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August 29, 2013

Beach Boys: The best of the rest

Before The Beach Boys became a branded product — the date was June 24, 1974 with the release of the all-hits package "Endless Summer" — they were a force to deal with.

They had four No. 1 hit singles: "I Get Around" (1963); "Help Me, Rhonda" (1964); "Good Vibrations" (1966) and "Kokomo" (1988).

So, excluding those, here's a list of their best non-No. 1 songs (with the peak U.S. position on the Billboard charts and year released):

1. "Dance, Dance, Dance" (No. 8, 1964). Even a guy can sound cool when he admits he dances as a way to shake off six hours in school or when he feels "put down" or when the "beat's really hot." It's one of the last fun beach/school songs by the band before Brian Wilson got serious.

2. "Sloop John B" (No. 3, 1965) Wow, the Beach Boys in a drunken brawl. Based on a folk song first recorded in the field by Alan Lomax in 1935 (and tied to an earlier Carl Sandburg poem), the John B. was boat that sank in the Bahamas. But the sparkling keys beneath the lyrics add irony.

3. "Sail On, Sailor" (No. 49, 1973) Capturing the ups and downs of life (akin to ocean waves), this has the most soothing of any Beach Boys harmony. The lyrics are pure melancholy: "Through restful waters and deep commotion. Often frightened, unenlightened."

4."Be True to Your School" (No. 6, 1963) Seen as honoring Hawthorne High School (home to four of the bandmates), it is a tribute to any school in America. A slow start -- which is a taunt to school rivals - increases in pace to capture the highlights of a jock's life: letter sweater and dating a cheerleader. Rah, rah, rah, sis, boom and all that.

5. "I Can Hear Music" (No. 24, 1969) A guy hears music when he's alone with a gal? How corny. But listen to the rich harmonies led by Carl Wilson who sang while older brother Brian slipped into mental darkness.

Honorable mention:

"Surf's Up" (Released but never charting, 1971) Whether you believe the band's turmoil took its toll or whether the band was doing everything possible to get away from its surfer image, these lyrics are unique, written mostly by Van Dyke Parks. It symbolizes, well, supposedly a guy at concert who sees pretentiousness all around him. He grieves. Worth as many listens as it takes.

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