Brian Wilson is a legendary figure in the history of rock music, known as the co-founder, songwriter, and producer of the iconic band The Beach Boys. His musical genius has been celebrated for over five decades, and he is regarded as one of the most innovative and influential figures in popular music. His compositions have been marked by sophisticated harmonies, lush arrangements, and deeply personal lyrics that have resonated with audiences around the world. In this article, we will explore the top 10 best Brian Wilson songs of all time, taking a closer look at the tracks that have defined his career and cemented his place in music history. From his early classics with The Beach Boys to his later solo work, we will delve into the songs that showcase Wilson’s talent, creativity, and unique vision. Through this list, we will celebrate the life and legacy of one of the greatest songwriters of all time, who has inspired generations of musicians and fans alike with his incredible music. So, sit back, relax, and prepare to take a musical journey through the career of Brian Wilson, and the songs that have defined his incredible career.
1. “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” – The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
“When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” is a poignant and introspective song from The Beach Boys’ 1965 album “Today!”. The song, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, showcases Wilson’s ability to blend complex arrangements with relatable lyrics. The song is driven by a mid-tempo beat and features layered harmonies that build as the song progresses. The lyrics explore the anxieties and uncertainties of growing up and the desire to find one’s place in the world. With its catchy melody and heartfelt lyrics, “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” is a standout track on “Today!” and a testament to Brian Wilson’s songwriting skills.
2. “God Only Knows” – Pet Sounds (1966)
“God Only Knows” is widely considered one of the greatest love songs of all time, and for good reason. Written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, it features complex harmonies and orchestral arrangements that were groundbreaking for their time. The song is a poignant expression of love and devotion, with lyrics that highlight the uncertainty and fragility of human relationships. The instrumentation includes a mix of traditional rock band elements and more classical instruments like horns and harpsichord, giving the song a timeless quality that still resonates with listeners today. The song has been covered by many artists and has appeared in countless films, television shows, and commercials, cementing its place as a cultural touchstone.
3. “The Warmth of the Sun” – Shut Down Vol. 2 (1964)
“The Warmth of the Sun” is a poignant ballad by the Beach Boys, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. It was released in 1964 on their album Shut Down Vol. 2. The song’s opening lyrics suggest a melancholic mood, with the narrator reflecting on a past love and the memories they shared. The song then moves into a more hopeful tone, as the narrator realizes that he will always carry those memories with him, and that they will continue to bring him warmth and comfort. The song’s melody is gentle and soothing, with intricate harmonies that are typical of Brian Wilson’s signature sound. The song has since become a Beach Boys classic and is considered one of their greatest hits. Its themes of love, loss, and nostalgia continue to resonate with audiences to this day.
4. “Please Let Me Wonder” – The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
“Please Let Me Wonder” is a beautiful ballad from The Beach Boys’ album “The Beach Boys Today!”. The song, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, features lush harmonies and an emotional melody. The lyrics express the desire to be with a loved one and the fear of losing them. The instrumentation is simple yet effective, with acoustic guitar and piano providing a delicate accompaniment to the vocals. The song’s production is also noteworthy, with Brian Wilson experimenting with new studio techniques such as echo and reverb to create a dreamy, atmospheric sound. The track showcases Wilson’s songwriting talent and his ability to craft a pop song that tugs at the heartstrings. It remains a beloved classic in The Beach Boys’ catalog and a testament to Brian Wilson’s enduring influence on popular music.
5. “Don’t Worry Baby” – Shut Down Vol. 2 (1964)
“Don’t Worry Baby” is a classic Beach Boys song, released in 1964 on their album Shut Down Vol. 2. The song is known for its beautiful harmonies, catchy melody, and heartfelt lyrics. The song tells the story of a young man who is worried that he won’t be able to win a drag race against another driver. However, his girlfriend tells him not to worry, that everything will be alright. The song is a classic example of Brian Wilson’s songwriting genius, as he combines upbeat, driving music with tender lyrics that resonate with listeners. The harmonies and instrumentation of the song are particularly memorable, and it has become one of the most beloved Beach Boys songs of all time. It has been covered by many artists over the years, including B.J. Thomas, The Four Seasons, and The Beach Boys themselves in various live performances. “Don’t Worry Baby” is a timeless classic that continues to be loved by fans of all ages.
6. “Surf’s Up” – SMiLE/Surf’s Up (1967)/(1971)
“Surf’s Up” is a masterpiece that took several years to complete and is considered one of Brian Wilson’s greatest compositions. Originally intended for The Beach Boys’ legendary unfinished album, SMiLE, it was finally released on the 1971 album, Surf’s Up. The song is a poetic and introspective meditation on life and the human condition, with rich and complex harmonies, and evocative lyrics that shift from images of childhood innocence to darker themes of mortality and existential dread. The song builds to a stunning climax with the haunting repetition of the phrase “Columnated ruins domino,” sung by Brian Wilson with a transcendent intensity that makes the song an emotional and spiritual journey for the listener. It showcases Wilson’s genius as a composer and arranger, and his ability to create a work of art that is both challenging and deeply rewarding.
7. “Good Vibrations” – SMiLE/Smiley Smile (1966)
“Good Vibrations” is arguably one of the most iconic songs by Brian Wilson, and it remains a classic to this day. Released in 1966 as a single, it was originally intended to be part of The Beach Boys’ never-released album “SMiLE.” The song is a sonic masterpiece that features layered harmonies, unconventional instrumentation, and a complex structure that seamlessly blends various sections into one cohesive whole. Wilson drew inspiration from his love of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” technique and his experimentation with tape loops and unconventional sounds. The result is a song that captures the essence of the California sunshine pop sound while pushing the boundaries of what was considered mainstream music at the time. “Good Vibrations” was a huge commercial success, reaching number one on the charts in both the US and UK, and it remains a staple of classic rock radio.
8. “The Little Girl I Once Knew” (1965)
“The Little Girl I Once Knew” is a nostalgic and melancholic song released by the Beach Boys in 1965. The song features Brian Wilson’s signature vocal harmonies and lush instrumentation, which perfectly capture the wistful mood of the lyrics. The song is a bittersweet reflection on the passing of time and the loss of youth, as the narrator looks back on a past love and wonders where she is now. The verses are filled with vivid imagery and metaphors, painting a picture of a carefree and innocent time that can never be recaptured. The chorus is hauntingly beautiful, with the repeated refrain of “sha la la la la la la” adding to the dreamlike quality of the song. Overall, “The Little Girl I Once Knew” is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with listeners today, evoking feelings of nostalgia and longing for a simpler time.
9. “Isn’t It Time” – That’s Why God Made the Radio (2012)
“Isn’t It Time” is a catchy and upbeat song released by the Beach Boys in 2012, as part of their album “That’s Why God Made the Radio”. The song features the signature harmonies and sunny melodies that have become synonymous with the Beach Boys’ sound. “Isn’t It Time” is a celebration of love and the joy of being in a relationship, with lyrics that express a sense of wonder and gratitude for the magic of falling in love. The song’s infectious chorus and lively instrumentation make it a perfect summer anthem, with a timeless quality that harks back to the band’s heyday in the 1960s. Overall, “Isn’t It Time” is a testament to the enduring power of the Beach Boys’ music, and a reminder of why they remain one of the most beloved and influential bands of all time.
10. “Don’t Let Her Know She’s an Angel” – Sweet Insanity/Gettin’ in Over My Head (1991)/(2004)
“Don’t Let Her Know She’s an Angel” is a heartfelt ballad released by Brian Wilson in two different versions – first in 1991 on his album “Sweet Insanity”, and later in 2004 on “Gettin’ in Over My Head”. The song is a tender tribute to a special woman, with lyrics that describe her as an angel who has brought light and happiness into the narrator’s life. The song’s gentle melody and Brian Wilson’s signature vocal harmonies create a dreamy, ethereal atmosphere, while the lyrics convey a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of the woman in question. The song is a testament to Brian Wilson’s talent as a songwriter, and his ability to create music that is both deeply personal and universally relatable. Overall, “Don’t Let Her Know She’s an Angel” is a touching and poignant song that showcases the timeless appeal of Brian Wilson’s music.