(You can hear a portion of the Beach Boys' present concert at
The set list includes Do It Again/Catch A Wave/Don't Back Down/Surfin' Safari/Surfer Girl/The Little Girl I Once Knew/Isn't It Time?/Little Deuce Coupe/409/Shut Down/I Get Around/Sail On Sailor/That's Why God Made The Radio/California Girls/Dance Dance Dance/All Summer Long/Help Me Rhonda/Rock & Roll Music/Do You Wanna Dance?/Barbara Ann/Surfin' USA/Good Vibrations)
By Phill Marder
With Goldmine Rock Era Hall of Fame inductees the Beach Boys releasing a new LP, “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” and the remaining members currently on a 50th Anniversary tour, what better time to look back on their fabulous catalog and do what we all love best – make a list?
First, it was to be my 10 favorite Beach Boys’ tracks. Then, it was my 25 favorite Beach Boys’ tracks. Then, it was going to be a two-part series. Then, it was impossible.
I finally decided on the best 25 non-hits. And, I kept it down to 25. To do so, I had to consider any track that reached the Billboard Hot 100 a hit. Even if it reached just #100. However, if it reached the chart as a B-side only, then it qualified.
One thing making this task such a difficult one is the release rate of groups in the ‘60s. Where groups in recent years release one album containing approximately nine tracks every two years or more, groups in the ‘60s were putting out two or three LPs every year. And each disc contained 11 or 12 tracks. Consequently, it was rare to see an album give birth to six or more hits, a rather commonplace occurrence since the ‘80s. Instead, by the time two or three hits were pulled off a ‘60’s album, a new disc had been released, resulting in many surefire hit singles never being released as such.
Just think of the Beatles, for example. Some of their most-loved songs never saw the light of day as a single release. It took album purchases to discover “Michelle,” “Tell Me What You See,” “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face” along with many other guaranteed chart-toppers.
The Beach Boys’ catalog suffered the same fate. Brian Wilson was churning out classics too rapidly for the singles’ market to keep up. Thus, many great Beach Boys’ tracks never became hits.
Listed chronologically by album, here’s my favorites:
CATCH A WAVE – Cut #2 on the Beach Boys’ third LP, 1963’s “Surfer Girl,” “Catch a Wave” becomes the first missed classic in the Beach Boys’ repertoire. The usual pairing of Brian (music) and Mike Love (lyrics) wrote the track, with Mike on regular lead and Brian on falsetto lead. The melody was too good not to be a hit, though, and the next year Jan & Dean had Roger Christian write new lyrics to it and rode “Sidewalk Surfin’” to #25 on the Hot 100.
This album showed the first signs of the Beach Boys’ increasing sophistication, and while Brian’s efforts to compete with the Beatles is well documented, it should be remembered that first he threw down the gauntlet to the Boys’ East Coast rivals, The Four Seasons, in cut #3 on Side Two when he proclaimed “Surfers Rule - Four Seasons you better believe it.” Of course, being Jersey Boys, the Seasons weren’t about to let a bunch of California kids push them around. They responded with “No Surfin’ Today.”
“Shut Down Volume 2” was the first long-player the Boys released in 1964, and the singles yanked from that release continued the progress shown on the “Surfer Girl” LP, the first two tracks, “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Don’t Worry Baby” becoming massive hits and future Beach Boys’ classics. This time, two of Brian’s best beauties were buried.
THE WARMTH OF THE SUN – Writtenin the wake of a breakup with his girlfriend and just hours after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, this melancholy ballad, the B-side of “Dance, Dance, Dance,” has become one of Brian’s most beloved creations.
KEEP AN EYE ON SUMMER – Another ballad, this time written with Bob Norberg. That this song is considered “just another” Brian Wilson creation is testament to his talent. “Keep An Eye On Summer” was not one of the Beach Boys’ greatest tracks, but for a lot of songwriters, it would have been a career highlight.
Brian re-recorded both tracks for his solo albums years later.
The Beatles struck as 1964 began, but that was just one major change affecting Brian as he prepared the Beach Boys’ second LP of 1964 and sixth overall, “All Summer Long.” During the recording of this disc, Brian finally had reached the end with his father, Murry, who was then fired as the group’s manager. When the album came out, the leadoff cut, “I Get Around,” became the Beach Boys’ first #1 single.
The rest of Side 1 was pretty solid, but Side 2 was better, featuring three gems, the minor hit “Wendy,” and…
GIRLS ON THE BEACH – Much like “Keep An Eye On Summer,” but this was a real confidence booster to most male teens as the group sang, “The Girls On The Beach are all within reach, and one waits there for you.” Credited to just Brian, who shared lead vocal duties with Dennis. The third, “Don’t Back Down,” doesn’t make the list, but was a fun way to end the album, especially Mike’s bass vocal.
The Beach Boys’ “Today” kicked off 1965 amidst much turmoil. They had recorded four LPs the previous year, including a Christmas LP that featured the magnificent “Little Saint Nick,” and the stress was too much for Brian. He told the band he was quitting the road, started smoking pot in earnest and began recording in mono. The result was one of Rock’s most outstanding albums and a look into the future.
Side 1 had four hits and a sound slightly denser than usual, especially on the leadoff remake “Do You Wanna Dance?” Side 2 kicked off with another hit, “Please Let Me Wonder,” then another remake, “I’m So Young,” previously done by the Students.
Then, suddenly, the Beach Boys changed. It was sort of like Jose Bautista hitting no more than 16 home runs in any year of a long career, then suddenly erupting for 54. It was James “Buster” Douglas muddling through journeyman status for an entire career, then suddenly flattening Mike Tyson. Not that the Beach Boys ever could be considered journeymen. They were phenoms from the start. But with this step, they became other-worldly.
KISS ME, BABY – The entire “Today!” album was great, but viewed as just a normal progression for a maturing, developing band and a great songwriter hitting his stride. But the first grooves of Side 2, Track 3 served notice that something extra special was coming, though no one could have predicted the ensuing “Pet Sounds.” Mike’s lyric was boy-girl relationship, but a little deeper, focusing on the uncertainty resulting from an argument. Brian’s music was one of his most stirring compositions, and that’s saying something considering his body of work.
Would it have been a hit A-side? Well, it did reach #1 as the flip of Help Me, Rhonda.
The next two tracks continued the look into the future, Track 4 being the remarkable…
SHE KNOWS ME TOO WELL – Released the prior year as the B-side of “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man),” this cut follows in the vein of “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Please Let Me Wonder,” the difference being it wasn’t a hit and, as Beach Boys’ expert David Leaf noted, “…in retrospect, hearing this in 1965 might have felt very strange…almost like you were hearing a cut from “Pet Sounds” a year before that album even existed.”
Track 5 is “In The Back Of My Mind,” a little too off the wall to make this list, but very good once one gets used to it.
Though it seems as if Brian took a step back for the next LP, “Summer Days (And Summer Nights),” he still produced some of his most outstanding work, the epic “California Girls” being the album’s signature tune. But that came on Side 2, and the album really didn’t kick into high gear until the fifth track, the very basic…
GIRL DON’T TELL ME – It came out on a 45 in early 1966, but as the flip side of “Barbara Ann,” which came off the next album “Beach Boys Party!” Nothing fancy here. Just a great tune notable for being Carl’s first lead vocal.
Side 2 gave us back-to-back wonders, LET HIM RUN WILD, the B-side of “California Girls,” and YOU’RE SO GOOD TO ME, the flip of “Sloop John B.” The former is compared to a Burt Bacharach production and it is noted that Brian, who sings lead on both these tracks, was, like most modern songwriters, a major Bacharach fan. The latter recording is marked by the amazing non-stop “la la las” on the chorus. Both sides are distinguished by the bass vocals of Mike, perhaps the best bass vocalist in the history of Rock.
The “Party” album was kind of a stopgap measure as Capitol Records waited with great impatience for the Beach Boys’ next collection of best-sellers. They got it, but certainly it wasn’t what they expected. It wasn’t what the public expected, either. In all honesty, even the band didn’t expect it. It was “Pet Sounds.” And, over time, it became considered by many, including yours truly, as the greatest album ever made.
Four entries became hit singles, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “God Only Knows” and “Caroline No.” The remaining tracks all make this list, save the two instrumentals, though they easily could be included. And there’s nothing I can write that would do justice to this disc. I wore out three vinyl copies, bought it on CD, bought it again when the stereo version appeared, but had to pass on the box set because I ran out of money. From the first time I heard it, I believed I never would hear anything its equal. And I haven’t.
The tracks for our non-hit list are YOU STILL BELIEVE IN ME, THAT’S NOT ME, DON’T TALK (PUT YOUR HEAD ON MY SHOULDER), I’M WAITING FOR THE DAY, I KNOW THERE’S AN ANSWER, HERE TODAY, and I JUST WASN”T MADE FOR THESE TIMES.
Unfortunately, “Pet Sounds” marked the start of the Beach Boys’ decline in popularity. In a way, it made sense. After all, where do you go from there? “Smile” may have been the answer, but as we all know, it never appeared at that time. But its replacement, “Smiley Smile,” was very underrated. Let’s face it, how can an album containing “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes & Villains” not be worthwhile? The problem was, the rest was much too strange for mass acceptance, especially for the audience groomed on “I Get Around” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
But as is noted on the rear of the album, “The smile that you send out returns to you.” Sounds familiar, huh? Well, the nine other songs on this LP certainly send out smiles and bear up well under repeated listening, especially…
VEGETABLES – Truly funny, this track has appeared in many variations, but this version remains my favorite. Between the actual chomping of vegetables keeping the beat (Paul McCartney on carrot?) and the insightful lyrics – “I know that you’ll feel better when you send us in your letter and tell us the name of your favorite veggie tables,” how could you go wrong?
The “Wild Honey” LP gave us two hits, “Wild Honey” and “Darlin’,” and overall it was a pretty solid effort, Brian and Mike providing most of the material, though Brian was starting to limit his vocals. He did sing lead on the disc’s most unique track, though.
I’D LOVE JUST ONCE TO SEE YOU – The story of a guy just passing time, doing this and doing that. But he’d love to see a certain someone. All seems typical Beach Boy fare until the sneak ending. Yes, Brian certainly displayed an unexpected side.
The following “Friends” long-player yielded only the title cut as a minor hit, but almost every slice of the disc, no matter how brief, turns into a pleasant listening experience.
BUSY DOIN’ NOTHIN’ – This cut is all Brian, words and lyrics, and, at just over three minutes, is by far the longest track on the record. In it, Brian continues the thought of “I’d Love Just Once To See You,” but now goes as far as actually giving the directions to his house.
“Do It Again” and “I Can Hear Music” were the hits from 1969’s “20/20,” continuing the recent trend of so/so sales in the U.S., but continued strong showings in the U.K. This album was far from the group’s strongest, but still had its moments, my favorite being…
THE NEAREST FARAWAY PLACE – This marvelous instrumental written by Bruce Johnston finishes off Side 1. A greatly ignored beauty.
As the 1970s began, the Beach Boys moved from Capitol to Reprise, their initial offering being “Sunflower,” which, though greeted by critical acclaim, was met with lukewarm sales. I always mused when thinking of the great music the public was missing by not buying these records and the MGM albums released by Roy Orbison.
One mistake here may have been the release of “Add Some Music To Your Day” as “Sunflower’s” lone single. It was one of the record’s weaker cuts and didn’t perform well. Meanwhile, DEIRDRE and TEARS IN THE MORNING, largely the work of Johnston and featuring his vocal, and Dennis’ FOREVER join our list of Beach Boys’ tracks that should have been hits.
“Surf’s Up,” released almost a year to the day after “Sunflower,” restored the Boys to the upper regions of the album charts (“Sunflower” had peaked at #151, while “Surf’s Up” reached #29), but only briefly. The tremendous single, Carl’s “Long Promised Road,” stiffed, but the entire Side 2 of the album was top-notch, particularly Brian’s one solo contribution ‘TIL I DIE.
When “Sail On Sailor from 1973’s “Holland” barely made the top 50, the rest of that album’s tracks remained just that – album tracks. All but one – the amazing flip to “Sailor.”
ONLY WITH YOU – Dennis struck again in the vein of “Forever.” He wasn’t very prolific, but he proved with this cut he was more than capable of holding his own with his cohorts when the spirit moved him.
The remaining releases each had their moments, and the Beach Boys were, on occasion, certainly capable of regaining their early magic, the greatest hits LP “Endless Summer” hitting #1 in 1974, “15 Big Ones” reaching the top 10 two years later, the single “Kokomo” topping the charts in 1988. But those hidden album classics became harder to find.
Hopefully, they’ll be there on this week’s release, “That’s Why God Made The Radio.”