This is the first in a series of posts where I will review the Beach Boy’s albums, sequentially. They’re one of my favorite bands, but my knowledge of their whole discography is still a bit lacking, so I’m going to do these reviews. The first album is 1962’s Surfin' Safari. The album cover does a fantastic job of communicating the early Beach Boys aesthetic: vintage truck, surfing and matching outfits.
The album starts off with the eponymous hit Surfin' Safari. Already, we have magnificent harmonies, a solid guitar solo, a good hook, and everything that makes early Beach Boys songs fantastic. Unsurprisingly, the first Beach Boys song is about taking a girl surfing. Moving on, we get to County Fair, a very upbeat and simple song about taking a date to the county fair. The background speech makes for an odd element, but the organ is a nice touch. Ten Little Indians is not exactly politically correct these days, but feels very much like a Buddy Holly song; the “woo-woo-woo"s from the background vocals is a special touch.
Moving on, Chug-A-Lug is about the members of the band hanging out and drinking root beer at some local teen hangout. The use of instruments is great, but the song isn’t particularly catchy and is a bit on the simple size, even for the Beach Boys. Little Girl (You’ve My Miss America) is a cover which channels Buddy Holly, but is otherwise unremarkable. The last song on the A side is a well-known single: 409, the first of the Beach Boys' great songs about cars. This song leans hard on the Beach Boy’s excellent harmonizing and storytelling.
Opening the B side is the jarring Surfin'. I feel like this is leaning a bit hard on previous surf songs, but it is both really out of the Beach Boy’s style and not a great song. Heads You Win, Tails I Lose, is a solid entry talking about the asymmetric outcome of fights between the singer and his outcome. Summertime Blues, a cover which would eventually be done most famously by The Who, is a great fit for The Beach Boy’s style at this early moment in their career.
The back end of this 12 song, 24 minute album is lead by Cuckoo Clock, a solid entry very keeping in style with the rest of the album building off of early rock forms, using an organ, etc. Moon Dawg is a quasi-instrumental with a dominant bass line, layered with the Beach Boy’s harmonies and the effective use of electric guitar as a secondary instrument. The final song, The Shift, is right in line with other Beach Boy’s hit from this album in terms of style and quality, but it is perhaps a bit too forward for the time it was written.
Overall, considering the era and that its the first album for the band, this album is a very solid entry. Tune in next time for a review of 1963’s “Surfin' USA”.