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Posts Tagged ‘Surf’s Up’

In 1966, the Beach Boys put out Pet Sounds. The album was written by Brian Wilson, and was a major leap over previous Beach Boys songs. Where their previous recordings were catchy teenage surf rock, Pet Sounds was a melancholy mission statement. The arrangements were elaborate and the melodies were powerful. Although the Beatles fashioned Sgt. Pepper as a response, Pet Sounds remains a one-of-a-kind album.

After Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson started work on Smile. Mental health problems led him to stop work on the project for 40 years, but not before he finished a few classics, including Heroes and Villains, Good Vibrations, and – one of my favorite songs – Surf’s Up.

This song provokes a near universal reaction: “That’s Surf’s Up? That doesn’t sound like surf music at all.” It’s strange, haunting, and oddly sad. The lyrics, by Van Dyke Parks, are some kind of American class system gibberish, somehow made poignant by the weird leaps in the melody. The Beach Boys always sang high, but in this song, and particularly in the solo recording in the clip above, the song sounds otherwordly.

That clip, by the way, is from a Leonard Bernstein TV special on pop music. Bernstein introduces the song by saying something to the effect of “95% of modern music is crap. This song, though, is OK, I guess.” I’d like to find the full recording of that show, or at least the full recording of Brian’s performance.

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