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Brian Wilson’s favourite Beach Boys songs of all time

Brian Wilson is a songwriter in the rarefied realm where industry respect and reverence is matched by adoration from the masses. As the singer-songwriter and co-founding member of surf pop-rock pioneers The Beach Boys, he is undoubtedly one of the most influential composers of the last century. The dreamy harmonies and sanguine seaside melodies are echoed in so much of the music that followed that he can easily be dubbed as one of the most seminal forces in music history. 

Even master songwriters in their own right, like Bob Dylan, have high praise for him. “Jesus, that ear,” Dylan once remarked. “He should donate it to the Smithsonian. The records I used to listen to and still love, you can’t make a record that sounds that way. Brian Wilson, he made all his records with four tracks, but you couldn’t make his records if you had a hundred tracks today.” While Randy Newman added: “Brian Wilson is one of the greatest creative artists in the history of popular music. Pet Sounds is a remarkable achievement.”

While the group, as a whole, each had an integral part to play in the band’s success Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys drummer, co-founder and brother of Brian, had no problem heralding his cohort as their king; once famously quoted as saying: “Brian Wilson is the Beach Boys. He is the band. We’re his fucking messengers. He is all of it. Period. We’re nothing. He’s everything.” Seeing as though Brian Wilson wrote or co-wrote well over two dozen top 40 hits for the group, it’s hard to disagree. 

Thus, as the driving force behind the band with so many hits to his name that he has no vested interest in choosing anything other than his genuine favourites, his championed selection is all the more notable. “Well, my personal two favourite Beach Boys songs are ‘California Girls’ and ‘Surfer Girl’, he once remarked. “That’s my personal taste in our music.” 

Before explaining: “And the reason that would be is that ‘Surfer Girl’ was our best ballad achievement and ‘California Girl’ was like the most shuffle between the record, that was our highest achievement in shuffle rhythm and then the opening was symphonic and Bach and whatever else you want to call it.”

With his two favourites out of the way, he later went on to list 17 other songs for the compilation record, Classics Selected by Brian Wilson. In the liner notes, he wrote: “Picking just 19 Beach Boys favourites is one of the hardest things I ever had to do. If you asked me tomorrow, I would probably want to include ‘Kiss Me, Baby’, ‘Salt Lake City’, ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’, ‘The Little Girl I Once Knew’, ‘At My Window’ and, from Holland, ‘Funky Pretty’ & ‘Mount Vernon and Fairway’.

Ensuring he could squeeze in a few more near-misses for good measure, he concluded: “Blondie Chaplin’s vocal on the fadeout to ‘Funky Pretty’ is sensational. But here’s my list as of today… Brian Wilson’s 19 favourites on February 11, 2002.”

It’s notable that Brain Wilson’s list tends to favour ballads, as he goes on to explain further regarding his potential all-time favourite ‘Surfer Girl’: “I have to include this one. The first song I ever wrote. I started humming it in my car, then finished it when I got home. It’s a very spiritual song.” Likewise with ‘In My Room’, he recalled: “My brothers Carl and Dennis and I used to sing three-part harmony in our room when we were kids. Songs like ‘Come down, come down/From your ivory tower’. ‘In My Room was a song that I taught them to sing, and it really has the feel of what it was like in our room when we were kids.”

Whereas the more anthemic poppy classics like ‘Good Vibrations’, he tends to put down to great studio work but doesn’t really delve into the songwriting side. “Derek Taylor called it a pocket symphony,” he said of the iconic tune, “to me it was really a production achievement.” 

As for the track that resides as many peoples favourite song, period, never mind just from the seafaring Californians, ‘God Only Knows’, Wilson remarked: “This song was written really quickly… probably in less than an hour. It’s an honour to have written this one. It was also a pretty controversial record in that, as far as I know, it was the first rock song to have “God” in the title. It’s a love song, but not a love song to a person.”

Brain Wilson’s favourite Beach Boys: 

  • ‘Surfer Girl’
  • ‘The Warmth of the Sun’
  • ‘I Get Around’
  • ‘Don’t Worry, Baby’
  • ‘In My Room’
  • ‘California Girls’
  • ‘God Only Knows’
  • ‘Caroline, No’
  • ‘Good Vibrations’
  • ‘Wonderful’
  • ‘Heroes and Villains’
  • ‘Surf’s Up’
  • ‘Busy Doin’ Nothin’’
  • ‘We’re Together Again’
  • ‘Time to Get Alone’
  • ‘This Whole World’
  • ‘Marcella’
  • ‘Sail On, Sail’
  • ‘Till I Die’

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