Finally, there is hope. Our Prime Minister has announced the road map to take us outta here. School’s In before Easter, starting in two weeks. Roo and I will be meeting Ben and Anne in our garden three weeks later. Two weeks after that I can get a haircut and have a pint of Harvey’s in the garden of “The Hassocks”. Only another five weeks before I can actually go inside The Argyle Arms and five weeks later we will all be free. Our roadmap has been drawn carefully, as promised for a long time, and we have started our journey into the light. Hip hip hurrah.
Carl Wilson was the younger brother of Brian and Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys. He was the lead guitarist in The Beach Boys and had the sweetest of all their voices. His song writing took time to blossom and “Long Promised Road” on “Surf’s Up” was the first of his songs to appear on a Beach Boys album. Dennis Wilson plays a snare drum on this song, Al Jardine, Marilyn Wilson (Brian Wilson’s wife) and her sister, Diane Rovell, sing backup vocals but all other instruments (electric lead guitar, acoustic rhythm guitar, electric piano, Moog synthesizer, piano, bass guitar, drums and percussion) are played by Carl Wilson. The lyrics are profoundly moving. He is aware that problems in his childhood are affecting his current state of mind – he is aware that he is finding things tough but he is determined to persevere, to find happiness and “Throw off all the shackles that are binding me down”. He understands that the road ahead is going to be difficult. It is “So hard to lift the jewelled sceptre, when the weight turns a smile to a frown“, but he is going to make it. He is going down the long promised road and he is going to find fulfilment. It’s a very affirming, positive song.
“Disney Girls (1957)” is written and sung by Bruce Johnston who was not an original member of The Beach Boys but was drafted into the group in 1965. Brian Wilson had decided that he was no longer capable of touring and wanted to devote his time to studio recording. While he was composing and arranging “Pet Sounds”, Glen Campbell joined The Beach Boys but was unwilling to commit to full time membership and so Bruce Johnston became a full time member, becoming their bass player despite never having played the instrument before. This beautiful song reeks nostalgia from every pore as he reminisces about events from his childhood (in 1957!). The perspective of the singer is that he yearns for a simple family life with a girl of his dreams – one that reminds him of the Disney girls that he used to see on TV. Sadly, he realises that the Disney girls were just a fantasy that he will never realise. At one point he remembers listening to Patti Page, who had many big hits in the 50s, including “Tennessee Waltz”. A year after “Disney Girls (1957)” was released, Brian Wilson produced an album called “American Spring” which was a duo consisting of Marilyn Wilson (Brian’s wife) and her sister, Diane Rovell. One of the songs on this album is “Tennessee Waltz”.
Towards the end of the Sixties, The Beach Boys weren’t cool. Having started by singing songs about surfing, hot rods and high school romance, it took a gargantuan effort by Brian Wilson to attempt to drag them into critical acceptance. They declined to appear at the Monterey Pop Festival and were ignored by the burgeoning Underground press. As part of their attempt to court favour with the anti establishment youth culture, Mike Love joined forces with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller to record “Student Demonstration Time”. Lieber and Stoller were responsible for writing (or co-writing) a huge number of hits including “Jailhouse Rock” for Elvis Presley, “On Broadway” by the Drifters and “Love Potion (No. 9)” by The Clovers. They had also written “Riot In Cell Block Number 9” by The Robins and “Student Demonstration Time” is a re-write of that. It sounds nothing like The Beach Boys and is provocatively contemporary with its references to the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, rioting in Isla Vista, the Jackson State killings and the Kent State shootings. As much as Mike Love isn’t cool and he possibly isn’t a very nice person and he claimed that Donald Trump was a good friend etc etc, nevertheless, he has a great voice.
“Feel Flows” is another Carl Wilson composition with lyrics by The Beach Boys’ manager, Jack Rieley. Although the meaning of the song is incomprehensible, the sound is magical. There is a lot of “reverse echo” on the vocals and an extended instrumental section in the middle of the song with a wonderful electric guitar solo with lots of flute, saxophone and Moog synthesiser, creating a truly psychedelic effect. This song is Cameron Crowe’s favourite Beach Boys song and that explains why he used it twice in his 2000 film, “Almost Famous”.
There’s not a bad song on this album and many people regard “Til’ I Die” as one of Brian Wilson’s greatest masterpieces. “Don’t Go Near The Water” is one of the first ecological songs. “Take A Load Of Your Feet” is genuinely funny. My favourite song on the album, however, is the title track, “Surf’s Up”.
The lyrics are, again, hard to decipher but Wikipedia assures me that the song “describes a man at a concert hall who experiences a spiritual awakening and resigns himself to God and the joy of enlightenment, the latter envisioned as a children’s song.” Although not released until 1971, the song was originally conceived to be part of the aborted “Smile” album which Brian WIlson started to record in 1967 as a follow up to “Pet Sounds”. He aborted the album when his mental health deteriorated. Here is a clip of him singing the song in 1966.
“Love And Mercy” is a fantastic film which depicts two periods of time in Brian Wilson’s life. One sequence shows Paul Dano, portraying Brian Wilson trying to record “Surf’s Up” and is based on the previous clip; it also shows how he conceives a song called “Mrs O’Leary’s Cow” to be an integral part of the album in which fire plays a crucial part. Having recorded this sequence, a real fire engulfed the studio a few days later and Brian Wilson aborted the whole project…..
…until 2011 when a version of “Smile” was put together with Brian Wilson’s approval.
Finally, here is the version as released in 1971. My favourite moment, one of the all time greatest moments in the history of music, occurs at 2:36 when the music quietens and Brian Wilson takes over lead vocal duties from Carl Wilson. “Surf’s Up. Aboard a tidal wave. Come about hard and join the young and often spring you gave. I heard the word. A wonderful thing. A children’s song”. The reference to surf represents a rejection of his self-image as his spiritual awakening surfaces.
A spiritual awakening is waiting for us all at the end of the long promised road on June 21st.
3 thoughts on “Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys”
The track, Surf’s Up, is a work of genius in my opinion. Both lyrically and musically. And that clip of Brian playing it solo is fantastic. Thanks.
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Surf’s Up. I like its beard. And if it wears some beads I like them, too. I like its hello to the new decade. It’s got a great resigned and kinda moody vibe. Long Promised Road is a major piece of work and, beyond Student Demonstration, the album is my fave BB. I can’t help but think that the album’s title is more a cry of Surf’s Over, which is a brilliant turn around of its meaning a few years back. Good call!
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