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Author Topic: Question about "Surf's Up" (the song)  (Read 16889 times)
Glenn Greenberg
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« on: June 25, 2007, 04:05:59 AM »

So it's 1971, and the Beach Boys want to include "Surf's Up" on the follow-up to Sunflower.

They want Brian to sing lead, but he refuses.

We know Carl ended up singing the first section over the existing backing track from 1966, and Brian's solo piano performance from 1966 was used for the second section.

But here's my question:

If they wanted to have Brian sing the whole song, why didn't they just use his 1966 solo piano performance for the entire song (since they were using part of it anyway, for the second section) and just create a new instrumental backing track for the first section?  Had they done so, they would have had a completed version of the song with Brian doing all the lead vocals.

All they had to do was what Phil Spector had done with some of the Beatles' "Let it Be" tracks--create new orchestrations for pre-existing performances.

Anyone have insight on this?
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Glenn
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« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2007, 04:16:18 AM »

Desper told me the first half wasn't in as good of shape as the second so Carl had to redo the first part for sonic clarity.
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Roger Ryan
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« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2007, 06:14:23 AM »

I suspect nobody wanted to either spend the studio time or the money to recreate the backing track. In the end, they only had to add a moog bass and the vocals to complete the track.
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Glenn Greenberg
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« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2007, 09:47:29 AM »

I think your explanation makes a lot of sense, Roger.  Thanks!
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Glenn
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« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2007, 11:09:13 AM »

Slightly on and slightly off topic: Does anyone think Carl sang better (like in Surf's Up) when he was trying to immitate Brian? I have always felt like in recordings such as Surf's Up, Good Vibrations, God Only KNows, etc... that Carl was trying to sing like Brian and sometimes to greater affect than Brian would have achieved.
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the captain
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« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2007, 01:29:45 PM »

Brian's doubling of the vocal on the first half of Surf's Up also is out of tune--the high notes are terrible. I'm sure there's no way they would have been willing to put that out, knowing they could just redo them and do a better job. This isn't meant to knock Brian, and I do like that version very much--but it wasn't meant to be released in that form, and frankly, it sounds like it.

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Glenn Greenberg
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« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2007, 02:39:11 PM »

Brian's doubling of the vocal on the first half of Surf's Up also is out of tune--the high notes are terrible.


Maybe I'm tone deaf--it sounds fine to me!  (Listening to it now, from the box set.)
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Glenn
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« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2007, 02:40:56 PM »

Brian's doubling of the vocal on the first half of Surf's Up also is out of tune--the high notes are terrible.


Maybe I'm tone deaf--it sounds fine to me!  (Listening to it now, from the box set.)

One of the tracked vocals on the "do-mi-no" is slightly flat to my ears as well.
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the captain
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« Reply #8 on: June 25, 2007, 02:55:51 PM »

That's the one. The second one is worse than the first, and on both he's really wailing to get it out--not exactly his finest moment as far as tone is concerned. I'm sure if he had wanted it to be considered for release, he'd have done much better with it.

One other potential reason for not wanting to use the first part--and keep in mind, I have no idea whether it is true, but it's just a possibility--is that unless I'm mistaken (which I could well be) the piano and one of the vocals weren't done separately, so there would only be so much you could do with the mix because of the bleed. For the second part, it sounds nice to have such a prominent piano. But the first half had its own track. I wonder how much they could have (using the technology around at the time) minimized the piano part to bring out the other things they'd have wanted to do.
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« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2007, 06:03:37 PM »

Actually I think the Brian demo is great vocally. What I don't like is the solo TV version. He just seems stoned to the gills and off key. I know some people love that but I played it for an impartial observer and she thought it was below Brian's pre 75 standard. Hope nobody throws rocks at me now lol.
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the captain
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« Reply #10 on: June 25, 2007, 06:11:58 PM »

I enjoy those demos / tv appearance, but they're just not the sort of thing you want to start with as basic tracks for studio use.
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« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2007, 05:08:50 AM »

Weren't the band members keen to see something come out of the expensive SMiLE sessions too? Lots of session musicians played on the track, and to let it languish would have meant the money had been spent on nothing.
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« Reply #12 on: June 27, 2007, 01:42:47 PM »

One other potential reason for not wanting to use the first part--and keep in mind, I have no idea whether it is true, but it's just a possibility--is that unless I'm mistaken (which I could well be) the piano and one of the vocals weren't done separately, so there would only be so much you could do with the mix because of the bleed.

From my reading of the Seigal article, Brian cut the piano track first, then overdubbed one, maybe two vocal tracks (as it was at Columbia, very probably on to their 8-track).
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the captain
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« Reply #13 on: June 27, 2007, 01:47:19 PM »

One other potential reason for not wanting to use the first part--and keep in mind, I have no idea whether it is true, but it's just a possibility--is that unless I'm mistaken (which I could well be) the piano and one of the vocals weren't done separately, so there would only be so much you could do with the mix because of the bleed.

From my reading of the Seigal article, Brian cut the piano track first, then overdubbed one, maybe two vocal tracks (as it was at Columbia, very probably on to their 8-track).

Thanks, Andrew. If he did the piano first, then he certainly overdubbed two vocal tracks--it is definitely a doubled vocal. So as long as the piano didn't also include a vocal (which is what I was thinking was the case), then he had to have done two.

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« Reply #14 on: June 27, 2007, 03:59:53 PM »

Weren't the band members keen to see something come out of the expensive SMiLE sessions too? Lots of session musicians played on the track, and to let it languish would have meant the money had been spent on nothing.

That might make sense if they'd paid for it themselves, or if their then-current record label had paid for it. 
But the original session was funded by Capitol, and the finished trak on record was (originally) released by Warners.  Capitol probably wrote it off as an expense, unless they charged it to the Boys' recording budget for their next album(s).  Probably the reason they could use it on a Warners release was that Warners gained control of all post "Party!" Beach Boys album masters when the Boys signed with them.   
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Sheriff John Stone
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« Reply #15 on: June 27, 2007, 04:06:25 PM »

A question related to this topic...

I read in several places that Brian objected to the finishing/release of "Surf's Up" in 1971, but I don't remember reading WHY? Anybody know?
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pixletwin
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« Reply #16 on: June 27, 2007, 04:12:31 PM »

I always had the impression that if any piece of SMiLE wasn't going to be done right, it couldn't be done at all. I don't think Brian wanted to see it parsed out piece by piece on different albums.
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Sheriff John Stone
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« Reply #17 on: June 27, 2007, 04:23:51 PM »

When you say "wasn't going to be done right", do you think he objected to the way this constructed version sounded, with Carl's lead vocal?

As far as being parsed out piece by piece, while I don't know how Brian felt about "Our Prayer" and "Cabinessence appearing on 20/20, didn't he participate in the recording of "Cool, Cool Water" on Sunflower?



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the captain
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« Reply #18 on: June 27, 2007, 04:37:43 PM »

When you say "wasn't going to be done right", do you think he objected to the way this constructed version sounded, with Carl's lead vocal?

I don't think it was the vocal. I believe a mid-70s BBC (?) radio documentary discusses how they ended up having Carl sing it because Brian wouldn't. So at least the first of Brian's objections must have been prior to Carl's vocal being done.
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« Reply #19 on: June 27, 2007, 04:43:53 PM »

When you say "wasn't going to be done right", do you think he objected to the way this constructed version sounded, with Carl's lead vocal?

I don't think it was the vocal. I believe a mid-70s BBC (?) radio documentary discusses how they ended up having Carl sing it because Brian wouldn't. So at least the first of Brian's objections must have been prior to Carl's vocal being done.

Yeah, I heard/read that account, where Brian actually tried (painfully hard as I recall the story said) a 1971 lead vocal, but wasn't satisfied with the results, so Carl ended up doing it. I just never heard/read anywhere that he wasn't happy with Carl's performance. Or could it be that he felt it was awkward to split the lead vocals up between the two? That's pure speculation on my part...
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the captain
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« Reply #20 on: June 27, 2007, 05:03:54 PM »

My pure speculation would just be that he wasn't into bringing up that song, which obviously was a key part of a troubling part of his life. Yeah, they used Cabinessence, Prayer, etc. before, but how much did HE have to do on those? For this, it was clearly far from finished and I would think he just didn't want to be a part of it, yet didn't want it done without him being a part of it, either.

And that, as I said, is total guesswork.

I'd also guess he never did a vocal take in '71. Again, a guess.
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« Reply #21 on: June 27, 2007, 05:19:15 PM »

I think all Brian did in '71 was teach the group the CITFOM tag at the end, perhaps put down a guide vocal for that, as per Desper's account.  But it sounds like he wanted nothing to do with that material again.  It's amazing how nonchalant he is about these days.  "Oh, Surf's Up, that's a great song."  Completely forgetting that it flipped him out for 38 years.

And weren't Prayer and Cabinessence basically in the can already?  I know Prayer got some additional overdubs, but was Cabinessence overdubbed any in '68?
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« Reply #22 on: June 27, 2007, 07:03:12 PM »

I asked Desper all these questions. He said Brian had no trouble working on the other Smile songs, but that Sur'f Up reminded him of Fire. The Todd Gold book is the only place that says Brian retried the lead. I really doubt that.
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Chris Moise
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« Reply #23 on: June 27, 2007, 07:44:57 PM »


What I want to know is why they didn't use the "second movement" backing track that was recoorded at that late 1/67 session. Might that reel have already been lost in 1971?
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« Reply #24 on: June 28, 2007, 04:27:22 AM »


What I want to know is why they didn't use the "second movement" backing track that was recoorded at that late 1/67 session. Might that reel have already been lost in 1971?

Probably.  And eyewitness accounts seem to confirm that Brian wanted NOTHING to do with the '71 version until the very end, when he ran downstairs and participated in the CIFOTM tag.  As far as Brian not liking the '71 version, he was still saying that as late as the late '80s/early '90s, when he said something like "I can't believe they put that song out in that state", which implies he didn't like the way the track segued into the second half of the demo version. 
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