what is the beach boys’ best album?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

WHAT IS THE BEACH BOYS’ BEST ALBUM? For most people, that’s an easy an­swer: Pet Sounds. But for afi­cionados of the group, it’s a tricky ques­tion that re­quires clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Fans would want to know does the ques­tion refer to the best album at­trib­uted to the Beach Boys or to the best album ac­tu­ally cre­ated by the Beach Boys as a group.

If the former, the an­swer re­mains Pet Sounds for most of us. But Pet Sounds is more ac­cu­rately a Brian Wilson solo album, his first real work as an au­teur of the recording studio. For this ar­ticle, I am looking at the twelve tracks that Brian in­tended for the album. I am not con­sid­ering “Sloop John B,” which Capitol tacked onto the record so the it could boast a hit single.

Okay—those twelve tracks: Brian Wilson wrote the all of the music for most of them and most of the music for some of them. He worked with two lyri­cists, first Terry Sachen (“Hang on to Your Ego”) and then Tony Asher (eight of the twelve songs). Asher says that he also con­tributed to some of the music. 

Brian began working on his new songs at Western Recorders studio in Hol­ly­wood, Cal­i­fornia, in No­vember 1965. The first of­fi­cial ses­sion of what would be­come Pet Sounds took place at Western on Jan­uary 18, 1966, and the final ses­sion was on April 13, 1966.


BeachBoys PetSounds DT 1966 600

De­spite the front cover car­rying Capi­tol’s “Full Di­men­sional Stereo” blurb and em­blem at the top, Pet Sounds was not is­sued in real stereo. Capitol used their patented Duo­phonic Stereo process to re­lease the album in hor­ren­dous fake stereo.

For all practical purposes

In­stead of working with the Beach Boys, Brian hired the cream of Los An­geles studio mu­si­cians to play most of the in­stru­ments on most of the ses­sions. He ac­tu­ally in­structed some of these mu­si­cians in how he wanted them to play their parts, as what he was asking of them was so dif­ferent from what they nor­mally played.

Of course, the other Beach Boys were in­volved in the singing. Like the mu­si­cians, he was asking them to sing parts so dif­ferent from what they nor­mally sang that he had to di­rect them on some of their vocal parts.


In the US, Sun­flower was a com­mer­cial dis­aster and ef­fec­tively ig­nored by the record-buying public. In the UK, Sun­flower was hailed as a masterpiece!


Brian arranged all of the in­stru­mental parts for the mu­si­cians and all of the vocal parts for his fellow Beach Boys. Of course, he pro­duced all of the sessions.

For all prac­tical pur­poses, the other Beach Boys served the same role in the making of the album as the hired studio mu­si­cians. For a time, some critics made fun of the group, re­fer­ring to them as Bri­an’s pup­pets. A sim­ilar arrange­ment was used during the ses­sions for the aborted Smile album.

The Beach Boys did not record the in­stru­mental parts on a Beach Boys album until Smiley Smile, re­leased during Summer of 1967. Even then, they were recording Bri­an’s songs. This was the first album where the group played the bulk of the in­stru­ments since All Summer Long in 1964.


BeachBoys Sunflower 600

Sun­flower sported a cover as warm and lovely as the music within. De­spite the pro­mo­tional ef­forts of Warner/Reprise, in the US the album was a com­mer­cial dis­aster, ef­fec­tively ig­nored by the record-buying public. Four singles were pulled from the album, each a flop on the pop charts. In the UK, Sun­flower was hailed as a mas­ter­piece and sold enough to reach the Top 30 on at least one survey.

Add some music to your day

The first album that was a group effort—where the other mem­bers (Al, Bruce, Carl, Dennis, Mike) had a hand in writing and ar­ranging the songs and pro­ducing the sessions—was not until Sun­flower, re­leased during the final weeks of Summer in 1970.

Each of the Beach Boys con­tributed to the songs. Here are the six Beach Boys and the number of songs on the album car­rying their credit as a songwriter:

Al Jar­dine: 3
Bruce John­ston:2
Mike Love: 3
Brian Wilson: 7
Carl Wilson: 1
Dennis Wilson: 4

While Carl con­tributed the least to the songs, the album was largely pro­duced by him. Sun­flower re­mains my fa­vorite album of all for how it sounds and feels: clear, full, lush, warm. It is a sonic mas­ter­piece, with a lot of credit due en­gi­neer Stephen Desper.

While anyone who lis­tens to this album today will im­me­di­ately rec­og­nize the Beach Boys, such was not the case in 1970. The group had been out of the pub­lic’s graces for sev­eral years, which was an eter­nity in the heady, com­pet­i­tive pop music world at the time.

When friends would visit me at my apart­ment, I’d get them high and put Sun­flower on the turntable. They would sit, mes­mer­ized by the opening track, Dennis Wilson’s joyous “Slip on Through.”

My guests would ask, “Who is this? Like, wow, I love it!”

“The Beach Boys,” I would respond.

And they’d gasp, “No way, man!”

Words rarely do music jus­tice, so go and find your­self a copy of Sun­flower and listen for your self. Hear one of the best al­bums to be found in this whole world. Of course, I sug­gest lis­tening to an LP rather than a CD, but ei­ther way, you will add some mar­velous music to your day.

Words rarely do music jus­tice, so go and find your­self a copy of the Beach Boys’ SUNFLOWER album and listen for your self. Click To Tweet

BeachBoys Sunflower cover photo 1500 crop

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was cropped from the SUNFLOWER album and dis­plays the Beach Boys—the first them all six ap­peared on the cover of an album together—and their off­spring. Of course, the har­mony on dis­play in this photo masked the in­ces­sant squab­bling be­tween the guys.


BeachBoys SmileySmile

Smiley Smile was a mon­u­mental re­treat from the cre­ative com­pe­ti­tion that Brian Wilson felt he was en­gaged in with the Bea­tles. Carl Wilson fa­mously called it “a bunt in­stead of a grand slam.” Re­viled by fans and critics for decades, its rep­u­ta­tion as an album filled with lovely yet edgy music with a taint of mar­i­juana goofi­ness has grown demon­strably in re­cent decades.


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i have such vivid mem­o­ries of towing my 57 chevy home from the drag strip in 63 and 64 lis­tening to the beach boys orig­inal hot rod and surf record­ings on the am radio so to me it would be their first few 45s on capitol. those were the best days of drag racing and the best time for hot rod and surf records, a time that will never be re­peated. how lucky i was to have been a part of this.

Neal, I love them all, al­though I have a spe­cial warmth for Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends, Surf’s Up, So Tough, Hol­land, and Love You lps. Four ’60s and four ’70s. Yes, these are spe­cial to me.

Neal - That would surely allow them to focus!

Neal - I know ex­actly what you mean. Yes sir!

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