Surf’s Up: RECONSTRUCTED

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Normally, for my Reconstructed posts, I cover things I disliked. Humanz, Justice League, Queen Forever etc. Today, I am going to cover something that I do like. I will be reconstructing The Beach Boys’ 1971 album Surf’s Up.

Firstly, the context. By 1970, because of poor album sales, bad monetary decisions, and their main songwriter in the midst of a drug-induced malaise, The Beach Boys were not doing too well. Their album Sunflower was a commercial failure, and the band floundered. Luckily, for them, a DJ named Jack Rieley, created a memorandum for the group to be more commercial.

Rieley’s idea: make the group commercial by appealing to the counterculture. The band’s image changed, they opened for The Grateful Dead and wrote more socially conscious songs. America, at this time, was in the middle of the Vietnam War, and the hippy movement was in full swing. While a few year’s back, the band turned down the Monterey Pop Festival (where Jimi Hendrix and The Who first gained popular American exposure), the band that wore striped shirts, and sang about surfing was ‘cool’ again.

The album ‘Surf’s Up’ is one which many fans regard as second only to Pet Sounds in The Beach Boys Catalogue. I, personally, regard it as my favourite. It’s a solid album. But there are a few tonal shifts throughout it that make it only ‘strong’ for me, rather than ‘great’. This album is a ‘mood’ album. It is introspective, soulful, and is down to earth, ruined only by a few tonally inconsistent songs. That is what I will be fixing.

Tools

In order to reconstruct this album, I will be using songs that were recorded for the Landlocked/Surf’s Up sessions. That includes songs not included on the original album, but are officially released on official compilations. This opens up Dennis Wilson songs that were deleted from the album, at his request.

The Album

Original Tracklist

  1. Don’t Go Near the Water
  2. Long Promised Road
  3. Take a Load off your feet
  4. Disney Girls (1957)
  5. Student Demonstration Time
  6. Feel Flows
  7. Looking At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)
  8. A Day in the Life of a Tree
  9. ‘Til I Die
  10. Surf’s Up

Revised Tracklist

  1. Don’t Go Near the Water
  2. Long Promised Road
  3. (Wouldn’t it be nice To) Live Again
  4. Disney Girls (1957)
  5. Looking At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)
  6. Feel Flows
  7. A Day in the Life of a Tree
  8. 4th of July
  9. ‘Til I Die (Altered Desper Mix)
  10. Surf’s Up

Side A

The album’s first two tracks stay the same, as I feel that they introduce the album’s tone well, and require no alterations. Don’t Go Near the Water is a strong environmental song, with a catchy bridge, while ‘Long Promised Road’ is a song that is about overcoming adversity, which I feel works well.

The first omission and replacement come at Track 3. ‘Take a Load off your Feet’ is a novelty song, and a deviation to the themes of this album, and felt more in place on Sunflower. Its replacement is a Dennis Wilson penned song (Wilson being vocally absent on this album) ‘(Wouldn’t it be nice to) Live Again’ serves as a companion to Long Promised Road, and has a beautiful melody that works a lot better, for me.

Disney Girls (1957), a Bruce Johnston piece, stays where it is. While a musical deviation, the nostalgic tone of the song fits well enough to keep it in. The following track, ‘Looking at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)’ gets bumped up, to act as a brief ‘Side A’ closer and counter to Disney Girls. The idea that the nostalgic dream is followed by a harsh reality works for me. In contrast to each other.

Side B

Side B opens with Feel Flows, Carl Wilson’s second appearance on the album, and a good repeat of the themes of the album that Tracks 1 and 2 did so well, though, with a set of ‘stream of consciousness’ lyrics that give it a psychedelic flare, that also makes the song unique enough to keep. Consequently, as a result of moving tracks, A Day in the Life of a Tree gets bumped up, though I was unsure of whether it worked or not. On one hand, it is thematically fitting, touching, and has a haunting coda. On the other hand, Jack Rieley’s vocals aren’t great. I keep it, though it could be removed. Furthermore, people regard it as part of a triptych of songs. I’d still probably remove it.

‘4th of July’ does a great job as a political song, as a protest song to The Vietnam War, and a replacement for Student Demonstration Time, which was too heavy musically for the album. If I removed ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree’, I feel ‘4th of July’s coda is just as haunting. ‘Til I die remains as the penultimate track, though I personally would have an altered version of the Desper mix, instead of the final version. The lengthy instrumental introductions, firstly, add to the lyrical content, and secondly, flesh the song out.

Finally, Surf’s Up ends with, urm, Surf’s Up. The title track is an amazing holdover from SMiLE, with awesome lyrics, and lush instrumentation. Almost perfect, it’s only dampened by Carl Wilson’s vocals. I’d have kept Wilson’s 1966 vocals for it, but this version is good. It is an excellent closer to this excellent, reconstructed, album.

Conclusion

Surf’s Up is worth a listen, in its original form, or in my version. My version is only a bit longer (if you don’t discount one track), and sounds consistent all the way through. Surf’s Up is certainly a fine album. Moreover, its imperfections make it worth discussing. Finally, should you be interested in this alternative arrangement of the album, I have included a download link for you to listen to it to your heart’s content.


Related Posts and External Links

Download Surf’s Up (The Alternative Version)

Purchase Surf’s Up

Humanz: Reconstructed

Never Let me Down: Reconstructed

About the author

Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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