For the third summer in a row, Capitol Records dipped into the Beach Boys' back library of hits and notable album tracks -- and once more, it was because of unanticipated problems (mostly involving disappointing sales) with the group's current work. The Friends album, issued a few weeks earlier, had failed to crack the Top 100 in album sales, peaking at an anemic number 126 in the U.S. (though in England it had gotten to number 13), and Capitol decided to put another compilation into the pipeline for the fans. The difference this time, however, was that having gone through most of the chart hits and notable album tracks from the Beach Boys' early history, the label was forced for the first time to include some of their psychedelic-era songs on this compilation. But there wasn't enough of a track record to build an entire album in that direction, so alongside "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains," plus the recent single "Darlin'," were the group's very first charting single, "Surfin'," from 1962, plus the car song "409" -- the presence of which, having also been included on the prior year's Best of the Beach Boys, Vol. 2, leads one to wonder if it wasn't some of the Capitol executives who were now experimenting with hallucinogens and controlled substances, or if they just cared so little that they never noticed the duplication. The doubts about the motives and judgment of the producers were further raised by the inclusion of "Frosty the Snowman" (from the group's early-'60s Christmas album). And somewhere in between them, stylistically separate from all of them, are a pair of mini-masterpieces, "Girl Don't Tell Me" and "The Little Girl I Once Knew," not to mention the majestic "God Only Knows." Why no "Sloop John B" in place of the Christmas song is anyone's guess, and why "Wouldn't It Be Nice" isn't here in lieu of "Surfin'" remains as mystifying in the 21st century as the whole intent of this album -- which scarcely charted in the U.S., reaching number 153 -- must have seemed back in 1968.
Making Best of the Beach Boys, Vol 3 seem even odder at the time was its design -- part of a short-lived period in which a lot of Capitol albums were designed in digipack format, the cover of this 11-song compilation didn't look like any Beach Boys album ever seen (though it did anticipate the design of the 20/20 album), its cover plastered with perpendicularly laid-out shots of the bearded, long-haired 1967-1968 version of the group, which made the presence of the early songs all the stranger. And from a purely practical standpoint, the design was especially vulnerable to rips and folds, particularly along the spine. Still, for all of those complaints, this was so downright weird as a collection that it was never less than interesting, even if it was satisfying to very few listeners. And it was something of a sign of their longevity and impact on music that the Beach Boys could release a reasonably legitimate "Best Of, Vol. 3" -- other than Elvis Presley, one would have been hard-pressed to name an American rock act in 1968 that could have generated a third such volume, flawed though it was. (The British version of this album, incidentally, had 14 songs, in a much stronger lineup arranged chronologically, from "409" to the then-current single "Do It Again," and it did soar all the way to number nine on that side of the Atlantic.)