Few songwriters deserve the title of underrated genius, but Brian Wilson surely does. Though you may think that his huge record sales and the admiration of his contemporaries would be enough to cement his place in the pantheon of pop’s greats, some people are still unsure about just how brilliant Wilson is. With The Beach Boys, he not only crafted the kind of songs destined to be played out of rickety car radios, soundtracking summer days and sweaty nights but shaped a whole new sound.
Though surf rock had already been floating around California for a few years, when Wilson and his family band approached the genre, they kicked it into high gear. And, when Wilson was faced with the pesky British invasion, he didn’t turn his back; he found inspiration in their sound and created perhaps one of modern music’s finest albums of all time in Pet Sounds, but what is the esteemed songwriter’s favourite song he has ever written? It may surprise you.
Luckily we can find out as we paw through this rarely seen piece of footage. The clip, dating back to 2002, sees Wilson being asked off the cuff to name a number of his favourite records, including his favourite album by The Beach Boys and his favourite song he has ever written. We should note that, like any music fan, there’s a good chance that Wilson’s taste has changed over the years. But this is a pretty clear indication of his love for one particular song.
Wilson, who is sat down on a hill while an interviewer runs him through quickfire questions, unloads a number of his favourite tracks by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Carole King, James Taylor and many more. While the interview offers a fascinating insight, some of Wilson’s choices arrive as much more obscure choices than others, namely his favourite of his own songs.
Wilson stated that his favourite song that he has ever written was ‘California Girls’, a number which ultimately featured on the 1965 album Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!).
Wilson came up with the idea for the gorgeous number during his first-ever acid trip, later arranging and producing the song’s recording once his trip was over. It’s the kind of song that many might categorise as pop pomp, especially within the context of The Beach Boys output, but it’s still incredibly vital.
Speaking to Goldmine in 2011, Wilson remembered of the song’s composition: “I came up the introduction first. I’m still really proud of that introduction. It has a classical feel. I wrote the song ‘California Girls’ in the same key as the introduction. It took me some time. I wanted to write a song that had a traditional country and western left hand piano riff, like an old country song from the early ’50s. I wanted to get something that had kind of a jumpy feeling to it in the verses.”
Mike Love would takeover the lyrics, as he often did, and offered this when speaking to Songfacts about the track: “Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been intrigued by poetry and literature. So that’s always been something that I’ve immersed myself in since childhood. I’d always get really good grades in English literature and American literature and all that kind of thing. Whereas my math skills weren’t exactly upgraded.”
The track was a hit single with ‘California Girls’ reaching No. three on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming yet another feather in the cap of the California band. Though The Beach Boys were pop stars, they did it with a searing appreciation for the craft of songwriting, something they balanced with a desire to make people dance.
Though it is easy to get mixed up in the spiralling psychedelia that Wilson would soon imbue The Beach Boys with, it’s always worth remembering that, underneath it all, Brian Wilson and the band were still pop stars at heart.
Listen to Brian Wilson’s favourite Beach Boys song, ‘California Girls’ below.