surf's up

Surf's up album

  • US Release: August 30th 1971
  • UK Release: October 1971
  • Chart High: US #29; UK #15
  • Singles: 
  • Long Promised Road b/w Deirdre 
  • Don’t Go Near The Water b/w Student Demonstration Time
  • Surf’s Up b/w Don’t Go Near The Water


Surf’s Up is released in the US in late August, and in the UK, October. It’s issued just one day short of a year since their last album, Sunflower. Both the album’s title and cover artwork are an ironic, self-aware nod to the band’s early surf image. Originally having the working title Landlocked, the album was named after the newly unearthed track “Surf’s Up”, when it was decided by Brian Wilson to be added. “Surf’s Up” 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. Rieley wants to show The Beach Boys, and especially Brian Wilson, that he is serious about making their great work shine again. Having originally met in  1969 at Brian’s short lived health food store, The Radiant Radish, Rieley and Wilson spoke in a radio interview, with the subject eventually turning to the unreleased song “Surf’s Up”.

The track had taken on almost mythical proportions in the underground press since the demise of the SMiLE album  three years earlier. “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 too far from a singles sound. It could never be a single” Brian says in that 1969 radio interview. When released in 1971, Surf’s Up does much to restore the group’s critical and financial standing, peaking at a very repressive #29 on the US Billboard charts.

Pictured: Brian Wilson in his heath food store “The Radiant Radish” 1969

Richard Williams writes in Melody Maker in 1971:         

“Here’s one that won’t disappoint anybody at all. Suddenly The Beach Boys are back in fashionable favour and they’ve produced an album that fully backs up everything that’s recently been written and said about them. The title track, “Surf’s Up”, was originally written for the never-released SMiLE album and the best thing I can say is that, had it been released back at Pepper-time, it might have kept many people from straying into the pastures of indulgence and may have forced them to focus back onto truer values. I’ve rarely heard a more perfect, more complete piece of music. From first to last it flows and evolves from the almost lush decadence of the first verses to the childlike wonders and open-hearted joy of the final chorale.”

“But that ain’t all: you’ll love Carl Wilson’s two songs, with words by Jack Rieley, “Feel Flows” and “Long Promised Road”, which are quite simply the best “inner quest” songs I’ve ever heard, and they lack nothing in terms of jewelled arrangements. Brian Wilson and Jack contribute the sad, delicate “A Day In The Life Of A Tree”, but all of them are nearly upstaged by Bruce Johnston, whose “Disney Girls (1957)” says a lot of what many of us are beginning to feel about our fading youth. Surf’s Up cries to be heard, this album is a blast of truth at the time we need it most. Let’s just hope Brian feels like sticking around a while longer”

Pictured: Cover for the German version of the “Long Promised Road” single (top) The label of the US “Surf’s Up” single release (bottom).


Time Magazine will write:

“The Beach Boys have matured considerably. Brian Wilson is now 29, brothers Dennis and Carl 27 and 25 respectively, Al Jardine 27, Bruce Johnston 27, and Mike Love 30. As men they have more to say. All of those beaches are dirty, for one thing, and they do not mind at all if adults listen. The group’s latest LP Surf’s Up is a case in point. Always noted for their pop polish, they have this time turned out one of the most imaginatively produced LP’s since last fall’s All Things Must Pass by George Harrison and Phil Spector”. 

“Al and Mike’s “Don’t Go Near The Water” is probably the best song yet to emerge from rock’s current ecology kick. “Student Demonstration Time” is a hard-rocker that ponders the wisdom of violence. The title song, “Surf’s Up”, finds Brian as close as he probably will ever come to something he has long searched for a floating, ethereal tone painting that he modestly describes as the “sound of heaven.”

“The essential message of Surf’s Up, a celebration of the return to childhood, may exasperate mature listeners but seems to have worked wonders for gloomy Brian. His music has a high, soaring, quasi-religious vocal and instrumental character that even The Beatles of Abbey Road could envy. At long last he may be on the verge of coming out of his house. Brother Carl reports that Brian has pledged to appear at a Beach Boys concert in Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall this month. That may take some doing.” 

Pictured: The entire group on the cover of Rolling Stone, Oct. 28, 1971.

Surf's Up Sessions
Early June 1971, Bel air, CA

For years, Brian Wilson has been living in terror of public failure. It was because the 1967 Beach Boys song “Heroes & Villains” had failed to impress Capitol Records (their label at the time) and the critics, and he has withdrawn from the world, adopting the persona of “Brian Wilson, eccentric recluse”. But his desire for public recognition is returning. At the last minute, with The Beach Boys’ new album already in its final stages, he gives the go-ahead to Carl and Jack Rieley to finish his unreleased SMiLE-era recording, “Surf’s Up”.

Rieley will tell BBC Radio-1’s series The Beach Boys Story in 1974: “We always encouraged Brian to go back into the studio more frequently. This culminated one day when I was going to Warner Brothers and I thought I would stop at Brian’s house. I was going to meet [Warner boss] Mo Ostin and I said, “Brian, why don’t you come with me?” Surprisingly he said “Ok, I will. The President of Warner Brothers, I don’t know what I’m going to say to him.” We then drove to Burbank from Bel Air.”

“Suddenly Brian said, “Well OK, if you’re going to force me, I’ll do it.” I asked, “force you to do what Brian?” And he said, “Force me to put “Surf’s Up” on the album.” I had asked him about putting “Surf’s Up” on the next album, which was at that point tentatively titled Landlocked, the first Beach Boys album with which I was involved. I said to Brian, “Are you really going to do it?” And Brian said “Well, if you’re going to force me.” We got into Warner Brothers and with no coaxing at all, Brian said to Mo, “I’m going to put “Surf’s Up” on the next album.” I think this was a great thing because it did provide a commitment on Brian’s part and he became very active in the studio.”

Pictured: The group, Summer 1971.


Surf's Up Sessions
January-April 1971, Bel Air, CA

During these months the group works on their next studio album at Brian Wilson’s home studio in Bel Air, California. Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley tells Scott Keller in 1974: “Carl and I began to write. “Long Promised Road” was created, then came “Feel Flows” and “A Day In The Life Of A Tree”. Recordings made during this time include: “Don’t Go Near The Water”, “Long Promised Road”, “Take A Load Off Your Feet”, “Student Demonstration Time” (based on Leiber & Stroller’s “Riot In Cell Block #9), “Feel Flows”, “Lookin’ At Tomorrow”, “4th Of July”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice To Live Again”, “A Day In The Life Of A Tree”, “Till I Die” and “Disney Girls (1957)”.

Brian Wilson will say in later press material that “Till I Die” had it’s origins in a late-night visit to the beach. “One night, I drove to the beach, parked the car, and walked out onto the deserted sand. Lately, I’d been depressed and preoccupied with death. I’d ordered the gardener to dig a grave in the backyard and threatened to drive my Rolls Royce off the Santa Monica Pier. Looking out toward the ocean, my mind, as it did almost every hour of every day, worked to explain the inconsistencies that dominated my life: the pain, torment, and confusion and the beautiful music I was able to make. I lost myself in the balance of darkness that stretched beyond the breaking waves to the other side of the earth. The Ocean was so incredibly vast, the universe so large, and suddenly I saw myself in proportion to that. Like a jellyfish floating on top of the water; travelling with the current I felt dwarfed, temporary.”

“The next day I began writing “Till I Die”, perhaps the most personal song I ever wrote for The Beach Boys. In doing so, I wanted to re-create the swell of emotions that I’d felt at the beach the previous night. For several weeks, I struggled at the piano, experimenting with rhythms and chord changes, trying to emulate the sound in the ocean’s shifting tides and moods as well as it’s sheer enormity. I wanted the music to sound as if it was disappearing into the hugeness of the universe. “Till I Die” was my postcard to the outside world. The song summed up everything I had to say at the time.”

Pictured: “Till I Die” US single label (top) Denmark version of the “Don’t Go Near The Water” single.

ON TOUR - New York City
Friday, September 24, 1971

Circus Magazine reports:

“Lines extend around the corner of 57th Street with people awaiting entry to a concert, a concert that has been sold out long in advance. It’s Carnegie Hall and the tickets are expensive, the room restrictive. The security guards are hostile but none of that matters because this is now about the only place you can go in Manhattan to see a rock concert, or more importantly, this rock concert – The Beach Boys.”

“The size of the crowd seems to imply that their latest album, Surf’s Up, is indeed reuniting The Beach Boys with the public. Or maybe the crowd is just here to listen to “Surfin’ Safari”? To a full house, they open with “Good Vibrations”. Is it going to be an oldies show after all? Not at all! Just a little warm-up to do exactly what the song says, send out some good vibrations. Right after that, they go into “Student Demonstration Time”, complete with sirens, and have the crowd standing and clapping from the second song. Carl does his “Feel Flows”. Al his “Lookin’ At Tomorrow”, Bruce his “Disney Girls” and Mike his “Don’t Go Near The Water”. Dennis presents the audience with one of his new songs, dedicated to his best friend, his wife.”

“They end the set with with Brian’s “Surf’s Up”, with just that. The whole orchestra, four tiers of balconies, and all those standing or sitting in the aisles were all on their feet, screaming, clapping and begging for more. The Beach Boys have made it, not for what they were but for what they are.  After all the screaming requests have been played, all the voices hoarse from yelling, all the faces smiling with delight, there is no doubt in anyone’s minds that they were great then, boy they were great. But now they are even better!” – Next Release

Pictured: February 24th, 1971, New York City show poster