Brian Wilson is 70: my favorite Beach Boys songs

L-R: Wilson, Marks, Johnston, Jardine, Love

I’m watching the Grammys maybe four weeks after it aired, fast-forwarding through the stuff that didn’t interest me. Then what to my wondering eyes should appear but the Beach Boys – the REAL Beach Boys! It wasn’t a tremendous performance, with lots of “guest stars”, but it was genuine. Brian Wilson has toured occasionally, notably performing the SMiLE album. Al Jardine played with various friends and relatives. Mike Love has toured as the Beach Boys with longtime group participant Bruce Johnston. David Marks, an early Beach Boy, was also there.

Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983, and Carl Wilson died of cancer in 1998; I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 1998, and saw nice tributes to the Carls, Perkins and Wilson. So for me, without Jardine, and the oft-feudin’ cousins, Love and Brian Wilson, it can’t really be the Beach Boys. The five are touring now, a 50th anniversary summit; hear an hour of highlights from several of The Beach Boys’ recent shows. And with their new album, the Beach Boys Surpass the Beatles for Billboard 200 Record.

Time to pick my Top 20 Beach Boys songs, with links, a roster which is sometimes changeable, though #1 has been rather consistent.

20. California Girls. LOVE the intro – it is so lush. Then a geography lesson.
19. Friends. It’s a waltz. It’s about friendship.
18. When I Grow Up To Be A Man. I was a sucker for the count-up. “14, 15, 16, 17…”
17. Transcendental Meditation. What a juxtaposition – an out of tune sax against the title theme. It makes me laugh.
16. Wouldn’t It Be Nice. In my freshman year in college, this was THE song for me.
15. Breakaway. This was released as a single and got all the way to #63, which I always thought was a shame.
14. Help Me Rhonda. There are at least a couple versions of this song; I need it to be the one with the bow-bow-bow bit.
13. Do It Again. A reiteration of the Beach Boys mission, it felt. And here’s the 50th anniversary edition.
12. Barbara Ann. As a kid, this was so much fun to sing along with. Another version. Apparently, the song has been repopularized by the movie Despicable Me 2.
11. Darlin’. Just like because it just gets to the point, without a long intro.

10. Good Vibrations. Yes, it was overplayed, and overrepresented on collections of the 1960s music. Still, it’s a classic piece, with a difficult theremin segment.
9. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder). I COULD put a half dozen songs from Pet Sounds on this list. There’s a great Linda Ronstadt cover of this tune.
8. In My Room. I had the tiniest bedroom in the country when I grew up, a wall carved out of a hallway. But it was my sanctuary, where I read and looked at my baseball cards.
7. Our Prayer. Short, but beautiful.
6. Don’t Worry Baby. One of the very first albums I ever owned via the Capitol Record Club was this odd compilation called Big Hits Hits from England and U.S.A. Two songs each from the Beatles, Peter & Gordon, Nat Cole, Cilla Black, plus one by Al Martino. This beautiful song was one from the Beach Boys.
5. Feel Flows. One of my college albums was Surf’s Up, much of which I could add to this list. I rediscovered this song on the end credits of the movie Almost Famous.
4. I Get Around. The other BB song from Big Hits.
3. Sail On, Sailor. Such a rugged, muscular vocal. And the guitar line kicks.
2. Til I Die. Makes me almost overwhelmingly sad.
1. God Only Knows.
“I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it”
I find this terribly romantic. I’m taken by the story of Brian and Carl praying before recording it, and Carl is angelic here.

Happy 70th birthday to Brian Wilson.

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9 thoughts on “Brian Wilson is 70: my favorite Beach Boys songs

    • A lot of folks I’ve listened to are about a decade older than I. 70 is your Biblical three score and ten, and noteworthy. Have another one next month too!

  1. “Good Vibrations” and “Don’t Worry, Baby” are two of my favorites. Brian Wilson sure has been through a lot, between drugs and his “mentor,” whom I believe was simply using him to milk his fortune. Wilson is either a genius or nuttier than I am… or somewhere in between. But he certainly is a survivor whose “Pet Sounds” should have been put in the racks on time, before Sgt. Pepper. Thanks, Roger! Amy
    http://sharplittlepencil.com/2012/06/19/two-wordles-recruited-and-day-38/

    • Actually, it was the Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965) which helped inspire the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966) which inspired the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper (1967). It was the Beach Boys’ SMiLE album that was stalled until fairly recently.

  2. I also love the Beach Boys…and Brian Wilson is a genius! love that picture of them….I think it was Brian who loved classical music and used it for the basis of some of his music…my memory is going though!! I listen to a show called vinyl cafe and they did a special on him as the guy knew him..some of his cuts took forever for him to complete as he wanted it to be. love the variety of stuff here…cheers.

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