Top 20 Beach Boys Songs

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Beach Boys. Photo by Mike Moore / Getty Images
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1961 - "Surfin'"

Beach Boys Surfin'
Beach Boys - "Surfin'". Courtesy Capitol

"Surfin'" originated when the Beach Boys were trying to decide on something original to be the subject of a song. Dennis Wilson suggested they write a song about the growth of surfing in popularity. "Surfin'" was released as the group's first single on the independent label Candix Records. The song became a regional hit in southern California and peaked at #75 on the US pop chart.


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1962 - "Surfin' Safari"

Beach Boys Surfin' Safari
Beach Boys - "Surfin' Safari". Courtesy Capitol

The Beach Boys first recorded "Surfin' Safari" in their second ever recording session. However, the official version of the song was not recorded until two months later in April 1962. It was included on a demo presented to Capitol Records that earned the group their first major label contract. "Surfin' Safari" was the breakthrough single for the Beach Boys. It was their first top 40 pop hit and peaked at #14.


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1963 - "Surfin' USA"

Beach Boys Surfin' USA
Beach Boys - Surfin' USA. Courtesy Capitol

Brian Wilson wrote the lyrics to "Surfin' USA" and set them to the melody of "Sweet Little Sixteen" by Chuck Berry. It celebrates the southern California surf culture. Peaking at #3 on the US pop singles chart, "Surfin' USA" was also the title song for the group's first top 10 charting album. It peaked at #2 and spent more than a year on the album chart. The cover photo on the album was actually taken in Hawaii and not California.

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1963 - "Surfer Girl"

Beach Boys Surfer Girl
Beach Boys - "Surfer Girl". Courtesy Capitol

"Surfer Girl" is the first Beach Boys song written solely by Brian Wilson. The words are inspired by his first serious girlfriend Judy Bowles. They dated for three and a half years. He was influenced by the song "When You Wish Upon a Star" by Dion and the Belmonts. "Surfer Girl" peaked at #7 on the US pop chart, the second top 10 pop hit by the group.

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1963 - "Be True To Your School"

Beach Boys Be True To Your School
Beach Boys - "Be True To Your School". Courtesy Capitol

The Beach Boys' salute to school pride is built around the melody of "On, Wisconsin!," the University of Wisconsin's fight song. One recorded version of "Be True To Your School" included cheerleader yells by the girl group The Honeys. The group included Marilyn Rovell who married the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and became the mother of Carnie and Wendy Wison of Wilson Phillips. The Honeys also sang back up for surf pop duo Jan and Dean. "Be True To Your School" reached #6 on the US pop chart.


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1963 - "In My Room"

Beach Boys In My Room
Beach Boys - "In My Room". Courtesy Capitol

Many observers see "In My Room" as a first glimpse into the serious side of Brian Wilson's creative work. Brian Wilson has stated that the celebration of a bedroom as a place of escape had particular poignance because he sang it together with his brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson about the room they shared together as kids. "In My Room" was released as the B-Side to "Be True To Your School" and peaked at #23 on the US pop chart. It has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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1964 - "I Get Around"

Beach Boys I Get Around
Beach Boys - "I Get Around". Courtesy Capitol

"I Get Around" became the Beach Boys' first #1 charting single. During the recording of the song, after multiple altercations, Brian Wilson's father Murry was removed from his position as the Beach Boys' manager. "I Get Around" has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was the fifth biggest hit of 1964 in the US. 

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1964 - "Don't Worry Baby"

Beach Boys Don't Worry Baby
Beach Boys - "Don't Worry, Baby". Courtesy Capitol

One of the most notable elements of "Don't Worry Baby" is Brian Wilson's falsetto lead vocal. The song was credited with beginning to inspire a darker side to the California surf culture as it explores the angst surrounding a reluctant agreement to take part in a car race. Brian Wilson said "Don't Worry Baby" was his effort to capture the essence of "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, his favorite song. The song was released as the B-side to "I Get Around" and peaked at #24 on the US pop chart.

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1964 - "Dance, Dance, Dance"

Beach Boys Dance, Dance, Dance
Beach Boys - "Dance, Dance, Dance". Courtesy Capitol

Beach Boys member Carl Wilson is credited with co-writing "Dance, Dance, Dance." It was his first writing credit on a Beach Boys single. He contributed the song's guitar solo and riff. Released at the peak of the British Invasion, "Dance, Dance, Dance" only climbed to #8 on the US pop chart. 

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1964 - "Fun, Fun, Fun"

Beach Boys Fun Fun Fun
Beach Boys - "Fun, Fun, Fun". Courtesy Capitol

"Fun, Fun, Fun" relates a story about a teenage girl who tricks her dad into letting her dive his Ford Thunderbird. He finds out and takes the keys away, but the narrator of the song intervenes with his own car. The song was based on real-life experiences of group member Dennis Wilson. The guitar introduction of the song was influenced by Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." "Fun, Fun, Fun" climbed to #5 on the US pop singles chart.

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1965 - "Help Me, Rhonda"

Beach Boys Help Me Rhonda
Beach Boys - "Help Me Rhonda". Courtesy Capitol

"Help Me, Rhonda" was originally planned as simply an album cut, but radio stations began to play it. Subsequently, Brian Wilson reworked the recording to be a radio single. The song went all the way to #1 on the US pop singles chart becoming the second #1 hit by the group. According to Brian Wilson, "Rhonda" is not based on a real person.

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1965 - "California Girls"

Beach Boys California Girls
Beach Boys - "California Girls". Courtesy Capitol

Reportedly, Brian Wilson conceived "California Girls" during his first LSD trip. He says that he was influenced both by music from cowboy movies and Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." The song opens with an orchestral prelude. "California Girls" peaked at #3 on the US pop music chart. David Lee Roth took a cover of the song to #3 on the pop chart in 1985.

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1965 - "Barbara Ann"

Beach Boys Barbara Ann
Beach Boys - "Barbara Ann". Courtesy Capitol

Written by Fred Fassert, "Barbara Ann" was first recorded by the doo-wop vocal group The Regents in 1961. It reached #13 on the US pop chart. The Beach Boys version of the song includes uncredited backing vocals by Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean. "Barbara Ann" peaked at #2 on the US pop chart.  

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1966 - "Sloop John B"

Beach Boys Sloop John B
Beach Boys - "Sloop John B". Courtesy Capitol

"Sloop John B" is a traditional folk song originating in the Bahamas. It was first brought to the US in Carl Sandburg's 1927 folk song collection The American Songbag. The Kingston Trio recorded the song in 1958 and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson created the best-known arrangement of "Sloop John B" for the Pet Sounds album. The song was released as a single and peaked at #3 on the US pop chart. 

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1966 - "Wouldn't It Be Nice"

Beach Boys Wouldn't It Be Nice
Beach Boys - "Wouldn't It Be Nice". Courtesy Capitol

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" kicks off the legendary Pet Sounds album. The lyrics speak of being too young to get married but dreaming of the day it can take place. When released as a single, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" peaked at #8 on the US pop singles chart. The Pet Sounds album initially earned relatively lackluster sales peaking at only #10 and critics were not impressed. However, over time it has become acclaimed as one of the best and most influential pop albums of all time. Rolling Stone listed Pet Sounds as the #2 best album of all time.

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1966 - "God Only Knows"

Beach Boys God Only Knows
Beach Boys - "God Only Knows". Courtesy Capitol

The song "God Only Knows" is unusual for its era in using the word "God" in the title, but it is not an overtly religious song. It is notable for using a range of unusual instruments in the mix including French Horn, accordions, and harpsichord. Brian Wilson said he wrote "God Only Knows" for the album Pet Sounds in an effort to match the Beatles' achievements on Rubber Soul. Paul McCartney has called the song his favorite of all time. Many publications have mentioned it as one of the greatest pop songs of the 1960s. Brian Wilson was acclaimed for using influences from classical music in his arrangements for the song. "God Only Knows" was released as the B-side to the "Wouldn't It Be Nice" single and reached #39 on the US pop chart.

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1966 - "Good Vibrations"

Beach Boys Good Vibrations
Beach Boys - "Good Vibrations". Courtesy Capitol

"Good Vibrations" is perhaps the most ambitious single song in the Beach Boys' catalog. It is a landmark in pop music. At the time of its initial release, it was the most expensive pop single ever recorded. The song's title was inspired by group leader Brian Wilson's interest in cosmic vibrations. Mike Love's lyrics were influenced by the growing Flower Power movement in California.

Brian Wilson was credited with stretching the possibilities of what could be created in a recording studio and using exotic instruments like the Theremin and jaw harp. "Good Vibrations" was begun during the sessions for the Pet Sounds album, but it was released as a standalone single. It reached #1 on the US pop chart becoming the group's third chart-topping hit and their first to sell more than a million copies. It earned four Grammy Award nominations and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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1971 - "Surf's Up"

Beach Boys Surf's Up
Beach Boys - Surf's Up. Courtesy Capitol

Written by Brian Wilson with Van Dyke Parks, "Surf's Up" has an ironic title referencing the group's earlier surf music. The song was first partially recorded in 1966 and 1967 for the unfinished album Smile. When finally released in 1971 as the title track on the Surf's Up album, the song received strong critical acclaim. It was released as a single but failed to chart. Some observers consider it one of the finest of Beach Boys achievements. The album was equally well received by critics and is listed by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

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1976 - "Rock and Roll Music"

Beach Boys 15 Big Ones
Beach Boys 15 Big Ones. Courtesy Capitol

"Rock and Roll Music" was first written and recorded by Chuck Berry in 1957. His version climbed to #8 on the US pop singles chart. the Beach Boys covered the song in 1976 for inclusion on their album 15 Big Ones. They added backing vocals that repeat the words, "Rock, roll, rockin' and roll." 15 Big Ones was the band's follow up to the success of their compilation album Endless Summer. It became their first top 10 charting studio album since 1966's Pet Sounds, and it was the first since then to credit group member Brian Wilson as producer. The Beach Boys' version of "Rock and Roll Music" hit #5 on the US pop chart.

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1988 - "Kokomo"

Beach Boys Kokomo
Beach Boys - "Kokomo". Courtesy Elektra

The Beach Boys recorded and released "Kokomo" as a song from the soundtrack of the hit Tom Cruise movie Cocktail. It earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television. The song details two lovers taking a trip to an island near the Florida Keys called Kokomo.

"Kokomo" hit #1 on the US pop chart, the Beach Boys' first #1 hit since 1966. The accompanying music video was filmed at the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida.

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