Song Lyric Sunday – Surfin’ USA

I finally get to choose a Beach Boys song for this week’s Song Lyric Sunday. Our host, Jim Adams, has given us Surfer Rock as a theme. I picked Surfin’ USA as my main choice and threw in Fun, Fun, Fun as I liked it too. I actually prefer some of their slow stuff like God Only Knows and, of course, Good Vibrations but the genre is Surfer Rock so I thought it best to stick with the upbeat music. I’m looking forward to hearing some songs today that I might not have heard before. It’s always fun to see what the others choose.

Have a great Sunday!

The Song

The lyrics are basically a guide to good surf locations, but the “Surfin’ U.S.A.” music was based on Chuck Berry’s 1958 hit “Sweet Little Sixteen.” The Beach Boys did it as a tribute to Berry, but didn’t get his permission first – maybe because Berry was in jail for transporting a minor across state lines. When Berry threatened to sue, The Beach Boys agreed to give him most of the royalties and list him as the song’s composer. The song also helped build Berry’s legend while he served his time.

David Marks, who was a guitarist in The Beach Boys from 1961-1963, explains on the DVD Brian Wilson Songwriter 1962 – 1969, that he and Carl Wilson would play guitars every day after school, and one day Carl brought home the album Chuck Berry Is On Top. They loved the album and introduced Berry’s sound to Brian Wilson, who loved the rhythm parts and put together “Surfin’ U.S.A.” based on that sound. Brian changed the lyrics and added a hook, but it is basically a rewrite of Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

Many of the early Beach Boys’ songs were about surfing. Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who actually surfed, but surfing was a very popular at the time, especially with teenagers who bought records. For The Beach Boys, the surfing subculture gave them an opportunity to write songs about adventure and fun while exploring vocal harmonies and new production techniques. And while the majority of Americans didn’t surf, the songs represented California, which was considered new and modern and a great place to be. Surfing, and California by extension, became more about a state of mind.

This is a very early Beach Boys song, following up their first hit “Surfin’ Safari.” Brian Wilson was gaining confidence as a producer, and this song marks the emergence of what would become the Beach Boys signature sound over the next few years. Wilson got the most of 1963 studio technology, and managed to create a sound with bright guitars and sophisticated background vocals – something he accomplished with double-tracking. Brian also used his falsetto vocals in the chorus to offset Mike Love’s lead.

Carl Wilson came up with the guitar intro, which is reminiscent of Duane Eddy’s “Moving and Grooving.” Wilson explained: “On ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.,’ Brian wanted an opening lick and I just did this Duane Eddy riff. I was worried that it had been on another record, but what the hell. That was the first time we were aware we could make a really powerful record. For the first time, we thought the group sounded good enough to be played with anything on the radio.”

Leif Garrett, who was not a surfer, but a skateboarder, recorded this in 1977 and took it to #20 in the US. Garrett was a teen idol who acted in some popular movies in the ’60s and ’70s, including Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, but got hooked on drugs and fought a heroin addiction. In 2006, after one of his arrests for heroin possession, Garrett’s mother told the New York Daily News that rock stars like The Rolling Stones were a bad influence on him and led him to drugs.

Guitarist David Marks played guitar on the Beach Boys first five albums. He recalled to I Like Music laying down this track: “The energy on the Surfin’ USA session was very upbeat and happy. That’s where that chemistry thing kicks in again… there was a certain energy on that track that was a one-of-a-kind happening. It wasn’t perfect in a technical sense, but the vibe was something special that had a lasting effect.” This was re-released in the US in 1974. It went to #36.

  11 comments for “Song Lyric Sunday – Surfin’ USA

  1. March 12, 2023 at 11:56 am

    If there was one song to embody this genre you have picked it💜

    • Christine Bolton
      March 14, 2023 at 9:18 am

      Thanks Willow. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the other artists except maybe Jan and Dean ☺️💕

      • March 14, 2023 at 11:08 am

        I knew most of them but they are not my type of music 🎶🎶🎶🎶

  2. March 12, 2023 at 9:49 am

    I don’t think that music can make a person start using heroin, but who knows for sure. Fun song, thanks for choosing this, Christine.

    • Christine Bolton
      March 14, 2023 at 9:22 am

      Im sure they enjoy the music more! Lol. Surf music gave me a look into a lifestyle that I wanted to have. Sunshine, beach and fun. 🌞 ☀️💕

  3. March 12, 2023 at 6:05 am

    Snap! And I don’t think we’ll be the only two 🤣

    • Christine Bolton
      March 12, 2023 at 7:24 am

      Ha! I knew that too Clive! LOL. I didn’t read;ize it was a Chuck Berry song they had reworked. amazing what you find out when you go looking ☺️

  4. March 12, 2023 at 3:47 am

    Me too Paula …

    • March 12, 2023 at 9:35 am

      That is a great song and probably the only band I know who does Surf Rock. So another might turn up 😇

  5. March 12, 2023 at 12:51 am

    Iconic! I love the Beach Boys!

    • Christine Bolton
      March 12, 2023 at 7:25 am

      Yes, they always take me to a place and time in my life ☺️💕

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