Monday, August 24, 2009

Album of the Day #166: SURF'S UP - The Beach Boys

Artist: The Beach Boys

Title: Surf's Up
Year: 1971
Label: Brother/Reprise (now licensed to Capitol)
Songs: Don't Go Near The Water [Mike Love & Alan Jardine]/Long Promised Road [Carl Wilson & Jack Rieley]/Take A Load Off Your Feet [Alan Jardine & Gary Winfrey]/Disney Girls (1957) [Bruce Johnston]/Student Demonstration Time [Based on "Riot In Cell Block #9" by Mike Stoller & Jerry Leiber; New Lyrics by Mike Love]/Feel Flows [Carl Wilson & Jack Rieley]/Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song) [Alan Jardine & Gary Winfrey]/A Day In The Life Of A Tree [Brian Wilson & Jack Rieley]/'Til I Die [Brian Wilson]/Surf's Up [Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks]
Produced by: The Beach Boys
Thoughts: Surf's Up is an album built on ironies. The Beach Boys were at the point of wanting to eradicate all expectations, so why not release an album with a title that conjures up happiness and days of summers long past....and a cover that featured a tired Indian on a worn-out horse based on a statue called End Of The Trail?
The Beach Boys are a group whose fame is built on energetic, positive songs of summer why not record an album with none of those songs on it?
How does this come together as one of the greatest albums of the 1970's? I don't know but it works...and boy, does it work well.
Mike & Al's ecologically conscious "Don't Go Near The Water" starts the album. This is another bizarre irony. Considering the first years of the Boys' existence were spent ushering people to the beach, this tells you to run away! The lyrics leave much to be desired ("Don't go near the water/Ain't it sad/What's happened to the water/Our water's goin' bad"), but the perfect harmonies and that wonderful ending certainly help out a lot. The remaining Mike songs aren't that good, what with the embarrassing and immediately dated "Student Demonstration Time". Al's "Take A Load Off Your Feet", a Sunflower outtake, is funny enough, but feels out of place around all these topical songs. "A Welfare Song" is a short piece that works perfectly as a companion to Carl's amazing "Long Promised Road". Speaking of Carl....
Like Dennis, Carl wasn't one of the Boys who was expected to flourish as a songwriter. On Surf's Up, though, Carl finally gets his shot. "Long Promised Road" and "Feel Flows" are easily the highlights of the record, although the majority of the lyrics were written by manager Jack Rieley. I really think "Long Promised Road" is the centerpiece of the record. At a time when most band's singles could run well over five minutes, filled with guitar solos to no end, the Boys come out with this powerhouse number at 3:33. Thankfully, the Boys aren't just another rock band.
Bruce's sole contribution is his nostalgic trip through time "Disney Girls (1957)". The beauty of the track lies in its' production. There are sparse backing vocals, allowing Bruce to give, probably, his best vocal performance as a Beach Boy.
Finally, the album concludes with Brian's trilogy. "A Day In The Life Of A Tree" is probably as autobiographical as Brian would ever get in a song, but the vocals are handled by Rieley! Why? The story goes because Brian thought "he sounded like a tree"! Van Dyke Parks even makes an appearance during the ending, with Brian making a quick cameo.
"'Til I Die" is easily one of the most heartbreaking songs you will ever hear. It's just amazing, proving that Brian's talents as an arranger, producer, songwriter and vocalist never left him.
The album finishes with the SMiLE demo "Surf's Up". The majority of it was recorded during the original 1966 sessions, with bass, vocal and synth overdubs. Carl's 1971 lead vocal, added to Brian's 1966 vocal is interesting, but it pales in comparison to Brian's original demo on the Good Vibrations box set. A short piece, called "Child Is The Father Of The Man", ends the track, which is perfect. There's a really cool story in Peter Ames Carlin's book Catch A Wave, about the sessions when the Boys were finishing the track in 1971. Brian initially refused to have anything to do with it, since it brought back tough memories of the SMiLE debacle, but when he heard that they couldn't figure out how to finish the song, he relented and ran to the studio (just downstairs in his house) to perform a quick rendition of "Child Is The Father...".
Surf's Up probably is one ingredient short of perfect, though. It's missing Dennis. Reiley was worried that the album would be too Wilson-heavy and Dennis' songs were the casualties. "4th Of July", "Lady (Fallin' In Love)" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again" were all shortlisted for the album. "4th Of July" is a beautiful, short number that would have fit perfectly on the album and appears on Good Vibrations. "Lady" was the flip-side to the Dennis Wilson & Rumbo 45 in 1970 (and a new version was recently released on the Summer Love Songs compilation). "Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again" has not only never been officially released, but it's never been bootlegged. Dennis wanted to close the album with it, thinking it would be a perfect segue from "'Til I Die", but Carl fought for "Surf's Up" to take that spot. All this is really annoying, considering the album's 33 minute run-time!
Still, Surf's Up is a fantastic record and it helps that it's packed with Sunflower on CD.

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