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Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Beach Boys - My Personal Top 10

The month of August ends next week, and for some of you reading this, August will probably seem as though it flew by.

Not me though. For me, August can't go away fast enough. I'm ready for September!

But on account of it being the final Sunday Jukebox of August, I thought that I would take the opportunity to make this particular entry one that celebrates the goodness of summer.

In fact, I guarantee you that the songs of this particular band are (or were) a part of all of your perfect summer soundtracks. Whether you hear them on the car radio while cruising along the highway on a summer drive, or listening to them on a portable radio while you enjoy a picnic on the beach, or grooving along to their songs at a summer beach party, I know that many of you love these guys. I know that I certainly do.



I'm talking about the Beach Boys, the subject of today's blog.

Now, over the years, the line-up of the Beach Boys have changed, depending on the time period, but we can all agree on one thing. The Beach Boys were founded in the city of Hawthorne, California in 1961, and its original line-up consisted of five people. There were the Wilson brothers (Brian, Carl, Dennis), the Wilson brothers' cousin (Mike Love), and the Wilson brothers' family friend (Al Jardine).

Of the five original members of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine still remain within the group. They are joined by Bruce Johnston (who joined the band in 1965), and David Marks (who was a member between 1962-1963 and rejoined the band in 2011).

Sadly, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson are no longer with us. Dennis drowned at Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles on December 28, 1983 at the age of 39, while Carl succumbed to cancer on February 6, 1998 at the age of 51. However, their musical talents were a real gift to the world of pop music, and although Dennis and Carl have both left this world, the legacy they left behind is nothing short of extraordinary.



So, which song would I feature in this blog? That was a REAL tough decision. The band themselves released over eighty singles, several of which were Top 10 singles. The band even managed to score four chart-toppers. Not a bad track record, eh?

In the end, I just simply decided that I couldn't focus on just one song. Instead, I'm going to do something I've never done before.

A Top 10 list.

Now, keep in mind that this list is only the personal view of this blogger. Some of you will appreciate my choices, and some may not agree. Some of you may feel I left a song off, while most others will think that I picked the wrong song. That's why I'm going to allow you to have the chance to have your say at the end of this blog.

So, when I present each song, I'll provide the album you can find the song on, who sang it, some bits of trivia about each song, and how well it did on the charts. And, I'll be doing this ten times! So, I hope you enjoy the Beach Boys because this post is a huge celebration of them!

Ready? Let's kick off this countdown!



10 – KOKOMO
ALBUM: Still Cruisin'
DATE RELEASED: July 18, 1988
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: #1

Okay, so this was the Beach Boys final chart-topper, and what a chart-topper it was. I was heading into the second grade when this song was released, and it kind of became an unofficial song of my childhood soundtrack as I heard it played a lot during 1988. The song was written by John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Mike Love, and Terry Melcher.

(And yes, that is John Phillips of “The Mamas and The Papas” and Scott McKenzie who sang “San Francisco”. The song was a who's who of the music world for sure.)

And, hey, check out John Stamos on the drums! This video wouldn't be the first time Stamos would work with the band either. The band made appearances on three episodes of “Full House”. The song also has a connection with Tom Cruise, as the single appeared on the soundtrack of the 1988 film “Cocktail”.

It may very well be the ONLY time you see John Stamos and Tom Cruise appear in the same music video.



9 – HELP ME, RHONDA
ALBUM: Today!
DATE RELEASED: March 8, 1965
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: #1

This single is quite special as far as who sang lead vocals. Usually the lead vocals were reserved for Mike Love or Carl Wilson, or even Brian Wilson. In this case, it was Al Jardine who took the lead. It was a good move on the band's part, as this song rocketed up to the top of the charts in the spring of 1965.

The song's subject was quite simple. A man falls in love with another girl, only for the girl to fall in love with someone else instead. To ease the pain, he goes to someone named Rhonda and begs her to help him get the other girl out of his heart.

But don't you feel too angry at the guy or feeling sorry for Rhonda. According to Brian Wilson, who co-wrote the song with Mike Love, Rhonda is just a figment of our imagination. She does not exist. Whatever the case though, it still made a great song.



8 – CALIFORNIA GIRLS
ALBUM: Summer Days (and Summer Nights!)
DATE RELEASED: July 12, 1965
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: #3

I hate to admit this, but the first version I remember hearing of this song was the one done by David Lee Roth back in 1985. My sister was a huge Van Halen fan – so naturally, she was a David Lee Roth fan by association. And, don't get me wrong, as much as I was not a David Lee Roth fan, he did an okay job with it. Regardless though, I prefer the original version by the Beach Boys. It was a song that was written by Brian Wilson under the most unusual circumstances.

He was high on LSD when he came up with the general melody of the single. But then again, it was the sixties. Whatever the case, (not that I am justifying drug usage by any means), this experience helped the Beach Boys earn another Top 10 hit.

And, here's some trivia regarding the song. It was the first Beach Boys hit to feature the vocal stylings of Bruce Johnston, who joined the band earlier in the year.



7 – FOREVER
ALBUM: Sunflower
DATE RELEASED: February 1971
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: N/A

Okay, so you're probably wondering why I have chosen this song as my #7 favourite Beach Boys song when it didn't really do anything on the charts. Well, remember back in song #10 when I mentioned that the Beach Boys guest-starred on “Full House” three times? Well, one of those appearances took place in the fifth season finale of the show which aired in May 1992. That was the episode that John Stamos' character Jesse Katsopolis and his band “Jesse and the Rippers” released their first hit – a cover version of the song “Forever”. Fans of “Full House” will know that Jesse sang the song to Becky at their wedding, and fans of “Full House” will know that Jesse's version of the song reached #1 in Japan! Now, in the United States, it didn't chart at all, but John Stamos' recording with the Beach Boys apparently made the Top 100 in Australia! Go figure.

But if you can get over the “Full House” connection and really listen to the song's lyrics...I think you might understand why I ranked the song at #7.



6 – LITTLE SAINT NICK
ALBUM: The Beach Boys' Christmas Album
DATE RELEASED: December 9, 1963
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: N/A

I know it's a little early for Christmas music, but I'll readily admit that this is one Christmas song that I could listen to any day of the year. I don't know if it was the fact that the song was used in a really cute commercial for Coca-Cola, or whether it sounded so differently from any other Christmas song, but I love this song enough to make it my #6 favourite Beach Boys song! And despite the fact that the single was released just two weeks after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, it managed to gain a warm reception all over the United States.



5 – SURFIN' SAFARI
ALBUM: Surfin' Safari
DATE RELEASED: June 4, 1962
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: #14

One thing I noticed about the earliest Beach Boys material is the amount of songs that the band released about surfing. A bit of an irony, given that Dennis Wilson was the only member of the band who actually knew how to surf. But of all the songs that the band performed that had the word “surf” in the title, I think this one was my favourite. It was after all the band's first Top 20 hit! Backed with the single “409” (which peaked at #76), “Surfin' Safari” really was the first successful single that the Beach Boys had, and helped steer them in the direction of a career that for some of the members of the band would last five decades!



4 – WOULDN'T IT BE NICE
ALBUM: Pet Sounds
DATE RELEASED: July 18, 1966
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: #8

Really? This song only peaked at #8 on the charts? I thought that this song would have charted higher than that!

The song is best described by Brian Wilson as a tribute to “the frustrations of youth”. It's a song about what kids can't have, what they really want, and how they have no choice but to wait for it.

Ironically enough, the same held true when recording the song. Would you believe that it took a total of twenty-one takes before the Beach Boys got the song to sound the way that it was supposed to? That's got to take a lot of patience on everyone's part!

Funnily enough, this song was paired with a B-side, which happens to be my choice as my #3 favourite Beach Boys single.



3 – GOD ONLY KNOWS
ALBUM: Pet Sounds
DATE RELEASED: July 11, 1966
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: #39

You know, for a B-side to reach the Top 40 – that's not bad. And, for what it's worth, “God Only Knows” is a beautiful song, even if the Beach Boys were worried about the title. After all, it was the first instance in which the word “God” was used in the title of a pop record, and Brian Wilson believed that by making the title of the song “God Only Knows”, that the song would be blacklisted by religious groups and that disc jockeys would be pressured not to play it.

Good thing that Wilson's hypothesis proved wrong. The song, which I would consider to be a pop classic, was an instant favourite for fans of the band. And the song itself was sung by Carl Wilson, whom Brian Wilson had felt could do the song justice. I suppose in some fashion, the song became known as Carl Wilson's signature hit. He sang the song right up until his death in February 1998, and the song remained unsung until Bruce Johnston started to sing it at concerts three years later in 2001.



2 – GOOD VIBRATIONS
ALBUM: Smiley Smile
DATE RELEASED: October 10, 1966
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: #1

This song, which I have in the #2 position on my list, could very well be considered the Beach Boys signature song. It remains the band's biggest hit, topping the charts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and reaching the #2 spot on the Canadian and Norwegian charts.

This particular song was produced and composed by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and initially it wasn't released on any album until Smiley Smile was released almost a year after “Good Vibrations” was released. That's because the song was recorded around the same time that “Pet Sounds” was being recorded, but the decision was made to have the single released as a stand-alone single, thinking that it would garner more sales this way.

It worked. The single was listed at the #6 song on Rolling Stone's “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and sold millions of copies.

By the way, were you curious about how the song got its name? You can thank Brian Wilson's mother for that one. When Brian was a kid, his mother used to tell him that dogs would often react to “bad vibrations” from people by barking at them loudly. So, I suppose that Brian chose to write a song about “good vibrations” to counteract the awful memory of being barked at by dogs.

(Well, that's my theory, anyway.)

And here's some more trivia about the song. A total of thirteen instruments were featured in this song including a harpsichord, a bass guitar, a Hammond organ, and cello!

Okay, so are you ready for my #1 pick? It's a good one!



1 – DON'T WORRY BABY
ALBUM: Shut Down, Volume 2
DATE RELEASED: May 11, 1964
PEAK POSITION ON THE CHARTS: #24

Have you ever seen the 1999 film “Never Been Kissed”? The one with Drew Barrymore and Michael Vartan? Well, this song is heavily featured at the end of that film, and it was absolutely fitting for the movie, given that the song is all about a teenager who decides to race against a rival to defend his honour after bragging about his ride, and his girlfriend's plea to take her love with him when he races.

Well, okay, Drew Barrymore's character doesn't race a car. She just changes her image and dresses up as a teenager to go undercover and accidentally falls for one of the teachers at the school. When the charade is exposed, she tries one last plea to get him to listen to her and accept her love...and...I can't reveal what happens. Sorry.

But what I can reveal is that I absolutely love this Beach Boys single. The lyrics are fantastic, and it could be considered one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. I love the melody of this single. I know that the song didn't do as well as some of the other songs that the Beach Boys did, but I don't care. To me, this is my all-time favourite Beach Boys classic, and hopefully, if the stars are aligned the right way, I hope that I'll be able to dance to this song at my own wedding. I just love it so much.

So, just to recap, my top 10 Beach Boys songs are...

10 – KOKOMO
09 – HELP ME, RHONDA
08 – CALIFORNIA GIRLS
07 – FOREVER
06 – LITTLE SAINT NICK
05 – SURFIN' SAFARI
04 – WOULDN'T IT BE NICE
03 – GOD ONLY KNOWS
02 – GOOD VIBRATIONS
01 – DON'T WORRY BABY


So, now that you know MY list...I want to hear yours! What are your favourite Beach Boys singles?

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