It was 57 years ago today (January 31st, 1963), that the Beach Boys completed recording their first Top 10 hit, “Surfin' U.S.A.” The group's Brian Wilson lifted the tune from Chuck Berry's “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and once again was inspired by his younger brother Dennis Wilson's “live every moment as though it's your last” philosophy. Brian, who vicariously used many of Dennis' life experiences to help craft the Beach Boys sound, wrote the words around Southern California's hippest pastime.
Wilson recalled after the single's release that, “My brother Dennis came home from school one day and said, 'Listen you guys, it looks like surfing's gonna be the next big craze.' He said that I should write a song about it. So I wrote a song just due to Dennis' suggestion.” The song was polished off on January 31st, 1963 between 8 and 11 p.m. at Hollywood's Western Recorders. The track features the searing guitar work by Carl Wilson and David Marks, Brian Wilson on bass, piano and organ, Mike Love on lead vocals, and, despite speculation that he didn't actually play on the track, Dennis Wilson on drums. All five are featured on the song's famous “Inside — Outside — U.S.A.” backing vocals.
We asked Mike Love if he felt that David Marks played an integral part to the band's sound in the studio and on the road: “Well yeah! I mean, he worked his ass off in the original — in the first four or five albums. Driving around in a U-Haul and a station wagon, settin' up and breaking' down our own equipment — that's before we found out there was this thing called 'roadies.'”
David Marks says that life on the road during the early days of the group were far from luxurious. He recalls that although the Beach Boys' early-'60s tours were exciting, the physical toll it took on the band was severe: “When we first started in the early-'60s, it was kind of hellish. You really couldn't keep a pace up like that for very long. I mean, you're crowded in a station wagon and you're towing a U-Haul with the amps and you have another car with a couple of the band members. And that's how you travel. You play four sets at a dance and drive 800 miles.”
By the end of the 1960's, with their hit-filled days behind them, Brian Wilson admitted that he secretly believed that the Beach Boys still might make the long haul to legendary status: “Actually, looking back on it now, I thought. . . I had the feeling we were going to do it, but I didn't think in my brain that we were going to keep going, going and going for 40 more years. It would be impossible to conceive of.”
“Surfin' U.S.A.” was released on March 2nd, 1963 and peaked at Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100.
Over the years the song has been a mainstay of the group's shows, usually appearing at the end of the concert or during one of the group's encores.