Album Review: Surfin' USA, Surfer Girl and Little Deuce Coupe, by the Beach Boys

In my last post, we covered the first Beach Boys album, Surfin' Safari in detail, working through each song and talking about the general themes. This time, I’d like to look at the Beach Boys releases from the year 1963 as a whole, starting with their 2nd album Surfin' USA and finishing with their 4th album “Little Deuce Coupe”. Over this year, the Beach Boys both exploded in popularity and matured as a band.

Three albums may seem like a large amount of material to cover, but at this stage in their career, The Beach Boys were producing albums with 12 songs averaging 2 minutes each. The total playtime of these three albums would fit into one CD and is much less than the “double albums” of the late 60s and 70s.

There are really two aspects that need to be discussed with the March 1963 release of Surfin' USA, the cultural impact at the time and the music today. At the time, this album was a huge hit, the eponymous single was a breakout hit, along with “Shut Down”. It helped to paint the image of the post-War, pre-Hippie California of legend. The album helps to define that era and define the surf rock genre. In contrast to Surfin' Safari, the Beach Boys are much more focused on the surf rock sound, and there’s less jumping between a few different styles. However, despite this growth, there aren’t any songs I’d consider hidden gems; my recommendation is to just play the album through or stick to the hits.

Six months later, the third Beach Boys album Surfer Girl was released. This album represents the Beach Boys coming into their own definitive style. Several songs on the album: “Surfer Girl”, “Catch a Wave”, “Little Deuce Coupe” and “In My Room” have become fodder for many Beach Boys greatest hits albums. These really are the best songs on the album; the rest offer chances for more divergent sounds and explorations of the genre. This balance between leaning on their commercially successful approach to making memorable hits juxtaposed with songs which they knew weren’t ever going to be hits make the album stronger as a result.

The next month, an album themed on cars and hot rods was released called: Little Deuce Coupe, which took the bands' previous car-themed songs, and combined them with some new ones, including perennial favorite “Be True to Your School”. The notable thing about this album is it has no songs about beaches, surfing, California, or many of the typical themes associated with the Beach Boys. The album is well in keeping with the fully developed style in Surfer Girl, and there are no great evolutionary leaps and the music, which shouldn’t be surprising, because it was recorded near-contemporaneously. A notable song is “Spirit of America” which is about Craig Breedlove and his series of cars which broke the land speed record about 30 days before the album was released. The song lyrics include the record, so it gives you some idea of how fast production processes were back then.

Also notable with this is how far the Beach Boys were able to develop their sound in a distinct direction and style prior to the explosion in musical innovations which would start a few months later with the British Invasion.

Next time, we will take a look at the Beach Boys as they left the post-war era following Kennedy’s assassination at the end of 1963 and entered every Boomer’s favorite era: the sixties.

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