Greetings, Glancers! It’s time to grab a board and hit some gnarly waves, bruh! Cowabunga! Other words! Surfin’ USA was released in 1963, the first of a ridiculous three albums released by the band that year. That’s one thing you notice about the early 60s – these bands had a ridiculous schedule of writing, recording, touring, and most of the biggest bands released each year, sometimes multiple times. Compare that to now, where the biggest to the smaller acts tend to release one album every three years. The good thing about Surfin’ USA is that I recognise the title track – it’s a classic – and I’m looking forwards to more sunny pop. The bad news is that no fewer than five of the twelve tracks are instrumental. In my limited knowledge of the band, it’s their vocal harmonies and melodies which set them apart – none of the instrumentals on the debut sparked me. Maybe they’re good. Time to find out.
Surfin’ USA: Is there any more iconic opening selection of notes in 60s pop than that? Before you even hear the vocals there’s something summery about that guitar tone. Then the vocals, with those harmonies and melodies join in and it’s game over. The lyrics are silly yet perfectly evocative of those idyllic ideas of beaches, sun, freedom, and fun. There’s a great organ solo, a decent guitar solo, and some handy drum moments too. As perfect a slice of pop rock as you’ll ever hear.
Farmer’s Daughter: I don’t believe I know this one. It’s immediately one I’ll want to hear again. I don’t know if the vocals on this one will annoy me over time, but at the moment its newness is a blessing to my ears. It gets straight to the point and doesn’t even reach the two minute mark – back when pop didn’t outstay it’s welcome. There are a few gulps and missed marks in the vocals. Melodies and harmonies good again, not as strong as the first track, but much better than today’s chart muck.
Miserlou: This is of course ‘The Pulp Fiction’ instrumental. This is a less ominous version than the one you know, but retains its Eastern roots more clearly. Honestly I’ve never been a fan of this piece of music – mostly the yells which come in the second half, and now I can’t hear any version of it without hearing that utterly horrific Black Eyed Peas massacre.
Stoked: A Beach Boys original instrumental piece now, as if to say ‘look, we can do it just as good as those guys’ coming right after an existing popular instrumental. It even has it’s own annoying yells. The problem with these types of instrumentals is that I’m always waiting for vocals to come and so they feel like they’re missing something. It’s okay, a decent main riff but basically a twist on one you’ve heard countless times.
Lonely Sea: Wait, is this Radiohead? Well, those long held notes are wonderful. I keep expecting the note to change, but he holds it in a hypnotic way. The doleful harmonies give a sweet and sullen undercurrent. Just when a pseudo-speaking part threatens to ruin things, we return to falsetto and fade out. That was nice.
Shut Down: This sounds like another car song. It’s also sounds like Johnny B Goode. Seems like a middle of the road album track rather than a highlight, but it’s still catchy. Again, at under two minutes it’s not going to annoy anyone.
Noble Surfer: This opens the second half of the album and isn’t much of a departure from the previous track. Funny deeper harmonies here. Interesting keyboard sound in the middle. The chorus is a bit silly – still, under two minutes.
Honky Tonk: It is what is says. I feel like I could be listening to The Stones with this. The guitar tone is changed just enough to bridge the gap between Blues and Beach Boys. Absolutely identical to any Blues song you could write yourself.
Lana: Begins with honky tonk piano, again the band showing how they can do their own versions of things, without actually covering. Very high falsetto now, bordering on off-putting or ridicule. Not much else goes on here.
Surf Jam: Now it’s their own instrumental. This one feels like a definite surfer rock instrumental – if you told someone to write a surfer rock instrumental, this is what would come out the other end 9 times out of 10. Some great guitar on show, not sure about the shouting. As far as short instrumentals go, it’s very good.
Lets Go Trippin‘: I assume this isn’t about drugs. No, it’s another instrumental and not all that different from the previous track – feels more pop oriented while the previous song was more furious.
Finders Keepers: Finally, more vocals. It’s not quite as Summery as I was hoping for, the lyrics are funny enough. The most interesting thing is the timing shift – we get a fast paced verse and chorus section, then it slows down for a brief bridge, before charging up again to the chorus. The song sways smoothly between these different sections giving something different than the norm.
After a fantastic start, the song quickly falls away. The reliance on instrumentals hurts it for me, as I’ve stated again and again, instrumentals almost never excite me unless they’re exceptional. A couple of songs I didn’t know about before which I’ll definitely listen to again, and the rest are middling. No bad songs, but too many fall into the meh category for me, a shame after starting so well.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Surfin’ USA!
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Surfin’ USA. Farmer’s Daughter. Lonely Sea.
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