Ranking the Sounds of Summer
The Beach Boys are the greatest summer band of all time and their greatest hits album “The Sounds of Summer” is probably their greatest collection of songs. It’s a 30 track album spanning what seems to be a wide variety of their career and musical choices. It’s actually the primary place I’ve heard them and my go-to choice for their music which is pretty typically only in the summer time. Combining early rock and R&B with surf rock, doo wop, and a cappella (with some more experimental vibes coming later in their careers) The Beach Boys have a fun and vast catalog of songs to listen to, but I don’t need to tell you that, let’s get to ranking!
30. “Be True To Your School” – I don’t know what’s worse the singer’s aggressiveness to some guy bragging about his school, the cheerleader type person that appears, or that commercial that Kidz Bob-bed this song to advertise for school supplies. I never have had much school spirit though…
29. “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” – There are some good melodies in this song, but everything else is sooo bad, most of which is the guy in the background singing numbers meant to indicate growing older. Oh please.
28. “In My Room” – A love ballad, an ode to… a room. I get why some may see this as a good idea, a person’s room can be a place of great comfort and solitude, but here it’s just absolutely terrible.
27. “Dance, Dance, Dance” – It feels like a cover of an old rock song (as we will soon see the Boys are wont to do) but it is indeed a Beach Boys original and a sub par one at that.
26. “Rock and Roll Music” – I am all for The Beach Boys covering every song, in fact there should probably be an app like that old T-Pain one that Beach Boys-izes anything you record on it, but here they don’t do much to change Chuck Berry’s original, which is pretty disappointing.
25. “Heroes and Villains” – I understand why its here, but it’s never stuck with me. It’s pretty good and fairly avant-garde but doesn’t reach any level that I want a Beach Boys song to.
24. “Do It Again” – It opens with a distorted beat, again a part of that experimental phase that doesn’t quite do it for me as I stated above.
23. “Darlin'” – Really an odd piece of the Beach Boys history, it sorta has that classic sound while mostly presenting itself as a more straightforward rock ‘n roll or R&B song. Not bad by any means.
22. “Do You Wanna Dance?” – I think The Ramones’ version is better, which probably biases me against this a little bit, but it’s a perfectly fine song, with a great surf rock solo toward the end.
21. “I Can Hear Music” – This is one that feels like it comes a lot later in the catalog than ’69, maybe it’s Carl Wilson’s vocals or the focus on the acoustic guitar? Love the little a capella breakdown it goes into with 40 seconds left.
20. “Shut Down” – This is pretty standard Beach Boys here–another song about cars and of course, it’s really good, but doesn’t match up with other greats listed here because the chorus is a little lackluster comparatively.
19. “Wild Honey” – Another song from the Beach Boys more experimental phase of the late 60s–the focus here is more on psychedelia over the classic harmonies–it’s a good song with interesting instrumentation.
18. “Good Timin'” – A few songs below I will talk about how great a love ballad “Surfer Girl” is within the beach context. This song almost lives up to that one, but it does get bonus points for being able to be slow-danced to outside of the beach.
17. “Kokomo” – One of the more unique songs in the Beach Boys catolog, part of their 80s sort of rebranding, it still works even though it has so many levels of cheesiness to it.
16. “California Girls” – This is the track that opens Sounds and it’s no question why–it’s the musical equivalent of a sunrise, slowly rising making way for the day before unleashing the rest of the day that comes out with it. Lyrically it opens with an almost Dr. Seuss-like categorization of all the girls that exist (one girl two girl, red girl green girl) before getting into the reasons why California is the best, thus making California girls the best. People from other states must envy or hate the Boys for making such beautiful music about such a wonderful place, right?
15. “Surfer Girl” – This is the ballad that absolutely corrects everything that “In My Room” was. It combines an old doo-wop ballad with the Boys knack for surfing to make a really sweet song that serves as the perfect beach slow-dance throwback.
14. “Getcha Back” – Here are the Beach Boys in full 80s mode. The song was released in 1985 which makes it a part of all the other great stuff celebrating its 30 year anniversary this year (Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club). Although essentially a legacy act at the time, the song perfectly blends the Boys harmonies with an 80s beat that can only make you wonder why we haven’t seen them do anything with dub step backing music.
13. “Surfin’ Safari” – This is a really good song, but it’s one that doesn’t quite have the pedigree of that other surf song (apparently not even in my own rankings either). The highlight of the song has got to be the singing though–Mike Love really does deserve more songs where he is on lead vocals, his unique voice really nails it here. The 1:29 mark where he throws extra emphasis into his vocals (I tell ya surfins mighty wild…) just blows everything else out of the park.
12. “Come Go With Me” – The Beach Boys are a perfect match for the doo-wop songs that came just before them and here, their cover of The Dell Vikings track is just as great as the original. They certainly add their own vibe to it, taking it from the very 50s doo-wop style and giving it that Beach Boys’ feel.
11. “Surfin’ USA” – This is the obvious pick for a number one, right? It’s the most quintessential Beach Boys song–about their love of surfing, featuring multiple vocalist harmonies, and has an early-rock ‘n roll/surf rock driving guitar, plus it’s still really good. But I have a theory about certain songs–songs that have become so popular that they become a meme rather than a piece of art. It’s not the songs fault and it probably isn’t the artists fault, it’s due to being played a ridiculous amount of times, becoming commercialized in some fashion, and/or being involved prominently in another artistic medium (usually movies or TV). Ever since its release “Surfin’ USA” (and “Wipeout”) have been used to background every sort of surfing thing possible, draining it of the joy the song brings upon the first few listens. It’s not your fault “Surfin’ USA”, really it’s not.
10. “Sloop John B” – Apparently it’s a traditional folk song, but most of the world knows it from The Beach Boys’ classic album Pet Sounds. The song tells of the happenings upon a boat (where things do not seem to be going so well) and slowly builds into a very Beach Boys track. The pessimist in me loves that the most memorable part of it is the singer repeating “let me go home, I wanna go home” leading to “this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on”, it’s the perfect soundtrack to any vacation.
9. “I Get Around” – This is one of the most solid summer songs ever written and is one that hasn’t lost its shine like some of the other Beach Boys surfing focused songs have. It showcases the layers of harmony that they’re known for, some surf rock guitar, and is a pure two minute jolt of joy.
8. “Help Me, Rhonda”- There have been plenty of songs with conflicted singers singing about a love of two simultaneous people. There have been songs about not being able to get over someone. But has there ever been a song encouraging someone to help them get over someone? I’m not sure. There are so many fun parts to this song–the opening bass, accompanying guitar, the barbershop melodies of the chorus–one cannot help cheer for Rhonda to do her duty and “get her out of [his] heart”.
7. “Barbara Ann” – Forget Pentatonix, forget Pitch Perfect, forget those fancy Germans in Pitch Perfect 2, this is the best a capella would ever get. Yes, that’s right a capella peaked in 1965, with The Beach Boys. That point where they kind of mess up and almost start laughing is probably the best part of the song, everyone else wishes they could get away with a guffaw like this.
6. “Little Deuce Coupe” – I don’t really care for cars, there’s nothing about their twisted metal that inspires me, but this Beach Boys ode to a deuce coupe (one moment, googling “deuce coupe” now… ahhh yes one of those old looking Fords) almost makes me fall in love with it. I imagine listening to this song in any sort of convertible or hot rod, grows its bubbly harmonic vibe exponentially. Sure there’s a moment in the song where the music completely stops and the vocalist says “I got the big slip daddy”, but that doesn’t even matter because of how fun this song is.
5. “Don’t Worry Baby” – The harmonies of the Beach Boys can be used for the most surf rock of experiences, car cruisin’, and pickin’ up dates; but at times their vocal arrangements come together for something that cuts straight to the soul. The situation here seems to be that the singer has been talking big about how great his car is and now is forced to race against some sort of rival racing crew, which he’s pretty nervous about (is this a plotline to 2 Fast 2 Furious?). His girl instills his confidence by repeating “don’t worry baby, everything will turn out all right”. Though I’ve never been put into that sort of situation, I like to replace it with other situations, like when I feel discouraged after trying to cut open an avocado that’s not quite ready or I lose to the AI in Madden even though the setting is only on Pro; “don’t worry baby…”
4. “Fun, Fun, Fun” – This is one that has stuck with me ever since I was a kid. For some reason the tale of a girl who disobeys her parents in order to go out with some friends, with a central focus on a T-Bird struck something in my little memory, perhaps getting grounded was such an imminent threat that it really did something to my core. The Chuck Berry-like opening riff is great, the repeating chorus, and content make it a quintessential song about the early 60s.
3. “God Only Knows” – I’ve made several background music playlists for weddings in my day and I every time I try to throw this song in there even though it technically starts with the words “I may not always love you…” The song is so good that most people forget its opening and so it’s worth throwing in there. It’s a deep song covering devotion, consequences of heartbreak, and of course theology (it does talk about God after all). It’s the best slow song the Boys have and definitely the most romantic, though I’m not sure you can say it’s the best love song, because that belongs to these next two…
2. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The protagonist dreams of being married to a girl in the future, but he’s too young to act, his dreams are only a prospect shut down by his youth. This dream of what could be is one of the happiest songs ever written. From its opening guitar to Wilson’s vocals to the “we could be married” line, the Boys lead us into a dreamlike state of romantic bliss. Perhaps the song has lulled me into its vision of the future, but it’s one of the all time greats.
1. “Good Vibrations” – Wait a second. If you’re doing this right you’ve pulled out your copy of “Sounds of Summer” (because if you’re doing life right, you have a copy) and as I bring out a song you listen to it; it doesn’t have to be the whole thing–maybe just to the chorus or so. This means that by this point you’ve probably reached the 23 second mark of “Good Vibrations”, which is just about when the song picks up–do me a favor, hit the back button and start it over. Have you done it? When it hits that point do it again. And again. What an intro right? It’s beautiful. The light percussion. The bassline. Wilson’s voice. It’s all perfect. And then it picks up taking it to another level, one that is entirely different, yet complementary. And right when you think it’s gonna explode, it goes right back to the beginning again! This song ends the album, which only makes sense because it is the best work by The Beach Boys (though it’s close)–it’s a track entirely dedicated to feeling good (but one that actually makes you feel good), plus it was used in one of the heartbreaking moments in television history! (Lost spoilers there). It’s essential Beach Boys, it’s essential summertime listening, it’s essential to life.
What are your favorites from this album? Can you do a full 30 song ranking?