Surf's Up (album)

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Surf's Up
Studio album by The Beach Boys
Released August 30, 1971 (1971-08-30)
Recorded November–December 1966; January 1970; March–July 1971
Studio Sunset Sound Recorders, United Western Studios, CBS Columbia Square, and Brian Wilson's home studio, Los Angeles
Genre Progressive pop
Length 33:56
Label Brother/Reprise
Producer The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys chronology
Surf's Up
Carl and the Passions – "So Tough"
Singles from Surf's Up
  1. "Long Promised Road"/"'Til I Die"
    Released: May 24, 1971
  2. "Don't Go Near the Water"/"Student Demonstration Time"
    Released: November 1971 (UK)
  3. "Surf's Up"/Don't Go Near the Water"
    Released: November 29, 1971

Surf's Up is the seventeenth studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released in 1971. Both the album's title and cover artwork are an ironic, self-aware nod to the removedness from the band's surf rock roots.[1] Its name was taken from the song of the same title written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks for the abandoned studio album Smile.

The album is ranked 154 in Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" and 61 on Pitchfork Media's "The Top 100 Albums Of The 1970s" lists. It is also listed in the musical reference book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.


In the fall of 1970, after the relative commercial failure of the Sunflower album, the Beach Boys hired Jack Rieley as their manager. Rieley, a DJ, had impressed the band with his credentials (a supposed Peabody Award-winning stint as NBC bureau chief in Puerto Rico-later discovered to be false) and fresh ideas on how to regain respect from American music fans and critics.[citation needed] One of his initiatives was to encourage the band to record songs featuring more socially conscious lyrics.[citation needed] Rieley also insisted that the band officially appoint Carl Wilson "musical director" in recognition of the integral role he had played keeping the group together since 1967.[citation needed] He also requested the completion of "Surf's Up" for release by composer and erstwhile bandleader Brian Wilson, a song that had taken on almost mythical proportions in the underground press since the demise of Smile three years earlier. He also arranged a guest appearance at a Grateful Dead concert in April 1971 to push the Beach Boys' transition into the counter-culture.[2]

Music and lyrics[edit]

The artwork of Surf's Up is based on the sculpture "End of the Trail" by James Earle Fraser.

"Long Promised Road" and "Feel Flows" were Carl Wilson's first significant solo compositions; both songs were almost entirely recorded by him. "Student Demonstration Time" (essentially the R&B classic "Riot In Cell Block #9") and "Don't Go Near the Water" found Mike Love and Al Jardine eagerly embracing the group's new topical-oriented direction. Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls (1957)" was hailed as a masterpiece by Brian Wilson[need quotation to verify] and has been covered by Art Garfunkel and Cass Elliot; the song subsequently became Johnston's signature piece when performing live with the group.[citation needed]

The Jardine/Brian composition "Take a Load Off Your Feet" was recorded in late 1969 during the Add Some Music sessions. Before being added to the record, its arrangement was altered to fit the atmosphere of the rest of the tracks.[citation needed]

"A Day in the Life of a Tree" was Brian's sole new contribution written for Surf's Up. Several attempts at recording the song were made before the pump organ-led arrangement was settled upon. The slightly faltering lead vocal from Rieley has been praised by reviews as fitting for what a dying tree would sound like personified.[citation needed] Van Dyke Parks and Jardine join Rieley to sing the song's coda. According to Jardine, Rieley sang the song when "no one [else] would sing it because it was too depressing."[3]

"Til I Die" was a song Brian had been working on since mid-1970 but initially rejected by group members.[citation needed] Brian spent weeks arranging the song, crafting a harmony-driven, vibraphone and organ-laden background that closely resembled the halcyon-era sonic tapestries of Pet Sounds.[according to whom?]

Brian initially refused to work on "Surf's Up", now the eponymous track of the band's new album. In light of this, Carl overdubbed a new vocal in the song's first part, the original backing track dating from November 1966. The second movement was composed of a December 1966 solo piano demo recorded by Brian Wilson, augmented with vocal and moog bass overdubs. To the surprise and glee of his associates, Brian emerged near the end of the sessions to aid his brother and engineer Stephen Desper in the completion of the coda.[citation needed] The newly recorded lead vocals—sung by Al Jardine over a choral backdrop featuring all the Beach Boys—were sped up by Desper for continuity purposes in an attempt to make them sound more like they did in 1966.[citation needed]

This LP was mixed for quadraphonic reproduction (also compatible for stereo). It was to be played back by using the long extinct Dynaco or EV Stereo-4 decoders.[citation needed] However, this recording (LP or CD) can be played back in Quad by most of today's audio-video receivers. The surround sound information can be extracted using the Dolby Pro Logic setting. The Carl and the Passions LP and some of the songs on the Sunflower LP were also mixed with this process.[citation needed]

Unreleased material[edit]

The Dennis Wilson songs "4th of July" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again" were excised from the final running order shortly before release. Although "4th of July"'s elagaic tone and lyrical relevance[according to whom?] made it a logical thematic choice, Rieley has claimed that it was met with a reception of "glaring envy" by Wilson's bandmates.[citation needed] In the case of "Wouldn't it Be Nice to Live Again", a disagreement between the middle and younger Wilson brothers resulted in the song being left off the album.[citation needed] Dennis wanted the song to be the final track on the album, segueing out of "'Til I Die", while Carl felt "Surf's Up" should have that place.[citation needed] As a consequence, Dennis took the song out of the album's final running order.[citation needed]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[4]
The A.V. Club positive[5]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars [6]
Pitchfork Media 8.9/10[7]
Mojo positive[8]
Robert Christgau B–[9]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[10]

Surf's Up was released that August to more public anticipation than the Beach Boys had had for several years. It outperformed Sunflower commercially, reaching 29 in the US charts, becoming their best selling album in years.[11] It was their first Top 40 album since Wild Honey, and in the UK it peaked at 15. Like Sunflower, Surf's Up was released on EMI's Stateside label internationally.

It was met with warm critical reception.[11] Rolling Stone wrote, "the Beach Boys stage[d] a remarkable comeback ... an LP that weds their choral harmonies to progressive pop and which shows youngest Wilson brother Carl stepping into the fore of the venerable outfit."[11]


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
NME United Kingdom New Musical Express Writers Top 100 Albums[12] 1993 46
Pitchfork United States Top 100 Albums of the 1970s[13] 2004 61
Rolling Stone Germany 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2004 154
Sunday Herald United Kingdom The 103 Best Albums Ever, Honest 2001 *

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. "Don't Go Near the Water"   Mike Love/Al Jardine Mike Love/Al Jardine/Brian Wilson 2:39
2. "Long Promised Road"   Carl Wilson/Jack Rieley Carl Wilson 3:30
3. "Take a Load Off Your Feet"   Jardine/Brian Wilson/Gary Winfrey Brian Wilson/Jardine 2:29
4. "Disney Girls (1957)"   Bruce Johnston Bruce Johnston 4:07
5. "Student Demonstration Time"   Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller/Mike Love Love 3:58
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. "Feel Flows"   C. Wilson/Rieley C. Wilson 4:44
2. "Lookin' at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)"   Jardine/Winfrey Jardine 1:55
3. "A Day in the Life of a Tree"   B. Wilson/Rieley Jack Rieley/Van Dyke Parks/Jardine 3:07
4. "'Til I Die"   B. Wilson C. Wilson/B. Wilson/Love 2:41
5. "Surf's Up"   B. Wilson/Van Dyke Parks C. Wilson/B. Wilson/Jardine 4:12


Partial credits per Timothy White and 2000 liner notes,[14] except where otherwise noted.

The Beach Boys
Additional musicians and production staff


Year Chart Position
1971 UK Top 40 Album Chart 15
1971 US Billboard 200 Albums Chart 29[not in citation given]
US Singles
Year Single Chart Position
1971 "Long Promised Road" US Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart 89[not in citation given]
US AOR Tracks
Year Track Chart Position
1971 "Student Demonstration Time" US Billboard Hot AOR Track Chart 1[not in citation given]

Chart information courtesy of Allmusic and other music databases.[17][not in citation given]


  1. ^ "The Beach Boys: Sunflower/Surf's Up | Album Reviews". Pitchfork. 2000-07-18. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  2. ^ Gaines 1986, pp. 241–242.
  3. ^ The Playlist Special, Rolling Stone
  4. ^
  5. ^ Phipps Keith (April 17, 2002). "The Beach Boys: Sunflower/Surf's Up : Music". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  6. ^ The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise (4th Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  7. ^ "The Beach Boys: Sunflower/Surf's Up | Album Reviews". Pitchfork. 2000-07-18. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  8. ^ Ross Bennett. "The Beach Boys - Disc of the day - Mojo". Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  9. ^ Christgau, Robert (October 14, 1971). "Consumer Guide (19)". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved April 14, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". 2007-10-15. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c Gaines 1986, p. 242.
  12. ^ "New Musical Express Writers Top 100 Albums, October 2, 1993". NME. 
  13. ^ "Staff Lists: top 100 albums of the 1970s". Pitchfork Media Inc. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  14. ^ White, Timothy (2000). Sunflower/Surf's Up (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 
  15. ^ Nolan, Tom (October 28, 1971). "The Beach Boys: A California Saga". Rolling Stone. 
  16. ^ Badman 2004, p. 296.
  17. ^ "UK Top 40 Hit Database". EveryHit.