According to Spotify’s yearly recount, I spent 146 hours listening to The Beach Boys in 2019. Their music feels like nothing else to me.
Listening to their complex harmonies has been my coping mechanism during difficult times, as has been reading about their history, full of ups and downs.
And it turns out the world of The Beach Boys is quite the rabbit hole.
Most people know their early hits about surfing, girls and cars. Pretty much everyone knows Pet Sounds is one of the most influential pop albums ever made.
But the boys had a whole period of relative obscurity after leader Brian Wilson’s ambitious project Smile fell through in 1967, when he stepped down from his role as the main creative force behind the band, and spent the next decade or so deteriorating mentally and self medicating in every way imaginable.
The band kept going, though, mostly without Brian’s input. The youngest of the Wilson brothers, Carl, became the band leader from this point on, and although their popularity had decreased exponentially, I honestly think this was one of the band’s most creatively fertile periods.
1970’s Sunflower, a product of this phase, should be up there with Pet Sounds as one of the best albums of the era, with songs like the beautifully complex “This Whole World“, which has no less than seven modulations in less than two minutes, and somehow flows seamlessly.
There’s also All I Wanna Do, which sounds so ahead of its time that it wouldn’t be hard to trick someone into thinking it’s a Tame Impala song.
This period also marked Dennis Wilson’s beginnings as a songwriter, with songs like 1968’s Little Bird or the Scott Walker-esque Be With Me demonstrating he was the most talented songwriter in the group after his brother Brian.
Carl Wilson also wrote some great songs, though. The Trader, from 1973, is probably his finest, encompassing themes of colonization and genocide, but made beautiful thanks to Carl’s delicate, angelic voice.
Even 1977’s idiosyncratic Love You, which marked Brian’s first –and only– creative outburst of the 70s, makes for a haunting listening experience, sounding like demented clown music but in a very emotionally raw way.
The song “Johnny Carson”, for example, may sound strange and silly until you consider that maybe Brian is using the talk show host as a metaphor for the way he was being forced back into the spotlight at the time.
So, in an effort to show the world some of the boys’ lesser-known masterpieces, I’ve made a playlist with these songs and more.
Brian once mentioned Sensitive music for sensitive people was the tentative title for one of his most recent solo albums, and I think it describes The Beach Boys’ songs to a T.
I hope you enjoy it.
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