Review by David Bowling
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 the sport of surfing. The resultant song “Surfin’” was released on the small Candix label and reached number 75 on the national pop charts. The Beach Boys were quickly signed to the major Capital label and released their first full length album, Surfin’ Safari, in 1962.
Surfin’ Safari is now over 50 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 of the Beach Boys, and Coors beer was not sold east of the Mississippi River.
It is always interesting to review and reflect upon an album years after its release, or in the case of Surfin’ Safari, over a half century later.
The technology involved in the creation of Surfin’ Safari 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 go on to create during the course of his career.
The double hit single “Surfin’ Safari”/”409″ would be the Beach Boys first nationally recognized songs and would set the tone for their releases during the early years of their career. The Beach Boys would present an idyllic California lifestyle through their music. This lifestyle would include a love of surfing, girls, and cars. While “Surfin’ Safari” was more catchy, it was “409″ that provided the first vehicle for Brian Wilson to begin layering the Beach Boys vocals which would quickly morph into the traditional Beach Boys soaring harmonies.
The second single, “Ten Little Indians,” would initiate the first argument of Brian Wilson’s career. Brian Wilson wanted “Chug-A Lug” as the A side of the record but was over ruled by his manager father, Murray Wilson and Capital label representatives. Brian Wilson would lose this first argument but would ultimately win the war. Murray Wilson would soon be fired, and Brian Wilson would gain complete control in the studio. “Ten Little Indians” did not become a hit.
“Little Girl (You’re My Miss America)” was the first Dennis Wilson vocal. Deniis Wilson would always be an under appreciated and under utilized vocalist. He would sing a song or two every now and then, but would never gain the spotlight vocally. Their first single “Surfin’” was included on the album and is interesting in that it shows how far Brian Wilson had progressed musically in just a few months. The Beach Boys sound from “Surfin’” to “Surfin’ Safari” are miles apart.
It was common in the early 1960′s to build albums around a few hit songs and the early Beach Boy albums would follow this trend. Thus Surfin’ Safari contains a lot of what can be called filler songs. The Beach Boys could not quite pull off the Eddie Cochran hit “Summertime Blues.” 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 for one of the great American rock & roll bands. While its sound would be quickly replaced by the brilliance of future Beach Boys recordings, in 1962 it was still a significant first step.