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Surfin' U.S.A. by The Beach Boys

Album: Surfin' U.S.A.Released: 1963Charted:
3
34
  • The lyrics are basically a guide to good surf locations, but the "Surfin' U.S.A." music was based on Chuck Berry's 1958 hit "Sweet Little Sixteen." The Beach Boys did it as a tribute to Berry, but didn't get his permission first - maybe because Berry was in jail for transporting a minor across state lines. When Berry threatened to sue, The Beach Boys agreed to give him most of the royalties and list him as the song's composer. The song also helped build Berry's legend while he served his time.
  • David Marks, who was a guitarist in The Beach Boys from 1961-1963, explains on the DVD Brian Wilson Songwriter 1962 - 1969, that he and Carl Wilson would play guitars every day after school, and one day Carl brought home the album Chuck Berry Is On Top. They loved the album and introduced Berry's sound to Brian Wilson, who loved the rhythm parts and put together "Surfin' U.S.A." based on that sound. Brian changed the lyrics and added a hook, but it is basically a rewrite of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen."
  • Many of the early Beach Boys' songs were about surfing. Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who actually surfed, but surfing was a very popular at the time, especially with teenagers who bought records. For The Beach Boys, the surfing subculture gave them an opportunity to write songs about adventure and fun while exploring vocal harmonies and new production techniques. And while the majority of Americans didn't surf, the songs represented California, which was considered new and modern and a great place to be. Surfing, and California by extension, became more about a state of mind.
  • This is a very early Beach Boys song, following up their first hit "Surfin' Safari." Brian Wilson was gaining confidence as a producer, and this song marks the emergence of what would become the Beach Boys signature sound over the next few years. Wilson got the most of 1963 studio technology, and managed to create a sound with bright guitars and sophisticated background vocals - something he accomplished with double-tracking. Brian also used his falsetto vocals in the chorus to offset Mike Love's lead.
  • Carl Wilson came up with the guitar intro, which is reminiscent of Duane Eddy's "Moving and Grooving." Wilson explained: "On 'Surfin' U.S.A.,' Brian wanted an opening lick and I just did this Duane Eddy riff. I was worried that it had been on another record, but what the hell. That was the first time we were aware we could make a really powerful record. For the first time, we thought the group sounded good enough to be played with anything on the radio."
  • Leif Garrett, who was not a surfer, but a skateboarder, recorded this in 1977 and took it to #20 in the US. Garrett was a teen idol who acted in some popular movies in the '60s and '70s, including Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, but got hooked on drugs and fought a heroin addiction. In 2006, after one of his arrests for heroin possession, Garrett's mother told the New York Daily News that rock stars like The Rolling Stones were a bad influence on him and led him to drugs.
  • Guitarist David Marks played guitar on the Beach Boys first five albums. He recalled to ilikemusic.com laying down this track: "The energy on the Surfin' USA session was very upbeat and happy. That's where that chemistry thing kicks in again… there was a certain energy on that track that was a one-of-a-kind happening. It wasn't perfect in a technical sense, but the vibe was something special that had a lasting effect."
  • This was re-released in the US in 1974. It went to #36.
  • Comedic Canadian rock band Jason performed a spoof of this called "Bowlin' USA". The band's lead singer was Steve Smith, who later achieved fame and fortune playing his character Red Green on the cult Canadian comedy series The Red Green Show. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brett - Edmonton, Canada
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Comments: 23

On March 17th 1963, "Surfin' U.S.A." by the Beach Boys entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #74; nine week later on May 19th, 1963 it peaked at #3 {for 1 week} and spent 17 weeks on the Top 100...
It reached #6 in both Canada and Sweden...
Eleven years later on August 11th, 1974 it re-entered the Top 100 chart; that time around it stayed on the chart for eight weeks, peaking at #36...
R.I.P. Dennis Wilson {1944-1983} and Carl Wilson {1946-1998}.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On August 21st 1977, "Surfin' U.S.A." by Leif Garrett entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #80; and on October 23rd, 1977 it peaked at #20 {for 1 week} and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100...
It reached #2 on the Australian Kent Music Report chart...
Between 1977 and 1981 he had ten Top 100 records; with one making the Top 10, which needless to say was his biggest hit, "I Was Made for Dancin'" peaked at #10 {for two weeks} on February 11th,1979...
Leif Garrett, born Leif Per Nervik, will celebrate his 53rd birthday in three months on November 8th {2014}.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Annabelle, Eugene, OR- Narrabeen is a suburb of Sydney Australia known for being along a stretch of beaches. It's ok you didn't know it, it's the only place mentioned that isn't in the US (the others are in California or Hawaii). I had to look it up to.Derek - Courtenay, Bc
Annabelle, Narrabeen is in Sydney, Australia (lyrics are "Australia's Narrabeen")Matt - Sydney, Australia
Angry Black Woman will always be an angry black woman as long as she lives. No sense arguing with her. Her kind believe nobody has anything worthwhile except her kind. Chuck Berry is a genius. So is Brian Wilson. The only difference is Chuck came first. Brian used some of Chuck's work and did great things with it. Many blacks have taken works from other ethnicities and done great things also. I bet she has no problem with that.Buddy - Stuart, Fl
- Angry Black Woman, Texas, TX: That is by far the most mindless statement I have read on the internet. While Chuck Berry brought some absolutely fantastic guitar playing to rock 'n' roll, to say that Brian Wilson would have been a NOBODY if he did not steal from Mr. Berry is bewilderingly ignorant on your part. But I expect that you never got beyond 1963 with your Beach Boys history.

The Beach Boys acknowledged Mr. Berry's part in shaping their sound quite often in interviews and even in their own music. Listen to 1964's "Do You Remember" where they sing, "Chuck Berry's gotta be the greatest thing that came along... He made the guitar beats and wrote the all-time greatest songs..." They never hid the fact that Mr. Berry was an influence. Rather than blame Brian Wilson, you should blame the entities that issued the rights, not the kids who were just starting out and excited to be on the radio.

Perhaps you should listen to the Beach Boys music from All Summer Long, Today and Pet Sounds and see why Brian Wilson is a genius, instead of harboring some silly racial resentment, which had ZERO to do with this song. They adopted Chuck Berry's sound because they thought he was brilliant guitar player, performer and songwriter, not because they wanted to steal from the "African American." Sheesh.
Rick - Londonderry, Nh
Chuck Berry is listed as sole composer for this song. Wikipedia is incorrect (as usual). See the official BMI registration (Work #1434720) for 'Surfin' U.S.A.' http://repertoire.bmi.com/title.asp?blnWriter=True&blnPublisher=True&blnArtist=True&keyID=1434720&ShowNbr=0&ShowSeqNbr=0&querytype=WorkIDP - Lakewood, Oh
Where is this Narabeen? The name doesn't sound familiar. Anybody have any pointers?Annabelle - Eugene, Or
I wonder if the Beach Boys had any intention to give Mr.Berry credit or royalties for this song prior to being sued.Brian - Boston, Ma
Tribute my ass it was a rip off!!!Brian - Boston, Ma
According to Billboard's Year-End Top 100 Records of 1963 this song ranked at Number One!!! Re: http://www.musicoutfitters.com/topsongs/1963.htmBarry - Sauquoit, Ny
Brandon of Seattle...great call on the Duane Eddy song...you're absolutely correct!

Tom...Boca Raton, FL
Tom - St. Louis, Fl
Chuck Berry himself may have borrowed the chord progression from Clarence Garlow's 1954 song "Route 90"Wendell - Boston, Ma
I am introducing my grandchildren to music through the Beach Boys and they love it! At ages 5 and 2, they know the words to Barbara Ann, Surfer Girl and Surfin USA. Next stop is Jimmy Buffett (Cheeseburger in Paradise).Lisa - Tucson, Az
In Costa Rica they had a version in Spanish and with local landmarks referenced (Jaco Beach for example). I don't know who covered it, but it was a nice little aide in learning Spanish as the lyrics were word for word (besides the local references). I was in the Peace Crops there from 1988-1991 for those who may want to look into this further. (And yes there is serious surfing in Costa Rica).Andrew Horton - Hillsborough, Nh
this song played on the nick show Zoey101Riley - Peabody, Ma
Wow, reading the actual lyrics was a real eye-opener. I don't know what words I was using when I sang along with this record back in the day, but I know they sure didn't include Huarachi, Narabeen, Haggerties, San Onofre, La Jolla, etc. What did a simple Midwestern lad know of such things?Mrcleaveland - Cleveland,
Brian Wilson would be a NOBODY if he did not steal from Chuck Berry. That is what it is called when you take soneone's work and present it as your own without giving any credit to the original source? Right? Typical. I guess we should all be thankful that once again the hard work of an African American is stolen and recognized by society when there is a color change. Your comment is insulting and idiotic.Angry Black Woman - Texas, Tx
the sound of this record is full and awesome.it sounds great over the big speakers at the supermarket...a "boss" sound. kudos to Murry WilsonSteve Dotstar - Los Angeles, Ca
Funny thing is that it's a principle of law that you can't copyright an "idea'. . . but I guess if the music plagiarism is as exact as it was here, it's considered a use of "intellectual property"; I always wondered what happens if a guy redoes the music of someone else, without republishing the music score(ie. they just played it that way by memory, even if not necessarily on purpose) -- I guess what happens is you get threatened with a lawsuit, and if you're a decent man, like the Beach Boys, you admit to the true owner/author and give due credit. . .
Good song twice, but I prefer Surfin' USA's lyrics. . . -- I use Sweet Little Sixteen as my ringtone, but I always "hear" the lyrics of "Surfin' USA"! :)
Cyberpope - Richmond, Canada
Gary from New Zealand: Let's see, it's Chuck Berry's chord progression, Chuck Berry's melody, AND Chuck Berry's guitar lick. He was completely justified in threating to sue without proper credit and compensation.

You'd certainly be entitled to a piece of the profits if someone else took YOUR idea and made money with it without crediting you.
Tom - North Attleboro, Ma
Gary, point taken. But Chuck probably would have been more gracious if he had been given credit without having to threaten to sue!!Fyodor - Denver, Co
In my opinion Chuck Berry should thank Brian Wilson for totally reforming what was a quaint little country song into a Rock Anthem for the ages. Billboard rated it as the second biggest seller of 1963 -- and the Beach Boys' publicist of the time higher than that. It is one more of an estimated 20 million-plus-selling singles by the Beach Boys that has been ignored by Capitol for RIAA Gold Disc auditing and certification.Gary - Auckland, New Zealand
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