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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
Genre Progressive pop,[1] psychedelic pop[2]
Length 33:56
Label Brother/Reprise (USA) EMI $tateside (UK)
Producer The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys chronology
Surf's Up
Carl and the Passions – "So Tough"
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 number 29 on US record charts, becoming their best performing album in years. In the UK the album peaked at number 15.

Both the album's title and cover artwork are an ironic, self-aware nod to the removedness from the band's surf rock roots.[3] Its name was taken from the song of the same title written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks five years earlier for the abandoned studio 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 into music's counter-culture. Two singles were issued in the US: "Long Promised Road" and "Surf's Up". Only the former charted, peaking at number 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.


The Beach Boys performing at Central Park in 1971

Sometime in 1969, erstwhile 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 rationalized: "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. Rieley had impressed the band with his credentials (a supposed Peabody Award-winning stint as NBC bureau chief in Puerto Rico- later discovered to be false) and fresh ideas on how to regain respect from American music fans and critics.[citation needed] One of his initiatives was to encourage the band to record songs featuring more socially conscious lyrics.[7] Rieley also insisted that the band officially appoint Carl Wilson "musical director" in recognition of the integral role he had played keeping the group together since 1967.[citation needed] He also requested the completion of "Surf's Up", and arranged a guest appearance at a Grateful Dead concert in April 1971 to push the Beach Boys' transition into the counter-culture.[8]

The project was provisionally entitled Landlocked.[9] While on a drive to meet Warner Bros. Records executive Mo Ostin, Brian suddenly remarked 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" (essentially the R&B classic "Riot In Cell Block #9") and "Don't Go Near the Water" found Mike Love and Al Jardine eagerly embracing the group's new topical-oriented direction. Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls (1957)" was praised by Brian for its harmonies and chords.[5]

The Jardine/Brian composition "Take a Load Off Your Feet" was recorded in late 1969 during the Add Some Music sessions. Before being added to the record, its arrangement was altered to fit the atmosphere of the rest of the tracks.[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] The newly recorded lead vocals—sung by Al Jardine over a choral backdrop featuring all the Beach Boys—were sped up by Desper for continuity purposes in an attempt to make them sound more like they did in 1966.[citation needed]

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] However, the recording (LP or CD) can be played back in Quad by most of today's audio-video receivers. The surround sound information can be extracted using the Dolby Pro Logic setting, albeit imperfectly, due to the different matrix coefficients.[citation needed]

Unreleased songs[edit]

The Dennis Wilson songs "4th of July" and "(Wouldn't It Be Nice to) Live Again" were excised from the final running order. The former was a protest song written about the Nixon administration's attempts to silence critics of the Vietnam war; the latter was a romantic ballad.[18] Rieley has claimed that it was met with a reception of "glaring envy" by Wilson's bandmates.[19] In the case of "Wouldn't it Be Nice to Live Again", a disagreement between the middle and younger Wilson brothers resulted in the song being left off the album. Dennis wanted the song to be the final track on the album, segueing out of "'Til I Die", while Carl felt "Surf's Up" should have that place. As a consequence, Dennis took the song out of the album's final running order.[citation needed][nb 1]

Another song which did not make the final cut for Surf's Up was the song "H.E.L.P. Is On The Way", a song composed by Brian Wilson that was a tribute to both an L.A. restaurant of the same name and his health food store, the Radiant Radish.[nb 2]


Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[21]
The A.V. Club positive[22]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars [23]
Pitchfork Media 8.9/10[3]
Mojo positive[24]
Robert Christgau B–[25]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[26]

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."[27]

In a retrospective review, 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."[21] 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]


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
Rolling Stone Germany 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2004
[citation needed]
Sunday Herald United Kingdom The 103 Best Albums Ever, Honest
[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. "Don't Go Near the Water"   Mike Love/Al Jardine Mike Love/Al Jardine/Brian Wilson 2:39
2. "Long Promised Road"   Carl Wilson/Jack Rieley Carl Wilson 3:30
3. "Take a Load Off Your Feet"   Jardine/Brian Wilson/Gary Winfrey Brian Wilson/Jardine 2:29
4. "Disney Girls (1957)"   Bruce Johnston Bruce Johnston 4:07
5. "Student Demonstration Time"   Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller/Mike Love 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 Jack Rieley/Van Dyke Parks/Jardine 3:07
4. "'Til I Die"   B. Wilson C. Wilson/B. Wilson/Love 2:41
5. "Surf's Up"   B. Wilson/Van Dyke Parks C. Wilson/B. Wilson/Jardine 4:12


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]
US AOR Tracks
Year Track Chart Position
1971 "Student Demonstration Time" US Billboard Hot AOR Track Chart 1[not in citation given]

Chart information courtesy of Allmusic and other music databases.[32][not in citation given]


  1. ^ "4th of July wouldn't see an official release for another 22 years when it was included on the 1993 box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys, while "(Wouldn't It Be Nice to) Live Again" would later see release in 2013 on Made in California.[citation needed]
  2. ^ This song was later included on Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys,[citation needed] as well as on the unreleased album Adult/Child.[20][better source needed]


  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. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 159.
  19. ^ Rieley, Jack. "Jack Rieley Speaks". Smiley Smile Message Board. Endless Summer Quarterly. 
  20. ^ "Landlocked / Adult Child". Vigotone. Retrieved 2015-03-25. 
  21. ^ a b Bush 2002, p. 73.
  22. ^ Phipps Keith (April 17, 2002). "The Beach Boys: Sunflower/Surf's Up : Music". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  23. ^ The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise (4th Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  24. ^ Ross Bennett. "The Beach Boys - Disc of the day - Mojo". Mojo4music.com. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  25. ^ Christgau, Robert (October 14, 1971). "Consumer Guide (19)". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved April 14, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. 2007-10-15. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  27. ^ Williams, Richard (1972). "The Beach Boys: Surf's Up". Melody Maker. 
  28. ^ "100 Greatest Prog Albums". Prog. No. 49. 2014. 
  29. ^ "New Musical Express Writers Top 100 Albums, October 2, 1993". NME. 
  30. ^ "Staff Lists: top 100 albums of the 1970s". Pitchfork Media Inc. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  31. ^ Badman 2004, p. 296.
  32. ^ "UK Top 40 Hit Database". EveryHit.