One of the greatest music tragedies in recent memory would be the devolution of The Beach Boys into a state-fair caliber oldies band. Having played everything from the MontBleu Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, USA to the Riverfest in Beloit, Wisconsin, USA, the band's deterioration in quality is often attributed to the absence of Brian Wilson.

The antagonistic Mike Love and his compatriot Bruce Johnston have assumed legal control of the band name and have made a late-in-life career by touring on the material of their former bandleader. Love has made several infamous jabs, both personal and legal, toward most of his old friends. He denounced Wilson's most acclaimed work as nonsense, went to court in order to tour using the group's name and continues to provoke the rest of the band at every turn.

While these modern developments are disappointing and disheartening, the legacy of the Beach Boys as one of the greatest pop acts of all-time has already been secured. The period from 1961 to 1967 featured Wilson and his visionary musical direction revolutionizing the entire landscape of popular music, even as his bandmates tried to drag their feet. The songs from this era endure as masterpieces, serving as a showcase for the brilliance of Wilson's creative ambition.

'Surfin' U.S.A.'
Set to the music of Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little Sixteen', 'Surfin' U.S.A.' was allegedly conceived when Brian Wilson was being described all of the local surf spots by his girlfriend's brother. Berry's tune had been stuck in his head at the time and so Wilson began to hum the melody and the idea of putting surf lyrics over it came naturally to him. The single was recorded in January 1963 and released by March of the same year. The end result was the Beach Boy's first top ten hit song, peaking at number three on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Its legacy has endured, as the song remains one of the most cited examples of the "California sound" and surf rock in general thanks to its jangly guitar riff and bouncy drum section.

'Surfer Girl'
'Surfer Girl' was Brian Wilson's very first composition, written in 1961 entirely internally while driving to hot dog stand, just to see if he could do it. This soulful beach side doo-wop pop is quite simply an astoundingly beautiful piece of music. The soaring harmonies are accompanied by light guitar flourishes and sun-kissed drums, allowing for every teenager to envision that perfect kiss at sunset with their toes digging into the sand of the beach. Wilson once said that he had dreamed of writing a rhythm and blues love hit and this was the song that achieved that goal.

'I Get Around'
Featuring a then-innovative back-to-front structure--it begins with a chorus followed by two incredibly brief verses--'I Get Around' was the Beach Boy's first number one hit song in the United States and was the group's first top ten track in the United Kingdom. The lyrics touched nearly every prominent facet of youth culture, from relationships to cars to cruising down the road with your buddies. The song is also noteworthy because, during the recording sessions, Brian Wilson dismissed his father, Murry, as manager of the band. From there, Wilson was able to assume complete creative control, resulting in the most influential and artistic portion of their legacy.

'California Girls'
Toward the end of 1964, Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown on board a flight from Los Angeles to Houston, thus causing him to drop out of the group's live performances. Instead, he dedicated himself to writing and recording material for the group. In 1965, Wilson began experimenting with psychedelic drugs for the first time. His first experience with LSD caused him to rush to the piano and write the song 'California Girls', allegedly in a matter of minutes. With a stirring orchestral prelude and more varied chord forms, the song featured a marked increase in complexity that would persist throughout the next several years of Wilson's songwriting. The bouncing melody, slathered in elaborate vocal harmonies, allows 'California Girls' to serve many as the quintessential Beach Boys song.

'Wouldn't It Be Nice'
The opening track of the 1966 masterpiece album Pet Sounds, 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' is a perfect model for what the record has in store for listeners: symphonic pop beauty. Recorded over a period of almost four months, 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' features a vast array of instruments that were foreign to pop music at the time, including the mandolin, sleigh bells and the timpani. The song was once described by music journalist Nick Kent as "a veritable pocket symphony: two minutes of limpid harps imitating a teenage heartstrings in a tug of love, growling horns, joyous little bells, cascading strings, harmonies so complex they seemed to have more in common with a Catholic Mass than any cocktail lounge acappella doo-wop--in short, a fantasy island of the most exquisite musical longing imaginable." A more perfect description could not be imagined.

'God Only Knows'
Often cited by musicologists as a perfect example of how lyrics can be enhanced by a chord progression, 'God Only Knows' stands as one of the most groundbreaking pop songs ever recorded. Featuring instrumentation from over 20 musicians, a number unheard for a pop recording at the time, Wilson utilized enormous harmonic complexity and a vast array of inverted chords to realize his vision. The use of non-diatonic chords throughout the verses allows the lyrics to reflect the ambiguous nature of the music. It is not until the chorus, at which point lead vocalist Carl Wilson asserts, "God only knows what I'd be without you," that the chord progression becomes clear. Aside from its immense sonic complexity, 'God Only Knows' is also noted for being one of the first pop songs to have "God" in the title. Wilson and lyrical partner Tony Asher agonized over the decision of either keeping or removing it from the title, before Wilson agreed to keep it as God is only referenced in a non-specific, spiritual manner. While the track only achieved modest success on the charts at the time, it has since been recognized as one of the greatest songs of all-time.

'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)'
As Wilson conceived much of Pet Sounds without the rest of the Beach Boys, there was some consideration that he would release the album as a solo record. While this ultimately not the case, despite the release of 'Caroline, No' as a solo single, there are several instances on the record in which Wilson performs alone. Perhaps the most compelling and beautiful instance of this would be his vocal performance on 'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)'. With some of the most angelic, heartfelt lyrics ever dedicated to tape, the song depicts a decaying romance that the protagonist is desperate to save. The beautiful lyricism is wrapped in an exquisitely delicate string arrangement, evoking a sense of beautiful sadness. The maximalism of Wilson's pop symphony is traded out for something far more subdued and subtle on 'Don't Talk', but the end results are equally as brilliant and gorgeous.

'Sloop John B'
While debate has raged on for decades about the song's place within Pet Sounds' love-centric concept, 'Sloop John B' was ultimately one of the highest charting songs from the album. The song was originally a West Indies folk song, 'The John B. Sails', but Wilson and fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine were inspired to do a rendition after hearing a recording of the track by the Kingston Trio. Wilson made slight alterations to the song, including changing the lyric "this is the worst trip since I've been born" to "this is the worst trop I've ever been on," thought by many to be an allusion to the psychological damage caused to him by his psychedelic experiences. While its snappy beat and twinkling xylophones lend themselves to the theory that 'Sloop John B' is unlike the introspective love songs seen throughout the rest of Pet Sounds, the repeated desire to "want to go home" suggests that there is someone and something more desirable than the total independence initially championed in the lyrics.

'Good Vibrations'
Costing somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000, or $360,000 and $550,000 today, 'Good Vibrations' was the most expensive song ever produced at the time of its release in 1966. The song was recorded over the course of eight months in a piecemeal style, which resulted in a psychedelic mosaic featuring a number of discordant key shifts. Several bizarre elements of instrumentation were utilized for the song, including the jaw harp and relatively new Electro-Theremin, which, according to Wilson, cost $15,000, or $110,000, to use. The song is frequently listed among the best songs ever recorded for its innovative production, including the use of the studio as an instrument. The single quickly sold over a million copies, thus encouraging Wilson to use the same writing and production techniques for his next album, Smile.

'Heroes and Villains'
Recorded during various sessions between October 1966 and June 1967, 'Heroes and Villains' has been cited as the song that nearly killed Brian Wilson. Originally composed in a large sandbox holding a piano within Wilson's home in 1966, this was the first partnership between Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks. Whereas Wilson utilized Tony Asher for the most of the words on Pet Sounds, he had planned to use the up-and-coming Parks for the same purpose on his Smile project. Wilson claimed to have an elaborate vision for the track within his mind, so he recorded various sections for the track in different sessions in the hopes of later combining them for the desirable final product, just as he had done with 'Good Vibrations'. The final product was ultimately deemed to be a disappointment in the eyes of many, but none more so than Wilson, who believed he had fallen short of his goals and soon retreated from the public eye for an extended period of time. The fact of the matter, however, is that this rollicking piece of progressive pop is a flawed masterpiece. From the slide whistles to the doo-wop vocal harmonies, Wilson was able to create a fascinating piece of pop. Was it 'Good Vibrations'? No, but it was never meant to be. It was 'Heroes and Villains' and it is wonderful.

Pet Sounds (The Whole Album)
Perhaps this is cheating because it is not one song and, instead, is a 38-minute long album, from which four songs have already been selected for this list. However, the sheer brilliance of Wilson's magnum opus would seem to excuse this transgression. From the very first mysterious note (is it a 12-string guitar? Or a Vox Mandoguitar? It would seem we will never know) on 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' to the final dog barks on 'Caroline, No', Pet Sounds is a staggering achievement in modern music. From a purely production standpoint, a more perfect record is hard to find. The techniques used were innovative and continue to hold influence today. The music was complex and challenging, but also effortless, beautiful and charming. The record is an unrepentant embrace of the magical powers of love and will undoubtedly touch any person, young or old, who has ever had significant feelings for someone special. Pet Sounds is a masterpiece that should be experienced by everyone.