The Beach Boys' 15 greatest songs, ranked

24 June 2021, 15:07

The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

The Beach Boys invented the California Sound and became one of the greatest bands of all time.

The Beach Boys formed in 1961 in California, with the original lineup featuring brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, along with their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine.

They went on to release a massive 15 albums between 1962 and 1969, each containing some of the mega hits that made them superstars.

Read more: The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys continued to release records through the 1970s, '80s and '90s, and even reunited with Brian Wilson for their 50th anniversary in 2012.

From all those classic songs, we've picked just 15 to make a perfect introductory playlist.

  1. Barbara Ann

    The Beach Boys and especially Brian Wilson wrote loads of their own material, but they were also more than capable of taking an existing song and making it their own.

    'Barbara Ann' was first released by doo-wop group The Regents in 1961, but the version on Beach Boys' Party! four years later is the one we all know and love.

  2. Fun, Fun, Fun

    A classic California song from 1964's Shut Down Volume 2, written by Brian Wilson and apparently inspired by his brother Dennis's shenanigans.

    A girl "borrows" her dad's Ford T-Bird till her dad finds out and yoinks his keys back, and her guy reminds her of all the other fun, fun, fun things they can do apart from hot-rodding.

  3. Heroes and Villains

    'Heroes and Villains' was meant to be on Smile, the band's planned follow-up to Pet Sounds which was eventually abandoned, with the songs eventually being released in a less ambitious form as Smiley Smile in 1967.

    The first song written by Brian Wilson with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, the downtempo single wasn't particularly well-received on its release, coming right after the double-header of Pet Sounds and 'Good Vibrations', but it's only become more loved in the years since.

  4. Little Deuce Coupe

    One of the Beach Boys' many car songs, this one in celebration of the '32 Ford Model 18, Brian Wilson calls this his favourite car song the band did.

    Originally released as the flip of 1963 single 'Surfer Girl', the group liked it so much it ended up on the Surfer Girl album AND was the title track of Little Deuce Coupe LP.

    They even gave it a Christmas workover for 'Little Saint Nick' soon after.

  5. Help Me, Rhonda

    Another classic Beach Boys single that found its way on to more than one of their albums, 'Help Me, Rhonda' popped up on two of the band's three 1965 albums - The Beach Boys Today! and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!).

    Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, it became the group's second single to top the charts.

  6. Sloop John B

    Not that you'd know it from the sound, but this surf sound classic was originally a Bahamian folk song from Nassau that dates all the way back to the 1910s, known as 'I Want to Go Home', 'Wreck of the John B' and 'Hoist Up The John B Sails'.

    But by putting their own Beach Boys magic on it, the group made it fit perfectly on Pet Sounds and even got it to number 3 on the Billboard 100.

  7. Surf's Up

    'Surf's Up' was originally meant for the abandoned Smile album, but Brian Wilson and Van Dykes Park picked it up and dusted it off to close the band's 1971 Surf's Up album.

    Despite the title, this isn't one of the group's poppy surfing tracks, but instead a stunningly tender, poetic masterpiece.

  8. Be True To Your School

    A tribute to Hawthorne High School where the Wilson boys studied, 'Be True To Your School' featured on Little Deuce Coupe and was a top 10 single for the band in 1963.

    It borrows the melody from 'On, Wisconsin!', which was used by both the University of Wisconsin and Hawthorne High.

  9. California Girls

    It's not a surfpop bounce, but 'California Girls' makes the most of its woozy sunkissed vibe and quirky song structure to become maybe the ultimate and most influential California songs in pop history.

    This 1965 classic was apparently inspired by Brian Wilson's first LSD experience and was only kept off the top of the Billboard 100 by The Beatles ('Help!') and Bob Dylan ('Like A Rolling Stone').

  10. I Get Around

    Released in 1964, this became the band's first number one single and you can hear exactly why.

    The barbershop surf a capella intro, the Brian Wilson falsetto, the cheeky bass fills. The band played this early on for Ed Sullivan and at most of their live shows since.

  11. Surfin' USA

    For the title track of their second album, the band took Chuck Berry's rock 'n' roll classic 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and plonked their own lyrics right on the top of it.

    Brian Wilson, famously not much of a surfer himself, got the list of all those surf spots from Jimmy Bowles, the brother of his then-girlfriend Judy.

  12. Don't Worry Baby

    The flip-side of the band's first chartopper 'I Get Around' in 1964, 'Don't Worry Baby' was early proof that the band wasn't just about dancing, surfing and cars.

    A tender love song with words by Roger Christian, Brian Wilson polished off the song in about an hour and a half.

  13. God Only Knows

    Not many love songs have the sheer audacity to open with a line like "I may not always love you", but that shows just how special The Beach Boys were to not only try it, but absolutely get away with it.

    Released as the B-Side to 'Wouldn't It Be Nice', it's one of the highlights of Pet Sounds and Paul McCartney himself called it "the greatest song ever written", and he'd probably know.

  14. Wouldn't It Be Nice

    A dizzyingly innocent love song from the viewpoint of a young couple who daydream about getting older and being able to absolutely everything together as grown-ups.

    The opener of Pet Sounds, 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' more than sets the tone for the brilliance that follows.

  15. Good Vibrations

    'Good Vibrations' is one of the songs that completely redefined what pop music could be.

    A collage of different sections, tempos, unconventional instruments (the Electro-Theremin) and vibes pieced together by Brian Wilson with words by Mike Love, all smooshed into just over three-and-a-half minutes of perfection.

    It rightly went number one everywhere, including the UK and US, and inspired everyone from The Beatles to Queen since.

And a bonus track...

Summer's Gone

While The Beach Boys failed to match their 1960s heyday as they continued, their 2012 reunion album That's Why God Made The Radio shocked everyone by actually being... pretty good.

The loveliest moment was this closing track, co-written by Brian Wilson with long-time collaborator Joe Thomas and Jon Bon Jovi – yes, that Jon Bon Jovi!