If 1965 had been a memorable year in the early history of the Beach Boys, then 1966 was to be even more epic, and the group started as they meant to go on. On the Billboard Hot 100 for January 1, they debuted at No.81 with their cover of “Barbara Ann.” The song had been a Top 20 hit (with the girl’s name hyphenated on that earlier version) by Italian-American doo-wop group the Regents in 1961. It was written by Fred Fassert, brother of group member Charles.
The Beach Boys’ version had been out for a few weeks as a track on their tenth studio album Beach Boys Party! Released as a single by Capitol on December 20, 1965, the track was backed with the great Brian Wilson song “Girl Don’t Tell Me,” from their previous LP Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!).
Taped at United Western Recorders in Hollywood in the September, “Barbara Ann” was a raucously playful treatment of the song with a suitably live feel as part of their Beach Boys Party! sessions. The recording featured Brian’s lead vocal supported by the harmonies of the entire group as well as Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean.
That duo had done their own version of the tune on their 1962 album Golden Hits, and indeed Billboard’s review of the Beach Boys’ update described the number as “this Jan and Dean classic.” It also described it as a “rockin’ rouser.”
“Barbara Ann” made fast work of ascending the Hot 100, reaching the Top 20 in only its fourth week and then spending two weeks at No.2, first behind The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” and then Petula Clark’s “My Love.” It also became a substantial international hit, topping the chart in several European countries and reaching No.3 in the UK.