When I was a very small child I had almost no interest in music – this is quite normal. My grandparents, in their twilight working years were caretakers for an army barracks. Amongst many other duties my grandfather would be the sole barman for the army barracks bar, he enjoyed it and I often, from the age of 5 – 9 helped (or hindered) him.
Every Friday night Sergeant Majors, Ajudents and Cadets would bring their friends and generally get tipsy, play pool, table tennis, badminton, darts, socialise and maybe dance. Music became apparent to me for probably the first time from the source of a vinyl album my grandfather would always put on at the start of the evening before it got busy.
So, at the age of, say, 7 my interests would be badminton, riding my Chopper bike, watching Evel Knievel, eating Space Dust and playing football in my Birmingham City penguin kit. That album my grandfather always put on got through to me though. It would be 1978 when I bought my first record (The Smurfs – ‘The Smurfing Song’) but before that my ears opened to a band that I know little about to be honest. What I do know is that the band are responsible for an album that is often cited as the best album of all-time (Pet Sounds).
The LP my grandfather always put on before cadets took over the turntable was a ‘Hits’ album by The Beach Boys. There was not one bad song on that album and the songs became to me, like nursery rhymes that tapped into pop. Thinking about it now, that album opened my ears to music. No one ever complained about the album in the background as they would with some of the cadets ‘new’ singles. Everyone quietly liked it I figure – there was a lot to like. That ‘Hits’ album preceded bands, for me like Madness, The Specials and Adam & The Ants by years and was formulaic in me getting into and appreciating good music.
At the age of 11 I bought a Stars On 45 style song ‘Gidea Park by Gidea Park’ that harked back to that Beach Boys album. Like The Beatles the Beach Boys had songs with rich, wide appeal.
Fast forward to the ages of 24-30 and working in an independent record shop I would be asked occasionally, by various customers if they could order Surf’s Up. Learning quickly that the album was out of print and not available at all, even on import the album had an air of mystique. I’d never heard it.
In my latter years working in the record shop Surf’s Up was given the ‘deluxe’ treatment and a release. Accompanied by positive reviews the album sold better than I expected. I still never listened to it though.
Then, in 2003 I found myself browsing through the vinyl £1 section in Music & Video Exchange in Birmingham. I found a slighty battered but generally good-looking copy of Surf’s Up on vinyl. It was a no brainer and I held onto the record whilst still browsing.
The album from 1971 is arguably past the bands peak. It was their 17th studio album. The bands often cited genius (Brian Wilson) is largely absent from the record. I did not expect much when I put in on for my first listen – I was wrong.
Don’t Go Near The Water starts with a light intro that widens quickly with added oomph. It rises with some great lyrics and mildly, gets quite frantic in such a quaint way. “Oceans of bubble bath”…
Long Promised Road builds fast too with its “hit hard” stamp. Gentle yet soaring up and down the song makes the Beach Boys sound mature but still at the top of their game.
Take A Load Of Your Feet is more songwriting perfection. The line “take good care of your feet, Pete” will resonate with anyone from Moseley.
Disney Girls sees Surf’s Up get even better still. Haunting pop perfection with its slow dreamy state. “oh, reality it’s not for me, and it makes me laugh, fantasy world and Disney Girls, I’m coming back”. The Beach Boys recapture their sixties sound but incredibly add to it by channeling soft psychedelia.
Student Demonstration Time and we get a heavier Beatles style blues plod. Vocal effects cave in to a catchy sing-a-long. Another winner.
Feel Flows is almost 5 minutes long. That is pretty long for a Beach Boys song but this works. Flutes and instruments take the song briefly away from vocal the harmonies of which this band have practically no peers.
Lookin’ At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song) and Surf’s Up goes somewhere I never expected. It could be the bands best ever song. A total hidden gem. The “ba ba ba ba bap ba ba” of the chorus, on first listen – made me think of my first listen to the Ramones (Road To Ruin) – it still does. Gentle guitars, fantastic lyrics and vocal delivery. A hint of psychedelia and strains of soft pre-punk. It is just a perfect song. The song was not even on YouTube, at all (that’s how overlooked this classic is), so I took the liberty of uploading it myself. Listen and just marvel.
A Day In The Life Of A Tree offers more soft other worldy pop. It manages to sound quite ‘Frog Chorus’ like towards its ending.
‘Til I Die with it’s “I’m a cork on the ocean” lyric adds more haunting pop majesty to what is already a classic album. Harmonies and quality give the listener a treat.
Surf’s Up closes the album of the same title with soaring vocals and soft instrumentation.
There you have it. Probably the best £1 I have ever spent in 2003 took me back to childhood and my musical awakening. I have never heard any other Beach Boys album in full.
Maybe I was drawn by the mystique that surrounded the albums unavailability. Maybe it was just the low price point. Maybe it was the artwork that somehow encapsulates the albums shiny gloom. Maybe I should check out more of the groups back catalogue. Maybe…