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Music / Surf's Up (1971)
aka: Surfs Up

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"A choke of grief, heart hardened I / Beyond belief, a broken man too tough to cry..."

Surf's Up is the seventeenth studio album by The Beach Boys, released in 1971. It is their last album to fully feature Bruce Johnston before his departure (He appeared on one song — "Marcella" — on the following album Carl and the Passions – "So Tough"). Johnston would not return to The Beach Boys until late 1978, and has remained with them since.

The name and cover (as well as the title track) are meant to be ironic, as it couldn't be possibly more different from their early Surf Rock albums. The title track is a leftover from the cancelled Smile.

Speaking of that, "Long Promised Road" and "Feel Flows" are generally considered to be Carl Wilson's greatest achievements (along with "The Trader" from Holland), and "Disney Girls (1957)" is the most acclaimed Bruce Johnston song. Alternatively, for better or worse "Student Demonstration Time" is generally considered (at least by the fan-base) to be one of the worst Beach Boys songs, partly for being a re-write of the Leiber and Stoller classic "Riot in Cell Block #9", and for taking the place of the Dennis Wilson masterpiece "(Wouldn't It Be Nice to) Live Again". That doesn't mean it has no fans; it was a modest success in Australia and the Netherlands when released as a single (and got some radio airplay in America), and is also acclaimed as one of the heaviest Beach Boys songs. "'Til I Die" and "Surf's Up" are also undisputed classics.


Unlike Sunflower, there is a complete absence of songs by Dennis Wilson. "4th of July" and "(Wouldn't It Be Nice to) Live Again" were meant for the album, but Dennis chose to remove it due to a dispute with Carl about the track-listing and which song should end the album. Also, this is the last album where Dennis plays drums (with "Student Demonstration Time" being the last song he plays drums on) before his hand injury prevented him from playing drums for several years. This led to Ricky Fataar (former member of The Flames, future member of The Rutles) joining The Beach Boys shortly after this album was released.

Upon release, Surf's Up became The Beach Boys' best-selling album in years (vastly contrasting from the since-Vindicated by History Sunflower), and was a major critical success from the start.



Side One
  1. "Don't Go Near the Water" (2:39)
  2. "Long Promised Road" (3:30)
  3. "Take a Load Off Your Feet" (2:29)
  4. "Disney Girls (1957)" (4:07)
  5. "Student Demonstration Time" (3:58)

Side Two

  1. "Feel Flows" (4:44)
  2. "Lookin' at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)" (1:55)
  3. "A Day in the Life of a Tree" (3:07)
  4. "'Til I Die" (2:41)
  5. "Surf's Up" (4:12)

Principal Members:

  • Al Jardine - lead vocals, guitar, synthesizer, bass
  • Bruce Johnston - lead vocals, piano, keyboards, mandolin, bass, organ, celesta
  • Mike Love - lead vocals, tambourine
  • Brian Wilson - lead vocals, piano, harmonica, harmonium, roxichord, percussion, snare drum, sound effects
  • Carl Wilson - lead vocals, guitar, drums, keyboard, bass, piano, harpsichord, synthesizer, organ, percussion, tambourine
  • Dennis Wilson - drums, vocals

I'm a trope on the ocean, floating over the raging sea:

  • Cover Version: "Student Demonstration Time", more or less.
  • Crisis of Faith: On the album cover. "Surf's Up", where the protagonist loses faith in humanity, yet regains it in the end. "Looking at Tomorrow", where the protagonist tries to find a job, but can only start sweeping floors, which he doesn't mind about, but he knows he could be doing so much more.
  • Crying Indian: The Native American on the album cover isn't happy looking.
  • Darker and Edgier: The whole album, but especially "'Til I Die".
  • Despair Event Horizon: The album cover is based on the statue "End of the Trail" (1915) by James Earle Fraser, which shows an exhausted Native American horseman, symbolizing how their struggle for their land from the white man's greed was over. This also ties in with the environmental messages on the album.
  • Green Aesop: "Don't Go Near the Water" and "A Day in the Life of a Tree" have environmental messages.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Seems to be the subtext of "Disney Girls (1957)", and, in a more abstract way, "A Day in the Life of a Tree", "'Til I Die" and "Surf's Up".
  • Irony: The title of the album (and the title track) have nothing to do with Surf Music.
  • It Amused Me: Al was surprised that "Take a Load Off Your Feet" ended up being on the album because he thought it was just a silly song and an excuse for him to have fun with Brian.
    Al: A lot of this stuff was to get Brian in the mood to come down and have some fun. So I thought, "Boy, this is really nutty. Let's just do something stupid." I said, "Brian, do you want to help me?" "Sure."
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Most of the album pairs up mellow, pleasant 70s pop with lyrics that range from cryptic to depressing.
  • Mood Whiplash: From the bittersweet, nostalgic ballad "Disney Girls (1957)" into the harsh, Ripped from the Headlines Protest Song "Student Demonstration Time".
  • Mundane Made Awesome: "Take a Load Off Your Feet" is literally about foot care despite its upbeat melody and all-around wholesome ambiance. Even Al Jardine, the song's co-writer, was surprised by Rieley's attempt at making it an ecological statement.
    Al: That's as minimalistic and sappy as you can get. But for some reason Jack Rieley liked it too and said, "It's got to be on the album. That's definitely an ecology song." "Ecology? A song about your feet?" It's personal ecology.
  • Non-Indicative Name: "Surf's Up". Whatever the song's about, it sure as hell ain't surfin'. note 
  • Nostalgia Filter: "Disney Girls (1957)", a song that is nostalgic to The '50s, when The Mickey Mouse Club had a lot of girl presenters. The song also mentions Patti Page, a popular crooner of that decade. Funnily enough, the band did preform with ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello on a song called "The Monkey's Uncle" in the mid-60s, which was the opening number for the Disney film of the same name.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "Student Demonstration Time" is about the wave of riots on college campuses in 1969-70, specifically name-checking the incidents at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, Jackson State and Kent State.
  • Sarcastic Title: "Surf's Up" was given its name to jokingly contrast it with the Surf Rock material the band had long moved past by that point.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Disney Girls (1957)" is a shout-out to Walt Disney and also name-drops Patti Page (and her 1957 hit "Old Cape Cod"). The bridge ("Hi Rick and Dave, hi Pop, good morning Mom...") is a nod to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
    • "Feel Flows" was used in Almost Famous, particularly as the song chosen for the credits.
    • "Take a Load Off Your Feet" references H.E.L.P., a restaurant the band attended at the time which was the inspiration for the song "H.E.L.P. Is On the Way" which was intended for Surf's Up but was ultimately shelved.
      • "H.E.L.P. Is On the Way" also references and promotes the Radiant Radish, a supermarket co-owned by Brian which sold healthy food.
  • Special Guest: Manager Jack Rieley sings lead vocals on "A Day in the Life of a Tree", with Van Dyke Parks also contributing vocals to the song.
  • This Is a Song: "Don't Go Near the Water"
    Don't go near the water
    To do it any wrong
    To be cool with the water
    Is the message of this song
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change:
    • The last verse of "Disney Girls (1957)", though it's very subtly handled, with a long bridge and the song briefly slowing down before the change. It was definitely an influence on Mr. Truck Driver's Gear Change himself, Barry Manilow, whose Signature Song is another Bruce Johnston composition, "I Write the Songs".
    • "'Til I Die" changes keys in each verse.
  • Your Mom: "Student Demonstration Time"
    The violence spread down South to where Jackson State brothers
    Learned not to say nasty things about Southern policemen's mothers

Alternative Title(s): Surfs Up