The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up (1971)

AllMusic Review: The Beach Boys’ post-1966 catalog is littered with LPs that barely scraped the charts upon release but matured into solid fan favorites despite — and occasionally, because of — their many and varied eccentricities. Surf’s Up could well be the definitive example, beginning with the cloying “Don’t Go Near the Water” and ending a bare half-hour later with the baroque majesty of the title track (originally written in 1966). The album is a virtual laundry list of each uncommon intricacy that made the Beach Boys’ forgotten decade such a bittersweet thrill — the fluffy yet endearing pop (od)ditties of Brian Wilson, quasi-mystical white-boy soul from brother Carl, and the downright laughable songwriting on tracks charting Mike Love’s devotion to Buddhism and Al Jardine’s social/environmental concerns. Those 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; he is the narrator and object of the song (though not the vocalist; co-writer Jack Rieley lends a hand), lamenting his long life amid the pollution and grime of a city park while the somber tones of a pipe organ build atmosphere. 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. Carl gives a soulful performance despite the surreal wordplay, and Brian’s coda is one of the most stirring moments in his catalog. Wrapped up in a mess of contradictions, Surf’s Up defined the Beach Boys’ tumultuous career better than any other album. — John Bush

Track Listing:

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 B. Wilson, Jardine 2:29
4. “Disney Girls (1957)” Bruce Johnston Bruce Johnston 4:07
5. “Student Demonstration Time” Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, 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 2:31
5. “Surf’s Up” B. Wilson, Van Dyke Parks C. Wilson, B. Wilson, Jardine 4:12
Total length: 33:49


Schill Score:  5/10


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