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The Beach Boys: Ten Great Albums (that aren’t Pet Sounds)

The Beach Boys Pet Sounds

For some bands, it’s fun to argue what their best album is. Do you prefer Abbey Road, Revolver, or Sgt. Peppers? Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie? But other bands have a canonical best album that’s hard to debate against – does anyone not choose Straight Outta Compton or The Stone Roses as the best albums from their respective bands.

Despite a vast catalogue of 29 studio albums (plus a few legendary discontinued records) and a ton of hit singles, there’s a critical consensus that 1966’s Pet Sounds is The Beach Boys‘ best record, a highly personal work from Brian Wilson that captures him at the peak of his composing teenage symphonies to God. I’m not going to argue with the consensus, but The Beach Boys have many other worthwhile albums in their catalogue. Here are ten of my favourites from California’s Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston:

The Beach Boys Summer Days and Summer Nights#10 – Summer Days (And Summer Nights!)

1965
Often the mark of a good Beach Boys album is how much of it is contributed by the Wilsons, as opposed to the less talented members. There’s plenty of Brian Wilson genius on Summer Days – the singles ‘Help Me Rhonda’ and ‘California Girls’ are terrific, while there are also strong album cuts like ‘Let Him Run Wild’ and the Carl Wilson showcase ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’, but it’s offset by Mike Love’s crassness on cuts like ‘Salt Lake City’ and ‘Amusement Parks U.S.A.’.


beach-boys-love-you#9 – The Beach Boys Love You

1977
Love You was initially intended as a solo debut for Brian Wilson, who provides most of the songs, instrumentation, and lead vocals. It’s an oddity in The Beach Boys’ catalogue – largely played by Wilson on synthesisers, it sounds off the cuff where most Beach Boys records are pristine and lovingly arranged. But it’s a fascinating insight into Wilson’s state of mind in the late 1970s, oscillating between childlike playfulness and devastating insightfulness.


Beach Boys Holland#8 – Holland

1973
After the underwhelming Carl and the Passions, The Beach Boys attempted to focus Brian Wilson by recording in the Netherlands. Wilson was still troubled, listening obsessively to Randy Newman’s Sail Away during the trip, but he was functional enough to contribute the opener ‘Sail On Sailor’. Carl provides the historical epic ‘The Trader’, and even Mike Love contributes the likeable ‘Big Sur’. It was the last really satisfying group effort from The Beach Boys before the success of the Endless Summer compilation turned them into an oldies act.


The Beach Boys Wild Honey#7 – Wild Honey

1967
The Beach Boys recorded the relatively straightforward Wild Honey at the height of psychedelia. It must have made them look anachronistic when The Beatles were making Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, but it holds up well, with the group handling most of the instruments themselves and Carl recording terrific lead vocals on songs like ‘Darlin” and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Was Made To Love Her’.


The Beach Boys All Summer Long#6 – All Summer Long

1964
At only 25 minutes long, and containing filler like studio banter and an unremarkable guitar solo on ‘Carl’s Big Chance’, All Summer Long is a remnant of the era before the pop LP as an art-form. But there’s a lot of great material here – ‘I Get Around’ was the deserved hit single, but there are also great album tracks like ‘Girls On The Beach’ and ‘We’ll Run Away’.


#5 – Adult/Childbeach-boys-adult-child

1977 (unreleased)
It might be cheating including an unreleased, but widely bootlegged, album in this list, but Adult/Child is a fascinating part of the Beach Boys story. Brian Wilson launched into recording Adult/Child just five days after completing Love You, but instead of using synthesisers, he often utilised big band arrangements, reminiscent of Sinatra. The record company rejected it for being too strange, but it’s no stranger than Love You, and it feels more like a group effort, with lead vocals from all five Beach Boys.


#4 – Surf’s Up

Beach Boys Surf's Up1971
Surf’s Up is a decidedly two paced record. You get divine music from the angels, like the beautiful title track (a Smile leftover), Brian’s ‘Til I Die’, and two of Carl’s best Beach Boys songs, ‘Feel Flows’ and ‘Long Promised Road’, but you also have to sit through atrocities like ‘Take Good Care Of Your Feet’ and Love’s hackneyed ‘Student Demonstration Time’.


#3 – Sunflower

Beach Boys Sunflower1970
The Beach Boys refocused at the beginning of the 1970s, after signing to Reprise Records. The album went through a troubled genesis – there were enough leftover songs from the aborted attempts to form a bootleg named Landlocked – but the results were strong, a collaborative album with songs from Brian, Dennis, and Bruce Johnston, with Dennis Wilson’s tender ‘Forever’ perhaps the best known track.


#2The Beach Boys Smile Sessions – The Smile Sessions

recorded 1965-1971, released 2011
Smile was Brian Wilson’s ambitious followup to Pet Sounds, but it was beset with difficulties – Wilson became laden with addiction, superstition, and pressure from band mates, and was unable to complete the project, despite the massive success of single ‘Good Vibrations’. While many of the key songs turned up on later Beach Boys albums, and it was widely bootlegged, it wasn’t until Wilson’s 2004 re-recording of the project that there was a template for an official version, and it’s often spellbinding.


#1 The Beach Boys Today!– Today!

1965
Side one of Today! is filled with nice songs, including ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’ and ‘When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)’, but it’s the second side that’s truly spellbinding, a mini-suite that’s like an overlooked younger sibling of Pet Sounds, with great tunes like ‘Kiss Me Baby’, ‘Please Let Me Wonder’, and the doo-wop of ‘I’m So Young’, a stunning statement from a young Brian Wilson.

Did I leave out your favourite Beach Boys album? Was I too harsh on Mike Love? Let me know!

19 thoughts on “The Beach Boys: Ten Great Albums (that aren’t Pet Sounds) Leave a comment

  1. Nice choices, especially #1, which features a song that would have to be in my BB’s Top 10: “She Knows Me Too Well.” I think their last album, “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” probably deserves to be in the mix. As I wrote at the end of my 9-part BB’s series in 2012: “If this ends up being the final studio recording by The Beach Boys, they will go out on a high note (and will thankfully erase Summer In Paradise as their swan song).”

    Liked by 1 person

    • That whole second side of Today! is pretty amazing, could have mentioned every song but should have included that one.

      I liked the title track from That’s How God Made The Radio, but haven’t heard the whole album. It is probably the most involved Brian’s been in a Beach Boys record since the 1970s I think? They had that country album in 1996 too, right?

      Like

    • I definitely agree with including 20/20. I Can Hear Music, Do it Again, and Cabinessence are 3 of my all time favorite BBs songs. All of the late 60s weirdo albums have some really cool stuff on em. 20/20 is my favorite from this era, although all of these albums are in one way or another refugees from other projects.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I feel like I did neglect the late 1960s a bit – I feel like 20/20 is not so essential now there’s an official Smile Sessions, even though I like the other two tracks you mentioned, although I’m not so keen on stuff like Bluebirds Over The Mountain and The Nearest Faraway Place.

        Like

    • Thanks for writing in! I looked at the RYM list to see what the consensus was, and it looks like Friends was the big album I omitted, along with the recent archival Sunshine Tomorrow of 1967 stuff. I like Friends, but find it pretty darn mellow to sit through.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice post – and nice call on some bands having undisputed #1s and others being open for endless debates.
    I remember having that same feeling about Surf’s Up, two-paced is a good way of putting it, when it’s good, it’s great! And when it’s not…
    As opposed to Today, where it has 2 different sounding sides, but both are terrific in their own way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic singles band. I was never into their albums. Didn’t even get Pet Sounds until about 30 years later, and I have to say, although there are some great songs on it, they were taking small steps while the Beatles were taking giant leaps.
    Oddly, the first time I heard You Still Believe In Me was Kirsty McColl’s 1981 version.
    And no, I don’t think you’re being too hard on Mike Love. Good singer, not much of a songwriter and a troublemaker. Only the other day I watched a video of a live studio version of Cottonfields, with Al Jardine singing and Love looking bored and disdainful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wilson’s stuff isn’t very diverse, but it’s very interesting musically – thought-out arrangements and interesting chord changes. The Beatles were definitely fans:

      Just after its release, John Lennon gave it a favorable review:

      “This is the greatest! Turn it up, turn it right up. It’s GOT to be a hit. It’s the greatest record I’ve heard for weeks. It’s fantastic. I hope it will be a hit. It’s all Brian Wilson. He just uses the voices as instruments. He never tours or anything. He just sits at home thinking up fantastic arrangements out of his head. Doesn’t even read music. You keep waiting for the fabulous breaks. Great arrangement. It goes on and on with all different things. I hope it’s a hit so I can hear it all the time.”

      It’s a shame this cartoonist didn’t keep his strip going:
      http://mikelovenotwarcomic.tumblr.com/

      Like

  4. I’m with Chris Morvan here. I know and like a good deal of Beach Boys songs and for some reason have always looked at them as a singles band. I haven’t had a particular desire to explore their albums.

    The one exception is “Pet Sounds.” I listened to it several times, since everybody was saying it’s such a great record. While it’s certainly not a bad album, I‘m not sure I get all the fuzz about it. To start with, it’s missing my favorite Beach Boys tune “Good Vibrations.”

    I’m sorry, but in my humble opinion, you can’t compare “Pet Sounds” to “Sgt. Pepper”, “Abbey Road” or “Revolver” – admittedly, I may be a bit biased here!😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think I just figured out why it’s unlikely I’ll ever explore entire Beach Boys albums. I listened for a good while to a live album they put out in 2013 from their 50th anniversary tour.

    Individually, there are many great tunes on this record. While I don’t know whether they enhanced the vocals in the studio after the fact, the harmony singing is simply out of this world. The issue is after you listen to a few songs, the music starts sounding the same. This is further accentuated by the fact that they connected many tunes without taking breaks in-between.

    Granted, the show was a greatest hits type event featuring many of the band’s early song from the surf music era. I assume these tunes sound more similar than the music on their later albums.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I find it hard to love The Beach Boys ,everything about them seems slightly wrong.
    I’ve tried though pet sounds seems pretty patchy but I have a soft spot for friends which sets its sights a bit lower and hits the mark. It also features Anna Lee the healer which might be the worst song lyrically ever written. Thanks mike !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Love does have a few bad lyrics around, this is one of my favourites:

      I do them when I’m down in the tub
      With avocado cream they’ll take a rub
      They wrinkle like a-raisins if I stay too long
      I wouldn’t want to do it wrong

      They’ll put you in the driver’s seat
      And to the table when you want to eat
      But when you go to sit down in your chair
      Something else has got to put you there

      Take good care of your feet, Pete
      You better watch out what you eat, Pete
      Better take care of your life
      ‘Cause nobody else will

      They’ll twinkle when you fall in love
      And put you there when you jump up above
      When you’re on the spot, get them right under you
      One, then the other too

      Liked by 1 person

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