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|Single by The Beach Boys|
|from the album Surfin' USA|
|Released||March 4, 1963|
|Recorded||January 5, 1963|
|The Beach Boys singles chronology|
"Surfin' USA" is a song written by Brian Wilson for The Beach Boys, set to the melody from Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". Berry received co-writing credit for composing the song after litigating. "Surfin' USA" was recorded by The Beach Boys and released as a single on March 4, 1963. It also appeared on the 1963 album of the same name. It debuted on network television via The Steve Allen Show broadcast two days before release with the band lip-synching it. It peaked at #2 in the chart of the Music Vendor trade paper (within a year renamed Record World), #3 in Billboard and Cash Box. The B-side of the single is "Shut Down". The song features Mike Love on lead vocals.
Originally credited solely to Brian Wilson, the songwriting credit for the song was eventually shared with Chuck Berry, as "Surfin' USA" is very similar to Berry's song "Sweet Little Sixteen" in melody and rhythm.
Brian Wilson claims the song was merely influenced by Berry, as well as Chubby Checker and Jimmy Bowles, the little brother of Wilson's then-girlfriend Judy. Bowles came up with the list of surf spots which were included in the song.
When the song was written, Brian Wilson was dating Judy Bowles. Her brother, Jimmy Bowles, was an avid surfer. Brian thought "what about doing surf lyrics and mentioning every surf spot in the state? They're doing it here, there, in this city and that, like Chubby Checker's 'Twistin' U.S.A.'." According to Brian, "I asked [Jimmy] to make a list of every surf spot he knew, and by God he didn't leave one out."
In the song the following surfing spots are mentioned, mostly in California, with two in Hawaii and one in Australia:
The "Surfin' USA" single, backed with "Shut Down," was released under Capitol Records in the United States in March 1963. The song peaked on the Billboard pop chart at number three, the band's first top ten hit therein (see also Surfin' Safari). The B-side charted at number 23. The song was re-issued in the U.S. as a single in July 1974 backed with "The Warmth of the Sun". That single also hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at 36.
In the United Kingdom, the single was released in June 1963. The third single by the band to be issued in the UK, it became the first single to chart. It would go on to peak at 34 (28 in the New Musical Express).
In Australia, the single was released in 1963 and peaked at 9, becoming the band's first single to chart in Australia. The single was re-released in Australia in 1974 and again charted, peaking at 66. In Canada and Sweden, the single was released in 1963 and peaked on the charts at 6 in both countries. In July 1963, in the national charts used by Billboard, it peaked at #9 in Hong Kong, #8 in Austria the following month; in August 1964 at #9 for two weeks in Japan.
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||3|
|Australian Singles Chart||9|
|Canadian Singles Chart||1|
|Swedish Singles Chart||6|
|UK Singles Chart||34|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||36|
|Australian Singles Chart||66|
When the song was released in 1963, the original pressing listed Brian Wilson as the sole composer of the song. Wilson has written that, after the song became a hit, "Chuck Berry claimed the melody was his, an inadvertent copy of 'Sweet Little Sixteen' " and that there are "plenty of musicologists who'd argue otherwise." Murry Wilson turned the copyright over to Berry without ever informing Brian. Brian Wilson didn't realize for more than twenty-five years that Murry also "gave away [Brian's] royalties for writing the lyrics".
Despite tensions with Berry over the controversy at the time, Carl Wilson said the Beach Boys "ran into Chuck Berry in Copenhagen and he told us he loves 'Surfin' USA'."
The song was first released on an album as the title track on the band's 1963 album Surfin' USA. In July 1963, a month after the song had been issued as a single in the United States, Capitol issued the Surfin' USA EP featuring "Surfin' USA" & "Shut Down" on the A-side and "Surfer Girl" & "Surfin' Safari" on the B-side. The EP however, failed to chart. In May, 2003 Capitol again issued the song on an EP along with "Surfer Girl", "Don't Worry, Baby", and "The Beach Boys Medley". However, the record failed to make an impact on the charts.
A demo version of the song featuring only Brian Wilson singing and playing piano was released on the 1993 box set, Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys. A different demo version, in which Wilson is joined by drums was released on the 2001 archival release Hawthorne, CA. Both demos feature similar minor lyrical differences from the final recording. Both demos are played in the key of E major, in contrast to the final recording which was pitched in E♭.
The instrumental track of the final recording was also released on the Hawthorne, CA album. This version of the cut does not 'fade out', but continues on well past the original ending of the song until it ends abruptly.
After being released the song became a concert regular for the band. The band recorded live versions of "Surfin' USA" on several Beach Boys albums. It was first released on The Beach Boys in Concert album. A concert from Anaheim Stadium on July 3, 1976 which featured the song was filmed and produced by Lorne Michaels for a Beach Boys television special which first aired in the United States in August, 1976. The TV special was later released on video and DVD as Good Vibrations Tour. In 1980, a live rendition was recorded, though not released until 2002 on the Good Timin': Live at Knebworth England 1980 live album. Footage from the concert was also released on video and DVD format. A live version was also released on the band's 1993 box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys.
The band also performed a live version of the song at the NBC Television Studios in Burbank, California which was filmed on March 14, 1964. Footage of the concert was later released on the DVD The Lost Concert. The band performed the song on The T.A.M.I. Show which was filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 28 and 29, 1964 and featured other top artists of the day such as Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, James Brown & The Famous Flames and The Rolling Stones. The concert was released as a film in 1964 featuring the Beach Boys performance. However, after the initial showing of the film Brian insisted that the band's performance be cut from the film. Because of a rights dispute the footage of the Beach Boys' performance does not appear in most versions of The T.A.M.I. Show. The footage was eventually released on the DVD Sights of Summer included with the special 2004 edition of Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys.
Also, Alan Jardine included the song on his Live In Las Vegas album.
Papa Doo Run Run covered the song on their 1985 album California Project. The Jesus and Mary Chain covered the song, which appears on their 1988 album Barbed Wire Kisses, a compilation of B-sides and rare tracks. Typical for early style of The Jesus and Mary Chain the song features large amounts of feedback. The power metal band Blind Guardian covered the song on their 1996 album The Forgotten Tales. Noise punk band Melt Banana covered the song on their album 13,000 Miles At Light Velocity. Pre-teen pop singer Aaron Carter performed a cover of the song. It was released as a single in 1998, and also appeared on the 1998 re-release of his self titled debut album. John B. & The Surfin´ Safaris covered the song on their 2002 album A Tribute to the Beach Boys. In an episode of The Muppet Show, the song was performed by Kermit the Frog (as Sinbad the Sailor), Sweetums, and a group of frog sailors.
Frank Sidebottom recorded a version as Surfin Timperley (Timperley being nowhere near the sea, and therefore not a place where surfing is possible). Redgum parodied this track as "Servin' USA". Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for the 1983 Alvin and the Chipmunks episode "The Curse of Lokntiki" and the soundtrack Songs from Our TV Shows. Pennywise have also covered the song at various live performances.
Serbian rock band Eva Braun covered the song with lyrics in Serbian language entitled "Zviždi Srbija" in 1997, but the song had not been officially released until 2008 on the compilation album Off the Record.