Brian Wilson’s contribution to music cannot be contested. The singer and songwriter is one of pop music’s finest performers and has rightly been revered ever since he and The Beach Boys debuted in the early sixties. Across nearly six decades, Wilson has been a marvel at creating luscious tracks and unimaginably catchy tunes. So much so that thinking back to his first-ever song is as strange as a reckoning with a bee about their first drop of honey.
That song was ‘Surfer Girl’, and it arrived in an explosion of inspiration. It would not only work out as Wilson’s first song for The Beach Boys but the first tune he ever wrote in earnest. The songwriter quickly developed into a formidable wordsmith, but for his first song, he relied on the classic rock and roll tropes — fast cars, cute girls and chasing love after dark. Oh, and a hot dog also had something to do with it.
‘Surfer Girl’ is imbued with the band’s notorious sunny disposition and is considered a Beach Boys classic. Drenched in the decade’s optimism, the song is rich in all of the sand-in-your-sandwich wonder that made their 1963 run of surf songs so appealing to a new generation, including ‘Surfin’ Safari’ and ‘Surfin’ USA’. But this track was originally penned a few years prior.
There have been plenty of conflicting reports about how the song came about, with Wilson himself the man usually changing the story, but most point toward Wilson’s relationship with former girlfriend Judy Bowles. “Back in 1961, I’d never written a song in my life,” remembered Wilson of the song’s conception, apparently influenced by the sounds of the radio.
Then comes the big reveal, his reason for being out that night? His stomach pangs for a piece of pork between two buns: “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 band first attempted to record the song in February of 1962 at World Pacific Studios in Los Angeles, but it was a rather tepid affair. Languid and dithering, that recording was bumped for the new one they laid down at Western Recorders a year later. Partly because the song had been shaped by Wilson over the months and partly because the group were a far more robust unit by this point.
Eventually, the band would record the version of the song we all know and love today. Released on July 22nd, 1963, as the title track from Surfer Girl, the single became a landmark moment for The Beach Boys and confirmed Brian Wilson as a pop music hero already.