The influence The Beach Boys had on popular music is undeniable. Here are seven tracks directly influenced by Brian Wilson and company.
1. Lindsey Buckingham: “The D.W. Suite” (from Go Insane, 1984)
There may be no bigger Brian Wilson fan among rock stars than Buckingham, who convinced Fleetwood Mac to cover the Beach Boys’ “The Farmer’s Daughter” for the 1980 Live album and who co-wrote “He Couldn’t Get His Poor Old Body To Move” with Brian as the B-side of the latter’s 1988 solo single, “Love and Mercy.” Buckingham’s 1992 Out of the Cradle, may well be the best Beach Boys’ album of the ‘90s. But Buckingham’s most direct tribute is this suite, named after Dennis Wilson and structured like the complex song suites Brian created for Smile.
2. John Cale: “Mr. Wilson” (from Slow Dazzle, 1975)
The Velvet Underground’s John Cale is joined by Roxy Music’s Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera for this unlikely tribute to Brian Wilson. But the classically trained Cale recognizes the dread bubbling beneath the placid surface of many Beach Boys songs and brings it up without abandoning the gorgeous harmonies. “I believe you Mr. Wilson,” Cale sings. “I believe the things you say…. Take your mixes not your mixture; add some music to our day.”
3. Dave Edmunds: “Beach Boy Blood (In My Veins) (from Plugged In, 1994)
Like Cale, Rockpile’s Dave Edmunds is a Welshman with a longing for Southern California harmonies. “I wish I was a Beach Boy too,” Edmunds declares on this song written by Michael Lanning, and proves his qualifications by accurately quoting from a bunch of Beach Boys tunes in this triumph of one-man multi-tracking.
4. Elton John: “Since God Invented Girls” (from Reg Strikes Back, 1988)
John has always been inspired by The Beach Boys, and he finally acknowledges it on this track, where the glorious midtempo melodies build to a big chorus tribute to girls. “Now I know what Brian Wilson meant” John sings, “every time I step outside.” Joining John on the soft wash of surf harmonies are Beach Boys Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston. Brian recorded John’s “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” on the 2011 album In the Key of Disney.
5. Randy Newman: “I Love L.A.” (from Trouble in Paradise, 1983)
When Newman created this anthemic tribute to his hometown, he included both the good (“that mountain,” “those trees”) and the bad (“big nasty redhead,” “bum … down on his knees”), the inconsequential (“Century Boulevard”) and the inescapable: “Crank up the Beach Boys, baby, don’t let the music stop.” Providing the harmonies were Fleetwood Mac members Lindsey Buckingham (see above) and Christine McVie (Dennis Wilson’s ex-girl friend). Brian Wilson returned the compliment by recording two Newman songs (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and “We Belong Together”) for his 2011 album, In the Key of Disney. “I like Randy Newman’s lyrics,” Brian told me last year; “they’re very unusual, like Van Dyke’s. He knows the right kind of chords to use with his melodies. It was so cool that he mentioned The Beach Boys in ‘I Love LA.’”
6. The Ramones: “Rockaway Beach” (from Rocket to Russia, 1977)
On their breakthrough album, the Ramones not only covered the Beach Boys’ 1965 hit, “Do You Wanna Dance” (composed by R&B singer Bobby Freeman), but also delivered their own version of the Beach Boys sound, “Rockaway Beach,” which translates a Southern California sensibility to a neighborhood in Queens. The Ramones later covered two Brian Wilson compositions: “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surf City.” Nor were they the only punk-rockers to cover the Beach Boys; the Descendants did “Wendy,” while Pennywise did “I Get Around” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
7. The Stills-Young Band: “Long May You Run” (from Long May You Run, 1976)
When Stephen Stills and Neil Young, the two quarrelsome bandmates from Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, formed this short-lived duo project, they named their only album after this Young composition, his attempt at reconciliation with Stills. And what kind of medicine did he offer for healing? “Maybe The Beach Boys have got you now,” he sang, “with those waves singing’ ‘Caroline.’”