This week, the Beach Boys played here in Bemidji. For a preview story, I got to interview longtime Beach Boy Bruce Johnston (he joined in 1965 as Brian Wilson’s stand-in for tours and became a full-time member). In preparation, I listened to a lot of the Beach Boys’ music. And, on Johnston’s advice after the interview, I listened to “Pet Sounds” in mono, because he said that’s the way Brian Wilson heard it while recording the album (he has a hearing problem in one ear).
I have been familiar with a lot of their work, most cliche being I am a huge fan of “Pet Sounds.” I discovered that album at just the right age to appreciate a lot of the more introspective songs. But I also have listened to a lot of their lesser-known albums, such as “Carl And the Passions” and “20-20.” I even listened to their reunion album with Brian Wilson from 2012 (not that great). There is a trove of material there, including solo-works (my personal favorite being Dennis Wilson’s “Pacific Ocean Blue” album).
So in honor of them playing here, and my love of their music, here are my top 10 Beach Boys (including solo-works), with quite a few from “Pet Sounds.” But this is my list, so I’ll do it the way I want.
10. In My Room — This is a nice song about being alone. Growing up, I could relate to the sentiment of this song because I was always kind of an introverted person.
9. That’s Not Me — This is a nice track from “Pet Sounds” that is in a similar vein as “In My Room.” It’s one of those nice confessional songs that I tend to enjoy more of their catalog. The honesty and insecurity in the lyrics hit me at the right age.
8. California Girls — While I enjoy those introspective tracks more, this is one great pop song. Cheesy? Sure, but catchy. Also, one of the best musical intros to a song.
7. Sloop John B. — I first heard this on the “Forrest Gump” soundtrack. It’s catchy, tells a funny story and I will forever have a soft spot for this song.
6. Surfer Girl — I love the melodies on this song. Such a nice, simple song, but really beautifully put together.
5. Heroes and Villains — This is such a cool, and pretty odd song. It hails from the follow-up to “Pet Sounds” that allegedly kind of pushed Brian Wilson over the edge mentally that was “Smile.” That album would not be released for decades, but was on “Smiley Smile.”
4. River Song, Dennis Wilson Solo Song — This is just an amazing song. I first heard it on the 2008 reissue of his solo album, “Pacific Ocean Blue.” It’s one of the few songs in his solo works that sounded like the Beach Boys. His vocals are so different, much rougher than the other members, but I love this song. I also think the Beach Boys performed it on tours in the 70s. Also, it’s one of my favorite vinyl records in my collection.
3. God Only Knows — This is perhaps my favorite vocal arrangement from the band. Carl Wilson had an amazing voice, and the arrangement, musically, is very interesting.
2. Good Vibrations — Perhaps their weirdest hit single, “Good Vibrations” mixed classic Beach Boys hooks with the psychedelic tones of the time. Plus, I think it was one of the first (and very few) songs to use a theremin, which was mostly used for science fiction and horror movies.
1. Wouldn’t It Be Nice — Great intro, great catchy hooks, amazing melodies and I love the lyrics. This, to me, is the greatest Beach Boys song. Everything about it just gels so well.