The Beach Boys and The Beatles were always locked in direct competition throughout their careers. However, things between the two bands never turned sour, and John Lennon was a public ambassador working on behalf of The Beach Boys even before they unleashed the game-changing Pet Sounds.
Following the release of Pet Sounds, The Beatles famously tried to outdo their Californians on their next record, and the masterful result was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was a friendly contest; without one another, they would have never strived to such previously unseen heights.
However, the relationship was reciprocal. In 2004, Brian Wilson told Paste how Rubber Soul shaped his magnum opus: “Rubber Soul blew my mind. I liked the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing. It was a challenge to me to do something similar. That made me want to make Pet Sounds, I didn’t want to do the same kind of music, but on the same level.”
While it’s hard to decipher when Lennon first became aware of The Beach Boys, by 1965, he told everybody who would listen about their greatness and his wishes for them to hit the big time. Following the release of ‘The Little Girl I Once Knew’, Lennon provided a glowing review of the single for Melody Maker. He wrote: “This is the greatest! Turn it up, turn it right up. It’s GOT to be a hit. It’s the greatest record I’ve heard for weeks. It’s fantastic. I hope it will be a hit. It’s all Brian Wilson. He just uses the voices as instruments. He never tours or anything.”
The bespectacled Beatle continued: “He just sits at home thinking up fantastic arrangements out of his head. Doesn’t even read music. You keep waiting for the fabulous breaks. Great arrangement. It goes on and on with all different things. I hope it’s a hit so I can hear it all the time.”
Lennon’s love of The Beach Boys can only be superseded by his right-hand man, Paul McCartney. In Macca’s eyes, no song ever recorded comes close to matching the magnificence of ‘God Only Knows’, which he believes to be the greatest track of all time.
In an interview with The Rolling Stones legend Ronnie Wood on the former’s YouTube page in 2013, McCartney said: “Brian Wilson proved himself to be a really amazing composer and I was into chords and harmonies at that time and we ended up kind of in a rivalry.”
He added: “We’d put a song out then Brian would hear it then do one, which is nice. It’s kind of like me and John, you’d try and top each other all the time. He eventually came out with ‘God Only Knows’ on Pet Sounds, I just think it’s a great song, it’s got the melody, harmonies, words, it’s just a great song and I love it.”
Lennon and McCartney saw eye-to-eye on many things, but few topics they agreed on more than their shared love of The Beach Boys.