Last Edited 1/19/19.
When The Beach Boys charted their first hit, “Surfin’,” Barack Obama was in
diapers, the Beatles’ drummer was Pete Best, most Americans had never heard of
Vietnam, and the most popular television show in the United States was Wagon Train
it’s been awhile.
There are several sections to the band’s career: the hit-laden surf, sun,
and girls years (1962-1965), the Brian-Wilson’s-a-genius years (1965-1967), and
the Brian’s on drugs/unavailable, so we have to get new material where we can
get it (everything after, with occasional Brian resurgences). Most of the
greatest hits sets now focus on the first two periods (with the exception of
1988’s “Kokomo,” to which Brian contributed nothing), but that wasn’t always
the case, so buyer beware.
So while the group has had 24 top 20 hits in the United States, “Good
Vibrations,” their huge #1 hit in 1966 (less than five years after “Surfin’”)
was the 16th
– and two of the remaining eight were a medley of their
hits (during the early ‘80s medley craze) and a “Wipe Out” remake with the
flash-in-the-pan rap act The Fat Boys. (It’s not likely you’ll find either of
those on any hits sets – I know the medley is totally out of print, for
Please also note that, Capitol Records (the Boys’ home for most of their
careers – they did spend time with Reprise and Columbia under their Brother
Records imprint, but all of that material has gone back to Capitol over time)
is now owned by Universal Music Group, the Joe Stalin of the Big Three record
conglomerates. (Of the remaining two, Warner Music Group [Warner Brothers,
Elektra/Asylum, Atlantic, and Reprise] and Sony Music [Columbia, Epic, RCA,
Arista] are either Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt; I haven’t decided
which is which.) So there will probably be more Beach Boys greatest hits sets
than the overload we already have, and the quality may vary. Actually, that’s
already starting to happen.
And an amusing note: there are two versions of “Help Me, Rhonda” floating
around – one was from The Beach Boys Today!
In 1965, with a slightly different title (“Help Me, Ronda”) and a different
(and lousier) mix. Brian Wilson kept fiddling with it, rerecorded the whole
thing, changed the title, and created a classic. Some of the anthologies
mistakenly have used the “H”-free version. Make sure you’ve got the good one.
Finally, do know I have all of the Boys’ studio albums released between 1962
and 1974, so until recently the only “hits” set I had on CD is the 1990 box set
That said, I can pretty much tell from the track listings what to get and what
In the meantime, this seems as good a choice as any:
30 songs on a single disk, which was very kind of Capitol Records (as you’ll
see, they weren’t always so benevolent). The only top 20 hit missing, aside
from the two mentioned above, is “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” which peaked at
#20. There are downloads that might be a better buy, but on disk itself, you
won’t get more bang for your buck ($10.91 at Amazon as of this second).
And, since I promised there were thousands of best-ofs from the band, here
they are. I’m only included best-ofs that were released on CD at some point in
the United States, otherwise this would be an Endless Blog Post. All links go
to the Wikipedia entry.
of the Beach Boys, Best
of the Beach Boys Vol. 2, Best
of the Beach Boys Vol. 3
– released in consecutive years between
1966 and 1968 by Capitol, none over 30 minutes, and with some overlap between
them. I know Volume 3 was never released on CD, and I don’t think Volume 2 was
either. But Amazon still claims to have one copy of Volume 1 on disk, so if
you’re an absolute completist…
– I think everybody had a copy of this on vinyl after it first came out in
1974, because almost all of the band’s studio albums were out of print at that
point. I still have mine, with the poster. It nails most of the hits between
1962 and 1965. That said, it’s a) confusing (all of the songs are from before
Vibrations,” but the cover art shows the six Boys the way they looked in the
‘70s with lots of facial hair), and b) a total rip-off (the 20 songs on the
two-album set clock in at less than 48 minutes, which means they could have fit
the whole thing on one LP rather than two). Still available on Amazon if you
want to spend 53 dollars. The one-disk CD version tacks on “Good Vibrations,”
for what it’s worth.
(1975) – One more cash grab by Capitol, and this one
doesn’t have “Good Vibrations” on it either. This leans more heavily on car
songs and “Americana” material (remember, this was released a year before the
Bicentennial). Oddly, this is available on Amazon for $7.99 for a single disk
(although not for download), and for that price it’s a reasonable (albeit odd)
sampler. Again, mostly from the early 1960s, although the 1969 single “Break
Away” (a great flop single) is included. (The band wasn’t on Capitol by that
point and had little control over what the label did with their back catalogue;
they released a greatest hits set culled from their album releases from 1966
onward – so “Good Vibrations” was there, but “Break Away,” as a standalone
single, made it here. That album, Good Vibrations –
Best of The Beach Boys
, never made it to CD.)
Years of Harmony
– out of print now (although it did make it to compact disk), this is a bunch
of songs from the post-Capitol Records era. Since there weren’t many actual,
you know, hits
during that time period, this may be for collectors only, but it’s got enough
oddities to make it worth searching for.
(1986) – the first hits set to mix Capitol and
post-Capitol hits, this is actually a pretty good sampler. Contains two songs
recorded specifically for the album, one of which can’t be found anywhere else
(“Rock ‘n’ Roll to the Rescue,” but there’s a reason for that). The other one,
a remake of The Mamas and The Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” is enhanced by a
Roger McGuinn 12-string solo, but loses steam with a mid-1980s arrangement and
Kenny G-like sax solo. Out of print, but used copies are pretty easy to find (I
got mine for a dollar).
Vibrations – Thirty Years of The Beach Boys
(1993) – whoever was
running Capitol’s reissue program in the early 1990s has it all over their
1970s counterparts. All of the band’s studio albums (along with a couple of
mediocre live albums and the useless Party
and Stack o’ Tracks
the latter was instrumental versions of their classics with the vocals
imperfectly wiped off) were rereleased on CD in 1990 with two albums per CD,
and bonus tracks as they fit. Plus, this super five-disk box set was released,
with every familiar song you could possibly want (with the possible exception
of “Let Him Run Wild,” in deference to Brian Wilson, who hates the recording),
plus a whole disk of unreleased takes and almost every important track from the
sessions. Way too much for the casual listener, but essential for serious fans.
It’s now over a hundred dollars for the physical box set on Amazon, but less than
half that to download, which comes to less than 37 cents per track. Try to find
a used copy; the accompanying liner notes are useful, too.
Greatest Hits – Volume 1: 20 Good Vibrations
(1995) – this sold
a lot of copies in the States and the track listing is reasonably solid, but
why buy a 20-song one-disk set when you can get 30? Amazon still has it around
on disk, but not for download.
(1998) – outtakes, alternate versions, etc. ,
so it’s not really a greatest hits set. And since I have the aforementioned box
set with similar (although not identical) material, I don’t have it either. Still
in print and available for download, so somebody must like it.
(1999) – a 4-CD box with no rarities; this appears
to have originally been issued through those experts on rock and roll, Reader’s Digest
(although it’s on Capitol, so it should be legit). Out of print, and skippable.
Greatest Hits – Volume 2: 20 More Good Vibrations
assorted hits that didn’t rate being included on the first volume four years
before. I wonder how many people bought this based on the title only to
discover “Good Vibrations,” despite the disk’s title, isn’t on it. (Gee, thanks
Capitol!) Out of print.
Hits Volume Three: Best of the Brother Years 1970–1986
and if you thought Volume 2 was skippable, this one’s even worse. Two Top 20
hits, both remakes of oldies (“Rock & Roll Music” and “Come Go With Me”),
and all but two are on the Good Vibrations
box set. Does not include “Kokomo.” (On the other hand, it also doesn’t include
their misguided foray into disco, the 1979 remake of “Here Comes the Night.”) But
it’s still in print and you can download it – pinch me!
(2001) – like Endless Harmony
, alternate takes, studio chatter, and assorted stuff for the
uberfan, but not a hits set. Still available for download and on CD at Amazon
if you’re so inclined.
Selected by Brian Wilson
(2002) – since Capitol apparently had
found an unquenchable market for Beach Boys reissues by this point, it was nice
of them to let Brian compile one. Hardly their best (half the track selection
is from the late 1960s and early 1970s, a fallow time for them commercially),
but if they’re Brian’s favorites, so be it. Contains one new recording,
“California Feelin’,” written around 1974 but never recorded by the band; it’s
done here by Brian and a bunch of session guys. A reasonable download at $8.49.
Warmth of the Sun
(2007) – another “here’s what we couldn’t fit
on the first one” disk; in this case since the first one was The Sounds of Summer
you’re getting a lot of familiar non-hit tracks.
Original U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years 1962-1965
– another one for the diehards, since this has both mono and stereo versions of
most songs (Brian Wilson is deaf in one ear, so he generally preferred mono). It
appears each single is on one CD, so that means each disc is about ten or
twelve minutes long – hope you have a 12-disc CD player! Obviously overpriced
for the casual fan.
(2009) – oh heck, you can listen to them
all year ‘round. The only rarity is a Dennis Wilson song, “Fallin’ in Love”
(Dennis had his moments in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a songwriter,
before falling prey to drugs).
Big Ones: Greatest Hits
(2012) – released during their 50th
anniversary tour (you might remember this one; Brian, Al Jardine, and the
long-missing David Marks rejoined Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, only to have
Love boot the other three back out the second the tour ended). If you’re
willing to spend the money, this covers all the bases, although it’s a little
more expensive than Sounds
of the Summer. Greatest Hits
is an unnecessary 20-song single-disk
(2013) – yet another box set, with different
rarities and alternate takes than the Good Vibrations
box set. I’ll pick one up if I see it cheap, which given it goes for $100 on
Amazon seems unlikely.
I’m not linking to Icon
(2013) or The Beach Boys:
Millennium Collection – 20th Century Masters
they only prove my earlier point about Universal Music Group being a bunch of
money-grubbing jerks. Both of these exist only to be purchased at truck stops
in parts of the country where radio stations don’t come in. They’re cheap, but
so damn short (certainly less than 30 minutes apiece) and are nearly identical (Icon
Dance, Dance” and “Be True to Your School” while Millennium Collection
has “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” the other nine tracks are the same on both). Avoid,
Finally, it looks as though the band (or Capitol) has recently released
several anthologies of songs from 1967 and 1968, which was one of Brian’s most
creative periods – but they’re piles of outtakes and alternate versions, not hits.
Also, in 2018 Capitol released The Beach Boys With The Royal Philharmonic
, which mixes the band’s hits with (obviously) orchestral
backgrounds. I don’t have the slightest interest in that one, but I may take it
out of the library to confirm the nauseous feeling I’m getting writing about