My Top 10 Beach Boys Songs of All-Time
by David Bash
10. Time To Get Alone-I don’t waltz, but if I ever learn, this would be the song to which I’d do my first! I love all the counterpoint, which had become a Beach Boys staple not long before and would flourish even further in the next few years. The echoed “Deep And Wide” just kills me, as do the strings after the final “aren’t you glad we got away”. Check out Redwood’s (earlier) version, which is also on You Tube; in case you didn’t know, Redwood was the band which, soon after, became Three Dog Night, and the rest was history!
9. Darlin’-Yes, I know Brian and Mike used to listen to a lot of late night R&B on the radio when they were growing up, but the Wild Honey album, and this song in particular, is a remarkable achievement for a bunch of blue-eyed boys from Hawthorne, California! Wild Honey is one of my favorite Beach Boys albums, and one which I think is vastly underrated. One reason of course is that it came on the heels of the aborted Smile, but another is we really don’t know much about its history. We know that Carl called it “music for Brian to cool out by”, but that’s about it. Some stuff has been written about the recording sessions in Keith Badham’s book, but wouldn’t you have LOVED to have been a fly on the wall in Brian’s house, when the guys talked about doing “an R&B album”, which was such a departure from the direction in which they’d gone, and in which they’d be heading? I’d love to know the motivation for each of the songs on Wild Honey, and would have loved to have been at the recording sessions. In fact, when I fantasize about being part of The Beach Boys history (and face it, BB die-hards, we all do this), being around The Wild Honey sessions is what is most often conjured in my mind.
Another fantasy: in a parallel universe, both “Darlin” and “Time To Get Alone”, both of which were originally offered to Redwood, become huge hits for them, and the band never becomes Three Dog Night!
8. She Knows Me Too Well-Endless Summer was one of the first albums I ever got, back in 1975 (on cassette, yet!). It really opened my eyes to The Beach Boys, and I fell in love with it immediately. Not long after that, I found one of those Pickwick budget Beach Boys albums (I have completely forgotten which one), and it had “She Knows Me Too Well” on it. I was absolutely floored, both by the lyrics (lyrics don’t often permeate my conscious mind) and the amazing melodies/chord changes. “She Knows Me Too Well” was one of the first songs to teach me that the “hits” weren’t everything a band had to offer!
7. God Only Knows-What can I say about this amazing song that hasn’t already been said? Not much, except this associated memory: in July of 1965 my grandfather passed. I was only 6 years old, and it was my first experience with death, both the actual event and the concept itself. It took me awhile to soak all of that in, and a little more than a year later, I was riding back home from New York with my parents-I was still little enough to lie down in the back of the car. “God Only Knows” comes on the radio, and when the line “as long as there are stars above you” came on, I looked up out the window, saw stars above me, and felt my grandfather looking down at me, which was really comforting.
A few years later I heard The Vogues quite nice version of “God Only Knows”. I had completely forgotten my experience with The Beach Boys tune of a few years back, and until I got Pet Sounds I thought The Vogues did the original version (!), but once I heard The Beach Boys recording the memories of the experience in my parents car came flooding back.
“God Only Knows” only reached #39 on the Billboard charts, but would have certainly been a much huger hit had several radio stations not been reluctant to play it due to the word “god” being in the title.
6. All I Wanna Do-Mike Love’s crowning achievement, hands down. I love the gauzy feel of this song, and as strange as this may sound, in some ways it’s a foreshadowing of that 4AD sound that was all the rage in the UK during the ’80s and early ’90s. I can definitely see in my imagination’s eye Cocteau Twins doing a version of this song, changing the key and making the lyrics indecipherable!
The counterpoint, and all the other STUFF going on during this song is spine-tingling and chilling! Does anyone know what Carl is singing in the background during the parts after the “My Love Is Burning Brightly, My Moon and Stars Shine Nightly”? I’ve never been able to get that, even on a good stereo with a fine pair ‘o headphones!
5. California Dreaming-A last-minute change to my list as I had glossed over this one. I know I’m going to get railed for this by many die-hard Beach Boys fans, but I think they did a stupendous job on it. Their harmonies are sparkling, and McGuinn’s guitar in the bridge is breathtaking! I’m getting chills listening to it now!
BTW, for those of you who know the “original” BB cover of this, which appeared on that Radio Shack cassette in 1983…I love that version, too, but this is better!
4. The Trader-How many of you, like me, were utterly startled when you first put on side two of Holland and the first thing you heard was Justyn Wilson saying “hi”??
Carl’s vocal starts out a bit flat, but quickly shapes into form. I love the spiritual sounding backing vocals, and the song, as a whole, puts me in a simliar mood to that which many of R.E.M.’s early songs eventually did: an ineffable feeling where I escape into an alternate, but parallel world. The second section of the song is particularly moving to me, as Carl’s gentle vocals make me feel as if I’m floating on a cloud in a semi out of body experience. Sublime.
3. All This Is That. A forgotten gem, mainly because the album its on has been tossed off by many Beach Boys fans as not being very essential, a phenomenon not helped by Warners, in its infinite “wisdom”, pairing Carl and The Passions with Pet Sounds upon its original release. Perhaps the Beach Boys most spiritual song, I love its bouncy lilt throughout, and Carl’s almost otherworldly chant in the refrain gives me the strongest of chills.
2. Surf’s Up. I’ll never forget the clips I’ve seen of Leonard Bernstein’s CBS special of 1966, where he dismisses 95% of rock ‘n roll as being disposable, but then proclaims, “ahh, but that 5%!”, and hails the “young” Brian Wilson’s “Surf’s Up” as genius. Of course, a huge number of Beach Boys fans agree with him, and while I do love and admire the version which ended up on Smile, it’s the one which appeared on the album of the same name which will always emerge triumphant for me. Mike Love’s disparaging opinion of Van Dyke Parks’ lyrics notwithstanding, the lyrics of “Surf’s Up” really “sound” good, conjuring up perhaps nebulous images, but images of beauty and hope, nonetheless. Carl’s lead vocals are also much better than Brian’s were on the original.
1. Til I Die. This one codifies everything about The Beach Boys for me. The amazing, angelic harmonies that burst immediately into my head, the percussive background that bounces all around my brain, the lyrical images that permeate my every pore, and the howling of the “wind” that almost frightens me, but in a comforting kind of way…and the refrain! What more can be said, really?
One of my Top 10 songs of all-time, by anybody.
In early 1983 the first bootleg of The Beach Boys Landlocked album was “released”. I had been reading about this album for years, the one recorded after Sunflower, that Warner Brothers had rejected. I was so excited to take it home and play it, but I wasn’t prepared for its version of “’Til I Die’, which was the breaking down of my favorite Beach Boys song into its individual elements. The first time I heard it I was impressed, but the second time I heard it (with headphones), I was over the moon. This version really showcases the fragile beauty of the tune, and with headphones, I had the ultimate Gestalt experience. When that lone keyboard came in, the part that is under “these things I’ll be until I die” in the finished version, tears came streaming down my cheek; I had been under a lot of stress at the time, and this was truly the ultimate catharsis for me.
I’m too choked up to type anything else.
Ok, I’m back. 😉
One last comment about my Top 10 Beach Boys songs: I’m sure a lot of people will take issue with the fact that I favored the Beach Boys’ early ’70s output at the expense of Brian’s more fertile mid-60s period. To that I say: while I love those ’60s songs to pieces, I am much more enamored of early ’70s production values, and those ingenious arrangements the guys employed! Those arrangements are truly astonishing; the counterpoint, the flourishes which appear seemingly out of nowhere, the changes, the unique structures, again all adding up to the ultimate Gestalt experience for me!
This, of course, is all post hoc analysis, and to that I add the following: several bands have attempted to emulate ’60s Beach Boys stylings, certainly because that’s their favorite period, but there’s also this-while many Beach Boys fans, several musicians among them, acknowledge that they love albums like Sunflower, Surf’s Up, and Holland, I truly believe that very few of them have emulated that style in their own music, because, well, it’s impossible. It’s almost as if those songs have come with a built in Copyguard; they just cannot be emulated, and that, to me, is the strongest testament to their greatness.