Ten Underappreciated Beach Boys LPs: Surfer Girl
Published on October 21st, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Rabid with anticipation for the October 31st release of the SMiLE Sessions, Rocksucker has been digging out those old Beach Boys records – “listening on iTunes and Spotify” just doesn’t have the same axiomatic quality, does it? – and falling in love with them all over again.
As mind-blowingly great as Pet Sounds and SMiLE (in its hitherto many forms) are, it’s something of a shame that their widely-recoginsed magnificence has come to cast some pretty-damn-great-too-since-you-ask albums into shadow, at least in the eyes of the world at large.
As such, Rocksucker presents you with part one of our latest on-going series: Ten Underappreciated Beach Boys Albums…
1. Surfer Girl (1963)
Their third studio album and the second of three in 1963 alone, Surfer Girl is the first Beach Boys album for which Brian Wilson was given full production credit – perhaps no coincidence, then, that it also happens to be their first to truly hint at wonders yet to come.
The opening and title track apparently represents Brian’s first composition, written at the age of 19 using “When You Wish Upon a Star” as a rough blueprint.
This is made entirely evident by its sleepy, swaying melody, which is underpinned with a steady beat of triplets (6/8? 12/8?) to keep it from drifting off entirely.
It’s a lovely little tune in its own right but it doesn’t quite match up to the magnificence of the similarly-presented “The Surfer Moon” and “In My Room”.
Appearing third on the album’s track list after the delightfully odd “Catch A Wave”, “The Surfer Moon” is simply one of the most perfect two minutes and fourteen seconds of music, let alone pop music, ever written and recorded.
It takes the Disney waltz of “Surfer Girl” and fits it up with a more swoonsome and progressive melody, while the inaugural use of a string section is done with all the plinky, trilly, creamy class of…well, a classic Disney score.
For the most part a harmonised duet between Brian and Mike Love, the major-to-minor-and-back-to-minor sucker punch on lines such as “If you fall and it happens all to soon/Blame it all on the surfer moon” is impossible to resist when decorated with such elaborate ribbons of melody by the aforementioned front duo.
What is a surfer moon? Who cares? This is almost too beautiful, if that’s at all possible.”In My Room” is the third of four triplet-y marvels on Surfer Girl. Rather than repeat the “Surfer Moon” trick of giving “Surfer Girl” a ravishing makeover, “In My Room” manages to improve upon that early composition by mood alone.
Basically, it loosely sticks to the “Wish Upon a Star” sway but also guides it through an arrestingly affecting chord progression, one that somehow feels so intrinsically linked with its lyrical content (sad yet comforting spells alone in one’s room) as to make you wonder if it had always existed and was only then filtered through to our consciousness via the earthly medium of The Beach Boys.
You may think that this review is getting a bit wordy but songs as flooring as “The Surfer Moon”, “In My Room” and [from following LP Little Deuce Coupe] “Warmth Of The Sun” merit such boggled grasps for adequate comment.
“Your Summer Dream” completes the triplet-y alliance across Surfer Girl and it is a very fine thing indeed, if more understated and nocturnal than its counterparts.
If you can forgive the crude black-and-whiteness of this criticism, Rocksucker would place “Your Summer Dream” on a roughly level pegging with “Surfer Girl” in the second tier of classic ballads.
Elsewhere, second track “Catch A Wave” is a similar kind of boldly-coloured surf-rocker to “I Get Around”, with its joyously delivered refrain “Catch a wave, you’ll be sitting on top of the world” followed by a round of borderline-trippy “ooh wah” vocables to go with the synesthetic harp swirls courtesy of Mike Love’s sister Maureen.
“South Bay Surfer” is entertainingly raucous and enthusiastic yet relatively forgettable, bogged down by its traditional chord progression (see also: instrumental closing track “Boogie Woodie”).
“Little Deuce Coupe” also falls prey to convention but it’s more than enough singalong fun to be easily forgiven for this, while “Hawaii”, “Surfers Rule” and “Our Car Club” just about pass muster by dint of their occasional flashes of ingenious songwriting and Brian’s awesome falsetto sitting atop those mesmerising harmonies in a way that few have managed before or since.
A special mention for instrumental fourth track “Rocking Surfer”: it’s simple but it’s also so energisingly daft that it’s just crying out for use as a TV theme tune for some such.
It could have featured on an Austin Powers soundtrack: and I mean that as a good thing.