On this day 45 years ago, The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds—an album that not only emerged as their finest work, but also prevailed as a masterpiece influencing a countless acts to follow. The record, widely considered to be Brian Wilson’s magnum opus as a songwriter, marked the band’s transition from surf-rock icons to experimental musical innovators. While the record initially netted substandard album sales for a band who regularly topped the Billboard charts, Pet Sounds later defined the better portion of the band’s ultimate legacy.
At one point, Pet Sounds was even considered as America’s response to The Beatles’ sonic exploration with their transitional albums Rubber Soul and Revolver. While Wilson and the rest of The Beach Boys never matched the stretch maintained by their British counterparts, they still reached a level of success topped by few others to this day. To celebrate the anniversary of The Beach Boys’ greatest record, we present our picks for the band’s best songs.
20. “I’m So Young” While this doo-wop classic (originally recorded by The Students) has been covered by many artists, The Beach Boys arguably do this song the most justice with their rendition.
19. “Dance Dance Dance” One of the last Beach Boys’ songs featuring the light-hearted surf rock of the band’s earlier years. Soon after “Dance, Dance, Dance,” the band’s work prominently featured Brian Wilson’s increasingly complex and serious pop songs.
18. “Little Honda” At just under two minutes, a perfect example of the group’s ability to write an infectious tune about just anything… underpowered motorcycles included.
17. “All Summer Long” “All Summer Long” prevails as one of the better surf anthems written by the California natives.
16. “Caroline, No” The Brian Wilson/Tony Asher partnership on Pet Sounds had one of its most poignant moments on the record’s final track.
15. “I Can Hear Music” What happens when you remove Brian Wilson (battling his illness at this time), add in Phil Spector and let Carl Wilson take the reigns on lead vocals? You get one of the best songs that The Beach Boys have ever written.
14. “Surfin’ U.S.A.” The ultimate surfer’s theme song.
13. “I’m Waiting For The Day” A prime example of the group shifting away from straightforward surf-rock numbering, brilliantly exemplifying this with this song’s outro breakdown.
12. “Don’t Worry Baby” Brian Wilson’s attempt to recreate one of his personal favorite songs, The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”
11. “Barbara Ann” This may be one of the band’s simplest songs, but it perfectly demonstrates how effective their harmonies could be.
10. “California Girls” “I wish they all could be California girls” stands amongst the group’s most iconic lyrics.
9. “Fun, Fun, Fun” This could be the best song ever written about a teenager’s car being taken away as a punishment.
8. “Surf’s Up” Originally slated to be on the band’s cancelled Pet Sounds follow-up record Smile, the group released this stunning Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks collaboration in 1971.
7. “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” An absolutely beautiful expression of isolation and not being able to relate to your surroundings.
6. “Sloop John B” If this was the worst trip Brian Wilson’s ever been on, it’s got one hell of a soundtrack to it.
5. “I Get Around” The band’s first number-one hit kicked off their 1964 record All Summer Long in brilliant fashion.
4. “Help Me Rhonda” Brian Wilson’s finest pre-Pet Sounds track sounds completely magnificent and feels entirely effortless.
3. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” The opening track for Pet Sounds introduced the band’s masterpiece with two and a half minutes of pop perfection.
2. “God Only Knows” The group’s best song on their best album was one of the first pop songs to include ‘God’ in its name.
1. “Good Vibrations” “Good Vibrations” was Brian Wilson at his best, before he became his worst—a brilliant demonstration of what The Beach Boys may have done before mental illness derailed their frontman’s career soon after this song became released.
Listen to The 20 Best Beach Boys Songs via an Rdio playlist: