We’re dipping into the Far Out vault to look back at one of The Beach Boys most iconic songs and the first track the band’s mercurial leader, Brian Wilson, ever composed. Of course, it’s the brilliant ‘Surfer Girl’ and here we have the story behind the song.
It’s hard to think of a time when The Beach Boys weren’t a part of the musical lexicon. The band are so synonymous with the explosion of pop music in America that their appeal is ubiquitous, offering not only sing-a-long anthems but also deeply textured conceptual pieces too. But there was a time when Brian Wilson was humming the first notes to his first-ever song, those notes were for ‘Surfer Girl’.
Largely thought of as the first song Wilson ever composed, the song is an early Beach Boys classic, imbued with the sunshine that drenched California and the optimism of a brand new decade. The song was released in 1963 as part of a run of surf-inspired songs but was originally written some years prior.
Included in that run was ‘Surfin’ Safari’ and ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ but this track stood out because it wasn’t really about surfing at all and was most certainly a love song. While Brian Wilson has offered up conflicting inspirations for the songs, many believe the song to be written for his former girlfriend Judy Bowles, whom Wilson did write ‘Judy’ for.
“Back in 1961, I’d never written a song in my life,” remembers Wilson of the song’s conception. “I was nineteen years old. And I put myself to the test in my car one day. I was actually driving to a hot dog stand, and I actually created a melody in my head without being able to hear it on a piano.”
But even with the extra privacy, Wilson had not yet gathered the confidence and composure of his future esteem. “I sang it to myself; I didn’t even sing it out loud in the car. When I got home that day, I finished the song, wrote the bridge, put the harmonies together and called it ‘Surfer Girl’.”
The track is also said to have taken inspiration from Dion and the Belmonts version of the classic song ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and even encouraged Wilson to later cover the Disney song for 2011 tribute album In the Key of Disney.
‘Surfer Girl’ was first recorded in 1962 at the World Pacific Studios in Los Angeles but was left without much passion. The slowed-down version of the song can be found on 2016’s Becoming the Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions but was never likely to cause a stir in the sixties.
Instead, the band took another swing at the recording of the track and took it to Western Recorders to have the song finessed. During the time elapsed between sessions not only had the band improved musically, with Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, David Marks and Mike Love providing ample backing, but Brian’s vision had also begun to crystalise.
Just a few short years before Wilson and the band’s album Pet Sounds would arguably change the face of pop music forever, the group were still pop manufacturers. Their sound had become an instant hit across the airwaves and the band’s third record would be just the same, the title track of Surfer Girl proving to be one of the band’s undying tunes.
The fact that it was the first song Brian Wilson ever composed is proof of two things. Firstly, that The Beach Boys were a group of ready-made pop stars happy to be the sound of the summer. Secondly, that Brian Wilson has always been, and will always be a musical visionary.