There are those who consider Beach Boys to be one of the most ground-breaking musical forces ever to come out of America. This entry proposes to eventually be a buyers' guide to the Beach Boys' music for those who have heard enough about the genius of Brian Wilson to want to know more, but who don't want to end up buying an album full of disappointing 'filler' music.
Those who can afford it should start by getting the box set Good Vibrations - Thirty Years of the Beach Boys. This invaluable set has almost everything you'll ever need by the band, including much otherwise unavailable material.
Early 1960s Albums
The Beach Boys actually recorded their first single, 'Surfin' before they had played a single gig. As a result, when it became a success, they were thrown in at the deep end, and their first few albums are actually the record of their basic learning process - a process not helped when rhythm guitarist Alan Jardine temporarily left the band to study dentistry1. The other members of the band, who remained the core, were Brian Wilson (bass, keyboards, vocals), who is generally accepted to be the genius behind the band, Carl Wilson (guitar, vocals) and Dennis Wilson (drums, vocals) - both of whom are Brian's brothers - and Mike Love (vocals), the Wilson brothers' cousin and the band's frontman. These four remained the core of the band until Dennis' death in 1983.
The band's very first albums, Surfin' Safari and Surfin' USA compared to what was yet to come, can be considered disappointing, consisting of one or two decent singles and more filler than one could normally expect even on pre-Beatles 1960s albums. But after Surfer Girl, their third album, Brian Wilson's songwriting began improving in leaps and bounds, resulting in a string of classic albums, which managed the rare feat of being both genuinely good music and hugely successful. The process was also aided by Brian's use of session musicians over the band themselves, allowing him to use a far more varied orchestral palette. However the sheer pressure involved in creating an average of three albums a year while constantly touring meant Brian soon retired from full-time touring with the band2, and this also contributed to his later debilitating mental problems.
Albums To BuySurfer Girl is the best of the very early albums, and the first in which Brian Wilson's songwriting skills really come to the fore. Includes plenty of hits, for example Little Deuce Coupe, but also some stunning gems of balladry like 'In My Room':
There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to... in my room
The Beach Boys Today! is the first album where Brian no longer had to tour, and it shows in the vastly improved music and more introspective lyrics. A gem from start to finish.
I'm blessed with everything
In the world to which a man can cling
So happy at times that I break down in tears
In the back of my mind I still have my fears.
Albums To Avoid
Surfin' Safari is a mish-mash of badly recorded surfin' tracks, rewrites of nursery rhymes, and second rate instrumentals. '409' is the only decent track.
Gimme some root beer (chug a lug chug a lug)