Do It Again: The Beach Boys’ Top 15 Covers

October 10, 2017

If anyone knows anything about the Beach Boys, it’s about their unique vocal harmonies – courtesy of brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, along with cousin Mike Love, friend Al Jardine and, later, Bruce Johnston – and how Brian composed some of the most ambitious pop music ever known, in order to allow the Beach Boys to collectively shine.

Beach Boys - Surfin' USA LabelYet the group also had a knack for reinventing other people’s songs in their own distinctive style. This uDiscover playlist celebrates 15 of the best examples of the group's powers of interpretation.

The Beach Boys’ early albums saw them working through their rock’n’roll influences, recording covers of Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’, plus the title track to their 1963 US No.2 album, Surfin’ USA. The latter, a No.3 US single, eventually saw Chuck Berry receive a co-credit, since Brian Wilson had essentially written new lyrics to Berry’s 1958 classic, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’.

As Wilson’s own songwriting and composition skills grew, however, so did his ambitious approach to covers. By the time he turned to ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’, originally made famous in 1956 by doo-wop icons Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Wilson was also recording for the first time with the famed Wrecking Crew – the session group behind countless 60s pop classics. Released on Shut Down Volume 2 (and also appearing on the B-side of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, the Beach Boys’ US No.5 single, released in 1964), their version of ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ paved the way for further grand arrangements.

These included Bobby Freeman’s ‘Do You Want To Dance’ and the Phil Spector/ Ellie Greenwich/Jeff Barry classic ‘Then He Kissed Me’ (re-recorded by Wilson and co as ‘Then I Kissed Her’). Brian would revisit his hero Spector’s catalogue several years later, overseeing a euphoric version of ‘I Can Hear Music’ for the Beach Boys’ 1969 album, 20/20.

Beach Boys - Smile eraEven with just a few acoustic guitars and their voices, however, the group were captivating. Released as a single in 1965, ‘Barbara Ann’ has become the most famous track from the Beach Boys’ Party! album, but their version of ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’ shows that, at this stage in their career, the group were able to throw infectious harmonies together at the drop of a hat.

Wilson was at his most ambitious during the Smile sessions, but he was forever mindful of pop music’s rich history, reaching back to the pre-war song ‘You Are My Sunshine’, for which Dennis provided one of the more maudlin lead vocals in the group’s catalogue. This era of pop music continued to inspire the group, as they also took two stabs at Lead Belly’s 1940 folk classic ‘Cotton Fields’: one recorded for 20/20, with Brian at the helm, and a second version, released as a single in 1970, with Al Jardine teasing a more overtly country performance from the group, which took the song to No.5 in the UK.

Beach Boys That's Why Got Made The Radio eraLater in the '70s, the Beach Boys were still mining their earliest influences, revisiting the Phil Spector arrangement of the Righteous Brothers’ ‘Just Once In My Life’ for their 1976 album, 15 Big Ones. That LP also had them revisiting Chuck Berry's catalogue for a spirited version of 'Rock and Roll Music.' The band would continue to play rock’n’roll-era classics on tour throughout the '70s and '80s, but, in 1986, they recorded a 60s folk-rock classic that, really, they could well have penned themselves. The Beach Boys’ faithful rendering of ‘California Dreamin’’, originally a 1965 No.4 US hit for the Mamas And The Papas, was included on their Made In USA compilation and also issued as a single. Featuring Roger McGuinn of the Byrds on 12-string guitar, it links three of the finest West Coast icons of the 60s and provides a fitting close to our Beach Boys covers playlist.

Follow the official Beach Boys Best Of playlist.

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12 comments

  1. Stuart
    Reply

    Come go with me 1978 MIU album top 20.

    Kona coast – slow re has of their earlier Hawaii from Surfing USA also MIU album.

    Blueberry Hill – 15 big ones, Pallaisaide (however you spelll it) park- 15 Big ones

    There are others……..

  2. Scott Reppert
    Reply

    First cover of theirs that I thought of as being “great” was not even on the list! (“Bluebirds Over The Mountain”)…

  3. Mick DeLeon
    Reply

    One could put together a very good mix tape of all the cover songs The Beach Boys did. Certainly “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” and “California Dreamin'” belong at the top, but they also achieved brilliance with 1964’s “Hushabye” (from All Summer Long) and 1976’s “Sea Cruise” (from 10 Years Of Harmony). The great debate is which of the greatest pop/rock bands was more awesome at cover versions? Beatles (i.e., “Twist & Shout”, “‘Til There Was You”), Stones (“Around & Around”, “Just My Imagination”), or BBs?

  4. Phil Lively-Masters
    Reply

    Love the stripped down version of ‘The Letter’ by the Box Tops, off of their Lei’d in Hawaii sessions, plus ‘Ol Man River’ and also the live version of ‘Rock n Roll Woman’ that Carl sings a corking lead on.

  5. Jivin' Johnny Etheredge
    Reply

    The Beach Boys cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” owed more to Del Shannon’s version than it did to Bobby Freeman’s original. And it seems a crime to leave “I’m So Young” off the list. Brian’s production sounded like it was inspired more by the Phil Spector/Ronettes version than by The Stdents’ original.

  6. Linda Friezen
    Reply

    I grew up in Santa Ana listening to the Beach Boys. No one will ever come close to their amazing harmonies.

  7. Fletch
    Reply

    Good article. As far as ‘I Can Hear Music’ though, I think it was all a Carl production. Brian had retired to his bed by then

  8. Kelly Izaj
    Reply

    You missed another significant Beach Boys cover. They did a version of the Students’ “I’m So Young” on THE BEACH BOYS TODAY LP.

  9. Joseph Harnett
    Reply

    Thete was a time when any cover the boys did was great there unique Harmonys made the cover song sound even better than the original s

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