Surf’s Up – The Overlooked Beach Boys Masterpiece

SurfsupWhen people talk about The Beach Boys, they usually fall into one of two categories. The people who like the early stuff (like ‘Help Me Rhonda’), and those who dig Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations. Those who have dug a little deeper will find some real gems outside of those examples, like ‘Wild Honey’, ‘Holland’ and the stunning ‘Surf’s Up’.

Surf’s Up manages to cover a base not normally looked at by Wilson & Co. Abject depression.

The first striking thing about Surf’s Up is the cover. Usually, a Beach Boy LP looks mellow, fun, happy and positive. Look at the Pet Sounds LP cover with the gang horsing around on the farmyard. Now look at Surf’s Up. A lone desolate figure set in depressing blues and blacks. It’s a stunning cover alright.

The music contained within the long player is a little more upbeat, but does have a dark cloud gathering over it. This was an LP made by a band in flux. Brian Wilson’s wellbeing was deteriorating, which led Carl Wilson to step up. Thankfully for Carl, possibly his finest moment as a Beach Boy came as a result of this acceptance of responsibilty. ‘Feel Flows’ is a muggy psych gem that sprawls over four minutes, with phased vocals and tasteful electronics. Later used on the ‘Almost Famous’ OST, the song has aged as well as anything in the Beach Boys songbook.

The long-player contained another first for the Wilson brothers (and related), in that it contained lyrics that were more ‘socially aware’. Convinced by Radio jock, and new manager, Jack Rieley, that this was the way to gain credibility with their audience. This was acutely apparent in the (cloddish) ‘Student Demonstration Time’, one of Mike Love’s efforts. However, the most spectacular tracks on the LP are saved ’til last. Brian Wilson’s contributions are nothing short of phenominal. ”Til I Die’ sees Wilson tackling demons head on, before the track segues into the breathtaking ‘Surf’s Up’ (later to feature on ‘Smile’ as it was originally intended). The ‘Child is the father of man’ coda sees out the work, leaving you with the knowledge that Brian Wilson was gifted beyond his years. In fact, it’s worth buying the ‘Surf’s Up’ for the last track alone. It has more ideas in 4:12 than most band’s do in a lifetime.

Mof Gimmers

Surf’s Up, Available on the twofer Sunflower/Surf’s Up

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