Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world ... especially if you're listening to the Beach Boys. One of the greatest, and most emblematic American bands has lasted more than 50 years. That makes it almost impossible to whittle their vast catalog of classic songs down to the very best. Still, we managed to come up with a list of the Top 10 Beach Boys Songs. So surf's up, everybody. Let's dive in.
'Cabinessence'From: '20/20' (1969)
"Cabinessence" was supposed to be a significant part of the Smile album but, like the rest of the project, it was shelved in 1967. When the band started assembling 20/20 two years later, the song was resurrected for the Beach Boys' final LP of the '60s. From Van Dyke Parks' obscure lyrics to Brian Wilson's majestically complex music and vocal arrangements, "Cabinessence" ranks among the group's most heady recordings. It was also the snapping point during the Smile sessions, prompting an angry Mike Love to question Parks over his vague lyrics. Oblique as it is, this remains one of pop music's most fascinating pieces.
'Fun, Fun, Fun'From: 1964 single
Released just a few days before a certain U.K. foursome landed on American shores, "Fun, Fun, Fun" was one of the Beach Boys' strongest songs up to that point. This Top 5 hit is filled with classic imagery of a time that's long since passed. Mike Love delivers the lead, but it's the Wilson brothers (along with Al Jardine) who seal it with their perfect harmonies.
'Do It Again'From: 1968 single
By 1968, the Beach Boys couldn't have been more out of fashion with rock audiences. In the post-Sgt. Pepper's landscape, the group was cast off as relics from another period in time – even though they had been making some challenging and complex music. This nostalgic ode to simpler and more innocent times brings up Beach Boys staples like girls, surfing and dancing, and it's set to one of Brian Wilson's greatest grooves. "Do It Again" was the band's last Top 20 hit until 1973.
'I Get Around'From: 1964 single
The Beach Boys released this No. 1 hit right in the middle of Beatlemania, proving that they weren't going away anytime soon. "I Get Around" kicks off with the song's dynamic chorus before diving into the stripped-down verses. From the hand claps and guitar and organ riffing to those glorious harmonies, "I Get Around" is – in a word – brilliant.
'She Knows Me Too Well'From: 'The Beach Boys Today!' (1965)
The Beach Boys Today!, the band's first great album, is loaded with songs that hint at the following year's masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Originally released in 1964 as the B-side to the single "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)," "She Knows Me Too Well" is pure pop sophistication set to a rock 'n' roll beat.
'Surf's Up'From: 'Smile' (2011)
Like "Cabinessence" (see No. 10 on our list of the Top 10 Beach Boys Songs), "Surf's Up" was originally part of the abandoned Smile album. (Brian Wilson actually performed the song on solo piano in 1966 as part of a TV special called Inside Pop.) In 1971, the Beach Boys rerecorded "Surf's Up" for the same-titled album. But we prefer the more fully realized version from the original 1967 sessions, which were finally officially released in 2011.
"California Girls"From 1965 single
Deceivingly innocent, "California Girls" was really the first product of Brian Wilson's famous LSD trips. "I was thinking about the music from cowboy movies" Wilson told the Los Angeles Times in 2007, "I sat down and started playing it, bum-buhdeeda, bum-buhdeeda. I did that for about an hour. I got these chords going. Then I got this melody. It came pretty fast after that." The lush intro and underlying musical sophistication here is way beyond the typical pop song of the period. "Everybody loves girls, right?" Wilson added. "That's what I wanted from the song. And to mention all the parts of the country, that's fun. People will like that." Indeed.
'God Only Knows'From: 'Pet Sounds' (1966)
Pet Sounds ranks as one of the greatest and most perfect albums ever made. It may very well be pop music's grandest statement. Put another way, Pet Sounds paved the way for Sgt. Pepper's, which paved the way for almost everything that followed. The album's incredibly rich, sophisticated and intricate arrangements are performed by an ace session band that underlines the group's heavenly harmonies. "God Only Knows" features Carl Wilson's most gorgeous vocal performance, and the song itself is one of the best love songs ever written.
'Wouldn't It Be Nice'From: 'Pet Sounds' (1966)
The stellar opening to a perfect album, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" sets the tone of one of the most revered studio projects ever made. Tony Asher wrote the lyrics, working with Brian Wilson on most of Pet Sounds, capturing the overwhelming feelings teenagers feel as they enter adulthood. "Wouldn't It Be Nice" was the second single pulled from Pet Sounds, and it reached No. 8.
'Good Vibrations'From: 1966 single
This track's story is long and complex, starting with sessions in early 1966. Over the next several months, Brian Wilson led studio musicians in the crafting of one of the most perfect singles to ever reach the pop charts. "Good Vibrations" was pieced together over a year; nobody but Wilson had any idea what the finished track would sound like. With theramin, cellos and a complex vocal arrangement rounding things out, the results were called a pocket symphony. Released as a single in October 1966, "Good Vibrations" rocketed to No. 1. It was supposed to be the introduction to Smile, but it didn't end up that way. Nevertheless, this became the Beach Boys' first No. 1 since 1964's "Help Me Rhonda" – and their last until 1988's "Kokomo."