Surfin' U.S.A. (song)

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"Surfin' U.S.A."
Beach boys surfin' usa.PNG
Single by The Beach Boys
from the album Surfin' U.S.A.
B-side "Shut Down"
Released March 4, 1963
Format 7"
Recorded January 5, 1963
Genre Surf rock, rock and roll
Length 2:27
Label Capitol
Writer(s)
Producer(s) Nick Venet
The Beach Boys singles chronology
"Ten Little Indians"
(1962)
"Surfin' U.S.A."
(1963)
"Surfer Girl"
(1963)
Endless Summer track listing
Music sample

"Surfin' U.S.A." is a song with lyrics by Brian Wilson set to the music of "Sweet Little Sixteen", written by Chuck Berry. It was first recorded by Wilson's band the Beach Boys and released as a single on March 4, 1963, then appearing as the title track to their album Surfin' U.S.A. Also produced by Wilson, the single peaked at number two in the chart of the Music Vendor trade paper (within a year renamed Record World) and at number three on the Billboard and Cash Box charts. It was backed with "Shut Down".

Billboard ranked "Surfin' U.S.A." the number 2 song of 1963.[1] It has since become emblematic of the California Sound. The song "Surfin' U.S.A." is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.[2]

Composition[edit]

The song features Brian Wilson's surfing-related lyrics set to the music of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". According to Wilson,

"I was going with a girl called Judy Bowles, and her brother Jimmy was a surfer. He knew all the surfing spots. I started humming the melody to 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and I got fascinated with the fact of doing it, and I thought to myself, 'God! What about trying to put surf lyrics to 'Sweet Little Sixteen's melody? The concept was about, 'They are doing this in this city, and they're doing that in that city' So I said to Jimmy, 'Hey Jimmy, I want to do a song mentioning all the surf spots.' So he gave me a list."[3]

In 2015, Mike Love stated that "Surfin' U.S.A." was one of many Beach Boys songs he helped write but for which he did not receive credit.[4]

Authorship[edit]

When the single was released in 1963, the record listed Brian Wilson as the sole composer although the song was published by Arc Music, Chuck Berry's publisher. Later releases, beginning with Best of The Beach Boys in 1966, listed Chuck Berry as the songwriter. Later releases list both writers although the copyright has always been owned, since 1963, by Arc Music. Under pressure from Berry's publisher, Wilson's father and manager, Murry Wilson, had given the copyright, including Brian Wilson's lyrics, to Arc Music.[5]

Despite tensions with Berry over the controversy at the time, Carl Wilson said the Beach Boys "ran into Chuck Berry in Copenhagen and he told us he loves 'Surfin' U.S.A.'."[6] The group often includes other Berry compositions in their repertoire; for example, during their 50th anniversary concert, "Surfin' U.S.A." is preceded by Berry's "Rock and Roll Music".[citation needed]

Surfing spots[edit]

In the song the following surfing spots are mentioned, mostly in California, as well as two in Hawaii and one in Australia:[7]

Reception[edit]

The "Surfin' U.S.A." single, backed with "Shut Down," was released under Capitol Records in the United States in March 1963. The song peaked on the Billboard pop chart at number three, the band's first top ten hit therein (see also Surfin' Safari). The B-side charted at number 23. The song was re-issued in the U.S. as a single in July 1974 backed with "The Warmth of the Sun". That single also hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at 36.

In the United Kingdom, the single was released in June 1963. The third single by the band to be issued in the UK, it became the first single to chart. It would go on to peak at 34 (28 in the New Musical Express).

In Australia, the single was released in 1963 and peaked at 9, becoming the band's first single to chart in Australia. The single was re-released in Australia in 1974 and again charted, peaking at 66. In Canada and Sweden, the single was released in 1963 and peaked on the charts at 6 in both countries. In July 1963, in the national charts used by Billboard, it peaked at #9 in Hong Kong, #8 in Austria the following month; in August 1964 at #9 for two weeks in Japan.

Charts[edit]

Chart (1963) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 3
Australian Singles Chart[8] 9
Canadian Singles Chart[9] 6
Swedish Singles Chart[10] 6
UK Singles Chart 34
Chart (1974) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 36
Australian Singles Chart 66

Personnel[edit]

The Beach Boys
Additional Personnel

Variations[edit]

The song was first released on an album as the title track on the band's 1963 album Surfin' U.S.A.. In July 1963, a month after the song had been issued as a single in the United States, Capitol issued the Surfin' U.S.A. EP featuring "Surfin' U.S.A." & "Shut Down" on the A-side and "Surfer Girl" & "Surfin' Safari" on the B-side. The EP however, failed to chart. In May, 2003 Capitol again issued the song on an EP along with "Surfer Girl", "Don't Worry, Baby", and "The Beach Boys Medley". However, the record failed to make an impact on the charts.

A demo version of the song featuring only Brian Wilson singing and playing piano was released on the 1993 box set, Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys. A different demo version, in which Wilson is joined by drums was released on the 2001 archival release Hawthorne, CA. Both demos feature similar minor lyrical differences from the final recording. Both demos are played in the key of E major, in contrast to the final recording which was pitched in E.

The instrumental track of the final recording was also released on the Hawthorne, CA album. This version of the cut does not 'fade out', but continues on well past the original ending of the song until it ends abruptly.

Live performances[edit]

After being released the song became a concert regular for the band. The band recorded live versions of "Surfin' U.S.A." on several Beach Boys albums. It was first released on The Beach Boys in Concert album. A concert from Anaheim Stadium on July 3, 1976, which featured the song was filmed and produced by Lorne Michaels for a Beach Boys television special which first aired in the United States in August, 1976. The TV special was later released on VHS and DVD as Good Vibrations Tour. In 1980, a live rendition was recorded, though not released until 2002 on the Good Timin': Live at Knebworth England 1980 live album. Footage from the concert was also released on VHS and DVD format. A live version was also released on the band's 1993 box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys.

The band also performed a live version of the song at the NBC Television Studios in Burbank, California, which was filmed on March 14, 1964. Footage of the concert was later released on the DVD The Lost Concert. The band performed the song on The T.A.M.I. Show which was filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 28 and 29, 1964, and featured other top artists of the day such as Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, James Brown & The Famous Flames and The Rolling Stones. The concert was released as a film in 1964 featuring the Beach Boys performance. However, after the initial showing of the film Brian insisted that the band's performance be cut from the film. Because of a rights dispute the footage of the Beach Boys' performance does not appear in most versions of The T.A.M.I. Show. The footage was eventually released on the DVD Sights of Summer included with the special 2004 edition of Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys.

Media appearances[edit]

The song appears in the 1985 film Teen Wolf, starring Michael J. Fox, where he is seen car surfing on the roof of his friends van.[11]

The song was one of many California related songs played throughout "Sunshine Plaza" in the original Disney California Adventure.[12]

The song was played during the ending scene and over the end credits of the Sopranos episode "Calling All Cars".[13]

Cover versions[edit]

Sources[edit]