When I got up at o-dark-thirty this morning and the sun was not shining, not because of the earliness of the hour but, because of the torrential rain clouds and thunderheads looming over the mountain pass I must drive through every day, it became clear that now is the time to move on. Yes, were moving on from blue-ness to something new.
Yet, that something new is also rather old. If we were being completely serious about our Blue Cheese days recently here at WMMCM, we’d be talking about how that good old Blue Cheese is made. Chemistry is fun actually! Yep, you let that cheese sit there and ferment and get really nasty looking and then you scrape all the unpleasant bits away and you are left with Blue Cheese.
So, for the next few weeks – or until we’re stopped - we are going to be doing a lot a scraping away of all that nasty stuff until we’re left with the product left behind by time.
During this adventure we will be spending some time with the music that all those young British guys and gals were listening to before they decided to show up on our shores in 1964. Travelling this territory we will undoubtedly run into Phil Spector and a girl band or three as well as “The King” and who knows who else. After all, the British Invasion was a creative turn-around of epic proportions with American music being shipped over seas, reformulated and sent back utterly changed with a more aggressive style fitting the unsettled youth’s mood in the England of the early 1960′s.
But, before the Brits could invade us again, they did have to have something to listen to. And that covered quite a bit of musical ground. From the early blues and gospel influenced styles of Buddy Holly and Elvis to the girl groups that were tearing up the charts in the U.S. all the way to a truly American style of pop that never fared all that well in the U.K. as far as sales were concerned, but was revered by nearly all of the early British rock stars – to be.
I for one could actually imagine surfing down the Thames River right through the middle of London. (I believe I would need to be towed.. But, it would be something right?)
For a young man in England in 1963, I can’t imagine that surfing was much of a priority on the things to do list. There’s certainly a logic to that as surfing in England is problematic at best, but musicians weren’t looking to surf. They were listening to the sounds of surf music. The vocals, the guitars, the bass and drums. The energy crashing out of those radio speakers…
The masters of Surf Music, (with plenty of challengers of course,) were The Beach Boys.
By 1963 and the release of The Beach Boys’ second album, Surfin’ USA, they had been enjoying their first year of spectacular sales and performance success. But something else was going on. Something special in popular music that would start the changes that The Beatles would all but make mandatory a few years later for any serious band.
Starting with their debut album, Surfin’ Safari, a year earlier, The Beach Boys were writing nearly all their own material. In the early 1960′s that was all but unheard of outside the folk music community, and even there, it was still a rare thing.
With Brian Wilson leading the way writing most of the songs, his cousin Mike Love would be the first to join in collaboration with the songwriting duties. Over time, the two other Wilson brothers, Carl and Dennis and their friend and fellow Beach Boy founder Al Jardine would all become songwriters on occasion.
“Surfin’ USA” would only reach the 34th spot on the U.K. charts while – oddly - becoming a number one hit in Canada. (Are there great surf spots in Canada? I’d like to know…) In The Beach Boys’ natural habitat, the U.S.A., “Surfin’ USA” made it to the number three spot as a single while the album reached the number two position while remaining on the charts for an amazing run of 78 weeks.
“Surfin’ USA” is an infectious bit of pop isn’t it? Mike Love’s lead vocal is saturated with enthusiasm while the Wilson brothers and Jardine throw out call backs as well as the soon to be legendary Beach Boys layered harmonies.
“If everybody had an ocean, Across the U. S. A.
Then everybody’d be surfin’
You’d seem ‘em wearing their baggies
Huarachi sandals too
A bushy bushy blonde hairdo
Surfin’ U. S. A.”
“Surfin’ USA” is part statement of what the cool things of the day were to wear when out conquering the waves in California as well as a travelogue of all the great beaches of the day.
“You’d catch ‘em surfin’ at Del Mar
Ventura County line
Santa Cruz and Trestle
All over Manhattan
And down Doheny Way.”
Just to be clear here, Manhattan, is not Manhattan – as in – New York. Brian Wilson is talking about Manhattan Beach on the Southern California coast.
There’s such enthusiasm and innocence in “Surfin’ USA” as if anyone with water and a measurable wave would simply have to get a surfboard and take to the water. It was that unbridled joy that would make The Beach Boys one of the biggest acts of all time even when a few short years later they would largely ignore their surf music beginnings as Brian Wilson become more confident as a songwriter and producer moving on to much more serious material while still – somehow – never loosing those amazing harmonies.
“We’ll all be planning that route
We’re gonna take real soon
We’re waxing down our surfboards
We can’t wait for June
We’ll all be gone for the summer
We’re on surfari to stay
Tell the teacher we’re surfin’
Surfin’ U. S. A.”
It’s pretty wild to listen to “Surfin USA” jusy shy of fifty years after it was recorded and it sounds every bit as fresh and joyful as it did in 1963. Great music doesn’t need to be about important things. If it’s great music, it will become important all on it’s own.