The Beach Boys’ second album was a big step-forward from their first in some ways, but was also just as restricted by the need for new product to be on the market as quickly as possible. So, just six months after Surfin’ Safari, Surfin’ USA came out, but luckily it had a title track that will last for the ages.
Of course, it’s a title track that shamelessly ripped off Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen, but did so in a way that captured the imagination of a generation. If you hear that opening guitar riff now, is it Chuck you expect to hear singing, or Mike Love?
It helped cement their position as THE surf band and it’s no surprise that much of the filler material on this album is instrumental surf guitar music, with a couple of Dick Dale covers and a couple written by Brian and Carl Wilson.
The youngest Wilson brother certainly got to show off his guitar chops in these early albums, even if he didn’t go near a microphone when lead vocals were required for a little while yet, and though no-one will remember Surf Jam up alongside Feel Flows or Long Promised Road, it’s nice to hear his earliest writing contribution.
While Dennis Wilson and David Marks had lead vocals on Surfin’ Safari, this is very much the Mike and Brian show, with the former taking lead on the two hits (the title track and Shut Down). But Brian’s falsetto is the real star of the show for the first time.
Farmer’s Daughter and Lonely Sea are both great songs, with the latter pointing in the direction Wilson’s writing was heading, and the former has endured to the extent where it was covered by Fleetwood Mac.
With 12 tracks totalling just over 24 minutes, Surfin’ USA certainly doesn’t hang around, but it does the job it needed to do, which was keeping the Beach Boys at the forefront of the surfing scene and expanding their audience quickly with an even bigger surf anthem.
There’d be no rest for the wicked though and another album was already required, which makes all the more incredible that Surfer Girl saw them take another step forwards…