The first album I was obsessed with as a child was the Beach Boy’s “Endless Summer”. I flipped those albums on our record player obsessively, recruited my neighbors to be a part of my choreographed dance routine to “I Get Around” and would lie on our living room floor dreaming of being a “California Girl” (I did it!!).
With the forthcoming release of the Brian Wilson biopic “Love and Mercy”, I decided to reach out to some of our favorite artists and ask them to share THEIR favorite Beach Boys song.
Suffice to say, I am not alone in my undying love for this band.
Read on for contributions from Best Coast, Devendra Banhart, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Villagers, Foxygen, Lord Huron, Dawes, Joy Williams, The Drums, Allah Las, and KCRW DJ Chris Muckley.
Best Coast – “God Only Knows”
(From Bethany Cosentino)
As cliche as it sounds- I would have to say “God Only Knows” is by far my favorite Beach Boys song. I think the first time I heard this song I was like 8 or 9 years old and I just remember even back then, thinking it was so beautiful. It’s just like, the realest, purest, most beautiful emotions set to such an incredible melody and it will forever live in my mind as one of the most beautiful songs ever written.
Devendra Banhart: “Surf’s Up”
Brazilians have a word for certain type of longing, a unique sort of nostalgia and a particular version of homesickness that they call Saudage. It’s in 9999.9 % of every song. And, while they may rightfully lay claim to the word, the feeling is damn universal. And few songs fills me with more Saudage than “Surf’s Up“….. it’s the tenderness , the gentleness, the yearning , the melancholy in and of Brian’s voice … matched with Van Dyke’s surreal , romantic , dystopian , hilarious , heady , lamentful, exquisitely juxtaposed words …. not to put down any other version of this song but I’m referring to the Piano Demo….
That’s “Surf’s Up” , great jewel of pop , as precious now as ever…
Unknown Mortal Orchestra: “Friends”
(From Ruban Nielson)
One of my favorite Beach Boys songs is called “Friends” from the album of the same name. I love it because it was recorded at Brian Wilson’s home studio and has all kinds of interesting modulations and turns. It was a huge influence on my songwriting and probably one of the songs Ive listened to the most in my life. The first time I heard it was on a sunny day in Portland.
The lyrics are amazing. It’s just a heartwarming song about close friends. “you told me when my girl was untrue/ I lent you money when the funds weren’t too cool/ I talked your folks out of making you cut off your hair”.
The song just makes me feel good.
Villagers: “Little Bird”
It’s impossible to choose a definitive favorite Beach Boys song, but one that immediately springs to mind is “Little Bird” from the album “Friends“.
It’s so vivid in its simplicity and full of a sense of world-weary spirituality but there is also an air of foreboding in the chords and the lyrics. It seems to say, “the universe is telling me that everything will be okay, but sometimes I forget to listen.”
I love everything about the production and arrangement, including the artfully placed brass and cello as well as one of the smoothest rhythm sections ever.
A thing of beauty.
Foxygen: “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”
(From Jonathan Rado)
“Sometimes I feel very sad.” In just one simple line, Brian expresses what nerdy little men in dumb hats have been trying to express in wordy-ass pop songs for the last 80 years.
Plus, theremin solo.
Lord Huron: “Good Vibrations”
(From Ben Schneider)
There was an excellent oldies station in my hometown growing up. It was what we put on when the whole family was in the car, I guess because it was the only thing we could all tolerate. We had an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon with simulated wood paneling that actually seated the six of us quite comfortably. Being second-to-youngest, I’d sit in the “way back” with my kid sister, facing backwards. It was a good way to listen to music, sitting that way, watching things recede into the distance, letting your mind wander.
The Beach Boys were one of the station’s staples. Hearing those sunny sounds come through the speakers on a cold Michigan morning driving to church, staring out at snowy landscapes was a surreal experience. I didn’t know any hard facts about them, but their name and their music was extremely evocative.
I tried to piece things together from their lyrics. I formed an image in my mind of California and the lives of these weird, surfing singers, whom I imagined must be brothers that spent most of their lives outdoors in the sun, belting out tunes and getting kicks.
“Good Vibrations” spoke volumes. I was just starting to understand how one might get “excitations” admiring a girl in the sun. And the theremin (Tannerin, actually) – or as I called it, that weird, wavy whistling sound – seemed like the perfect sonic representation of that woozy feeling.
Cut to 20 years later and here I am, out in California. A weirdo singing harmonies with his buddies.
Dawes: “Hold On Dear Brother”
(From Griffin Goldsmith)
“Hold On Dear Brother” is my favorite Beach Boys song. I love the way Carl Wilson sings this one. It’s more soulful than most of the other Beach Boys recordings. I deeply love my bros as well so it resonates. The drum track is awesome. I love the bar of two in the chorus. And the vocal climax in the bridge kills me. I believe Wylie Gelber our bassist showed me this one.
Joy Williams (Civil Wars): “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
The Beach Boys were THE soundtrack to my house growing up as a kid. (Before he passed away last year, my Dad told me he used to sneak listening to the Beach Boys with his handheld radio at night underneath his pillow when he was in high school). I can still remember him singing “Help Me Rhonda” in the kitchen when he cooked, and I remember his whistling of “Surfin’ USA” as my family made the move to Santa Cruz when I was just a wisp of a kid.
I love that the genius of Brian and the Beach Boys was passed down to me, and then grew even more on me as I got older. I learned how to harmonize in part because of listening to his music.
I had the fortune of being a part of Brian Fest a few weeks back, and got to sing the wondrous “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. One of my favorites. Brian’s sense of melody and harmony is unmatched. He is truly a musical genius of our time.
The Drums – “Don’t Worry Baby”
(From Jonny Pierce)
The Drums have been compared to the Beach Boys in just about every way since we started back in 2008. We used to hate the comparison- I guess simply because we really wanted to carve our own identity, but after digging deeper into the band over the last 7 years, I think we’ve actually grown fond of the comparison. The Beach Boys really had pop down to a science, and tapped into youth culture but without all the grit, leather jackets, sex and drugs. That’s not to say there isn’t a dark side, they have some astonishingly sad moments which balance the band out. All in all, a very important band and probably more influential than any of us could measure. It’s also pretty amazing the darkness that came out of such joyous songs. Following Wilson’s personal life is a ride all its own.
‘Don’t Worry Baby” is my favorite. With lyrics about bragging about his car, pushing the other guys too far, and leaning on his lover to calm his nerves. I sort of see myself in this song- sometimes too ambitious, hard to make friends with, and needing constant re-assurance that everything will be ok.
The song sounds simple but covers a lot.
And don’t even get me started on those chorus harmonies- absolute perfection. Tear jerking if you’re unfortunate enough to have my disposition.
Allah Las: “Caroline, No” and “Let’s Go Away for a While”
From Miles Michaud:
“Caroline, No” has always resonated with me for a variety of reasons, not the least being the somber melancholy so significant of Brian’s writing of the time.
Recently we played a private show in Big Sur for a small group of locals, one of which was Al Jardine.
It was his first time hearing our band and he expressed much appreciation for what we were doing, flattering as much as surprising us. He invited us out to his studio near Pfeiffer Beach the next day and was happy to show us his new guitar pedal; some analog delay rig.
He set it up and played the opening notes to “Caroline, No” in a way that only someone who has been playing those notes for the better part of their lifetime could, and we were all instantly entranced.
He went on to share an anecdote about Brian and the girl for whom the song was written, then chuckled and said, ‘I don’t know how we were writing stuff like that back then’, before putting the guitar down. He may never know how much it meant to all of us to be in his presence at that moment, and to hear such an intimate story behind the words, but so is the nature of those things. That is an experience I will never forget, and one which has certainly cemented that track as one of my favorite and most sentimentally profound Beach Boys numbers forever.
From Matthew Correia:
I’ve always been drawn to the moody gems that sit between the upbeat tracks, like “Lonely Sea” (“Surfin’ USA”) and “Warmth of the Sun” (“Shut Down Volume 2”).
Compared to the hit driven records before it, “Pet Sounds” dealt mostly in these melancholy retrospective themes.
The two instrumentals on the record give the listener a chance to breathe and reflect. I love so many songs by the Beach Boys, but “Let’s Go Away For Awhile” has remained my favorite composition for its ability to say so much without words.
KCRW DJ Chris Muckley: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” if we could somehow recapture some of our youth? The funny thing is that when I was a kid, all I wanted in the world was to be a “grown up.” I couldn’t wait to have a car, a license to drive it, a job, a significant other, and all the other seemingly glamorous things that adults had. I was probably in 7th grade when i acquired a Beach Boys Greatest Hits cassette, which I wore out in my Walkman. While I loved all the songs, I was particularly drawn to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, often rewinding it for multiple listens at a time.
The lyrics, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long…”just spoke to me. Much of my childhood was spent wondering how my life would turn out, and not even being able to imagine what it would be like to have the freedom to make any decision I wanted. Although adulthood was only a few years away, it seemed like it would be another lifetime. This song has always had a fairytalelike feel to it, from the whimsical opening notes, to the optimistic longing in the lyrics.
To this day, when it comes on, I’m transformed back to being an awkward teenager with big, often unimaginable, dreams.