REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/01/2009
And so, gentle readers, we travel to the very beginning of The Beach Boys’ saga. The Beach Boys were formed in 1961 when Dennis Wilson, the only Beach Boy to regularly visit the beach, asked his brother Brian to write a song about surfing. The resultant song, “Surfin’,” was released on the small Candix label and reached number 75 on the national pop charts. The group was signed to the major Capital label and quickly went into the studio to record their first full-length album.
Surfin’ Safari is now 47 years old. Historically, John Kennedy was President of the United States, The Beatles had not yet landed in America, Al Jardine was in medical school, David Marks was the rhythm guitarist for the group, and Coors beer could not be sold east of the Mississippi River.
It is always interesting to reflect upon an album years after its release, or in the case of Surfin’ Safari, almost a half century later. The technology involved in its recording was cutting-edge in 1962 but pales today in light of what artists are able to do in the studio and what Brian Wilson would accomplish during the course of his career.
The double hit single “Surfin’ Safari” / “409” would deliver the Beach Boys’ first nationally recognized songs and set the tone for what would follow during the first part of their career. They presented an idyllic California lifestyle through their music. This lifestyle included a love of surfing, girls, and cars. While “Surfin’ Safari” was catchier, it was “409” that provided the first vehicle for Brian to begin layering the group’s vocals, which quickly morphed into their traditional soaring harmonies.
The second single, “Ten Little Indians,” initiated the first argument of Brian Wilson’s career. He wanted “Chug-A-Lug” as the A-side, while his manager, his father, and the Capital label representatives voted in favor of “Ten Little Indians.” Brian lost this first battle but ultimately won the war. Murray Wilson was fired and Brian gained complete control in the studio when “Ten Little Indians” did not become a hit.
“Little Girl (You’re My Miss America)” is notable as the first Dennis Wilson lead vocal. He was underappreciated and under-utilized by the group. He would sing a song or two every once in awhile, but never gained the spotlight. This first effort shows what a wonderful tone he possessed early in his career.
Their first single, “Surfin’,” is included here and is interesting as it shows how far Brian Wilson had progressed in just a few months. The Beach Boys sound had taken on a sophistication that was missing on their first release.
It was common in the early ‘60s to build albums around a few hit songs, and the early Beach Boys albums followed this trend. Thus, Surfin’ Safari contains a lot of what can be termed filler material. They could not quite pull off the Eddie Cochran hit “Summertime Blues,” and such throwaway songs as “Coo Coo Clock,” “Moon Dawg” and “The Shift” have mercifully disappeared into the mists of time.
Surfin’ Safari remains historically important as the first release by one of the great American rock ‘n’ roll bands. While its sound would be quickly replaced by the brilliance of future Beach Boys recordings, in 1962 it was a significant first step.
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