The Beach Boys are one of America's most prolific and enduring rock and roll groups. Their California sound defined a significant part of the early- to mid-1960s music. Starting off as a surf and hot rod group, their string of hits brought the ocean and drag strip to teenagers across the nation. By 1964, even kids in the midwest had a robust surf vocabulary and knew a ho-dad when they saw one.
While the Beach Boys' career has spanned six decades and has a storied history, their most well known and popular tunes were pressed from 1961 to '65. While the group began to change their style in '65, the release of the Pet Sounds album the following year marked their departure from innocent, good time rock 'n' roll to a more serious and psychedelic genre.
Greatness That Could Have Been Greater
Despite their unquestionable success during their surf and drag years, the number of singles released from their albums does not reflect their unrivaled popularity. The main culprit in the group's fewer charting singles was their reputation for releasing 45s that were doubled-sided hits. While most groups put out hits one at a time with a throwaway song on the backside, the Beach Boys had numerous singles in which each side charted. While I am not certain how good of a business decision that was, their fans undoubtedly loved it.
Despite the group's (or more likely, their record company) penchant for putting out double hit discs, there were several songs on their 1962–65 albums that should have been released as singles. For some unknown reason, either the group, the record label, or both, chose to move on to the next LP before capitalizing on all of the musical hits pressed into each album.
If you only know the Beach Boys' hits that are played on mainstream radio, then you are only getting a taste of the group's greatness. The band's heyday had so many more songs that should grace your ears and would likely have been hits had they been released as 45s. Here are the top 10 songs from the 1962–65 era that should have had their own vinyl.
1. “Farmers Daughter”
Album: Surfin' USA
This ballad, sung in Brian Wilson's crisp falsetto, chronicles a traveler traversing the midwest that is put up for a night by a local farmer. The wanderer is obviously smitten with his host's daughter and laments that he will never see her again after he leaves. It is a slower, somewhat sad, song but Brian's piercing lead would have made it their first slow tempo hit. The song is so impressive, it was covered by Fleetwood Mac and included in the 1980 Fleetwood Mac Live album, although the fact that Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson were dating probably helped.
2. “Catch a Wave”
Album: Surfer Girl
Why the hell this song was never released as a single perplexes me. It is one of my top three all-time favorite Beach Boy tunes, and near the top of the list for many other early Beach Boys fans. The three verses each have three lines; the first sung by Mike Love in his baritone voice, followed by a falsetto line belted out by Brian Wilson, concluded with a third line sung by Love in his signature nasal voice. It's simple, it's catchy, it's happy and it's perfect. Do yourself a favor and listen to it; over and over and over.
The song finally did get the love it deserved. The surfing lyrics were changed to skateboarding lyrics and then recorded and released as a single by the Beach Boys' close friends Jan and Dean. "Sidewalk Surfing'" became a top 25 hit for the duo.
Album: Surfer Girl
I think the group knows they made a mistake not releasing this classic as a single. It is a staple in their concert playlist and a fan favorite. The falsetto portion of the song was even included in the 1970s “Kona Coast” on their M.I.U. album.
4. “Our Car Club”
Album: Surfer Girl
When you have a group of guys that own the hottest cars in town, the natural thing to do is start their own club. If you want to get in, you need to have a real screamer of an auto, and it damn sure better have metal flake paint. The strong drums along with Mike and Brian alternating on lead would have forced Billboard to put this catchy tune on the charts.
5. “Car Crazy Cutie”
Album: Little Deuce Coup
This mid-tempo song with Brian singing in a non-falsetto lead (which he should have done more often), coupled with his high-pitched wailing is a combo that makes you stop what you are doing and just listen. It's a hot rod song about the perfect girlfriend; a chick that helps you tune up your muscle car and enjoys spending time at the drag strip.
6. “Cherry, Cherry Coup”
Album: Little Deuce Coup
It's an ode to a pristine, tricked-out hot rod. It features Mike Love's recognizable voice detailing every facet of a beloved automobile/babe magnet. The heavy piano and slick lyrics should have landed it at least in the top 40 (had it been released).
7. “In the Parking Lot”
Album: Shut Down Vol II
Back in the day, when you drove to school you picked up your girl and sat in the car and made out in the parking lot until the bell was about to ring. Those stolen moments of fogging up the windows before the first class of the day is detailed in this little known gem. It starts off as a slow ballad, and then explodes with a rapid pace run down of back seat exploits.
8. “Don't Back Down”
Album: All Summer Long
This album was the last Beach Boys LP to have a pure surfing and hot rod song until “Do It Again” was released in 1968. It starts off with a heavy drum beat and surfer descriptive lyrics bellowed out by Mike Love, immediately followed by a Brian Wilson falsetto chorus. The group left the surf genre on a strong note that would have left them with one last surf hit, had the record company had the foresight to release it.
9. “Merry Christmas, Baby”
Album: The Beach Boys' Christmas Album
One side of this record had holiday standards covered by the group, the other all original yuletide music. The hit “Little Saint Nick” was included on this LP but was actually released as a single the year prior. The other single from the record was the underwhelming “The Man With All the Toys.” The lovelorn “Merry Christmas Baby” with a mid-song harmonization rivaled only by a similar part in “I Get Around” was a surefire holiday hit. Again, some executive dropped the ball and it now remains buried, only to be found by listening to the entire album.
10. “Salt Lake City”
Album: Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)
It is no secret that the Beach Boys loved playing in the capital city of Utah. Their tribute to the town is one of Brian Wilson's most complex early songs. It features two saxophones, two pianos, and some serious tempo shifts. Pair that with Mike and Brian switching off and on the lead vocals and you have an incredible piece of music. It still holds up today as a sophisticated composition. It was released regionally as a single (in Salt Lake City of course), but should have been touted nationally. It features the best components of a Beach Boys tune and is a pleasant, toe-tapping respite.
Bonus Boner That Explains a Lot
You are probably wondering, like me and the rest of America, who the hell was making the decisions not to release these songs as singles. Allow me to give you an example of the thought process at the Beach Boys' record company executive roundtable.
Remember that the album All Summer Long was the last Beach Boys' LP to have a pure surfing or hot rod song on it for several years to come? While the record label failed to release “Don't Back Down,” it did release the “Little Honda” which became a minor hit charting at #65. Not bad right? Originally, the company was not going to release it as a single at all, so it was allowed to be covered by another group who called themselves the Hondells. The Hondells' cover of the Beach Boys song “Little Honda” reached #9. Only then was the Beach Boys version released. Musical geniuses, those record company executives.
Expand Your Music History Horizons
Unfortunately, no one album contains the top 10 Beach Boys' songs that should have been available as singles. But the compilation album Spirit of America contains three of them, plus “Little Honda.” It also includes four other songs that could have made it to the charts on their own. Give the album a spin and see if you can tell which ones they are.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 16, 2019:
The Beach Boys were popular in the UK too, as we just don't have the sun, sea and surf here for other groups to crowd their niche. It also has a feel good factor on cold, dull British days. I hadn't given much thought to their missing hits until you brought it to my attention.
Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on February 15, 2019:
I love the Beach Boys.