Top 10 Beach Boys Albums

10. 20/20 (1969)

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20/20 is the band’s contractual obligation album – meaning that they took a bunch of songs from different sources and filled an album to get it done and finally be able to move onto another label. Some are previously-released singles, some outtakes from past albums, and 2 of them even SMiLE leftovers. One thing that they have in common however, is that almost all of them are good – through its hotchpotch character, 20/20 shows that the band were barely capable of doing wrong in the second half of the 60s.

9. All Summer Long (1964)

The_Beach_Boys-All_Summer_Long-Frontal (250x250)All Summer Long is the blossomed flower of the band’s early fun-in-the-sun material. The naïve, the retro, the nostalgic, the enthusiastic and the serious all seem to find their place here – this is the album one must play in the first day of the summer holiday. Trust me, it will make sense that way.

8. Love You (1977)

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Love You is one of those oddities that won’t ever be replicated by anybody. It was only Brian’s damaged mind from years of drug abuse and reclusiveness that could come up with this set of thoroughly bizarre and childlike lyrics. And 1977 was a confusing enough year for most 60s dinosaurs with the arrival of Punk and New-Wave, but Brian’s answer to that in the form of raw, rudimentary synth-based textures is weird even by those standards. It all somehow manages to crawl under the skin of the listener after multiple listens though – the lyrics become charming and funny and the music just the right fit for that. Plus the melodies are always memorable anyway. And it seems to be Peter Buck’s favorite Beach Boys album.

7. Wild Honey (1967)

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If Smiley Smile was the Beach Boys’ foray into the psychedelic world, then Wild Honey is their blue-eyed soul album – less thinking, more moving, less of a statement, more of a good-time record. Released in the same year, it retains the DIY production values, making it another wonderfully subdued album and features what are perhaps the band’s most energetic vocal performances ever.

6. Smiley Smile (1967)

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One of those albums that never really got the chance to properly shine on its own without the shadow of “what-could’ve-been” cast over its head, Smiley Smile was The Beach Boys’ very next release after abandoning the legendary SMiLE. It was never supposed to replace it, even though most of the songs are reworked version of those very same SMiLE compositions. But they’re presented in a whole new light – a lo-fi one, where everything is stripped down to its bare bones. In the opinion of this listener, Smiley Smile was not an accident, nor a retreat, but a fascinating psychedelic pop journey with avant-garde tendencies. It is weird, far-out and perhaps at times intentionally fucked-up, but then so was Brian Wilson’s frame of mind at the time and he managed to perfectly capture it onto record.

5. Sunflower (1970)

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The Beach Boys were never really a democratic band; I mean, how can you be when one of your members is a genius? However, Sunflower seems to be their most collaborative effort – the closest they’ve ever come to a group album where every member is given the chance to shine on his own, vocally and compositionally. And the best thing about it is that none of them disappoints. Whereas the few previous albums sounded like them successfully going into a new direction, Sunflower gives more the impression of a mature pop band that does what it knows best. A usually overlooked aspect that contributes to this is the wonderfully clean and sunny production tying all the songs together.

4. Friends (1968)

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In retrospect, it is just as interesting to hear the 60s albums that nobody bought back then as it is to hear those that defined the decade’s musical style. Something like The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society sounds fresh now because it seems to so out of touch with what was happening in 1968. What wasn’t cool then becomes cool now and what was innovative then becomes predictable now. The same applies to Friends from the same year, a short little album that makes more sense if played while sitting on the porch on a sunny afternoon, rather than in the middle of a crowd prepared to protest for the next cultural revolution. Its unpretentiousness sounds so fresh, almost as if Brian gave up the idea of reaching for the stars but then found out that the seemingly small and insignificant things in life can be just as much of an inspiration.

3. Today (1965)

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Today is one of the best transitional albums ever because it is literally halfway between the early fun-in-the-sun material and the sophisticated introspectiveness of Pet Sounds. The first side of the album is made of up-tempo pop-rockers, while the second focuses strictly on ballads; and while they’re both brilliant on their own, it’s the combination of the two that makes it special. It simply is the best of both worlds and should offer a balance to those who think either of the worlds push a bit too much in their direction; while at the same time satisfy those who love both of them even more.

2. SMiLE (1967/2011)

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This may be cheating a bit, as SMiLE was never really finished and released – but was instead shelved, mythicized, written about, bootlegged and eventually performed live and archival-released a good 40 years after its creation. Indeed, this is one of the two mountains in the Beach Boys career that one simply can’t ignore; sort of like the sum of everything they’ve worked towards, only viewed through the eyes of an acid-altered brain. A multi-part journey, both progressive and backwards-looking, with worlds in the eclectic instrumentation, the hypnotizing harmonies and the poetic lyrics that’ll keep you studying forever. It made its composer almost lose his mind in the process and the truth is that we’ll never really hear SMiLE as it was supposed to be. But that’s the album’s only flaw; it’s still a masterpiece and any version should be enough to convince you of that.

1. Pet Sounds (1966)

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I’ve written multiple times about my appreciation and personal connection with Pet Sounds and really, where do I even begin in describing an album that seems to be part of my DNA? And yet an album that, after so many listens, I still discover new things in. It is flawless from pretty much every angle and you don’t need me to tell you that it launched a thousand ships – its influence is still felt to this day. Another thing is that Pet Sounds is one of the first albums in rock to really sound like a cohesive unit – every single song is a gem, simultaneously eclipsing each other and sequenced in what seems the only possible way to ever make sense. I mean, come on, even Sir Paul McCartney admits that it’s one of the best things ever.

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Categories: Tops

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29 replies

  1. Superbly written piece Ovi. Your picks match mine in general…(maybe “Surf’s Up” would have been in my list) and your number one I completely agree with.The beauty of the record is gently unassuming; the vivid spectrum of creativity and emotion is sweetly uncontrived. “Pet Sounds” remains Brian Wilson’s masterstroke.

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  2. As I said to my friend recently,I don’t think there’s anyone on this earth who thinks on the same musical level as Brian. He’s a one off and probably knows it.

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  3. Well said about Today! being a transition – I had that same feeling of it’s part fun in the sun, part preview of Pet Sounds.
    Nice post!

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  4. Nice piece. I am not familiar with the “Beach Boys Love You” album at all. Will have to give it a try.

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  5. Sir Paul was right about Pet Sounds. It is a time capsule album.

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  6. Great post, Ovidiu! Can’t say I’d disagree with much here … maybe take out Smile (avoid cheating!) and have Surf’s Up in there. Sunflower would also be a little higher up … I’m a sucker for that one!

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  7. Hard to argue with this list, especially the Top 5. When I revisited their complete catalog for my Beach Boys series, I was reminded that they didn’t have many truly great top-to-bottom albums, but the hit-and-miss nature of most albums added to their charm the more you played them. I’m especially glad “Today” was ranked so highly here. That’s long been a personal favorite.

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  8. What about Summer Days? It had some great songs on it.

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  9. I’m afraid my list would be a lot, lot shorter than yours – maybe even 10 shorter. Sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I checked you out man! You don’t even like the Byrds and there is no mention of The Incredible Stringband on your blog! How can your ears be trusted where the Beach Boys are concerned??? I am just kidding here. You have an interesting blog that I am going to take a longer look at. Hope your man flu is better now. 🙂

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      • Arggh! I was raised my hippy parents on a steady diet of ISB – this is my rebellion! Seriously, the grouping on the back of ‘Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’? That’s what my family looked like in the early 70s!! Why else do you think I fell for hair metal in the 80s? I’d had enough wholemeal music to last a lifetime.

        You’re very welcome here, but I’ll trust you to sit at the back of the classroom quietly and raise your hand when I’m dissing the Beach Boys!!

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        • Very unlikely, 1537, my young friend… very unlikely! The words, the images, the fun those kids had singing that stuff. The Incredible Stringband are eternal and sit patiently waiting for you to gain the necessary maturity to appreciate what your parents were offering to your young heavy metal ass! 🙂

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        • My parents saw Robin Williamson play live last year.

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        • I wish that I could. He was the genius of that group and wrote some incredible lyrics. Now a traditional Celtic singer and fantastic harpist. Doesn’t seem to like America much, but then who does? 🙂

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  10. Thank you for this list. Like others have said, I would’ve included “Surf’s Up” towards the top. “Feel Flows,” Long Promised Road,” “A Day in the Life of a Tree,” “Til I Die,” and the title track are all very good songs (“Til I Die” is unbelievable). But you nailed it with your Number One pick…one of my desert isle albums!

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  11. Gotta love Wild Honey…my favourite Beach Boys album. That being said, Smiley Smile doesn’t get the love it deserves, in my opinion. Just because it wasn’t as good as SMiLE was hyped to be, it seems forever stumped in that respect.

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  12. I have a very warm place in my heart for The Beach Boys. My favorite BB albums are, I suppose, Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends, and 20/20. They released those albums consecutively.

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  13. My dad had most of the early Beach Boys albums, up to Pet Sounds or so, and I cut my rock and roll teeth on them. Now falling for a lot of the later stuff. And I’ll say this: for being widely recognized as a musical genius, the scope of Brian Wilson’s genius is still underappreciated, IMO.

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