Pazz and Jop 1971 – #11

The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

I didn’t know the Beach Boys were still a thing in 1971. This album falls between the hits-keep-coming era and the Brian-Wilson-is-a-crazy-recluse era. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of these songs, even live (I saw them at Sherkston in 1984, and roughly 10 years later at Canada’s Wonderland). I’ve also never played an entire Beach Boys record before (hits collections don’t count), revealing yet another gap in my listening career (“Pet Sounds” will accompany me on this morning’s walk), so it’s hard to put the record into context. Standouts were “Long Promised Road” and “Disney Girls”, the latter one of several tracks that make me wonder if Ben Folds played this on repeat during his formative years. (Need to reread his quite excellent autobiography, I guess.) There’s an overly earnest and not even slightly subtle political bent to some tracks, but, being the Beach Boys, it’s still a lot of fun. These include “Student Demonstration Time”, built on a fairly basic blues riff that is still a shocker because it’s coming from the bloody Beach Boys. Brian gets weird at the end with the title track (well, all three of his compositions here are pretty quirky), and despite having read Brian’s own explanation of the lyrics, I don’t think I can really trust him. It’s a beautiful tune that rewards repeat listening (I’m up to 6), with a stirring closing part that echoes “Good Vibrations”. Overall, a nice way to start a Saturday morning.

UPDATE: So, “Pet Sounds” kicks serious ass. I’m not surprised: not only is it consistently ranked among the greatest albums ever, but it also includes my all-time Beach Boys #1 “God Only Knows” (I could honestly sing the chorus to my wife (and probably have) – it’s a near-perfect pop song, and I could never fully trust the judgment of anyone who disagrees) and a certifiable Top 5 in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. Definitely being filed in the re-listen category.

(Originally posted on Facebook, April 10, 2021)