1963, Music

Surfer Girl (1963) by The Beach Boys

Like every early Beach Boys album, this is a short collection of an incredibly inconsistent set of songs which, on the one hand, show off Brian Wilson’s increasingly elaborate vocal arrangements and increasing compositional sophistication and, on the other, pad things out with songs so inane or derivative you want to burn the record. The good outweighs the bad, I think.

“Surfer Girl,” the title track, is an indication that things have really changed for the band; the vocal arrangement is the most elaborate and seductive they had yet recorded. And the song sounds quite sophisticated for 1963. Sure, the lyrics aren’t great, but whatever.

“Catch a Wave” is a song I remember from oldies radio. What I didn’t remember was how hilariously wrong the lyrics were about the surfing fad. It’s funny to listen to an old song claiming a fad that soon died would be eternal. The music is pretty straight ahead organ-driven rock and roll for the era, but it’s well done and pretty catchy.

“The Surfer Moon” is one of the many ballads on this record that sound like they are poor invitations of the title track, though the musical arrangement on this one is arguably more “sophisticated” sounding due to those strings. (It reminds me a bit of those ballads that were the inspiration for “Yes It Is,” but the name of the most famous one is escaping me right now.)

“South Bay Surfer” is a generic rock song about surfing that doesn’t offer much of anything, beyond departures from their usual vocal practices. (Apparently it’s an adaptation of a Stephen Foster tune. Who knew?)

“The Rocking Surfer” is one of those keyboard instrumentals from the ’60s that were so popular. Though it’s apparently an adaptation of a traditional tune, it’s not memorable. At least there’s some “surf guitar” in it.

“Little Deuce Coupe” is probably the most famous song here. As stupid early ’60s car songs go, it’s pretty well done; it’s ridiculous catchy, the lyrics are relatively intelligent for a song about how good your car is – jesus christ that’s inane – and, of course, the arrangement is a perfect distillation of what made the Beach Boys so popular at this time, a combination of perfect harmonies with enough rock and roll for them to sound like a rock band, not a pop group.

“In My Room” is the song here that all the Beach Boys nerds and historians point to as proof that Wilson was growing in leaps and bounds as a songwriter. It presages the concerns of Pet Sounds and of many if not most singer songwriters going forward. It is shockingly vulnerable for a ballad from 1963. (The Beatles fan in me has to point out that “There’s a Place” was recorded in February, whereas “In My Room,” which does sound more modern to me in its arrangement, was recorded in July.)

“Hawaii” is “Kokomo” in utero. It’s extremely catchy but, as a travel song, it’s lyrically pretty inane. I still remember the vocals from when I was a kid, though.

“Surfer’s Rule” is about as inane as you would imagine it. However, the arrangement features pretty dramatic group vocals, far more sophisticated than anything else in the song.

“Our Car Club” reminds me of another song in its arrangement (not lyrics), but I can’t place it. The arrangement is at least significantly different from the other faster paced songs here, playing with rhythm more than they usually do.

“Your Summer Dream” is another “Surfer Moon” type ballad, which oozes lushness a little more than “Surfer Moon.” The lyrics are better than average on this album, which is something.

“Boogie Woodie” is an inane, brief instrumental that adds literally nothing, just like the other instrumental.

1963 was a different time. Albums were put out with filler as a matter of course. (Unless, of course, you were the Beatles.) As these things go, I still think the best tracks here are notable enough that I can justify the rating, even though the worst songs here are pretty brutal, not to mention slight.

7/10

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