Best Beach Boys Albums: Top 5 Records Most Recommended By Experts

The Beach Boys are a culturally relevant band whose legend extends far beyond the restraints of just rock and roll. You can’t deny the nostalgia that is attached to their music, making you want to jump on a plane to a tropical place. If you are a superfan, then you know their dozens of amazing records. If not, then we have rounded up the top five best Beach Boys albums for you to listen to next.

When you listen to a Beach Boys song, you will most likely get that happy-go-lucky feeling. “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys takes this a step further by topping the charts as the song that makes people happiest, according to a university professor’s scientific formula. The 1966 hit single checks all the boxes in Dr. Michael Bonshor’s formula, who has a Ph.D. in music psychology and studies music in relation to well-being extensively. If you’re a songwriter and would like to create this same effect, Dr. Bonshor believes to create a happy song, the combination of a major key, 7th chords, 137 BPM, strong beat, four beats in every bar, and a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure is a sure-fire way to produce a happy beat. It should also have a short intro, repeated riffs, high volume, a bright tone, and a mix of predictability and surprise.

That’s the beauty of music. It is a tool that people can turn to boost their mood. Previous research has shown music can have a profound effect on both our emotions and the body. Faster songs can make people feel more alert and concentrate better. Upbeat ones can make you feel more optimistic and positive about life. Meanwhile, researchers say a slower tempo can quiet your mind and relax your muscles, making you feel soothed while releasing the stress of the day. Listening to music is effective for relaxation and stress management.

With all of the music that the Beach Boys have blessed us with, StudyFinds turned to ten expert opinions to find the top five best Beach Boys albums. If you play different hits on repeat that we haven’t mentioned, we’d like to hear about it in the comments below! 

 The List: Best Beach Boys Albums, According to Expert Reviews

1. “Pet Sounds” (1966)

What to say about “Pet Sounds” that haven’t already been said? Almost every review raved and ranked it as numero uno. “One of the best albums ever released in the history of pop music, with amazing songs and incredible arrangements and production. From Wouldn’t It Be Nice, to God Only Knows, to Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder), to Caroline. Even the ‘lesser’ tracks like Here Today or That’s Not Me have something in them that puts them miles away from much of what they did before. Brian (with the help of Tony Asher who wrote the lyrics) reaches his peak here when it comes to music that sounds and feels great, that is universal, sincere, intense, and full of love. Even if much of the music is played by the Wrecking Crew and the band basically just sings, this is the Beach Boys’ album that everyone should listen to at least once in their life,” says Spinditty.

"Pet Sounds" (1966)
“Pet Sounds” (1966)

Paste Magazine agrees that there isn’t much more they can say about “Pet Sounds” that hasn’t been said, but they still can’t help to give praise. “While there is admittedly nothing original left to say about Pet Sounds, anyone who says the 1966 album is overrated is, without exaggeration, lying to you and themselves. In the early ’60s, The Beach Boys’ songs about summer and cars and girls marketed them as an idyllic portrait of the white (and whitewashed) picket fence version of the American Dream; in reality, Brian was an anxious young man with an abusive father. In Pet Sounds’ 36 minutes, Brian creates an album whose thematic arcs of growing up and disillusionment implode the happy-go-lucky narrative surrounding the band. The album opens with a tinkling 12-string guitar solo on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ when—crash!—in comes Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine with a drum smack to successfully eliminate whatever innocence you thought Pet Sounds could harbor a whopping seven seconds in. The album has no throwaway tracks, even in its two instrumentals. Brian denies the inevitable end of a relationship on the too-dreamy ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)’ and experiments with a ghostly sounding Theremin on ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’ (its use on Mad Men haunts me to this day).”

A top spot on another list of best Beach Boys albums, Ultimate Classic Rock states that Pet Sounds is, “Arguably the most gorgeous pop record ever made and certainly one of the greatest albums ever conceived. Brian Wilson was spurred by the Beatles‘ creative leaps to take his own musical visions to Spectorian heights. It barely cracked the Top 10, but ‘Pet Sounds’ ushered in a new period of experiments in sound that eventually led to Wilson’s legend and downfall. A landmark recording filled with strings, brass, and harmonies upon harmonies that are still influencing people today.”

2. “Surf’s Up” (1971)

A close second, it is the popular belief that “Surf’s Up” is hands down the Beach Boys’ best record since our number-one choice. Classic Rock History admits, “Every track on here is fantastic. You’ve got songs like ‘Don’t Go Near the Water’ and ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree’ which are about environmental issues about water and air pollution; the former being an ostensible spin on their earlier beach image, while the latter is just flat-out dispiriting with its dissonant piano drones and Jack Rieley’s melancholic vocals. But then you’ve got the bluesy rocker ‘Student Demonstration Time,’ which Mike Love was inspired to write after reading about the Ken State Shootings where four unarmed college students were killed by the Ohio National Guard for protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. And finally, there’s the Carl Wilson classic ‘Feel Flows;’ this track is top-tier Beach Boys, in my opinion.”

"Surf’s Up" (1971)
“Surf’s Up” (1971)

You would never imagine that a Beach Boys album would be considered “dark,” but Paste Magazine informs us that it, “was the darkest album the band would ever record. The album cover depicts a nod to ‘End of the Trail,’ a sculpture featuring a broken-down Native American man who, after coming to a sudden halt, is about to plummet over an unseen precipice—given Brian’s all-consuming nervous breakdown within the next two years, the imagery is all too portentous. Straight from the discordant chords that open the album on ‘Don’t Go Near the Water,’ the album is miles from ‘Surfin’ Safari’ as an early pioneer of prog rock. Carl’s alien and ethereal ‘Feel Flows’ finally connected The Beach Boys to the counterculture more than the album’s Kent State shooting protest jam ‘Student Demonstration Time’ ever could, and the organ-laden ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree’ and the haunting ‘Til I Die’ may just be Brian’s last great compositions. But the real standout is the album’s title track, a leftover from Smile. ‘Surf’s Up’ is innovative, enigmatic, and sublime evidence of the woulda/coulda/shoulda run for their money The Beach Boys almost gave the Beatles in 1967.”

“Brian appeared on a 1967 Leonard Bernstein TV special, sitting alone at his home piano to stun viewers with his new song, ‘Surf’s Up.’ The epic ballad (originally recorded for Smile) took years to get released, but it was worth the wait. Nobody has ever really figured out what Van Dyke Parks is going on about in the abstruse lyrics, but the Boys sing them like every word is true. It’s the climax of a mournful album about facing adulthood,” says Rolling Stone.

3. “Sunflower” (1970)

“Sunflower” is the first Beach Boys album where all the members brought their own songs on the record, and they’re all great songs. “The people who think The Beach Boys are just a backing band for Brian Wilson really need to check this out. The band really develops their sound to the 70s with this masterwork. The album opens up with the amazing and energetic Slip On Through by Dennis Wilson, which is then followed up by the best under two-minute song I’ve ever heard, This Whole World, which is also one of my favorite Brian Wilson songs ever. That outro is a sight to behold. Bruce Johnston shows up with two great cuts, Deidre and the phenomenal Tears In The Morning,” says Rate Your Music.

"Sunflower" (1970)
“Sunflower” (1970)

After the 1960s ended, The Beach Boys had another creative boost. They weren’t doing weird lo-fi recordings anymore, and they successfully moved past the indecisive “20/20″ to write another classic album. Brooklyn Vegan writes, “An early highlight is Brian’s ‘This Whole World’ that sounded more spirited than he had in a while, and he and Carl sound great singing it together. ‘Deirdre,’ ‘All I Wanna Do,’ and ‘Our Sweet Love’ have remnants of the psychedelic era, and they’re three of the band’s most gorgeous ’70s songs. They also managed to tack on a Smile leftover that never made it on the eventual Smile tracklist, ‘Cool, Cool Water.’ Dennis’ songwriting contributions were becoming more and more important to the band, and it’s actually he who wrote the album’s best song: ‘Forever.’ He must have hung around his brother enough that he picked up a trick or two, because this is the same kind of intimate beauty Brian perfected on ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Caroline, No.’ Sometimes ‘Brian Wilson’ and ‘The Beach Boys’ begin to feel synonymous, but Dennis wrote enough great songs in their career to make up an album of their own. He’s The Beach Boys’ George Harrison in a way.”

The Beach Boys were going through a stint of failures that were straining their finances. They needed a hot album and “Sunflower” was just that. Culture Sonar shares, “After a year and a half working to perfect the product, the boys put together a track selection no label could turn down. Sunflower captures the raw essence of The Beach Boys, in part because it’s so collaborative. Pitchfork calls it ‘the definitive post-Pet Sounds album.’ We agree. Highlights: ‘Slip On Through,’ ‘Add Some Music to Your Day’, and ‘Forever.’

4. “Today!” (1965)

“Although Summer Days preceded Pet Sounds chronologically, Today! is its true creative precursor. The second side of this record is the perfect bridge to Pet Sounds. Featuring ‘Please Let Me Wonder’, ‘Kiss Me, Baby’, ‘She Knows Me Too Well’, and ‘In the Back of My Mind’, side two is a stunning display of the increasing mastery Brian was attaining. With Today!, Brian showed he was moving beyond the beach– and car-based early hits, and gave hints of where he was going. The first side is no slouch either as ‘Good to My Baby’, ‘Dance Dance Dance’, and ‘When I Grow Up to Be a Man’ are all top-notch. I particularly love Dennis’ vocals on ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ which tops the original,” says Pop Matters.

Rolling Stone shares a quote from Brian Wilson, “‘I only tried surfing once, and the board almost hit me in the head,’ Brian Wilson told Rolling Stone in 1999. But he turned his fantasies into a California dream world of fast cars and cool waves – one that might even have room for a sacred misfit like him. Today! is full of yearningly complex tunes like ‘When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)’ and ‘She Knows Me Too Well,’ which feels like a Greek tragedy with doo-wop harmonies and surf guitars.”

The first side of “Today!” is, of course excellent, but it is the second side people rave about. “This is the first Beach Boys album that I no longer consider the ‘early era,’ though it’s not yet the psychedelic era or the peak of their creativity either. It came out three months after Beatles for Sale, which was The Beatles’ first album after Bob Dylan had introduced them to pot. The transition that album makes is undeniable, and likewise Today! is Brian’s first album after being introduced to pot and it’s the first one that you can’t call surf pop,” says Brooklyn Vegan.

5. “Love You” (1977)

The short-lived “Brian’s Back” renaissance of the 70s found him back in the studio after years in seclusion. “Love You features synthesizers and atypically outlandish lyrics — the complete opposite of what listeners expected. Love it or hate it, you’d be hard-pressed to name a more distinct album in the Beach Boys catalog. Highlights: ‘Mona,’ ‘Johnny Carson,’ and ‘The Night Was So Young,'” says Culture Sonar.

Image from Amazon

Rate Your Music coins “Love you”, “An album so richly disturbing I can’t help but love it. Love You is such an interesting album, because it doesn’t sound like any other album ever made. My first time listening to it I found it utterly ridiculous and awful. And now I love it. The album is infested with gross synths, raspy vocals, and insane lyrics. Released 11 years after Pet Sounds, this is the last Beach Boys album that Brian Wilson wrote and produced all by himself. Indeed, the album was originally going to be released as a solo album, titled Brian Loves You.”

“Love You” is considered by many to be the last truly great record the Beach Boys ever did. Classic Rock History explains, “They had begun utilizing synthesizers, thanks to Brian Wilson. Originally conceived as a solo effort while Brian was in rehab for his mental decline and drug abuse, Love You soon morphed into a group project for the rest of the band. Many people hold this one in high regard as not only one of their most underrated albums of their post-Pet Sounds career but as a highly influential precursor to the whole synth-pop/new wave sound of the 1980s; there’s kind of a punk attitude to the album as well, given that it was released around the time when punk rock exploded onto the music scene.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.


  1. Shut Down Vol 2 is one of my favorites. The harmonies are fabulous.

    And the Surfer Girl Album is one of the best.

  2. The Beach Boys in Concert
    Live album by The Beach Boys
    Released 1973. Hands down, a great album I’ve listened too for 50 years! Seems strange even saying that. I was a junior in high school then.

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