It’s time to shine the Vinyl Spotlight! Every now and then on Paloozapalooza, I like to focus on a random LP from my collection. This week, we have:
The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up (1971)
I’ve been on a bit of a Beach Boys kick lately—thanks largely to finally watching the excellent Love & Mercy a few weeks ago—and 1971’s Surf’s Up is one of the most fascinating records the band ever made.
Surf’s Up finds the Beach Boys in the middle of that post-Pet Sounds period where Brian Wilson took a step back and the rest of the band was starting to contribute more of their own compositions. Of course, no one else in the group was nearly as talented as Brian, and the albums they made at this time were a bit rough at times. But Surf’s Up is one of the band’s better albums, featuring strong performances from Al Jardine, Mike Love, Carl Wilson and even Bruce Johnston in addition to a few standout tracks from Brian.
The record kicks off with “Don’t Go Near the Water,” a Jardine/ Love composition that finds the one-time kings of surf music now warning kids to stay away from the water due to pollution. The lyrics aren’t much, but it’s a hell of a melody, the kind that stays in your head long after you’ve stopped listening.
After “Don’t Go Near the Water” comes Carl’s “Long Promised Road,” which might just be the best song of the bunch. Carl wasn’t exactly known for his songwriting, but he really knocked it out of the park here, crafting a track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early James Taylor or Carly Simon record.
So hard to answer future’s riddle, Carl sings. When ahead is seeming so far behind/ So hard to laugh a childlike giggle/ When the tears start to torture my mind/ So hard to shed the life of before/ To let my soul automatically soar.
Bruce Johnston’s time to shine comes in the form of “Disney Girls (1957),” a ballad that flirts with being too sappy without actually crossing the line. It’s not necessarily a highlight, but Johnston’s performance and those trademark Beach Boys harmonies are enough to make it worth listening to when you have the album on. (It’s certainly better than the dreadful “Take a Load Off Your Feet.”)
Other highlights include “Student Demonstration Time,” a bizarre Mike Love composition that found him attempting to be politically relevant by riffing on “Riot in Cell Block Number 9,” and the two closing Brian tunes, “‘Til I Die” and “Surf’s Up.” “‘Till I Die” is a minor masterpiece, showing that Brian was still capable of absolute brilliance at the time.
I’m a cork on the ocean, Brian sings, his voice surrounded by gorgeous production. Floating over the raging sea/ How deep is the ocean?/ How deep is the ocean?/ I lost my way/ Hey hey hey
“Surf’s Up,” leftover form the infamous Smile sessions, is another keeper, closing the album in style. As much as I enjoy this record, the way that it closes with two phenomenal songs from Brian just always makes me wish he had written more.
Overall, though, Surf’s Up is a warm, fun record that shows the Beach Boys still had a lot to offer the world in the early 70s. The wheels fell off soon after, of course, but if you want a taste of the band’s best post-Pet Sounds material, this is one of the records you really must hear.
Listen below …