Surfin' Safari (1962)
- The title track, while not their first single, is really where the Boys found their sound. Mike's infectious vocal delivery and catchy List Song lyrics, Carl's energetic surf guitar, and some nice harmonies make this one a classic.
- "County Fair" is a catchy, energetic, and humorous ("Win your girl a stuffed KA-WALLAH BEARRRRR") recounting of a rather failure-bound date at a county fair. The background instrumentation also contains one epic surf organ rendition of the old fairground chestnut "Over the Waves", more than worth the price of admission.
- "Little Girl (You're My Miss America)" is another great song from this album, and one of the first example of Brian's innate ability to improve the songs he covered. It is also the first Beach Boys song sung by Dennis Wilson.
Surfin' U.S.A. (1963)
- "Surfin' U.S.A.". The melody might not be theirs, but it's hard to argue they didn't improve upon Chuck Berry's original song ("Sweet Little Sixteen") in many ways. Taking ideas from "Surfin' Safari" Up to Eleven, this is perhaps their most enduring and iconic surfing song.
- "Farmer's Daughter" is a joyous showcase of Brian's falsetto at absolute peak performance. It also has an enrapturing, clean sound to the instrumentation that's just so damn sweet.
- Carl—ever the underrated instrumentalist—absolutely nails their take on Dick Dale's surf classic "Misirlou" (which you may know from this little indie flick about cheeseburgers and ancestral wristwatches) with aplomb. You can just taste the texture of the distortion!
- "Shut Down" is one of the boys' premiere "car songs", deftly capturing the excitement of drag racing, and even more so the forbidden pleasures of "tricking out" your ride. It would've made for a good single back in the day.
- "Lonely Sea" is often described as Brian's first uniquely "Brian" moment. Low-key, sparse and heartfelt, it perfectly encapsulates Brian's sense of melancholy existentialism.
- Their cover of "Honky Tonk" shows that the song works surprisingly well as a surf instrumental.
Surfer Girl (1963)
- The title track is one of their classic ballads. Simple, clean, and crisp-sounding; one of several Brian Wilson compositions inspired by the undying "When You Wish Upon a Star", with an imitable lead vocal by Brian.
- "The Surfer Moon" features one of Brian's first flings with string arrangements, creating a mellow mood with gentle pizzicato pluckings as refreshing as a summer breeze rolling off the bay.
- "In My Room". Brian's inspiration by The Four Freshmen is palpable here. Shades of Pet Sounds, three years before the fact. The Reality Subtext doesn't make this any less of a Tear Jerker at all, though the lyrics are as universal and relatable as you can get; everybody needs a place to be alone sometimes.
- "Your Summer Dream" is a dreamy-sounding, mellow, and evocative recollection of a carefree day at the beach with your loved one. The complex and plentiful chord changes heralds bigger things to come.
- "Our Car Club" deserves mention for its cool and unusual drum beat courtesy of studio drummer Hal Blaine.
Shut Down Volume 2 (1964)
- "Fun, Fun, Fun" kicks things off with a bang right out of the gate, being an uptempo Beach Boys classic. Its gleeful portrayal of light-hearted teenage misbehaviour and shirking of responsibility is a thing of true joy.
- "Don't Worry Baby", with one of the greatest chord modulations in pop history. The lyrics may be about cars, but it could really be about any situation in which the one you love tells you they believe in you and what you are. It was one of Keith Moon's favourite songs.
- "The Warmth of the Sun", written on the night of John F. Kennedy's assassination, is the subject of one of Mike Love's finest and uncharacteristically reflective moments as a lyricist.What good is the dawn / that grows into day? / The sunset at night / or living this way? / For I have the warmth of the sun / within me at night...
- "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" is a good, well-produced take on Frankie Lymon's doowop phenomenon. Unfortunately, the album version leaves out Brian's meticulously constructed instrumental intro passage, one of his most ambitious productions heard until Today! — fortunately, it is featured on the compilation Summer Love Songs.
- "Keep an Eye on Summer"—though almost inevitably overshadowed by the other ballads on the album—features a more morose look at summer than we've grown used to from the boys up to this point.
- Mike's resonant bass tones are the perfect anchor for the boys' take on "Louie Louie": a great — if much cleaner-sounding — cover of Richard Berry's song that also pays homage to the Kingsmen's classic proto-garage rock cover in the middle third.
All Summer Long (1964)
- "I Get Around", "All Summer Long", and "Little Honda" constitute a glorious trifecta of up-tempo Beach Boys rock at its finest, all on the first side.
- "Hushabye" is one of the best examples of awesome Beach Boys harmonies as well as another cover that improves upon the original.
- Much is made of The Beach Boys being predominantly a "young person's band" in their early days, so it's nice to see them give a tip of the hat to parents everywhere with "We'll Run Away", acknowledging that they were young, foolish and in love once, too.
- "Carl's Big Chance" is another epic guitar instrumental from one Carl Dean Wilson, who definitely takes his chance and runs with it!
- "Girls on the Beach" may not be breaking any new ground, sounding as it does much like "Surfer Girl", but it sets itself apart with more full-on use of even more complex, layered harmonies, as well as a sweet bridge sung by Dennis.
- "Little Saint Nick" has become more or less a Christmas staple, with a fun Technology Porn lyric that boasts about Jolly Ol' Saint Nick's sleigh, all in inimitable Beach Boys List Song format.
- "The Man With All the Toys" is the subject of some of Brian's best ever falsetto vocal hooks, and that's saying something right there!
- "Santa's Beard" should count as a lost Christmas classic as well.
- "Christmas Day" features a great vocal turn from Al Jardine, and is a heartwarming love letter to all those who spend their year waiting for Christmas to come from the very day the new year arrives. The organ featured in the instrumental break is simple, yet beautiful.
- "We Three Kings of Orient Are" is one of the out-and-out best examples of Beach Boys harmonies... let that sink in for just a moment. All of those boys together have such vocal power that instrumentation is merely icing on the cake for them.
- Brian's languid and longing version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is heartbreaking, even more so than usual for this classic Christmas number. They really milk those harmonies for all they're worth here.
The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
- Really, most might qualify, being regarded as the first consistently great release of theirs. The first side is mostly up-tempo (with special mention to be given to classics like "Dance, Dance, Dance" and "Do You Wanna Dance?"), and the second side is pure Brian Wilson melancholy both in melody, lyrics, and instrumentation. If one was to pin down exactly when The Beach Boys "grew up", it would be this album... which, fittingly, also contains the poignant and self-aware "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)".Will I dig the same things / that turned me on as a kid? / Will I look back and say / that I wish I hadn't done what I did? Will I joke around / and still dig those sounds / when I grow up to be a man?
- "The Girl from New York City" sounds distinctively more like Jan & Dean than The Beach Boys... but they do no less a great job of it, kicking off an album that showcases a decidedly more versatile band, hungry for risks and new directions.
- The acoustically driven "Girl Don't Tell Me" sounds like the best song that the pre-Rubber Soul Beatles never wrote, and would in fact seem to fit right in on their Help! album, to which Summer Days... shares a number of similarities, not least with its year of release.
- "California Girls" has one of the most memorable intros in pop history, with palpable classical influences... sweeping and majestic. Truly encapsulates the spirit of "endless summer" that the Beach Boys embody. Brian has described it as one of his favourites.
- "Let Him Run Wild" is an oft overlooked gem. It is a favourite for many fans, and for good reason.
- "You're So Good to Me" is a hard-hitting pop/rock gem whose thumping Dennis Wilson drum beat imbues with a raucous energy seldom heard from the boys up to this point. Add to that an uncharacteristically hammy vocal performance by Brian of all people, and you have something that, in hindsight, sounds closer to what the boys would make in the 1970s more than anything!
- "Summer Means New Love" is a beautiful, lushly produced instrumental number credited solely to Brian, on account of his grand piano being the only musical contribution from any of the band members. Showcasing a true studio ringleader at work, it gets its point across without a single word. It's clear from this that the only way forward was Pet Sounds.
Beach Boys' Party! (1965)
- "Barbara Ann" is perhaps the biggest Beach Boys earworm in a catalogue that's full to brim of worms. Infectious acoustic pop fun at its best, with a stylin' dual vocal delivery from Brian and Dean Torrence, of all people.
- The album also includes a couple of cracking Beatles covers (namely, "Tell Me Why" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away") which showcases the mutual respect between two echelons of popular music.
Pet Sounds (1966)
- Really, the whole album. Described as one of the greatest pop albums of all time, this is Brian's first serious attempt at making a cohesive album, bordering on Concept Album.
- "God Only Knows" is often considered one of the best songs by the group, and of all time. Carl's melancholy vocal is a work of absolute beauty. The song has been praised from a variety of musicians, including Paul McCartney, who called it his favorite song of all time, and took inspiration from its style for his own song "Here, There, and Everywhere".
Smile (1967; unreleased)
- Again, the "album", though never truly finished, is one continuous piece of awesome music throughout.
- "Heroes and Villains" is one of Brian's undisputed experimental masterpieces. Built around a deceptively simple chord pattern, it stops and goes as it will, visiting a whole bunch of different eras of music on the way. Released in a bunch of different versions over the years that have become progressively closer to what Brian envisioned before it all fell apart, it's hard to argue that the 5-minute The Smile Sessions version isn't the definitive version of the song.
- "Wonderful" is a simple, clean, innocent song about Their First Time... that also contains one of Brian's most complex and wondrous chord patterns. Only one man in the universe can do 'em like this. Carl's serene vocals could get the point across with no words at all.
- "The Elements: Fire" is rather infamous for its troubled sessions, but when it comes down to it it's a clincher of a song. Brilliantly teetering on the cutting edge between cartoonishness and frightening psychedelia, it perfectly encapsulates the madness and horror of an all-consuming fire.
Smiley Smile (1967)
- "Little Pad" is a goofy, yet lovable little musical "sketch" that fits right in with SMiLE's modular approach to song structure and generally wonderful strangeness. The close harmonies, blending in perfectly with some light slide guitar, is one of the most underrated vocal gifts the boys have bestowed upon us.
- "Good Vibrations" is most likely the first song to come to mind when people think about The Beach Boys. Not only was it a monster hit, but also one of the definitive singles of the '60s, if not of all time. Described as a "pocket symphony", it consists of many diverging sections that somehow, someway, fit together beautifully. Really, it's a microcosm of the spirit of SMiLE in and of itself. Featuring a fantastic lead vocal by Carl and apt use of the Electro-Theremin, it might very well be the Beach Boys' most triumphant and dynamic moment.
- The album's rendition of "Wind Chimes" is often considered superior to the planned SMiLE version. Sparse and intimate (yet not without an eerie, malicious undercurrent; though really, this could be said for the album its entirety), it really showcases the Boys' vocal versatility, indeed making them sound somewhat like an actual wind chime.
Wild Honey (1967)
- "Wild Honey" and "Here Comes the Night" are both brilliant rock songs off this album, with the former being quite psychedelic as well.
- "Darlin'" is a classic uptempo number that benefits greatly from a heartfelt and technically flawless vocal turn by Carl. It also inspired the name of a short-lived group started by Tomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, who later became much more well-known under the name Daft Punk.
- "How She Boogalooed It" is an insanely catchy Three Chords and the Truth rock 'n' roll influenced song that predates punk rock in its speed, rhythm and simplicity. It is said to have been an influence on The B-52s.
- "Aren't You Glad" has some really nice melodies and brass in it.
- "Let the Wind Blow" could easily be a Smile-era song, with a haunting piano arrangement and wind-like vocals.
- "Can't Wait Too Long", a five minute collage of harmonies that was issued as a bonus track on the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey twofer CD, is beautiful from start to finish.
- "Little Bird" is one of Dennis' first shows of song-writing prowess, and his brother Brian contributes significantly to this song. Soulful, existential, and catchy are the key terms here. Parts of the song show clear inspiration from SMiLE-era compositions.
- The album opener, "Meant for You", is absolutely beautiful, with Mike giving one of his best vocals. The song barely breaks 40 seconds but manages to be one of the most beautiful things they ever recorded.
- "Diamond Head" is a lush instrumental, similar in tone to "Little Pad", which perfectly captures the mellow feel of the Friends album.
- This album kicks off with the Boys returning, quite successfully, to their old surf sound on "Do It Again", a very catchy track to boot.
- "I Can Hear Music" is a cover of a comparatively obscure Phil Spector production for The Ronettes that the Boys take to entirely on another level, to the point of Covered Up. Flawlessly emulating the Wall of Sound while staying true to that Beach Boys sound, this shows Carl at his best with an unforgettable vocal performance.
- "Be With Me" is one of the most beautiful (and creepy) songs penned by Dennis Wilson, with a haunting coda added. His other songs are worth mentioning as "All I Want to Do" (sung by Mike) is consistently described as one of the Beach Boys' heaviest songs, and "Never Learn Not to Love" is notorious for being mainly written by the infamous Charles Manson.
- "I Went to Sleep" is a pure Brian moment. A lazy 3/4 lullaby, it's evocative and funny, with restrained, near-inaudible harmonies.
- "Our Prayer" was meant to be the opener for SMiLE, a pure a cappella tour de force of just how refined and effortless their harmonies could be at their best. The complex chord pattern is one of those things only Brian could come up with.
- "Cabinessence" is another SMiLE remnant, one of the few to be, more or less, fully completed, and thus presented in 1967-form here. Enriched with Van Dyke Parks' oblique, mystical lyrics, it paints an "aural portrait" of the settlers of the Old West. The complex "Who Ran the Iron Horse?" chorus manages to make the Boys' harmonies sound just like a speeding locomotive.
- This is the Beach Boys album where Dennis really shines the most. "Slip On Through" is often considered to be the greatest album opener the Beach Boys did, "It's About Time" (sung by Carl) is a well-made memorable rocker, "Got to Know the Woman" is fun, and "Forever" is now his Signature Song with the Beach Boys.
- "This Whole World" is a Brian song filled with a lot of love. It just crams so much music into its comparatively short timespan. Carl's passionate lead vocal definitely brings it to another level, yet again. In its own way, it's a bit of a segue into "Add Some Music to Your Day", a universal statement about music's omnipresence in life, with all the Boys (bar Dennis) getting at least one verse. Halfway through, the song modulates into what could easily be another entirely, and it's pure magic. Equally touching and funny ("You'll hear children chasing ice cream carts!"), it's definitely one of their most relatable songs.
- Brian's "All I Wanna Do" seems to predict the whole chillwave genre by about 40 years, and boasts a sublime lead vocal by Mike Love to boot.
- Bruce's melodramatic "Tears in the Morning", a lovely tune, scored with accordions and a brass band, is one of his best compositions.
Surf's Up (1971)
- "Long Promised Road" is one of Carl Wilson's greatest compositions, very much displaying a sense of identity separate from Brian's work. Empowering, self-affirming lyrics about overcoming the trials of a life's past, present, and future. "Feel Flows" is also worth mentioning, another brilliant Carl song.
- "Disney Girls (1957)" is an unexpected moment of greatness from Bruce Johnston. Way ahead of the curve with the whole '50s nostalgia thing, it's a sentimental, heartfelt old-timey number that fits Bruce's voice perfectly. Brian has praised it for its chords and harmonies as well.
- "A Day in the Life of a Tree" is a simple, but heartbreaking Brian composition, with a pained, broken vocal by then-manager Jack Rieley. In its own right, it's a great song of environmental consciousness, but some have said that the lyrics could be equally applied to Brian himself, whose creative process and life was about to hit a sudden stop, never to be quite the same again.
- "Don't Go Near the Water" has a good environmental message, and a surprisingly gorgeous instrumental coda.
- "'Til I Die" is beautiful, mystical, and scary; the dark atmosphere is given a boost by some of the band's best harmonies. It's regarded as one of Brian's best songs from the '70s; he also says it's a favorite of his.
- "Surf's Up" is the last of the SMiLE remnants to be released for some time. One of the four originally envisioned centerpieces of SMiLE, it's arguable that this album version is the best. With Carl and Brian sharing lead vocals (Brian's parts consist of his legendary solo demo with some overdubs), Van Dyke Parks' strange, yet haunting lyrics shine through yet again. The song, and indeed, the album, ends on an absolutely massive vocal tag that captures the courageous grandiosity of SMiLE.
- "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone" is a great rocker that starts off this album, with excellent co-vocals from Carl and Blondie.
- "All This Is That" is regarded as one of the strongest songs in their discography that has little to no involvement from Brian. Credited to Al, Carl, and Mike, it's a cleverly-veiled tribute to transcendental meditation, practiced by a few band members, while remaining quite universal and applicable. As soothing as the peaceful images that the lyrics evoke, Carl's "jai guru dev" vocal tag is an absolute thing of beauty, his seldom-heard falsetto being a good match for Brian's in his vocal prime.
- "Marcella" was apparently Brian's attempt to emulate The Rolling Stones. While it doesn't sound quite like its inspiration, it's still a very catchy, well-structured pop song, with great vocal harmonies throughout and a cool guitar solo in the middle for good measure.
- "Sail On, Sailor" is a beautiful, mature song that showed The Beach Boys coming of age. Musically it sounds little like what they were known for, and is often mistaken for Neil Young, The Eagles or early Steely Dan.
- "The Trader" is consistently ranked as one of the best songs Carl ever wrote.
Love You (1977)
- "Mona" is a cute and innocent little tune that few other than Brian could pull off, benefiting hugely from a soulful Dennis vocal turn. Perhaps Brian's greatest emulation of the Spector sound (and indeed, the song name-checks the man), those joyous bells are a thing of beauty.
- "Good Time" is an insanely catchy Brian/Al composition with an understated, bluesy bridge that serves as a lead-in to what is sort of a last hurrah for Brian's iconic falsetto (though admittedly, the recording dates from way back before the limiting of his range), which bursts forth in the chorus.
- The second side features an unofficial "suite" of some of Brian's most powerful and honest songs (all self-composed), namely "The Night Was So Young", "I'll Bet He's Nice", and "Let's Put Our Hearts Together" (the inclusion of "I Want to Pick You Up" being somewhat more optional), with brotherly vocal tag-teaming throughout (and the latter being a duet with Brian's then-wife Marilyn), and some of the most heart-wrenching usage of a Moog synthesizer ever.
M.I.U. Album (1978)
- "My Diane" is universally considered to be the best song off this album, and has emotional vocals from Dennis (though Brian wrote the song).
L.A. Light Album (1979)
- "Love Surrounds Me" and "Baby Blue" are generally regarded to be the main highlights off this album, and would be the last songs Dennis contributes to the Beach Boys. Both are lost classics, with the latter in particular praised for the shared vocals with Carl and Dennis. Dennis also sings on the Carl composition "Angel Come Home".
- Brian and Carl's "Good Timin'" is also considered to be a major highlight from this album. Short and simple (also dating back to 1974), it has some terrific vocals on it, in particular Carl's.
- To many, Al's "Lady Lynda" is considered to be among his greatest songs with the Beach Boys. The introduction was taken from "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and the rest of the song is very pleasant late-70s pop.
The Beach Boys (1985)
- "Getcha Back" is usually praised as one of the best Beach Boys songs from the last 30 years, and it mixes the characteristic Beach Boys sound with the 1980s perfectly. The general opinion is that it should have been a much bigger single than it was.
- "Maybe I Don't Know" is an excellent rocker, with the guitar solo played by Gary Moore.
- "I Do Love You" is a ballad written by Stevie Wonder that was given to the Beach Boys. It turned out to be one of the major highlights off this album.
That's Why God Made The Radio (2012)
- The album ends with a rather unforgettable suite of some of the best songs Brian has written in thirty years and more. Reflecting on themes of aging, love, and loss, the album ends on a contemplative note with "Summer's Gone"; it couldn't be more fitting as The Beach Boys' potential recording epitaph.
- "The Little Girl I Once Knew", a beautiful non-album original from between Summer Days... and Pet Sounds, and it sounds like it. Had it not been for the gimmicky false endings, it might not have flopped.
- "It's A Beautiful Day", a non-album single recorded for 1979's Americathon soundtrack is a brilliant song that would have improved Light Album had it been included. It also ended up on Ten Years Of Harmony.
- "Land Ahoy" and "Cindy Oh Cindy" are Surfin' Safari outtakes that are way better than most of the songs on the album. "Land Ahoy" was omitted at the last minute to include "Surfin'" which was licensed from another label, otherwise it might have found its way into the track-listing. As for "Cindy", it was a cover (the song was a hit for Vince Martin and the Tarriers, as well as Eddie Fisher, back in 1956) and they may not have wanted too many covers on the album.
- "Can't Wait Too Long" is a kinda-sorta SMiLE-era song that remained unreleased for a good number of years. Why? Nobody knows. It's an episodic five-minute song built around a recurring lyrical motif, that manages to do a hell of a lot with it. Surely one of their most undeservedly obscure compositions, as interesting as any SMiLE out-take.
- "(Wouldn't It Be Nice to) Live Again" is another song that languished in the vaults for decades for various reasons, mostly political. Intended to be the original closer of the first side of Surf's Up; when it was vetoed mainly by Carl who had plans to put "Surf's Up" in that place. Dennis promptly refused to release it altogether. A pure and simple (and with Dennis' death, utterly heartbreaking) song of pure passion, it's on par with Brian's work, and arguably Dennis' greatest piece of work as a songwriter.
- "Let's Live Before We Die", an instrumental outtake which was released in 2015 on the "copyright extension" release Keep an Eye on Summer — The Beach Boys Sessions 1964. With such a beautiful, haunting melody, one can only wonder how great it would've sounded like if the boys had gotten around to putting vocals on it.