Art from the Attic: Ringing in Spring Break with The Beach Boys

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Spring break. Those ever-elusive seven days that allow Utah students to fulfill daydreams of escaping the snow and soupy air in favor of sunshine and bikinis for some, and the warm comfort of home for others. As the long-anticipated break creeps slowly closer, let’s indulge in some beach tunes to keep our insanity at bay.

“Surfin’ USA,” the second studio album by the Beach Boys, has been argued as the best collection put out by the band in its entire recording history. According to Richie Unterberger of allmusic.com, they came across here as “a band that played most of their instruments, rather than a vehicle for [frontman] Brian Wilson’s ideas.” That unity shows in the harmonies and themes of the record, and can be tracked by listeners. Desperation for summer is something most of us can all agree on, is it not?

The first track on the record is perhaps the quintessential Beach Boys track, “Surfin’ USA,” played in nearly every teen beach movie from 1963 on. The song encompasses the classic sound of the Beach Boys, as well as the tone of the majority of their beach-age work. After the psychedelic period is another story, but as far as those early innocent years, this song is an excellent representation. That classic falsetto harmony is polished in this track, setting that unforgettable style into stone.

“Farmer’s Daughter” invites every teen girl living away from the coasts to swoon into the beach party. The track keeps those surf-styled guitar riffs, but adds even more crooning harmony for the ladies. It is not the best track on the album by any means, but it undoubtedly had many a fan squealing in concerts.

Next, “Misirilou” confirms that instrumental notion mentioned by Unterberger. “Misirilou” shows off the guitar solo skills of the band members, because it is entirely devoted to the instrumentals. The song also boasts a bit more of an Eastern influence than the intensely west coast beach beginner tracks.

“Stoked” has a similar goal as “Misirlou” to showcase the musical skill of the band. However, this track has an entirely different mood. High-energy and fun-filled, this track caters a bit more to the party-feel associated with Beach Boys.

An entirely new sound is developed in “The Lonely Sea.” With more of a ballad style, this track sounds almost like it could fit in on a Jefferson Airplane album. The familiar harmonizing is still present, but the poetic and emotional singing by the lead vocalist brings not only a new, more haunting sound to the song, but also a new tone to the album as a whole.

The pace picks right back up with “Shut Down.” Happy-go-lucky and with that characteristic surface-level subject matter, this track about a sports car brings us right back to chasing spring break adventures.

On the album’s B-Side, the theme is fairly consistent, for the most part.

“Noble Surfer” tells the story of the knight in shining armor of the beach town. This track does have a fun new addition of bell interludes to spice up the rarely changing style of the Beach Boys’ sound. Rather than a guitar solo, this new addition highlights the reference to the “nobility” of the surfer.

A more blues-jazz riff style emerges in “Honky Tonk,” which is fitting for the track title. The song actually sounds exactly how I would expect a song with that name to play out. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but even without lyrics, the band was able to tell an excellent story through this track.

More female screamers were kept in mind with the creation of “Lana.” Significantly flat in creativity and musical ability, I’m fairly certain this track was written only to see how many groupies named (or nicknamed) “Lana” the band could accumulate, because it shows no particular deep thought going into its production.

The final three tracks on the album all have roughly the same structure: they begin with a shouted call to action by the band, then fill with the trademark surf guitar solos and rapid-fire drums played in the rest of the album as well as the Beach Boys’ work as a whole, accompanied by bluesy piano influences. The themes are all (yet again) about partying, flirting and beach lounging.

I will admit, I am not the biggest fan of the Beach Boys’ style. Their songs all seem sound roughly the same, and don’t show particular intelligence in lyrical ability. But boy, do they get me ready for that beach air to chase the inversion taste out of my mouth. After listening to this album, spring break couldn’t come faster.

m.hulse@dailyutahchronicle.com

@megshulse

Megan Hulse
Megan Hulse has been with The Daily Utah Chronicle since the fall of 2015 and is currently the Social Media Manager for Student Media. She is also working as an intern for the Deseret News and as a contributor to the Chronicle Arts Desk.

5 COMMENTS

  1. As a massive Beach Boys fan, I would, to quote Blackadder say that the article “..starts badly, tails off in the middle and the less said about the end the better”. There is no comparison in quality between the Surfin USA album and the likes of “Summer Days” or “Pet Sounds” or even “Sunflower. Your comment about all the songs sounding the same are just barmy. Does “God Only Knows” sounds like “Surfin USA” ? Does “You still believe in me” sound like “Fun, Fun, Fun” ? Of course they don’t. I have no idea how you can possibly make that statement unless you’ve just listened to three songs off a greatest hits album.

  2. Andrew and R,

    The surf rock genre is simply not my cup of tea, so to speak, so perhaps that is why the genre kind of all blends together for me. I have taken another listen to those comparisons you made, and I do agree with you that the tracks there do show some significant stylistic differences. If you have any other specific tracks you feel would be up for a deeper listen and analysis, I would love to take another listen.

    Thank you for your comments!

  3. Whoever would say that the Beach Boys surf music albums are their best is very misinformed. Even their early to mid 60’s albums like “Summer Days & Summer Nights” and “Beach Boys Today” are way ahead of Surfin USA. Their surf music is fun, but it can’t compare to the inventiveness and musicality of those albums. And even the surf albums were Brian Wilson’s babies. The group may have played the instruments more and Mike helped with lyrics, but Brian did everything else. Then of course there’s their 70’s rennaissance, with albums like Sunflower, Holland, So Tough, Surfs Up which are light years ahead of the surf albums. And the other BB’s did most of the work on those.
    I’m not trying to knock Ms. Hulse, but in the future I’d suggest having writers with more of a feel for a given subject do the writing on that subject. Not to heap blind praise but for a more well-rounded opinion. This music deserves it.

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