Dennis Wilson’s Best Beach Boys Songs: 10 Overlooked Classics

Demonstrating a late-flowering but deep and instinctive talent, Dennis Wilson’s best Beach Boys songs remain highlights of the group’s later period.

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Best Dennis Wilson songs
Photo © Capitol Records Archives

So much more than just The Beach Boys’ drummer, Dennis Wilson (born December 4, 1944) contributed raw ballads and charged blasts of rock’n’roll that were highlights of the group’s albums from the late 60s until his untimely death, at just 39 years old, on December 28, 1983. While initially underestimated thanks to his pin-up looks and penchant for mischief, Dennis’ early songwriting and production demonstrated a deep and instinctive talent, which developed as his elder brother Brian’s influence on the group waned. Celebrating some lesser-known corners of The Beach Boys’ work, here are Dennis Wilson’s ten best Beach Boys songs.

Think we’ve missed some of yours? Let us know in the comments section, below.

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Listen to the best of The Beach Boys on Apple Music and Spotify, and scroll down for our ten best Dennis Wilson songs.

Dennis Wilson’s Best Beach Boys Songs: 10 Overlooked Classics

10: “Do You Wanna Dance?” (1965)

Early in The Beach Boys’ career, it had become apparent that the majority of the lustful energy stirred up at their gigs was aimed squarely at the animated figure behind the drum kit. It made sense, then, to take advantage of Dennis’ heartthrob status by having him sing lead vocals on a 1965 single that would open The Beach Boys Today! album – a stomping version of Bobby Freeman’s 1958 hit “Do You Wanna Dance?” The band harnessed the power of Phil Spector’s Wrecking Crew – all crashing drums, surging saxophones, and surf guitar solos – for a backing track that was nearly as exciting as hearing Dennis sing, “Squeeze me, squeeze me, all through the night.”

9: “In The Back Of My Mind” (1965)

Dennis was also called upon to sing lead on … Today!’s closing song proper, the meandering and lovely ballad “In The Back Of My Mind.” Dennis was an inspired choice: his soulful, plaintive vocals bring added depth to one of the group’s most vulnerable early songs. Fans who screamed to “Do You Wanna Dance?” swooned to this one, an early indication of the two sides of Dennis that would be revealed as his writing developed.

8: “Little Bird” (1968)

The first Dennis-penned song to be released (initially as the B-side to “Friends,” in May 1968, and, the month after, on the Friends album), “Little Bird” was a co-write with the poet Stephen Kalinch and featured an uncredited helping hand from Brian. Musically, it’s brooding, with sunny intervals, and owes a clear debt to “Child Is The Father Of The Man,” a song from the group’s SMiLE sessions. Kalinch’s lyrics are a joyful celebration of nature, sung tenderly and with heart by Dennis. The surfer of the group was growing up quick.

7: “(Wouldn’t It Be Nice) To Live Again” (1971)

Unreleased until the 2013 box set Made In California, “(Wouldn’t It Be Nice) To Live Again” should have graced 1971’s Surf’s Up. An alleged disagreement with Carl over the album’s running order, together with pressure to keep material for a solo album that was allegedly close to completion, meant that this sumptuous wonder was shelved. From pastoral beginnings (with shades of The Beatles’ “Fool On The Hill”) and a peaceful vocal from Dennis, to a grandstanding, emotive chorus, the fact this song remained shelved for so long beggars belief.

6: “Slip On Through” (1970)

The opening track of Sunflower was a heady, soulful rocker that saw Dennis deliver one of his finest non-ballad vocals for the group over an energetic, irresistible groove. The lyrics may amount to one massive come-on, but when it’s this much fun, we’re not complaining.

5: “Celebrate The News” (1969)

While the June 1969 single “Breakaway” was a hit for The Beach Boys, its B-side, “Celebrate The News,” is arguably the better song. Co-written by Dennis and his pal, songwriter Gregg Jakobsen, it shifts masterfully through the gears until the ecstatic mantra, “I’ve got news for you, there ain’t no blues,” beckons in a rampaging end section, complete with exuberant,

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  1. Robby Crowder

    December 5, 2019 at 5:11 am

    Excellent tribute, thank you!

  2. Jason Curtis

    December 5, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Great article. I would also add Sound Of Free b/w Lady (Fallin In Love) which was a single released in 1970 by Dennis Wilson and Rumbo (Daryl Dragon).

  3. Mike

    December 5, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Very nice tribute !

  4. Adam Rothschild

    December 6, 2019 at 12:59 am

    1a. All I Want To Do (20/20)

  5. Daniel

    December 6, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    Forever is not overlooked. The rest I agree. I heard a live version of Dennis Singing Good timin’ instead of Carl (in Dennis words he “chicken out”) that it’s better than the original.

  6. Dan Jestic

    December 8, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Was hoping you’d see Forever as #1 ! Unbelievable creation. I also liked San Miguel and — although not a creatively groundbreaking number— Got to Know the Woman.

  7. kerrie

    January 2, 2020 at 10:04 pm

    please tell me—does a recording exist where dennis sings ‘sail on sailor’, which he was meant to do lead vocal?

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