Surfing America 60 Years Later: The Single That Changed Rock 'n' Roll Forever (2023)

There's a scene in the 1973 George Lucas filmAmerican Graphitewhere the Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari" plays through all the car radios on the streets of Modesto, California in 1962. The camera cuts to Milner, a tough shoeshine guy driving a yellow 1932 Ford coupe, and he's assigned to take in Carol, a struggling teenager on the last summer night in town. "I don't like that surf shit. Rock and roll has gone downhill since Buddy Holly died," Milner says after turning off the radio, to which Carol replies, "Don't you think the Beach Boys rule?"

After Holly's death in 1959, the work of other rock 'n' roll pioneers faded. Chuck Berry hasn't had a top 10 hit since "Johnny B. Goode" in 1958 and Elvis enlisted. When 1963 rolled around, there was still an identity crisis in popular music. Beatlemania in the US was a year away and the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love was four years away. There was no counterculture; The British invasion was yet to make waves in the States. So it was the perfect time for a genre like surf rock to make it big in America. Dick Dale's instrumental rendition of 'Misirlou', an Eastern Mediterranean folk song, is credited with introducing the country to surf music in a more national way, while artists such as the Ventures, Jan & Dean and the Chantays also enjoyed success . .

But no surf rock band achieved what the Beach Boys achieved in the 1960s. When the band released their first single, "Surfin'," in late 1961, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine were still teenagers in Los Angeles County. Carl wasn't even 15 when the single hit radio stations. The origins of "Surfin'" are uncertain. Some people believe that the song's melody was Brian's final project for his music class at Hawthorne High and that it went against the wishes of his teacher, Fred Morgan, who needed a 120-bar piano sonata. Others claim that it was Dennis' love of surfing that inspired his brother to write the song. Love provided the famous "bom-dip-di-dip" hook, and Brian completed the arrangements in just a few hours. It peaked at number 75 on the US charts.

Beach Boy's next two songs, "Surfin' Safari" and "Ten Little Indians", also failed to crack the top 10, although the former reached number one in Sweden. Only with "Surfin' U.S.A." was released on March 4, 1963, which changed everything for the band. "["Surfin' U.S.A."] really exemplified what the Beach Boys were back then," Love told me over the phone. "That really put us in the top flight of groups back then." The track peaked at #3 on the US chart and #2 in Canada, cementing a broader vision for the band.

But as for love, this portrayal of the Beach Boys predates "Surfin'," when he and his cousins ​​Brian, Carl, and Dennis were growing up in Hawthorne. "We lived a few miles from the beach," says Love. “The beach was a big problem for us. [It was] the beach, barbecues, and family outings. Dennis and I would go fishing from Redondo Beach Pier. We went back to the house where the Wilsons lived and persuaded Brian, "Let's do a surf song," because some people were asking us to do some songs. But we didn't really like what they suggested, so we invented our own."

Though it had long been known that Dennis was the Beach Boys' only "real surfer," the entire group was consistently at the forefront of that culture in the early 1960s. What set them apart from other bands at the time was how good stories they made told your home state. While other male artists filled their songs with love themes, the Beach Boys devoted themselves to the things that interested them most: surfing and drag racing, quaint portraits of Southern California for young people who had never been near the coast. It wasn't until "Surfer Girl" came out in July 1963 that the band wrote a romantic single, but even then it was a thought-provoking tale of the suspense of mutual attraction. Brian and Love's songwriting contrasted sharply with the constant ick of the mid-thirties singing about teenage girls.

Never before in rock 'n' roll has a band or artist conveyed such powerful images of a place in such a powerful video. "There are very few people who had as many chart records as the Beach Boys did back then," says Love. He's right too. The Beach Boys had 55 songs on the Billboard Hot 100; Twenty-one of them first appeared on the charts between 1961 and 1965. They released what Love calls "double-sided hits": the A-side would be a surf song, the B-side a car song. “We knew not everyone had an ocean, but everyone loved those powerful cars in Detroit,” he adds. “Dennis had a Chevrolet 409 and we actually burned rubber on the road, down to an engraving machine to get the sound of tires burning rubber. The neighbors didn't like it very much, but he made it to '409'."

Above all, beyond the cars, the waves, the diners and the woods, the Beach Boys kept writing about California. But this subject was never exhausted; It was a trend they would continue in new ways for nearly 50 years. That and surfing pictures came naturally to Brian and Love because that's how they spent their youth. "It was easy for us to spice it up because we spoke 'surf lingo' and dressed a certain way with our Pendleton t-shirts," adds Love. “California, from the mountains to the oceans and deserts, from Oregon to Mexico, there are many shores. It's just beautiful. It really wasn't a challenge to extol the virtues of a great home state."

Surfing America is essentially the Beach Boys at their most iconic. It's pastoral in Southern California; an articulation of a post-WWII baby boomer American dream. That's why the opening line, "If everyone had an ocean," is so iconic: No one in the United States outside of California, Florida, and Hawaii had routine access to surfing, even though windsurfing was a fairly global interest by then. . The song entered the charts on March 23, 1963 and stayed there for 25 weeks, peaking at number 3. It was the Beach Boys' biggest hit at the time, only to be surpassed by "I Get Around", which would reach number 1 of the year later. But with Love on lead vocals, he supports 15 different surf spots: Del Mar, Ventura County Line, Santa Cruz, Trestles, Australia's Narrabeen, Manhattan Beach, Doheny, Haggerty's, Swami's Beach, Pacific Palisades, San Onofre, Sunset Beach. , Redondo Beach, La Jolla and Waimea Bay. A casual listener in Ohio, Alabama, or Montana would likely have no idea what those places were or if they were even real places. The Beach Boys, however, made them sound like oases ready to be visited and adored.

Before¡Los Beach Boys, hey!Many of Brian's arrangements came about through his interpretation of songs by other artists. The 32-bar form of "Surfer Girl" is known to be based on "When You Wish Upon a Star" by Dion and the Belmonts. Surfing the States was no different, as Brian framed the structure both musically and lyrically in a similar way to Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". Berry was an influence on Carl's guitar playing but an even greater inspiration for Brian and Love, who cited the rock pioneer's "lyrics and alliteration and the way he told those stories" as a major reason for the band's 1963 telephone . Love sings Berry's "Nobody (Is It You?)" and then "Fun, Fun, Fun" by the Beach Boys to show that Berry's syntax and construction played such a direct role at a time when the band was still their own voice found. .

That voice came through a slow burn. Surfing the States It was Brian's first time duplicating the band's vocals in the studio, but it was immediately clear that such a technique would be a turning point for them for a long time. "It gave off a certain timbre," says Love. "There's a tension between the two voices, but a complementarity that pleases the ear, a kind of reaction in the brain and in the heart." He cites that although double tracking appeared in popular music in the 1950s, it is a centuries-old practice, dating back to the Vedas and their psalms, which would involve two notes sung simultaneously.

Following "Surfin' U.S.A.", Brian developed his vocal experiments using Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" technique on "Surfer Girl," leaving the band far from their drum, bass, guitar, and vocals roots alone. Keyboard. Brian once called The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" the greatest pop record of all time, and even recruited Spector's (the song's producer) band, The Wrecking Crew, as his fighter pilots for "I Get Around." and California Girls. As Brian's output became more experimental, the gradual shift from new surf rock songs to methodical, dense shows was inevitable. "Because we wanted to express more moods and more feelings and different styles and tempos, that naturally led us to want to use trumpets," says Love. “We used some saxophones on these earlier recordings. But laterpets soundIt was orchestral. It was just a natural progression to do more and experiment with different sounds.”

In the media, the time before the emergence of thepets soundIt has been described as a hostile number of months between Brian and the rest of the Beach Boys. Actually it wasn't that bad. In 1965 Brian retired from touring entirely as he was not comfortable on the road. On a flight from Los Angeles to Houston in December 1964, he had a nervous breakdown that hastened his decision to take a break from live shows and not return to the Beach Boys stage until 1983. But this step did not damage relations. the band as the films portray it. In fact, Love still thinks it's a Copaceti arrangement. "We became two groups: the recording group and a touring group," he says. “I've always preferred live music and the audience to a recording. Recording is great and absolutely necessary, but at least I don't enjoy it as much as watching an audience react positively and euphorically to your music. Brian was brilliant in the studio with the tracking. I was so involved in the music."

While Brian worked with the Wrecking Crew on what would become his masterpiece.pets sound, Bruce Johnson replaced him on the road in Japan. When the band returned to California, the album was almost done. Johnson became a full-time member, Love and Brian co-wrote the lyrics, Carl sat down with Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye and Glen Campbell to record some guitar parts and they all recorded their vocals. "We might have to do a 'wouldn't it be nice' section 25 or 30 [times] just to get it right," adds Love, laughing.

Since the start ofpets sound, the rivalry between the Beach Boys and the Beatles was one of rock 'n' roll's greatest clashes. But it was never negative between the two bands. Johnson took an acetatepets soundand performed it for John Lennon and Paul McCartney at the request of The Who's Keith Moon, who introduced it to them. When the Beatles came to the States, Brian, Love and Co. visited them several times to see them play. nonethelesspets soundbecame the first Beach Boys since 1963 not to be certified gold upon release. McCartney called "God Only Knows" his favorite song of all time. "When the Beatles came along, they upped the ante in terms of creativity," says Love. “They started out very youthful but quickly grew into something quite creative. I think that pushed us to be a bit more creative. In 1966 "Good Vibrations" even hit #1 in the UK and we were voted #1 Band in the UK in one of the music polls, #2 being The Beatles.

Few parts of rock 'n' roll history were as iconic as the years between 1965 and 1967, when fans could see the Beach Boys and The Beatles brawling. an episode ofSummer days (and summer nights!),drunk soul,pets sound,Revolver, “Good mood” andSgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club BandIt still seems unfathomable, even in 2023. But go back to 1963 and you'll find similar trajectories for the two bands that were separated by an ocean. "If you play tennis and have someone who plays better than you, it increases your level of play.Rolling StoneYears ago he did some research andPfeffer Sergeantwas [the #1 album] andpets soundit was #2 out of 500. That's pretty good territory. Of course I'm asking for a recount," Love says, smiling.

While the Beatles abandoned their teenage romantic roots for more introspective and psychedelic reflections, the Beach Boys also abandoned hot rods and surfboards for spirituality, melancholy, and conceptual tales of young, idealistic love and humanity. In many ways, we "Surfin' U.S.A." thanks for all that. Depending on which side of the aisle you are on in the discourse between optimism and cynicism, the song is either a sad last sigh of utopia or a reminder of paradise.

"Fun, Fun, Fun" represented similar dreams of tropical freedom in 1964, but songs like "Surfer Girl," "In My Room," and "Don't Worry Baby" were those beautiful, happy hums with a touch of sadness that it are still unrivaled in popular music. No other 20th-century American rock band has mastered this balance quite like the Beach Boys, and that's because through Love's colorful vision of California and Brian's thoughtful, self-confessed thoughts on romance and grief, they've crafted flawless pop songs that engage with the honesty of man concerned condition. “My dreams and my deeds / wake up and pray? / Do my tears and my sighs laugh / at yesterday? Brian sang on "In My Room".

All doo-wops and boom-dip-di-dips aside, not every wave that caught the band turned into an arc of euphoria. Brian's magnum opusSmileHe was dropped, his lifelong struggles with mental illness resulted in months, sometimes years, of being away from the band, and the Beach Boys found themselves at a crossroads when they left Capitol for Brother Records. His inability to top the Beatles, no matter how hard they tried or not, briefly cast a shadow over his legacy. UntilRolling Stonewrote an article in 1967 denouncing the band as "just one of the prime examples of a group obsessed with catching the Beatles. It's a futile pursuit.” At the same time, the epicenter of rock music in California had migrated from Los Angeles to San Francisco, seemingly leaving the Beach Boys behind.

Afterpets sound, the Beach Boys still couldn't resist the surf rock sound that made them legends. In one of Love's best songs, "Big Sur," he offers a beautiful kaleidoscope of imagery and professes his love for the coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise over the Pacific: "Big Sur, I have plans for you/me and mine will / add us to his long list of lovers / and live in spring green canyons / to hear and see birds and wildflowers / and with my old guitar / I will make up songs to sing, "Love sings up for another On the other hand, Brian attempted to completely dismantle his band's surfing image on "Surf's Up", originally conceived during the Smile sessions but not released until 1971, through a psychedelic spiritual awakening in which the song's narrator is replaced by a Storm to God becomes light projected through a lullaby.

But in 1969, Love wrote "Do It Again" after going surfing with friend Bill Jackson and dreaming of the pictures he and his cousins ​​had turned into gold records. "Tan bodies and sun waves / California girls and a beautiful coast / Hot weather, let's get together / And do it again," Love sang, of Brian's arrangements fitting perfectly with the song's nostalgic journey. Brian once said that writing "Do It Again" with Love was the best collaboration they've done together, as they blended doo-wop harmonies with a drag-race style instrumental. It wasn't the Beach Boys' best-sounding song, but it evoked the purest side of their legacy years after they left it behind.

The Beach Boys are ages away from the surfing and drag racing paradises that gave them the ammunition to become America's favorite band in the 1960s. And yet there's still something so modern and so perfect about "Surfin' USES." without him,pet sounds, one of the best, if not the best album of all time, wouldn't exist. The California that Brian and Love wrote about is different now; It's very likely a melting pot that is unlikely to spawn a defining musical act across the state or anywhere in North America, again in the same vein as the Beach Boys. We live through decades of surfing and surfers ridiculed in cinema and television so much that it is sometimes difficult to salvage the authentic parts of the culture and heritage. But that line, those five words we all remember, "If everyone had an ocean," still inspires hope. There's a place somewhere we can all go and spend the summer.


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