Surf's Up (album)

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Surf's Up
Studio album by The Beach Boys
Released August 30, 1971 (1971-08-30)
  • 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
Length 33:56
Label Brother/Reprise (US)
EMI Stateside (UK)
Producer The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys chronology
Surf's Up
Carl and the Passions – "So Tough"
(1972)Carl and the Passions – "So Tough"1972
Singles from Surf's Up
  1. "Long Promised Road" / "'Til I Die"
    Released: May 24, 1971
  2. "Surf's Up" / "Don't Go Near the Water"
    Released: November 29, 1971

Surf's Up is the 17th studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released in 1971. It was met with a warm critical reception and reached No. 29 on the US record charts, becoming their best-performing album in their home country since 1967. In the UK, the album peaked at No. 15, continuing a string of chart successes that had not abated since 1965.

Both the album's title and cover artwork are an ironic, self-aware nod to the band's original surf music style.[3] It was named for the closing track "Surf's Up", a song which had been written and partially recorded in 1966 for the group's unfinished album Smile. Surf's Up's creative direction was largely influenced by newly employed band manager Jack Rieley, who strove to reinvent the group's image and reintroduce them to the era's counterculture. Two singles were issued in the US: "Long Promised Road" and "Surf's Up". Only the former charted, peaking at No. 89.

In 2004, the album was voted 154 in a German edition of Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" and ranked 61 on Pitchfork Media's "The Top 100 Albums Of The 1970s". It is listed in the musical reference book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.


Sometime in 1969, former bandleader Brian Wilson opened a short-lived health food store called the Radiant Radish.[4] While working there, he met journalist and radio presenter Jack Rieley.[5] Rieley spoke with Brian for a radio interview, with the subject eventually turning to the unreleased song "Surf's Up", a track which had taken on almost mythical proportions in the underground press since the demise of the Smile album three years earlier. Brian hesitated on its release: "It's just that it's too long. Instead of putting it on a record, I would rather just leave it as a song. It rambles. It's too long to make it for me as a record, unless it were an album cut, which I guess it would have to be anyway. It's so far from a singles sound. It could never be a single."[6]

On August 8, 1970, Rieley offered a six-page memo ruminating on how to stimulate "increased record sales and popularity for The Beach Boys."[5] In the fall of 1970, after the relative commercial failure of the Sunflower album, the Beach Boys hired Rieley as their manager. One of his initiatives was to encourage the band to record songs featuring more socially conscious lyrics.[7] He also requested the completion of "Surf's Up" and arranged a guest appearance at a Grateful Dead concert at Bill Graham's Fillmore East in April 1971 to foreground the Beach Boys' transition into the counterculture.[8]

The project was provisionally entitled Landlocked.[9] While on a drive to meet Warner Bros. Records executive Mo Ostin, Brian suddenly said to Rieley: "Well, OK, if you're going to force me, I'll ... put 'Surf's Up' on the album." Rieley asked, "Are you really going to do it?" to which Brian repeated, "Well, if you're going to force me."[9]

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" (a topical reworking of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's R&B classic "Riot in Cell Block Number 9") and the environmental anthem "Don't Go Near the Water" found Mike Love and Al Jardine eagerly embracing the group's new direction. Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls (1957)" was praised by Brian for its harmonies and chords.[5]

The Jardine/Brian Wilson composition "Take a Load Off Your Feet" was recorded in late 1969 during the Add Some Music sessions.[citation needed]

"A Day in the Life of a Tree" was Brian's sole new contribution written for Surf's Up. The song was experimented upon for days with a harmonium, an antique pump organ, and a smaller pipe organ.[10] 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."[11]

"Til I Die" was a song Brian had been working on since mid-1970 but initially rejected by group members.[12] He spent weeks arranging the song, using an electronic drum machine and crafting a harmony-driven, vibraphone and organ-laden background.[13]

Brian initially refused to work on "Surf's Up", now the eponymous track of the band's new album.[5] 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, augmented with vocal and Moog synthesizer overdubs.[14] 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, and contributing the song's missing, final lyric.[15]

This LP was mixed for Quadraphonic reproduction (also compatible with stereo).[16][page needed][17] It was to be played back using the now long-extinct Dynaco or EV Stereo-4 decoders,[16][page needed] or later, using the "360Surround" matrix decoder built by Stephen Desper and previously included with purchases of his limited-edition book Recording the Beach Boys.[17]


The Beach Boys performing at Central Park in July 1971.

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.[1] 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[1] compounded by some FM radio exposure.[5] 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."[1] Melody Maker reviewed: "Suddenly the Beach Boys are back in fashionable favour, and they've produced an album which fully backs up all that's recently been written and said about them."[18] Robert Christgau was less impressed in The Village Voice. While highlighting "Take a Load Off Your Feet" and "Disney Girls (1957)", he found most of the other songs forgettable and the album the group's worst since 1968's Friends, before going on to write, "Van Dyke Parks's wacked-out lyricist meandering is matched by the sophomoric spiritual quest of Jack Rieley, and the music drags hither and yon."[19]

Retrospective reviews[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[20]
Christgau's Record Guide B–[21]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[22]
MusicHound Rock 4/5[23]
Pitchfork 8.9/10[3]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[24]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3/5 stars[25]

Music critic John Bush wrote "[Most of the] songs are enjoyable enough, but the last three tracks are what make Surf's Up such a masterpiece. The first, 'A Day in the Life of a Tree', is simultaneously one of Brian's most deeply touching and bizarre compositions ... The second, ' 'Til I Die,' isn't the love song the title suggests; it's a haunting, fatalistic piece of pop surrealism that appeared to signal Brian's retirement from active life. The album closer, 'Surf's Up' is a masterpiece of baroque psychedelia, probably the most compelling track from the Smile period."[20] Mojo critic Ross Bennett regarded Surf's Up as "the definitive version" of the Smile recordings, "with those crystalline vocals imbuing Parks' cryptic verses with a grace and simplicity missing from the 2004 reboot".[26] Keith Phipps from The A.V. Club called it "the darkest album of the group's career, a record that also spotlighted a growing social conscience".[27]

In 2014, John Wetton named Surf's Up his favorite prog album of all-time, elaborating: "The summer of '71 had so many musical milestones ... but Surf's Up was a revelation. I was in Family, a major player in the first wave of British progressive bands, but this collection from the iconic California surf-pop band shifted my parameters, blurring all the bounderies of my musical vocabulary. I marvelled at Van Dyke Parks mind-expanding poetry of the title track, wallowing in the glorious harmonies. Both composition and production absolutely floored me. The whole experience was my nirvana. And the cover? Mega prog!"[28]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. "Don't Go Near the Water" 2:39
2. "Long Promised Road" Carl Wilson 3:30
3. "Take a Load Off Your Feet"
4. "Disney Girls (1957)" Bruce Johnston Bruce Johnston 4:07
5. "Student Demonstration Time" 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
4. "'Til I Die" B. Wilson
  • C. Wilson
  • B. Wilson
  • Love
5. "Surf's Up"
  • C. Wilson
  • B. Wilson
  • Jardine


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[5]
US Singles
Year Single Chart Position
1971 "Long Promised Road" US Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart 89[5]

Chart information courtesy of Allmusic and other music databases.[30][not in citation given]


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank Ref(s)
NME United Kingdom New Musical Express Writers Top 100 Albums 1993
Pitchfork United States Top 100 Albums of the 1970s 2004


  1. ^ a b c d Gaines 1986, p. 242.
  2. ^ Furman, Michael. "The Beach Boys - Surf's Up". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved February 29, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "The Beach Boys: Sunflower/Surf's Up | Album Reviews". Pitchfork. 2000-07-18. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  4. ^ a b Nolan, Tom (October 28, 1971). "The Beach Boys: A California Saga". Rolling Stone. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p White, Timothy (2000). Sunflower/Surf's Up (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 
  6. ^ Badman 2004, p. 273.
  7. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 155.
  8. ^ Gaines 1986, pp. 241–242.
  9. ^ a b Badman 2004, p. 291.
  10. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 160.
  11. ^ The Playlist Special, Rolling Stone
  12. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 161.
  13. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 162.
  14. ^ Carlin 2006, pp. 162–163.
  15. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 163.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Desper 2002.
  17. ^ a b "RECORDING THE BEACH BOYS by Stephen W. Desper: book ordering info". 2002. Archived from the original on 2005-12-18. Retrieved 2016-06-08. 
  18. ^ Williams, Richard (1972). "The Beach Boys: Surf's Up". Melody Maker. 
  19. ^ Christgau, Robert (October 14, 1971). "Consumer Guide (19)". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved April 14, 2013. 
  20. ^ a b Bush 2002, p. 73.
  21. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "The Beach Boys: Surf's Up". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the '70s. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306804093. Retrieved November 5, 2017. 
  22. ^ The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Concise (4th Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  23. ^ Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel (eds) (1999). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 83. ISBN 1-57859-061-2. 
  24. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". 2007-10-15. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  25. ^ Brackett, Nathan; with Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). New York, NY: Fireside/Simon & Schuster. p. 46. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 
  26. ^ Ross Bennett. "The Beach Boys - Disc of the day - Mojo". Archived from the original on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  27. ^ Phipps Keith (April 17, 2002). "The Beach Boys: Sunflower/Surf's Up : Music". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  28. ^ "100 Greatest Prog Albums". Prog. No. 49. 2014. 
  29. ^ Badman 2004, p. 296.
  30. ^ "UK Top 40 Hit Database". EveryHit. 
  31. ^ "New Musical Express Writers Top 100 Albums, October 2, 1993". NME. 
  32. ^ "Staff Lists: top 100 albums of the 1970s". Pitchfork Media Inc. Retrieved 13 March 2012.