Today we remember the enigmatic charm and dynamic voice of the legendary Carl Wilson. As a pivotal member of The Beach Boys, Wilson was a lightning rod of innovation and creativity. Below we take a look back at 10 of his most cherished Beach Boys songs.
The singer and guitarist sadly passed away on this day, 1998, at the tender of age of 51. While his death remains a sad moment in the annals of rock history, the music he created and the voice he sang with rings out past our ears and into eternity.
Born in Hawthorne, California, Carl was four years younger than his songwriting genius brother, Brian and two years younger than his other sibling Dennis Wilson. When you add to that that he was almost six years younger than the group’s other principal songwriter Mike Love, then you can see how a lesser musician may have struggled to get his creativity across.
But not so for Carl. The youngest Wilson brother’s musical career began, much like The Beach Boys, with pep and verve and the kind of guitar playing that would inspire millions across America to pick up an axe—but it was Wilson’s voice that truly set him apart.
A voice that matured with age, adding a sense of soulful soothing to his otherwise angelic tone meant that Brian Wilson could add sophistication to his songwriting, comfortable in the knowledge it would be enacted as he envisioned.
While it remains a sad day today, to remember a talent taken from us too soon, we can at least look back at 10 of Carl Wilson’s most essential Beach Boys songs.
‘God Only Knows’ (1966)
Naturally, we couldn’t have any list of Carl Wilson’s best Beach Boys songs without the 1966 standout from Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds, the iconic ‘God Only Knows’. It’s quite hard to imagine anybody else producing such a high quality vocal as Wilson did for this song.
As Brian Wilson said himself in 1996: “Well, I thought I was gonna do it. As the song progressed, I said, ‘Hey, I feel kind of natural doing this.’ But when we completed creating the song, I said my brother Carl will probably be able to impart the message better than I could, so I sacrificed that one.”
It takes Brian’s words and adds a sense of ethereal heavenliness that would otherwise be lost. It’s quite easily some of the most cherished work Carl ever did.
‘Surf’s Up’ (1971)
In 1971, Brian Wilson finally relented and agreed that ‘Surf’s Up’, the song which had been a keystone in the success of SMiLE, there was only one man to take the song into the new decade—Carl Wilson.
Standing centre stage, Carl would make the song into a brand new entity and become the title track from the 1971 record.
In 1967, Brian Wilson was most certainly in his creative groove. With the critical success of Pet Sounds in his uncanny ear, Brian made it clear that his role as starring producer was no fluke.
Here, Brian matches up Carl’s vocal with the bouncing bop of ‘Darlin’ to devastating effect.
‘Feel Flows’ (1971)
Surf’s Up may appear as the album in which Carl Wilson really took the reins. That is, of course, largely in part thanks to ‘Feel Flows’.
The song is a kaleidoscopic adventure of musical exploration, it sees heavy use of synthesisers, of phased backing vocals and the free-form flute which permeated so much jazz at the time. As this mercurial scene swirls around, Carl sits in the middle, wielding his guitar, and delivering reams of revolution.
‘Full Sail’ (1979)
When The Beach Boys returned on 1979’s record the L.A. (Light Album), Carl Wilson was now the main vocalist of the group.
While he had Brian’s co-written ‘Good Timin” is another wonderful track from the album it’s the gorgeous ‘Full Sail’ which really showcased Carl’s growing talent.
‘Surfin’ Safari’ (1962)
There couldn’t be a Carl Wilson list without encountering this incredible solo in ‘Surfin’ Safari’.
Largely inspired by Chuck Berry, Carl lets his duck-walking side out on this early number from 1962. Guaranteed to wax your board for you, this is vintage Beach Boys and is entirely delectable at every turn.
‘You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone’ (1972)
Things get a little gutsy on ‘You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone’ as Carl takes the Brian and then-manager Jack Rieley’s song to a new level.
Quick and powerful the track rumbles on with muscle car power.
‘I Can Hear Music’ (1969)
On this cover of The Ronettes, Carl proved that there wasn’t just one mercurial producer in the family. The musician got behind the mixing desk for this cover and as well as arranging the song, turned it into a Beach Boys hit.
Despite Wilson’s adoration of ‘Wall of Sound’ producer Phil Spector, Carl chose his own voice and opted for something a little lighter. The track is all the better for it.
‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’ (1965)
The 1965 song was one of Carl’s first lead vocal spots for The Beach Boys and the band’s baby couldn’t have done any better than on this.
Something that Brian Wilson agreed with too as the singer would even write in his sleeve notes for the record, “I’m glad I finally wrote a song Carl dug singin’.” And we dug listening.
‘All This Is That’ (1972)
During a tough decade for The Beach Boys, Carl took on the role of leader, something painstakingly obvious in their album title choice Carl & The Passions – “So Tough”, which mirrored the name of one of Carl’s early groups.
‘All This Is That’, written by Al Jardine and Mike Love, could easily have been seen as a copycat of George Harrison’s transcendent work form the period but with Carl’s voice, the song is elevated to something a little more special.