The Beach Boys’ seventeenth studio album was originally called LANDLOCKED. However, it became known as SURF’S UP (1971, Brother Records/Reprise Records). It hit #29 on the Billboard Top LP’s chart and got decent airplay on FM radio. In the UK it peaked at #15. The Beach Boys appeared at a 1971 May Day anti-war rally in Washington D.C. They also played a show in April at New York’s Filmore East with the Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan was impressed with their performance.
‘Don’t Go Near the Water’ is a light rock and roll song that starts the album off by sharing environmental concerns: “Oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams/Have all been touched by man/The poison floating out to sea/Now threatens life on land/Don’t go near the water.../Toothpaste and soap will make our/Oceans a bubble bath/So let’s avoid an ecological aftermath/Beginning with me/Beginning with you”. ‘Long Promised Road’ was penned by Carl Wilson (who sings lead) and Jack Rieley. It speaks of the hard times we face in life: “So hard to lift the jeweled sceptre/When the weight turns a smile to a frown/So hard to drink of passion nectar/When the taste of life’s holding me down/So hard to plant the seed of reform/To set my sights on defeating the storm”.
‘Take a Load off Your Feet’ is an outtake from the SUNFLOWER album. This playful rock and roll song was written by Alan Jardine and Gary Winfrey. It begins with these humorous words: “I do them when I’m down in the tub/With avocado cream they’ll take a rub/They wrinkle like raisins if I stay too long/I wouldn’t want to do it wrong/They’ll put you in the driver’s seat/And to the table when you want to eat/But when you go to sit down in your chair/Something else has got to put you there”. ‘Disney Girls (1957)’ was authored by Bruce Johnston, who also sings lead. This sleepy ballad uses mandolin and finds the group daydreaming: “Patti Page and summer days/On old Cape Cod/Happy times making wine/In my garage/Country shade and lemonade/Guess I’m slowing down/It’s a turned back world with a local girl/In a smaller town/Open cars and clearer stars/That’s what I’ve lacked/But fantasy world and Disney girls/I’m coming back”.
‘Student Demonstration Time’ is based on ‘Riot in Cell Block #9’ by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Mike Love wrote the new lyrics. This terrific electric guitar and siren driven rock song waxes historical and offers advice: “America was stunned on May 4, 1970/When rally turned to riot up at Kent State University/They said the students scared the Guard/Though the troops were battle dressed/Four martyrs earned the new degree/The Bachelor of Bullets/I know we’re all fed up with useless wars and racial strife/But next time there’s a riot, well, you best stay out of sight.../Stay away when there’s a riot going on”. ‘Feel Flows’ uses flute, guitar, and keyboard effects. It begins with these poetic words: “Unfolding enveloping missiles of soul/Recall senses sadly/Mirage-like soft blue like lanterns below/To light the way gladly/Whether whistling heaven’s clouds disappear/When wind withers memory/Whether whiteness whisks soft shadows away/Feel flows/Feel goes”.
‘Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)’ is a story song about a guy going through hard times: “Now Bess and me were feeling bad/And all the good jobs they were had/I had to take to sweeping up some floors/Well, I don’t mind that so much/Or the changing of my luck/But you know I could be doing so much more”. Brian Wilson and dj Jack Rieley co-wrote ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree’. Lead vocal duties are handled by Rieley, Van Dyke Parks, and Al Jardine. The song is, if you can believe it, about a depressed tree: “For years my limbs stretched to the sky/A nest for birds to sit and sing/But now my branches suffer/And my leaves don’t bear the glow/They did so long ago.../Now my branches suffer/And my leaves don’t offer/Poetry to men of song/Trees like me weren’t meant to live/If all this world can give/Pollution and slow death”.
‘Til I Die’ is an easy listening song. Brian Wilson says: “I was feeling kind of small, and I wrote a song about how small I feel...It’s just a humble song”. Here are some of the words: “I’m a cork on the ocean/Floating over the raging sea/How deep is the ocean? (2X)/I lost my way.../I’m a leaf on a windy day/Pretty soon I’ll be blown away/How long will the wind blow? (2X)/Until I die”. The title track ‘Surf’s Up’ was meant to be on the SMILE album which didn’t appear a few years earlier. This Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks composition includes these mysterious lyrics: “The glass was raised, the fired rose/The fullness of the wine, the dim last toasting/While at port adieu or die/A choke of grief heart hardened I/Beyond belief a broken man too tough to cry/Surf’s up/Aboard a tidal wave/Come about hard and join/The young and often spring you gave/I heard the word/Wonderful thing/A children’s song/A child is the father of the man”.
It would be an understatement to say that SURF’S UP is far removed from the sound and lyrics of early Beach Boys hits such as ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘I Get Around’. SURF’S UP reveals a more mature group with deeper, more adult lyrics. Some of the songs really work and will grab your attention. Others fall flat and are boring. This project both hits and misses. I’m rating SURF’S UP 82%. For more info visit: www.thebeachboys.com.