Sep 302022

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10. John Stamos – Forever (Wedding version)

“Forever” was co-written and sung by Dennis Wilson for the Beach Boys’ 1970 album Sunflower. The song might have remained an eternal deep cut had it not earned a very high-profile fan. Singer/actor (and occasional Beach Boy) John Stamos made it one of his signature songs on the TV comedy Full House. Stamos performed an emotionally-charged version, backed by a full gospel choir, on the episode where his character Jesse got married. It serves as a great tribute to Dennis Wilson, whose contributions have often been overlooked in favor of his brothers. – Curtis Zimmermann

9. Yo La Tengo – Little Honda

Sometimes you hear a cover and you wonder “why didn’t someone do this before?” Yo La Tengo’s take on “Little Honda” is a perfect late ’90s noise-pop gem. The lyrics feel pretty anachronistic, but the delivery and the accompanying power chords are a mix of dreamy and grungy. Yo La Tengo’s version has aged really well: it’s a cover as simple as the source material, in the most complimentary way. – Mike Misch

8. Glen Campbell – Beach Boys Medley

As a member of the fabled group of studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, Glen Campbell played guitar on several Beach Boys studio tracks. He was drafted to play bass for the touring band in 1964 following Brian Wilson’s departure from touring. Given that the group was then at its commercial peak, most musicians would have been content to remain a member of such a band forever. Campbell thought he could do better and departed to focus on his solo career. Still, the smell of the ocean lingered in his perfectly-styled hair as he regularly performed medleys of the band’s tunes in concert. The songs featured perfect vocals from the country star and ripping guitar solos. He kept those “Good Vibrations” happening for sure. – Curtis Zimmermann

7. Oldham Brothers – Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Will Oldham, best known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, is joined here by his brothers for a slightly discordant cover of one of the Beach Boys’ most hallowed songs. The cover opens with a rattling acoustic guitar and odd harmonies with Will’s quavering voice almost purposely a little out of sync. Still, it’s a fairly sweet alt-folk tribute, but as the song progresses it gets even better. Halfway through the song, a synth string line enters, and the song’s volume increases a bit. At almost three minutes a chorus of kids raucously sing “good night, sleep tight” while the Oldhams’ voices hover in the ethereal background. As a whole it’s an odd song but when the original is as iconic as this one the best move is often to try something completely different. The Oldham Brothers achieved that goal with this cover. – Mike Misch

6. Carice van Houten – Still I Dream of It

“I wrote a song for Frank Sinatra,” Brian Wilson said in a 1977 interview. “I doubt if he’ll take it… It’s hard to say, depending on the frame of mind he’s in, if he’ll take my song. I might change it around for him if he wants.” That song was “Still I Dream of It,” and indeed, Sinatra never recorded it. It was going to appear on the Beach Boys album Adult/Child, but after hearing the songs, Mike Love asked Brian, “What the fuck are you doing?” He and Al Jardine vetoed the album’s release, and it wasn’t until the Good Vibrations box set that it officially saw the light of day. Carice van Houten, the Dutch singer/actress best known as Melisandre in Game of Thrones, gives the song the respect it never quite got before, not even from Brian. She showcases both the mundane activities of day-to-day life and the hope and pain inherent in yearning for a love that has yet to arrive. – Patrick Robbins

5. Grant Lee Buffalo – In My Room

Grant Lee Buffalo’s take on “In My Room” aired on a 1995 episode of the tv show Friends. Grant Lee Phillips’s vocals are aching and echoing in all the right ways, but what makes the cover most distinctive is its instrumental approach, with its sludgy guitars and hard-hitting rhythm section. The grunge treatment is not at odds with the tender feelings revealed in the song’s lyric. – Tom McDonald

4. Kirsty MacColl – Don’t Go Near the Water

One of a handful of BB songs the late, great Ms. MacColl tackled, her perfect pitch gave just the right timbre to explore some of Brian’s more demanding melodies. That she could also multi-track her voice into an exquisite chorale was an additional boon, but it is the clear love and respect that comes channeling through here. With a Britpop indie jangle, the guitar likely Johnny Marr, she takes it at a slightly faster lick, the innocence of her diction entirely apt for the simplicity of the lyrical message. The brilliance overflows as the song decelerates into an almost hymnal coda that has you needing to just play it again and again. – Seuras Og

3. Fuzzy – Girl Don’t Tell Me

I first heard Fuzzy’s “Girl Don’t Tell Me” on a road trip; it showed up on the radio in their hometown of Boston, back when power pop bands fronted by women were, if not a dime a dozen, at least a welcome trend. I’d not heard the Beach Boys’ version before, so my first exposure to the song was a noisy treat, loud yet melodic, and with that killer “ai-ai-aiii” hook. I completely missed the once-bitten-twice-shy message of a guy whose crush broke a promise to write to him. Brian Wilson’s way with hiding the hurt behind a layer of exuberance was a lesson not lost on Fuzzy, and they delivered that lesson with equal assurance (and double the volume). – Patrick Robbins

2. Oingo Boingo – California Girls

The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo were an avant-garde, surrealist street theater troupe founded in 1972 in Los Angeles by actor Richard Elfman that often performed classic and original music while wearing clown makeup. Richard’s brother Danny joined the group in the mid-1970s, and eventually took over its leadership. The Mystic Knights sometimes performed a cover of the Beach Boys’ iconic celebration of girls, in general, and California girls, specifically. However, by 1979, Danny Elfman wanted to turn the Mystic Knights into a new wave band, and thus morphed the troupe into Oingo Boingo. Oingo Boingo was no ordinary new wave band, though, with yelping vocals reminiscent of Devo, and complex, almost Zappa-like arrangements. They had a surprising amount of success, considering the oddness of their music, before Elfman turned to a successful career scoring films. Oingo Boingo recorded a demo version of “California Girls” which never was officially released, and while it is (a little) more straightforward than the Mystic Knights approach, it’s a far cry from the innocence and sweet harmonies of the original. – Jordan Becker

1. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Surfin’ USA

Long before I actually ever got to hear this version, I was telling folk of the palpable link between the early Beach Boys and the feedback-loving brothers from East Kilbride. OK, they may not have had the vocal chops of the Wilson sibs, but by allying fierce buzzsaw guitars, à la Stooges, to those same melodies and arrangements, well, suffice to say that I caught the drift. So, when this came along, vindication was mine. This is scuzzy even by their standards, but as a minimalist explanation of their MO, it’s perfect. The guitars sturm und they drang, the drums thump, and the bass explores nowhere near the range of the instrument’s capabilities, a masterclass in less is more. With the vocals little more than a rudimentary snarl, you fully understand how band vocal duties were decided on the toss of a coin. With the loser, um, winning. Multilayered harmonies? Well there is a bit of random moaning and hooting in the middle eight. I wonder what Brian thinks of it? Marvelous. – Seuras Og

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Pixies, Elvis Costello, and more.

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  3 Responses to “The 40 Best Beach Boys Covers Ever”

Comments (3)
  1. Psychic TV’s Good Vibrations is great,

  2. Yo La Tengo’s Little Honda is last on my list. It’s just not a grungy song. I’d rather hear the Hondell’s hit, which was just a sterile copy. I’d rather hear Murray Wilson’s solo album!

  3. It’s hard to go wrong with those iconic melodies. I stuck to the arrangement but tried to imagine Good Vibrations as an ELO/Who mashup.

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