1001 Songs Challenge,  1970s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #332: Surf’s Up (1971)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up (1971)

We’re heading back to the US today and over to California for surf and sunshine, dear reader. The Beach Boys were guests on here in the 1960s with God Only Knows and Good Vibrations. After Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson continued to struggle with mental health and drug addiction, exacerbated by how hard he drove himself in the pursuit of musical perfection. During that time work had begun on a song that was unfinished and intended for the troubled album, Smile. We join the group in the 1970s, their popularity not what it once was and the unfinished song has now become Surf’s Up and lands a place on our list.

Surf’s Up was written by Brian Wilson who composed the music while Van Dyke Parks wrote the lyrics. The song is filled with intricate imagery and hard to discern a meaning from. I needed some help with this one, I’m afraid, and learned that the song concerns an individual who is taking in their surroundings, the plethora of images, festivities, music, dancing, drinking, the whole pandemonium of life. It’s all overwhelming yet they have not the tears to shed at their sadness for they describe themselves as “broken” but a “tough guy”. The atmosphere then changes, hope comes in the form of a child’s song that the narrator hears, a form of enlightenment takes place for them. The song closes with a celebration of youth and the refrain stating that “the child is the father to the man.” 

I had not heard this song by The Beach Boys before and would have not forgotten it had I done so. This sounds very different to the group’s music in the 1960s. Lyrically there is a lot of depth here and the message is not an easy one to extract. What hasn’t changed is the sumptuous music composed by Brian Wilson while those vocal harmonies are simply exquisite. Here is a group trying new things, progressing and transitioning, even if their work is no longer the most popular on the charts now.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

The Kinks – Days (1968)

Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)

David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)

Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)

Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks (1971)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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