The Beach Boys have a lot of hits, most of which were recorded between 1962 and 1966. But they've been making music together for over 50 years and have recorded 29 studio albums. There's quite a few lousy songs in there, but there's also tons and tons of brilliant tunes known only by the true fans. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, we asked our readers to select their favorite Beach Boys deep cuts. Here are the results.
Thinking that a drastic change of location would get their creative juices flowing, the Beach Boys shipped off to Holland in the summer of 1972 to cut a new album. Brian Wilson came along for the journey, but he was in rough mental and physical shape and not really capable of contributing all that much. It created a huge void that Al Jardine and Mike Love were happy to fill. They teamed up to contribute the three-part "California" saga, proving that even when they travelled 5,000 miles away their minds were rarely away from home. It begins with Mike Love's "Big Sur," which talks about the simple life in the northern part of the state. It then goes into "The Beaks of the Eagles," which spotlights a Robinson Jeffers poem. It wraps with Al Jardine's "California," a bouncy tune that brings back memories of "I Get Around."
Some songs hide their true meanings behind layers of riddle and rhyme. Then there's a song like "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" that spells out its message in the title and, if that doesn't quite get it across ,it repeats the line "sometimes I feel very sad" over and over again. It certainly summed up how Brian Wilson felt in early 1965 when he made Pet Sounds, but the words come from the pen of Tony Asher, a writer of commercial jingles. Brian correctly felt his skills could be transferred to the sort of sophisticated songs he hoped to create on Pet Sounds. It's the exact opposite of the sort of lyric Mike Love liked to see in Beach Boys songs, and it's easy to understand why he was a little uneasy about some of the material on Pet Sounds.
In the summer of 1965, the Beach Boys scored a huge hit with "California Girls," but anyone who bought the 45 and flipped it over got to experience "Let Him Run Wild." It's a Burt Bacharach-inspired song about a philandering guy, possibly inspired by Brian's own father Murry. Brian wrote the lyrics by himself, a decision he later regretted. He's also said this is one his least favorite Beach Boys songs even though it showcases a sophisticated use of harmonies he'd use to greater effect in the coming months. "I sounded like a little girl," he once said. He almost never plays it live, though it did show up a couple of times in 2013.
One could make a very good argument that "Darlin'" doesn't believe on a list of Beach Boys deep cuts. The Wild Honey track hit Number 19 on the Hot 100 in 1967, and it appears on numerous compilation albums. It's been played live over 1,000 times. But you don't hear it often on the radio these days, and it isn't among their 20 or so most famous songs. It falls somewhere between hit and deep cut, so we're going to count it. That said, "Don't Worry Baby" and "God Only Knows" both received enough votes to land in the top 10, and we didn't count either of those. We're only willing to stretch the definition of "deep cut" so far.
Carl Wilson was a teenager during much of the initial Beach Boys blast of fame. He had an angelic voice and real skills on the guitar, but material was pouring out of his brother Brian and cousin Mike so quickly that he had little need to try his hand at songwriting. This changed in the late 1960s when Brian was largely out of commission. Carl began writing his own tunes, and in 1971, he teamed up with Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley to compose the trippy "Feel Flows" for Surf's Up. It wasn't a single and didn't get much attention, though it found a new audience in 2000 when Cameron Crowe ran over the end credits to Almost Famous.
On November 21st, 1963, the day before President Kennedy was assassinated, Brian Wilson and Mike Love sat down and wrote a song about the agony of losing someone close to you. The next day they were prepping to perform in Yuba City, California when the horrible news came in, giving a whole new meaning to their new song. They recorded the song a little over a month later, when the shock of Kennedy's death still lingered in the air. It appeared as a B-side to "Dance, Dance, Dance."
The Beach Boys were amazingly uncool as the 1960s turned into the 1970s. This was the time of Led Zeppelin, the Stooges, Black Sabbath and the MC5. The Beach Boys had been around for less than a decade, but they seemed hopelessly lame and out of touch by the general public. That meant that new records like Sunflower came and went without a trace, and gorgeous songs like "All I Wanna Do" were ignored. Written by Mike Love and Brian Wilson, proving that their partnership didn't dry up after "Good Vibrations," it's a love song about undying devotion. Out of nowhere, Mike Love's Beach Boys began playing it live in 2015. It had never been a part of any live show before that.
The Beach Boys were desperately in need of fresh talent in 1972. Dennis Wilson seriously damaged his hand and was unable to play drums for a long period of time, and Bruce Johnson walked away to find work as a songwriter. Carl Wilson caught sight of the South African band the Flames and was so impressed he hired drummer Ricky Fataar and singer/guitarist Blondie Chaplin. During the Holland sessions, they let Chaplin sing a new song written by Brian, Van Dyke Parks, Raymond Louis Kennedy, Tandyn Almer and Jack Rieley. That's a lot of people, but they managed to come together and write an unforgettable tune. Three years ago, Blondie returned to Brian Wilson's touring band and every night he belts out "Sail on, Sailor" to thunderous applause.
There are many myths surrounding the Beach Boys, but the most persistent one is that Brian Wilson never contributed anything of value to the band after Smile collapsed in 1967. There are mountains of evidence to contradict that, but none are quite as persuasive as 1971's achingly-gorgeous "'Til I Die." The lyrics were written entirely by Brian, clearly reflecting his tortured state of being as mental illness and addiction destroyed his life. "I'm a leaf on a windy day," he wrote. "Pretty soon I'll be blown away/How long will the wind blow? Until I die." When he revived the song 25 years later on his first solo tour, it became an anthem of survival and not of despair.
On December 17th, 1966, a CBS camera crew arrived at Brian Wilson's house to interview him for a Leonard Bernstein-hosted special about pop music. At the time, he felt that Smile was coming along wonderfully and he was eager to share his new song "Surf's Up." With three cameras rolling, he delivered one of the most stirring performances of his entire career. There's not even a tiny hint of the growing madness inside his head. The elaborate song was the centerpiece of Smile, though it wouldn't see an official release until 1971. That version featured minor overdubs by Carl. Brian re-recorded the whole thing in 2004 for his new Smile, but in 2011, the Smile sessions finally all came out in a huge box set. It's loaded with many version of "Surf's Up," revealing just how this masterpiece came together. Had this come out in 1967, the future of pop music might have been very different.