Surfin’ USA - The Beach Boys

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"Surfin’ USA" - The Beach Boys (1963)

The Beach Boy’s 1963 hit "Surfin’ USA" is known for the rich sound of the vocals which was achieved through double tracking and guided by bright guitars, and Brian Wilson’s falsetto voice which would become their signature sound.

Though Wilson was credited as the record’s composer, the song is an almost identical copy of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen who recorded it in 1958.  Wilson says that at an after school jamming session, his brother Carl brought the record and Brian was very impressed with the rhythm and based  Surfin’ USA on that sound. Carl came up with the guitar intro, which recalled Eddy Duane’s “Moving and Grooving”.  Also, the lyrics appear to draw inspiration from the 1959 Bobby Rydell hit “Kissing Time” which mentions various cities across the USA.

Though surfing has been intrinsically linked to the Beach Boys legend, in fact only one of the band members, Dennis Wilson, actually surfed himself. Prodded by Dennis, his brothers Brian and Carl wrote some songs celebrating the surfing sport and lifestyle. Upon release of their first single, the band was labeled Beach Boys by a young promotional worker who wanted to tie them in closer with other contemporary surf bands. Because of the limited budget the labels on the singles could not be reprinted and the Beach Boys were stuck with their new name.

The track opens with some typically upbeat surf chords on the guitar, which immediately draw sun and palm trees in the listeners’ minds. The vocals soon set in, expressing regret that not everyone in the United States has an ocean like California, or surely everyone would be surfing.

Listening to the Beach Boys, it’s hard to disagree with them. They happily draw their listeners’ imaginations to the joys of wearing “baggies”, “huarache sandals” and a “bushy blonde hairdo” and you wish you were one of them. They proceed to list the a range of locations in the USA where people could be surfing and anyone who hadn’t felt as if they were directly singing to them, ought to by now.

Next, they sing about planning a route and telling the teacher they’re gone surfing USA, enticing the listeners to ditch all their worries and go do what they love best. The song finally descends into a recurring “everybody’s gone surfin’, surfin’ USA”, calling to mind the waves breaking on the beach.

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