Surf's Up

Album: Surf's Up (1971)

Songfacts®:

  • This was originally going to be part of the celebrated, but aborted Smile album. The song was written by Van Dyke Parks (lyrics) and Brian Wilson (music) in an hour at Wilson's Chickering piano in 1966. In 1970 the song was completed by the rest of the Beach Boys under the supervision of Carl Wilson, and it became the title track of their 22nd album. It was also released as a single but didn't chart.
  • This song is about the innocent spirituality and innate love of youth, contrasted against the many imperfections and failings of adult society, who are pictured in a theater oblivious to what is going on outside. It is thought Van Dyke Parks was reflecting on the protests going on in America at the time about the Vietnam War.
  • The phrase, "Are you sleeping, Brother John?' is a reference to the children's song better known as "Frére Jacques."
  • The recurring phrase at the end, "The child is father of the man," is a quote of William Wordsworth's line in his poem My Heart Leaps Up.
  • Brian Wilson performed this solo for a CBS News special on popular music, hosted by Leonard Bernstein in November 1966. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England, for all above
  • Mike Love was critical of some of Van Dyke Parks lyrics, including those to this song. He told Uncut magazine March 2008: "I asked Van Dyke what a particular set of lyrics meant and he said, 'I haven't a clue, Mike.' I termed some of his lyrical contributions 'acid alliteration.' Some of the stuff was phenomenal, but I looked at things from an objective commercial point of view. Whether it's a strength or weakness. I said, 'Is it going to relate to the public to the degree that they can identify with the message and the lyrics?'"

Comments: 5

  • Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationOne of the highlights on the five-disc box set, called The Smile Sessions [released on November 1st, 2011 A.D.] is a version of Brian Wilson, solo on the piano, running through "Surf's Up" during 1967's Wild Honey album sessions -- long after the Smile album had been abandoned. Jon Stebbins, author of several watershed Beach Boys books -- including The Beach Boys FAQ -- explained that the performance is indicative of the importance of the Beach Boys' middle period music: "The version of 'Surf's Up' that's Brian at the piano in 1967 with the Wild Honey piano sound on it just kind of (laughs) blew my mind, because it just emphasized what a genius Brian was with his left hand. Listening to hear him sing this incredible melody; it's wonderful in it's beauty and the progression he's reaching for in his musical attitude, basically."
  • George from Belleville, NjSurf's Up is a song that's so complex in it's beauty that it's hard to put it into a category.It's like a pop symphony bordering on classical with a touch of psycedelic added to it.A strange but beautiful trip on a musical journey.This song conjures up all kinds of thoughts and dreams and far away feelings.This is a true masterpiece.
  • Sabrina from Corvallis, OrI finally got to hear Brian Wilson's SMiLE and heard Surf's Up on that CD. It's an awesome song. It's too bad Mike Love wouldn't give it or Van Dyke Parks a chance back in the day...but then they say all things happen for a reason,so maybe it's best it came out more fully later on than back in the 60s when Brian was initially working on SMiLE.
  • Robert from Vancouver, BcThis is perhaps one of most sublime songs of all time?
  • Bill from Downers Grove, IlMike Love disliked the song lyrics and questioned VanDyke Parks about their meaning. He didn't know what they meant, just liked the way they sounded together. I agree..
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