Surfin' Safari is the debut album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on October 1, 1962 on Capitol Records. The official production credit went to Nick Venet, though it was Brian Wilson with his father Murry who contributed substantially to the album's production; Brian also wrote or co-wrote nine of its 12 tracks. The album peaked at No. 32 in its 37-week run on the US charts.
The album was preceded by two singles: "Surfin'" and "Surfin' Safari", which charted at Nos. 75 and 14, respectively. The success of "Surfin' Safari" helped secure a full album for the group while an additional single, "Ten Little Indians", was issued, charting at No. 49.
The group is mainly comprised of people from Hawthorne, California, named Wilson … there’s Brian, Dennis, Carl, and their Dad, Murry Wilson, a long-time songwriter who acts as manager for the outfit. Then there's the boys' talented cousin, Mike Love … who sings both the lead tenor and deep bass parts in their unusual vocal arrangements. … [and] young David Marks, a neighbor of the Wilsons who plays a driving rhythm guitar. Brian, the oldest of the Wilson boys, is the group's leader and vocal arranger. Carl is the very accomplished lead guitarist, while brother Dennis sings and plays the drums. None of them, incidentally, had any formal training except for Carl on guitar who took lessons from John Maus alongside David Marks. They all grew up in an atmosphere where music was a regular part of their lives.
In the autumn of 1961, cousins Brian Wilson and Mike Love composed a song on surfing, titled "Surfin'" at the behest of Brian's younger sibling, Dennis Wilson. They quickly formed a band, bringing in the youngest Wilson brother Carl on lead guitar and Brian's high school friend Al Jardine on rhythm guitar. Brian took up bass, Dennis the drums and Mike would be the frontman, while they all would harmonize vocals arranged by Brian. Released that December, produced by Hite Morgan, and backed by "Luau", "Surfin'" made No. 75 in the US Top 100 in early 1962.
Father Murry Wilson became the band's manager. He submitted a professionally recorded demo tape to Capitol Records that spring. The Beach Boys were signed and "Surfin' Safari" b/w "409" (from the April 1962 demo tape) was released as a single that June. Al Jardine left the band after the recording of the song "Surfin'" but before the demo session and album session, replaced by Wilson-family friend David Marks— Jardine would rejoin to form a six-member band in the fall of 1963, appearing on the third studio album. With both "Surfin' Safari" and "409" becoming hits (the former reaching US No. 14), Capitol Records approved a full album. Brian Wilson, who regularly collaborated with Mike Love and Gary Usher, contributed the songs that made up the bulk of the LP.
The second single, "Ten Little Indians", was less successful, reaching only No. 49, with Brian feeling that "Chug-A-Lug" would have made a better follow-up. Though Mike and Brian are the most prominent singers, Dennis makes his first vocal appearance on "Little Girl (You're My Miss America)" (shown as "Little Miss America" on the album cover).
Recording and composition
The early demos were recorded in a session engineered by Chuck Britz, who recorded most of the Beach Boys records from 1963 to 1966. Britz was credited with helping Brian Wilson develop as a musician, being called his "second ear".
"County Fair" was inspired by Gary Usher and Brian Wilson visiting a county fair in San Bernardino, the song was written in about ten minutes. "Ten Little Indians" saw the group trying to emulate the style of the song Running Bear. According to Usher, Capitol chose the song as the second single due to thinking that surf music was a fad. "409", a song credited with creating the hot rod music craze in the 1960s, was written about Gary Usher's obsession over hot-rods. The car sound effects were recorded by Usher driving his car past the home of the Wilsons, who had set a tape recorder up outside using a 100-foot extension cord. "Little Miss America" features a doo-wop style, and is about "the ideal southern California dream girl.
The first single, "Surfin'", was credited with creating the genre of California Sound, a music aesthetic primarily revolving around surfing, hot rod culture, and youthful innocence. Brian Wilson stated that the song was created after Dennis Wilson told him "surfing’s getting really big. You guys ought to write a song about it." "Heads You Win, Tails I Lose" was written because of Usher and Brian Wilson's frequent use of coin flipping to decide things. The group wanted to make contemporary expressions into songs. The song "Moon Dawg", originally performed by The Gamblers, was considered the first surf rock song. The Beach Boys became the first group to cover the song, exposing it to a much wider audience. "The Shift" was presented as a "fashion statement" from Brian Wilson and Mike Love.
The front cover of Surfin' Safari features a yellow pickup truck and surfboard, with bandmates David Marks (on hood), Dennis Wilson (driver), Mike Love (front roof), Brian Wilson (back roof) and Carl Wilson. The photo was taken on the beach at Paradise Cove, north of Malibu. The picture was taken by in-house Capitol photographer Ken Veeder, in a photo shoot that would also produce the cover for the band's 1963 album Surfer Girl.
The album was released through Capitol on October 1, 1962, and peaked at No. 32 in its 37-week run on the US charts. In the UK, the album was not released until April 1963, and failed to chart.
The album was later released as a compilation on CD in 1990 with the Beach Boys' second album Surfin' U.S.A., called Surfin' Safari / Surfin' USA.
Because the copyright has expired in Europe, the album is also readily available on various European-based oldies labels.
AllMusic 2/5 stars
Blender 3/5 stars
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3/5 stars
Retrospective reviews of Surfin’ Safari have been mostly negative. Richie Unterberger, in a retrospective review for AllMusic, feels that most of the songs are substandard, but that as the album was recorded by the Beach Boys themselves rather than session musicians, it does offer an opportunity to hear what the band sounded like in the studio.
4 of the 12 songs on the album have been performed live in concert by the Beach Boys. "Surfin' Safari" and "409" are regulars in set lists while "Surfin'" and "Summertime Blues" have been played with varying frequency.
All lead vocals are by Mike Love except where noted.
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. "Surfin' Safari"
Brian WilsonMike Love
2. "County Fair"
B. WilsonGary Usher
3. "Ten Little Indians"
5. "Little Miss America"
Herb AlpertVincent Catalano
D. Wilson 2:04
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
2. "Heads You Win–Tails I Lose"
3. "Summertime Blues"
Eddie CochranJerry Capehart
Marks and C. Wilson 2:09
4. "Cuckoo Clock"
B. Wilson 2:08
5. "Moon Dawg" Derry Weaver instrumental 2:00
6. "The Shift"
Some reissue pressings omit "Surfin'" and "Cuckoo Clock", and move "Chug-A-Lug" onto Side two after "Heads You Win".
Ty To Original Sharer
"I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free"