The Beach Boys “Surf’s Up”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#499 in the Series) is The Beach Boys, Surfs Up

Sometimes the Mojo inspirations for my psychedelic meanderings for Cool Album of the Day come from lubricating the death machine, wandering in the desert aimlessly with an Indian Shaman by my side guiding me.  Other times I am in the Falcon’s Nest jungle room staring at the black light posters of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin wondering where I can put my next lava lamp while consulting my Todd Mcfarlane figures of Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Zombie, and Jim Morrison. Alice Cooper is usually the more vocal of this quartet. Dave Alvin (Cool Album of the Day #471) was his. Jim Morrison was the driving force behind the Grace Potter (Cool Album of the Day #390) review, he is a big fan of the White Rabbit cover version she did and I think he has a secret crush on her.  Please don’t tell my Grace Slick figurine, the two of them have kind of crazy thing going on much to Ozzy’s displeasure.  As Rob Zombie knows first-hand “Hell has no fury like a jealous Ozzy Osbourne”.  And of course, while all of this is going on, “The Man in Black” just stands on the shelf in the corner looking cool.

And then there are the times that the albums almost literally call out to be reviewed in a cosmic other worldly manner. The Replacements ‘Tim” (Cool Album of the Day #383) was just such an album when it was delivered to me in a random bar at a random time in a random city, San Francisco. And now The Beach Boys “Surfer Girl” has been delivered to me via the Art Bell highway and has asked, rather demanded, to be a part of the Cool Album of the Day Family.

The Beach Boys Surfs Up was released in 1971 and was the second album in a decade that many Beach Boys fans consider to be lost decade sandwiched between the surf, cars, girls, and Pet Sounds decade of the 60’s and the “Kokomo” decade of the ‘80’s, in other words the BEST decade.

The “Incredible Journey” of this album began somewhere around 1985 in the dollar bin at the Berkeley, California location of Rasputin Records, a record chain of some repute on par with Amoeba Records in San Francisco. In 1989 she, like ships I refer to all my albums in the feminine form, moved from the outskirts of San Francisco to Dallas where a nice home was found on open shelves in a “boom boom” combination of pool room and music room.  The surroundings were nice here and she was snuggled in among friends that included Pet Sounds, Endless Summer, Holland, and All Summer Long.  In 1999 the album relocated to Houston in similar surroundings this time in a private room. Somewhere around 2006 a separation occurred and 95% of my album collection was relocated to a friend’s house on Galveston Island, while a small crate found its way into the hands of a Houston photographer/artist.  It was at this artist’s house in September of 2011 that Surfs Up and I were reunited.

By this time I had forgotten that he had any of my albums and was pleasantly surprised that my former albums occupied a place of honor in his house for one, and that he actually had a working turntable to spin his vinyl. And there in front of the crate, after a 5 year separation and a history spanning over 25 years we were finally reunited and it felt so good.

I hesitated to tell her, especially since the lone, sad Indian that was featured on the cover and was a piece by James Earle Frasier called “The End of the Trail” seemed to perk up slightly at seeing me, but I never was a real fan of this album.  With the last couple of albums 20/20 and Sunflower The Beach Boys were slowly transitioning from a fun beach band where you would know what to expect, to a corporate entity with multiple factions and outside influences like Van Dyke Parks trying to direct the future of the band.   In some ways it is amazing Surfs Up ever got made.  The band had clearly broken up into two camps with the Wilson Brothers, Brian and Carl, on one side of the room with Carl wanting the album to have a more sweeping, pastoral feel to it with the title track that was originally intended to part of the ill-fated “Smile” sessions serving as a centerpiece, and the politically aware and environment friendly team of Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston in the other camp wanting to create ‘message songs”.  Brian, for his part, was largely absent during the sessions and did not arrive until the very end to put some finishing touches on the overall project and add some couplets to the title track.

Having some time to kill before we went to the art exhibit, I put Surfs Up on the turntable and immediately changed my view of this masterpiece.  Starting with side two first and “Feel Flows”, one of the first Carl Wilson centerpiece songs, I was sonically hit between the ears with a force so strong I had to sit down and reassess my entire relationship with this album.

With all of the hands in the pot it would have been real easy for this album to come out a disjointed mess.  The reality is that mixing Carl only songs like “Feel Flows” and “Long Promised Road” with Mike Love vocal turns on “Student Demonstration Time” and Bruce Johnston on “Disney Girls” gives each song a feel and beauty all its own.  All in all there are five singers taking vocal turns including Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, and Bruce Johnston, with everyone pitching in on background vocals.

The last two songs on side one and the first song on side two combine to form as strong a 1-2-3 song sequence as you will find. Starting with “Disney Girls” which for my money is the second best beach boys song behind “Good Vibrations, followed by “Student Demonstration Time”, a song that written by Mike Love in collaboration with Lieber and Stoller and shares DNA with the song “Riot in Call Block #9”, and culminating in the structurally perfect  “ Feel Flows”.  This “Holy Trinity” of song is probably the reason  the CD was invented. The inventor of the CD technology must have been frustrated like I was having his eargasm interrupted by having to get up and turn the album over to the other side to hear “Feel Flows”.

And then, of course, there is the fabulous multi-layered masterpiece of the title song “Surf’s Up” that is the last song on the album. Four years in the making and countless demo versions later the Brian Wilson Van Dyke Parks song finally saw the light of day and really marked the end of the Beach Boys as we knew them. The next couple of albums “Holland” and Carl and The Passions “So Tough” saw Carl Wilson take over the leadership of the band probably out of necessity since Brian seemed to be, at various times, too sick to tour, too involved in his own pet projects, or too disinterested to take an active role in the future direction of the band.

The album peaked at number 29 on the U.S. charts, number 15 on the U.K. charts and was voted one of the top 500 albums of all time. The album goes for $28.99 on E-Bay today.

Do I regret today putting the album up for adoption 5 years ago?

Absolutely not……………….she couldn’t be in better hands.

–Walt Falconer

Track LIsting

Side One

  1. Don’t Go Near the Water (Jardine, Love) 2:42
  2. Long Promised Road (Rieley, Wilson) 3:34
  3. Take a Load off Your Feet (Jardine, Wilson, Winfrey) 2:31
  4. Disney Girls (1957) (Johnston) 4:11
  5. Student Demonstration Time (Leiber, Love, Stoller) 4:01
Side Two
  1. Feel Flows (Rieley, Wilson) 4:49
  2. Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song) (Jardine, Winfrey) 1:57
  3. A Day in the Life of a Tree (Rieley, Wilson) 3:10
  4. ‘Til I Die (Wilson) 2:44
  5. Surf’s Up (Parks, Wilson) 4:12


  • Mike Love – Vocals
  • Jack Rieley – Vocals
  • Brian Wilson – Composer, Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
  • Carl Wilson – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals


Posted by Larry Carta

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