Ever since The Beach Boys had a Top 20 US hit with their second single, “Surfin’ Safari,” the group were under pressure to deliver. Their unique take on rock’n’roll – one part Chuck Berry, one part The Four Freshmen, blended with lyrics that introduced the world to the West Coast’s surfing and car racing cultures – made them a nationwide sensation overnight. “There was a huge demand for The Beach Boys,” singer and co-writer Mike Love recalls today. “As soon as we did ‘Surfin’ Safari’ – and then, by ’63, ‘Surfin’ USA’, that was a big record… Once we did ‘Surfin’ Safari’ and we started touring, and came out with our first album – featuring us on the little vehicle in the sand, in Malibu, looking out to sea all dressed in our Pendleton shirts. From there on The Beach Boys were as popular as anybody could possibly hope to be.”
Such was the demand for new songs that the group issued three albums in 1963 alone, the second of which, Surfer Girl, remains a high point from their early days. Taken during the same photo shoot that yielded the artwork for Surfin’ Safari, the cover presents the group in a familiar pose, though the album saw them branch out into newer territory – not least in the title track. The Beach Boys’ first out-and-out ballad, it was also one of the first clutch of demos that got them signed to Capitol Records in 1962, and became their second Top 10 US single with ease.
“I remember [‘Surfer Girl’] quite well,” Love told uDiscover in 2016. “My cousin Brian and I are just a year apart and we shared a lot of high-school experiences. And one of his high-school experiences was falling in love with a girl who was literally the inspiration for that song, way back when he wrote it, driving down Hawthorne Boulevard.” On the album it’s joined by “In My Room” to make a pair which Love rightly declares are “extraordinarily beautiful ballads.”
“One of the secret ingredients of The Beach Boys, I honestly believe, is the love of creating those harmonies together,” Love says. “The special resonance that comes from really loving what you’re doing.” Love’s family, along with his cousins, Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, often held recitals at home, at which the boys would hone their skills singing doo-wop songs, Everly Brothers and Four Freshmen hits. “We grew up together with a tremendous amount of music surrounding us,” Love recalls, adding, “A family tradition became a profession by virtue of the fact that my cousin Brian and I were able to craft a lot of songs together that resonated with many people around the world.”
Indeed, Surfer Girl did better than its predecessor in the UK, where it climbed to No.13, slightly behind its No.7 peak in the US. Amazingly, though, “In My Room,” now hailed as one of the group’s finest moments, was tucked away as a B-side in 1963, while the album track “Catch A Wave” didn’t make a single release at all. “It’s totally right in the genre of early surfing songs,” Love notes, adding that it is “a fantastic song” that he always thought should have been an A-side, along with another catchy surfing cut from the album, “Hawaii.”
These songs are part of the reason why Surfer Girl remains such a gem from this very early period in the group’s career. For those who only know The Beach Boys’ hits, hearing the album for the first time is like discovering there were several more, ready to be released as singles in some parallel universe.
In the coming months, The Beach Boys continued to develop the two strands of their early material: the street-level songs (“Little Deuce Coupe,” “Fun Fun Fun”) and the ballads at which they were becoming increasingly deft (“The Warmth Of The Sun”).
They arrived just in time, too. Signing to Capitol, the group helped take the label in a new direction, becoming its first rock’n’roll act just as The Beatles were poised to land on US soil (and subsequently join the Capitol roster themselves). “I remember walking into Capitol Records and looking at the posters on the wall, and the gold albums and stuff – I’m talking about Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and The Kingston Trio,” Love says, adding that “it was awe-inspiring” to enter the iconic building “that was shaped like a stack of records”.
In almost no time at all, The Beach Boys added their own records to that stack – a range of timeless music that has managed to span generations and transcend cultures, growing from its beginnings in the southwest city of Hawthorne, California, to become a truly global phenomenon.