The Class of 1971: The Beach Boys — ‘Surf’s Up’

After The Beach Boys emerged with Surfin’ Safari in 1962, they spent the next three years (’63-’65) pumping out three hit albums a year. Just as quickly, they put on the brakes to create music well beyond the surfin’ genre, beginning with Pet Sounds (’66), Smiley Smile (’67), Wild Honey (’67), Friends (’68), 20/20 (’69), and Sunflower (’70).

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys at the time of Surf’s Up were: Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, and Dennis Wilson. Clearly there was a full orchestra of musicians also involved, although no specific information was listed on the album, unlike its predecessor, Sunflower.

The Beach Boys were listed as the producers. Stephen Desper was the chief engineer and mixer. Van Dyke Parks sang on “A Day in the Life of a Tree” and co-wrote “Surf’s Up.” Jack Rieley had lead vocals on “A Day in the Life of a Tree” and backing vocals in “Surf’s Up” and co-wrote “Long Promised Road,” “Feel Flows,” and “A Day in the Life of a Tree.”

Ed Thrasher was responsible for the original art direction. On the cover is a painting of a bronze cast by James Earle Fraser in 1915 called “End of the Trail,” depicting what a Dokata trapper described as: “’The Indians will someday be pushed into the Pacific Ocean.”

Surf’s Up was released August 30, 1971, as Brother Records RS 6453 (one year after the release of Sunflower).

Song composers are in [brackets]. Vocalists are in {braces}. Surf’s Up was the first BB album with printed lyrics.



Surf’s Up


“Don’t Go Near the Water” (2:39) [Love, Jardine] {Love, Jardine, Brian Wilson} begins with trippy water sounds and glorious harmonies on the simple and prescient tune about “the water, it’s going bad.” Brian’s outburst kicks it up a notch.

“Long Promised Road” (3:30) [Carl Wilson, Jack Rieley] {Carl Wilson} is one of the true gems on the album, so brilliantly complex and layered. Carl kicks it off before everybody jumps in. It bounces back and forth from mellow Carl to rocking band. The swirling Wurlitzer is a great touch, as is the synthesizer.

“Take a Load Off Your Feet” (2:29) [Jardine, B. Wilson, Gary Winfrey] {B. Wilson, Jardine} again features trippy layered vocals and some unusual instrumentation, plus echoes. An homage to your feet.

“Disney Girls (1957)” (4:07) [Johnston] {Johnston} is a Johnston ballad beautifully rendered, with lovely harmonies in the background, recognizing how very different 1971 was than 1957.

“Student Demonstration Time” (3:58) [Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Love] {Love} Love used The Coasters’ hit record “Riot On Cell Block #9,” updating it to talk about the current situation, addressing both Kent State and Jackson State shootings (read more here). The “band” (whoever that was) totally kicked ass here.



Incredible vocals wash over every second of “Feel Flows” (4:44) [C. Wilson, Rieley] {C. Wilson}, Carl out in front. These tunes were so very complex and psychedelic. Headphones required. 

“Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)” (1:55) [Jardine, Winfrey] {Jardine}

Jardine takes the lead vocal on this plaintive tune about looking for  a job.

“A Day in the Life of a Tree” (3:07) [B. Wilson, Rieley] {Jack Rieley, Van Dyke Parks, Jardine} sounds like a funeral dirge at first, appropriately, with Jack Rieley on lead vocal. Another desperate plea for environmentally sanity. We didn’t listen.

“‘Til I Die” (2:31) [B. Wilson] {C. Wilson, B. Wilson, Love} is another truly heartfelt plea.

“Surf’s Up” (4:12) [B. Wilson, Van Dyke Parks] {C. Wilson, B. Wilson, Jardine} is the crown jewel here. Musically, there is so much going on, not to mention the stops and starts, glockenspiel, magnificent harmonies, and one marvelous coda.



CD pairing ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Surf’s Up’



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