway, you'll probably rarely listen to this thing, but it's interesting to hear some of Brian's first compositions. Just think, in a few years he'd be composing Good Vibrations.

Surfin' U.S.A.
Rating: 2
Release date: 3/25/63
Favorite song: Shut Down
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Surfin' U.S.A.4Brian/Berry
Farmer's Daughter3Brian/Mike Love
Lonely Sea4Brian/Gary Usher
Shut Down4Brian/Roger Christian
Noble Surfer2Brian/Mike
Honky Tonk1Doggett/Scott/Butler/Sheper/Glover
Surf Jam1Carl
Let's go Trippin'1Dale
Finders Keepers2Brian/Mike
An improvement! The quality of the songs has generally gone up, though there seems to be an accumulation of crap in the latter half of the album. The biggest problem is that this album has frickin' five instrumentals on it, and let's face it, these early surf rock instrumentals just aren't that interesting. Basically just an excuse for Carl to show off his guitar skills which, given his age and the time period, are actually pretty impressive. But boring, after one or two instrumentals. But this album has some definite highlights too: the title track, of course, which finally gets us that classic Beach Boys vocal sound. And listen to that exciting drum fill in the beginning, and how the song really gets going! Sure, it's a Chuck Berry rip-off, but the Boys made it far more exciting that Berry's boring original. Shut Down I find even catchier though; it's just as exciting, and that great guitar solo set against the sax is brilliant! Especially right after the "gotta be cool now, power shift here we go~". Really captures the excitement of the race, I think. We also get the early ballads. Lonely Sea is very sparse and quiet, but enjoyable. Farmer's Daughter is usually highly acclaimed for being Brian's first falsetto lead, but I find it to be a bit plain. Anyway, still not a great album by any means, but Brian is really starting to find his feet as a songwriter here.

Surfer Girl
Rating: 3
Release date: 9/23/63
Favorite song: In my Room
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Surfer Girl5Brian
Catch a Wave4Brian/Mike
The Surfer Moon3Brian
South Bay Surfer1Brian/Carl/Al
The Rocking Surfer2Trad. arranged by Brian
Little Deuce Coupe5Brian/Roger Christian
In my Room6Brian/Gary Usher
Surfers Rule4Brian/Mike
Our Car Club4Brian/Mike
Your Summer Dream5Brian/Bob Norberg
Boogie Woodie2Trad. arranged by Brian
Here we are! The first Beach Boys album that, for the most part, is listenable all the way through. OK, so South Bay Surfer is crap, a completely boring track. The two (yes, thank goodness, only two this time) instrumentals aren't exactly inspired but they are more interesting than just about anything from the previous two albums. And finally, here's the big one: the big song is a ballad! Finally Brian starts rolling out the Beach Boys ballads, and even these first few are excellent. The title track is simple and pretty, but it's outdone by In my Room, a song that has a similar sound but a much better vocal arrangement (just dig how another voice sings along every line during the intro; brilliant), a stronger melody, and a deeper lyric. These are the big ballads; there's two more, The Surfer Moon which features a harp but is otherwise pretty standard, and Your Summer Dream which I actually rather like. No soaring falsetto, just Brian singing a solid melody over the usual instrumentation from these days. The non-ballads are all fine too: some great pop songs in Catch a Wave, Little Deuce Coupe, and my favorite of the bunch Hawaii, which has the catchiest opening I've ever heard. One thing to note is that the band is moving away from surf rock and into surf pop. First of all, there's four ballads, fewer instrumentals based entirely on Carl's lead guitar, and in fact most of the songs don't even feature much lead guitar. The change did them good; this is a strong Beach Boys album, with a few weak spots but also some real classic songs. The progress from Surfin' Safari less than a year ago(!) is amazing.

Little Deuce Coupe
Rating: 3
Release date: 10/21/63
Favorite song: Car Crazy Cutie
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Little Deuce Coupe5Brian/Roger Christian
Ballad of Ole' Betsy3Brian/Roger Christian
Be True to Your School5Brian/Mike
Car Crazy Cutie5Brian/Roger Christian
Cherry, Cherry Coupe5Brian/Roger Christian
4093Brian/Mike/Gary Usher
Shut Down4Brian/Roger Christian
Spirit of America1Brian/Roger Christian
Our Car Club4Brian/Mike
No-Go Showboat4Brian/Roger Christian
A Young Man is Gone2Bobby Troup/Mike
Custom Machine2Brian/Rich Alarian
Check the dates. Yeah, this was released a mere month after Surfer Girl; how ridiculous is that? Half of this album is culled from previous albums, you might notice; even 409 is shamelessly scooped up off of the ancient Surfin' Safari. Unsurprisingly, most of the new material is pretty subpar since Brian was in a bit of rush, but there is some great new stuff here. My favorite is oddly Car Crazy Cutie, I guess I just love the Boys' one foray into the "ron, a-ron, a doo ron ron" style background vocal. The other good new ones are right around it: Be True to Your School is easily the most famous new song but unfortunately laden with stupid lyrics, and Cherry, Cherry Coupe which has an addictive chorus if there ever was one. No-Go Showboat is another catchy pop song towards the end. You'll notice though, none of these new songs get particularly creative middle eights, which is a shame. Unfortunately, after all the great ballads on Surfer Girl, none of the ballads here are much good. Spirit of America is just plain boring, dragging on for two and a half minutes, and Ballad of Ole' Betsy is slightly better but it's hard to get into the stupid lyrics. I'm just not that moved by the fact his car is getting old, I'm sorry. Most of the upbeat songs are good, but that's because by this point Brian had that stuff down. He could've written ten albums like this throughout the year. Thankfully, he kept pushing himself more and more, just wait for the next album...

Shut Down Volume 2
Rating: 2
Release date: 3/23/64
Favorite song: Don't Worry Baby
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Fun, Fun, Fun5Brian/Mike
Don't Worry Baby6Brian/Roger Christian
In the Parkin' Lot3Brian/Roger Christian
"Cassius" Love vs. "Sonny" Wilson0Mike/Brian
The Warmth of the Sun5Brian/Mike
This Car of Mine1Brian/Mike
Why do Fools Fall in Love5Lymon/Levy
Pom Pom Play Girl2Brian/Gary Usher
Keep an Eye on Summer4Brian/Bob Norman
Shut Down, Part II2Carl
Louie Louie1Richard Berry
Denny's Drums1Dennis
Then just a few months later the Boys come out with yet another album. And you wonder why the ratings are slipping; the amount of material Brian was constantly producing was ridiculous. But of course, there are still a few gems, namely Don't Worry Baby, which may be the very best song ever written. Seriously, even though it's simple compared to the ballads to come, I think perhaps Brian never topped this one. Absolute perfection; a gorgeous falsetto performance, simple but effective instrumentation (the bass is really great, and that simple guitar lead is unique), and a melody that never lets me go no matter how many times I listen. OK, so the car lyrics are dumb, but if you ignore those and just listen to that "don't worry baby" during the chorus, it's about the most soothing thing ever. Anyway, I suppose there are other songs on this album, but most of them aren't even worth mentioning. The Warmth of the Sun is another fantastic ballad, much in the style of the Surfer Girl ballads but with more interesting chord changes, better harmonies, and a moodier setting. Definitely a highlight, along with the excellent speedy opening track which has some of Mike Love's best lyrics and remains one of the band's best pop-rock songs. I also really like Brian's shot at wall of sound production in Why do Fools Fall in Love, it's about the only other highlight on here for me. Otherwise, the album is filled with awful covers (Louie Louie), bad drum solos (Denny's Drums), throwaway instrumentals (Shut Down, Part II), filler tracks with no music ("Cassius"), and filler tracks with music (Pom Pom Play Girl, primarily). Shame that some of the group's best work is right there with some of its worst.

All Summer Long
Rating: 4
Release date: 7/13/64
Favorite song: I Get Around
TracklistRatingWords; Music
I Get Around6Brian/Mike
All Summer Long5Brian/Mike
Little Honda5Brian/Mike
We'll Run Away5Brian/Gary Usher
Carl's Big Chance2Brian/Carl
Do You Remember?2Brian/Mike
Girls on the Beach5Brian
Our Favorite Recording Sessions0Brian/Dennis/Carl/Mike/Al
Don't Back Down4Brian/Mike
Just how does he do it? Not even four months from his last album, Brian brings us another 12 songs, almost all brilliant. While some of the songs don't show a significant increase in songwriting ability, Drive-In for example, at the very least they're still catchy and display far better production and arrangements, now that Brian was directing his crack team of studio musicians, and without the intrusion of dear old dad. But most of the songs are a major leap: just look at the gorgeous vocal arrangement of the cover Hushabye, where can you hear something that beautiful on earlier records? Not even In my Room can compare. Or the cutesy xylophone intro of All Summer Long? And of course, there's no way that I can't bring up I Get Around, a Beach Boys rocker to end all rockers. The harmonies are stunningly perfect, the melody catchy, and the arrangement brilliant. How can you not join in with the handclaps on the verses? Granted, this song does easily take the cake as the best upbeat rocker on this album, but other than perhaps Do You Remember? none of the others are too shabby. A great, upbeat, summertime album, adorned with just a few gorgeous ballads which are getting increasingly complex and beautiful. A great place to start with The Beach Boys if you want a well-rounded look at their "fun in the sun" style.

Christmas Album
Rating: 2
Release date: 11/16/64
Favorite song: Santa's Beard
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Little Saint Nick6Brian/Mike
The Man with All the Toys5Brian/Mike
Santa's Beard5Brian/Mike
Merry Christmas, Baby5Brian
Christmas Day5Brian
Frosty the Snowman2Nelson/Rollins
We Three Kings of Orient Are5Hopkins
Blue Christmas2Hayes/Johnson
Santa Claus is Coming to Town5Coots/Gillespie
White Christmas3Berlin
I'll be Home for Christmas0Gannon/Kent/Ram
Auld Lang Syne4Trad. arranged by Brian
The fourth album for the Boys in 1964 (Concert being the third, which I don't own currently), it understandably contains only five original songs. I think Brian had written/sang/produced/performed enough music for one year, don't you think? What better way to fulfill Capitol's demands than to just make a Christmas album? The thing with this album is it's quite obvious whether or not you're going to be interested in it. If you hate Christmas music, I would advise this one, even if you're a huge Beach Boys fan. If you enjoy Christmas music, and you like the Beach Boys, then it's an easy decision. The originals are all pretty good: Little Saint Nick and Santa's Beard being my picks, but the other three are catchy enough as well. Not quite as fleshed out as anything on All Summer Long though. The standards were given to someone else to produce, so Brian had little to do with them other than to lend his gorgeous falsetto. If you're into the Beach Boys' harmonies (and who isn't?) this ends up being a great showcase for them, moreso than their usual pop/rock output. But, other than for appreciating their great singing voices, this album won't get listened to much.

Rating: 5
Release date: 3/8/65
Favorite song: Please Let me Wonder
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Do You Wanna Dance?5Freeman
Good to my Baby5Brian/Mike
Don't Hurt my Little Sister4Brian/Mike
When I Grow Up (to be a Man)5Brian/Mike
Help me, Ronda4Brian/Mike
Dance, Dance, Dance5Brian/Carl/Mike
Please Let me Wonder6Brian/Mike
I'm so Young5Tyrus Jr.
Kiss me, Baby5Brian/Mike
She Knows me Too Well5Brian/Mike
In the Back of my Mind4Brian/Mike
Bull Sessions with "Big Daddy"0Brian/Carl/Mike/Al
Wow. Just wow. Brian quits touring and the music gets incredibly complex and sophisticated, right away. Right from the first track we're greeted with this huge wall of sound: there's so much energy when that chorus hits, with the Boys' background chanting, Brian's soaring falsetto, and of course huge tympani rolls just pounding away. Every song on this album is a gem, too: the first side full of great upbeat songs, and the second side (starting with the beautiful Please Let me Wonder) full of ballads. This is the Boys at the top of their game: great harmonies, incredible arrangements, and complex songwriting. Feeling upbeat? Side A can't be beat. Feeling a little more melancholy? Side B, for sure. I could gush about the individual songs but they're all fantastic, and if you like the Beach Boys this should definitely be in your collection.

Summer Day (and Summer Nights!!)
Rating: 4
Release date: 6/28/65
Favorite song: California Girls
TracklistRatingWords; Music
The Girl from New York City4Brian/Mike
Amusement Parks U.S.A.2Brian/Mike
Then I Kissed Her4Spector/Greenwich/Barry
Salt Lake City4Brian/Mike
Girl Don't Tell Me4Brian
Help me, Rhonda5Brian/Mike
California Girls6Brian/Mike
Let him Run Wild5Brian/Mike
You're so Good to Me3Brian/Mike
Summer Means New Love3Brian
I'm Bugged at my Ol' ManxBrian
And Your Dream Comes TruexBrian/Mike
It's not a "throwaway" album by any means, but clearly it's an album that Brian was not particularly interested in making. Once again Capitol demanded more product from Brian, and so just three months from the brilliant "Today!" he rushed this out, saving most of his really good stuff for an album to come later. It takes the pop stuff from the last album, adds fun lyrics, and improves the arrangements even further. Even if the musical and lyrical content didn't improve much, at the very least you have to admit that these songs just have fantastic pop arrangements. A song like Salt Lake City would be totally boring if it weren't for that groovy arrangement (the simple guitar part is deceptively catchy). Help Me, Rhonda has also been updated and improved on significantly. The big leap forward comes with California Girls, which has a mini-symphnic intro that was probably the most unique thing in pop music at the time. And then like any Beach Boys song it jumps into this bouncy, catchy pop tune with great harmonies. So anyway, be sure to pick this one up: at first it might seem superficial compared to Today! (there are no ballads on this one! not a one!) but it's still got the great melodies, great harmonies, and the best arrangements on any Beach Boys album by this point.

Pet Sounds
Rating: 6
Release date: 5/16/66
Favorite song: Wouldn't it be Nice
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Wouldn't it be Nice6Brian/Mike/Tony Asher
You Still Believe in Me5Brian/Tony Asher
That's not Me5Brian/Tony Asher
Don't Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder)5Brian/Tony Asher
I'm Waiting for the Day5Brian/Mike
Let's go Away for Awhile5Brian
Sloop John B5Trad. arranged by Brian
God Only Knows6Brian/Tony Asher
I Know There's an Answer5Brian/Mike/Terry Sachen
Here Today5Brian/Tony Asher
I Just Wasn't Made for These Times5Brian/Tony Asher
Pet Sounds5Brian
Caroline, No5Brian/Tony Asher
Let's just face it: it's the best album ever. People are still raving about it today. This is where everything fell into place for Brian: the arrangements blow away anything on Summer Days, with all sorts of exotic sounds and blends and... who knows what else. Just listen to that gorgeous intro to Caroline, No. The lyrics actually have meaning this time too, with Brian pouring his honest feelings into the songs at every turn. There's no fancy wordplay, nothing confusing, just straightforward lyrics and emotions. Finally, the music itself has been taken to new levels. It's no longer just "verse-chorus-verse-chorus" which has been the standard forever. In most of the songs, it's frankly hard to determine what is the chorus, exactly, which is usually the most prominent part of any song. The harmonies? Can't be beat. Look no further than God Only Knows, or maybe even I Just Wasn't Made... to hear the Boys doing some of their most complex and beautiful work. Every song has something unique to offer, every song adds a new level, a new perspective to the album. Even Sloop John B, which is occasionally seen as just a throwaway pop single. Lyrically it's not entirely relevant but it's a nice breather after the more emotional instrumental piece Let's go Away for Awhile, and better yet it's got probably the most gorgeous pop arrangement of any pop song I've ever heard. The first thirty seconds has more creative ideas than most albums do. Anyway, if you don't hear any other Beach Boys albums, at least get this one... pop music has never been done better.