The Beach Boys caught a wave and rode it into the US Top 10 for the first time in May 1963, when “Surfin’ U.S.A.” reached No.3. After an earlier Top 20 single with “Surfin’ Safari,” Brian Wilson’s adaptation of Chuck Berry’s melody really established the group as nationwide names. But the choice of follow-up single was going to be crucial.
By August, following some singles co-written with Mike Love, it was time for Brian to get his initial credit as a solo writer, and for the first time the producer, on a Beach Boys hit. It happened with the first song he’d ever come up with. Written in 1961, when Wilson was just 19, it displayed the tender side of this remarkable young man, now 21, and the whole group’s mastery of sophisticated harmonies. It was the romantic “Surfer Girl,” and it made its American chart debut on August 3, 1963.
The song had been recorded by Brian and engineer Chuck Britz at Western Recorders Studio in June, some 16 months after the Beach Boys’ first studio effort at it. “Surfer Girl” was inspired by the melodically similar “When You Wish Upon A Star,” from the 1940 Walt Disney classic Pinocchio.
Swiftly surfing into the Top 10
Any fears about Wilson’s formative writing skills were soon laid to rest. Backed by another great early Beach Boys number, “Little Deuce Coupe” (penned by Brian with Roger Christian), “Surfer Girl” made a swift ascent of the Hot 100. It entered at No.85, in the week that Jan & Dean fell from the No.1 position with another quintessential Californian anthem, “Surf City.” That was co-written by Brian with the duo’s Jan Berry.
“Surfer Girl” then took just two weeks to make the Top 40, rising to No.49 and No.28. This anthem to summer love reached its zenith just as school was back in, spending two weeks at No.7 in September. As with many of the group’s 1960s singles, the B-side was a hit in its own right. “Little Deuce Coupe” was listed separately on the Hot 100 from two weeks after the debut of “Surfer Girl,” and advanced to No.15.
Buy or stream “Surfer Girl” on the Beach Boys’ album of the same name.