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Charlie Says Record Review: Beach Boys ‘Surfs Up’
By 1971, the peace and love era was over. Altamont had happened. Widespread student riots, the Kent State shootings and the escalation of the Vietnam war all seemed to have hammered their final nail in the coffin of the free love free-for-all that was the majority of the American sixties.
During the early years, the Beach Boys were always whiter than white – a family group (Brian, Dennis, Carl, cousin Mike and their best chum Al) who peddled feel good surf and hot rod music inspired by the sublime harmonies of the Four Freshmen and a very Californian ideal of endless summers, girls on the beach, getting around and overall, fun, fun, fun.
By 1965 Lead songwriter Brian had had his mind blown wide open by the effects of lysergic acid diethyl-amide 25, inspiring him to write his glorious paean to the female of the species and specifically its West Coast manifestation, ‘California Girls.’ 1966s’ Pet Sounds was an attempt to better what Brian Considered to be the apex of pop music at the time, The Beatles’ Rubber Soul LP. In its wake he fell apart at the seams during the ill fated ‘Smile’ project – a series of vignettes and half-written song segments which were supposed to be edited together in the same manner as Good Vibrations.
Brian ultimately found he had bitten off more than he could chew, and despite giving birth to top ten single Heroes and Villains, the project was shelved. The Beach Boys next move was 1967s ‘Smiley Smile’ a bizarre collection of half baked stoned ditties, some of which were culled from the project. The psychedelic era did more to hamper than to improve the Beach Boys creative output.
Why is this history lesson important to the album at hand? Well its centerpiece, the heavenly ‘Surf’s Up’ was a Smile cast off, revived and completed by the other Beach Boys while Brian hopelessly languished on his existential island of bed ridden dreams. Originally written by Brian and lyricist Van Dyke Parks, brother Carl took it upon himself to look after lead vocal and production duties, dubbing his voice and new instruments over the original 1967 backing track.

Brian himself had no interest in the Beach Boys new rendering until the recording was almost complete and he burst into the studio in his pyjamas, announcing that there was another section at the end of the song, an intricate lyrical refrain from another Smile segment, ‘Child Is The Father Of The Man’.

The song, and the album, with such a simple throwaway title which harks back to their more innocent days, is anything but. A weaving, unfathomably complex affair which sounds like five disparate people, no longer a family, coming to terms with the end of an era and looking back at themselves with a wisdom worlds apart from the ‘Surfin’ USA’ days.

It’s the same Beach with the same Boys, but the waves have changed.

Written by

Charlie Salvidge