There isn’t much more you could ask of Brian Wilson regarding his contribution to popular culture. As the principal songwriter of The Beach Boys, Wilson delivered a vision of Americana that would populate dreams across the globe and add fuel to the fire of the country’s patriotism. When you add that Wilson then ditched his saccharine pop roots for a more experimental sound and, in doing so, created a chain reaction that would change the course of music entirely, it is easy to see how he is so easily recognised as a pivotal figure in music.
In 1961, as The Beatles reminded only the most distant murmurs, Brian Wilson finished penning his song ‘Surfin” and gathered himself a band. Recruiting his brothers Dennis and Carl, as well as his cousin Mike and friend Al, he assembled his group around the piano and began orchestrating what would become The Beach Boys’ very first song. Brian was only 19 at the time but already showing the kind of good songwriting style that would see him and the band flourish throughout the 1960s.
Through a series of pop smashes and the kind of exposure only afforded to the best provided The Beach Boys with a pop platform to succeed, Brian Wilson was driven by creativity over commerciality, and he used the decade to stretch his muscles.
As the years went by, the desire for the band to outstrip their surfer boy image became all the more prevalent. Through their music, we saw a band not only grow but mature and become one of the most essential voices of 20th-century pop. But, from the many incredible tracks that the band put out over the years, which were the songs that really stood out to Wilson as his favourites? The answer is a little complicated.
The truth is, Wilson has claimed a whole heap of Beach Boys songs to be his favourite. Like any fan, the songwriter’s tastes change, seemingly, from day to day. Considering he once delivered a whole compilation album of his favourite songs, there are more than a few which could be considered to have a place in Wilson’s bountiful heart. However, during the compiling of that album, The Beach Boys Classics… Selected by Brian Wilson, the songwriter landed on two tracks which he highlighted as the best of the bunch.
“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.”
Included in that selection some 20 years ago were two of his favourites: “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.”
Two of the band’s most iconic songs, the tracks remain vital pieces of Brian Wilson’s life, The Beach Boys’ discography, and the iconography of the 20th Century at large. Listen to ‘California Girls’ and ‘Surfer Girl’ below.