This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (November 2018)
|Single by the Beach Boys|
|from the album Surfin' Safari|
|Recorded||October 3, 1961 at World Pacific Studio|
|Brian Wilson, Mike Love|
|the Beach Boys singles chronology|
"Surfin'" is a song by American rock band the Beach Boys, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. It was released as the first Beach Boys single (with "Luau" on the B-side) in November 1961 on Candix Records and it later appeared on the 1962 album Surfin' Safari.
The single effectively began the Beach Boys' music career, establishing them at the vanguard of what would later be regarded the "California Sound". Initially, the group were trying to think of something original and creative that they could write a song about. Brian Wilson remembers that "One day, my brother Dennis came home from the beach and said, 'Hey, surfing's getting really big. You guys ought to write a song about it."
The song features Mike Love on lead vocals with Carl Wilson on backing vocals and acoustic guitar, Al Jardine on backing vocals and stand-up bass, Brian Wilson on backing vocals and snare drum and Dennis Wilson on backing vocals. The single peaked at number 75 in the US; it was never released in the UK.
The Beach Boys later re-recorded the song for their 1992 album Summer in Paradise.
Brian Wilson remembers that "I began noodling around the piano singing 'surfin', surfin', surfin'. It sounded stupid. But then Mike [Love] sang 'ba-ba-dippity-dippity-ba-ba.' He was fooling around, trying to spark a new idea with the same bass sounds he'd sung countless times before. For some reason, though, this time when he sang I pounded out a few chords to accompany him and then he took up the chant I'd been singing, 'surfin', surfin'." Brian continues that "twenty seconds later, I had the opening for the song that would become the Beach Boys' first hit single. A couple of hours later, I finished the song and called it 'Surfin'." The'ba-ba-dippity-dippity-ba-ba' were influenced by the early Jan and Dean records Brian also incorporated a riff from "Underwater", a nationally charting single by The Frogmen (also on Candix).[original research?]
Audree Wilson, the Wilson brothers' mother, remembers that they "had guests from England. We took them to Mexico City for a three-day trip, and left the refrigerator stocked. We left them adequate money if they chose to eat out." Carl Wilson continues that "the day after they left, we all went down to a music store and got instruments with our food money...I was gonna play guitar, Alan could play stand up bass, Brian could play keyboards already...Dennis just chose the drums. And then Brian said, 'I'm gonna play bass and you play guitar and then it'll be a rock sound, be rock and roll'. Michael [Mike Love] didn't play anything but he got a saxophone, he thought he'd play sax, but Mike never practiced. The group really learned how to play after we made records."
Audree Wilson continues that she and her husband, Murry Wilson, "barely got in the door, and they said, 'We've got something to play for you.' Well, we saw all this stuff...and they had an act...and that's when Surfin' was born, that's when they sang it and put it together...It was a lot of fun, but they were serious about it. They were having fun, but yet they wanted to do something with it. They were just very excited."
While a student at Hawthorne High School in 1960, Brian Wilson submitted "Surfin'" as an assignment in a music class and received an "F" from his teacher, Fred Morgan. In 2018, the school changed the grade to an "A." 
Brian Wilson recalls that "the five of us arrived at the Morgans' Melrose Avenue office." The group sang a cover version of "Sloop John B", though Hite Morgan's response was "these days you need something original. You've gotta have an angle. The music business is all about selling a product." Brian remembers that "there was a long, awkward moment of silence that caught us looking at our shoelaces." Dennis Wilson then surprised the other group members by responding, "Yeah, we got an original. It's called 'Surfin'." Hite Morgan then asked them to play the song but as Brian recalls he responded, "Well, it's not finished. We've got the song, and it's original. But it's not done yet."
When it came time to record their new song, the group (then calling themselves The Pendletones) went back to the Morgans' studio for a second time. Audree Wilson remembers that Brian, Mike, Carl and Al were at the Morgans' studio recording a demo when they said, "We want to play this for you." So they played the demo of "Surfin'" to Dorinda Morgan and Hite Morgan of Hite Morgan's Recording Studio. Dorinda Morgan was excited by the demo as Audree recalls "Immediately, she said, 'Drop everything, we want to record that.' He [Hite] wasn't so much in favour of it, but she heard something she thought would click."
Brian remembers that "we were at the Morgans' all day; twelve takes of 'Surfin'...tried everyone's patience. I was to blame. I wanted the song to sound perfect." Brian remembers that they "did it all live. Our mix wasn't as good [as today's mix], it wasn't as balanced. You couldn't hear the guitar playing...you didn't hear the bass notes as well...some of the vocals were a little buried. It wasn't mixed and balanced very well. And my father was critical of the first thing we did, he said, 'Well, look, you don't hear the guitar, you don't hear this, what is going on here? Listen, I'm going to have to take over as producer', which he did. He took over as producer."
Per James Murphy.
Brian recalls that "Hite [Morgan] announced that he was going to turn our demo into a record, press up a small quantity, and see how it did on local radio." When the group unpacked the first box of singles from Candix, they found that their band name had been changed from "The Pendletones" to "The Beach Boys". Label promotion man Russ Regan explained to Murry Wilson that he had taken the liberty of giving the group a new name to associate them more directly with the popular surf-music genre.
Dennis Wilson remembers "the first time we ever heard our record played [on the radio], We [Carl, Brian, Dennis and David Marks] were all on Hawthorne Boulevard in Brian's 1957 Ford...they said, 'Here's a group from Hawthorne, California; the Beach Boys, with their song, 'Surfin'. It was a contest; they played three songs and the one that got the most requests over the phone was the one they would add to the playlist. We were screamin' in the street, and knockin' on everybody's door, 'We got a record on the radio!'...That was the biggest high ever. Nothing will ever top the expression on Brian's face. Ever...THAT is the all-time moment."
Dennis remembers that they "got so excited hearing our record on the radio that Carl threw up". Brian recalls that he "ran down the street screaming". Russ Regan, the man who gave the Beach Boys their name, remembers that "Surfin" "actually exploded here in the city of Los Angeles. Their record was a big record here. It was just a natural Southern California record." By the final weeks of 1961 "Surfin'" had sold more than 40,000 copies. Over the following months (until pressed copies ran out in mid-spring 1962) the raw but radical new sound of the Beach Boys entered the top five in San Diego, San Bernardino, Mojave and crossing the California border into Arizona at Yuma; was seen in the lower reaches of playlists in San Francisco (KYA) and Seattle (KAYO); and appeared in the Northeast, peaking at #21 at Boston's WHIL for two weeks in late March and April.
Confusingly, "Surfin'" was seemingly released three times in three months on (apparently) two different labels: Candix 331 in November 1961, X 301 in December and Candix 301 in January 1962. The full story is complex and still imperfectly understood, but in simple form, when the owners of Candix went back to the pressing plant to order more of 331, they were told to settle their bills first, so in order to maintain a flow of singles they had another plant press the record, hence the X 301 release (which is far and away the rarest of all). When sufficient cash had been raised for a further repressing on Candix, the number 301 was retained, possibly for the sake of continuity, possibly as a slip of the pen.
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The first recorded demo version of the song is available on CD on the 2001 Hawthorne, CA two-CD set, featuring a portion of "Surfin'" recorded on Brian's home Wollensak tape recorder "sometime in early September 1961, between the Labor Day weekend get-together and the group's first recording session with the Morgans on September 15th" according to Peter Ames Carlin's 2006 book Catch a Wave. A later rehearsal is on the Good Vibrations box set.
A later demo version of "Surfin'" was recorded at the aforementioned session at Hite and Dorinda Morgan's home studio September 15; this version is available on the Lost & Found (1961-62) CD released in 1991. (Both these versions are in a different key and lack the musical introduction of the tracks recorded October 3, 1961, among other differences.) This archival CD also features an alternate take of "Surfin'" recorded the same day as the eventual master take released on three different labels (X-301, Candix-301 and Capitol LP T-1081, the Surfin' Safari album.) The master take was subsequently sped up for release in the 60's, but is restored to the original speed on Lost and Found as well as the 1993 Good Vibrations box set.