The original record is dull on the lead vocal, but the chorus is magic.
All the other versions get is wrong as far as I can tell, and in exactly the way I describe in this commentary for Jackson Browne’s first album:
Most of the clips posted here are so modern and phony and wrong they make my head hurt. Really boosted on the top. Who on earth wants that sound? Apparently some people do.
The real pressings never sounded that way. Although they may need some modest help in the EQ department, making wholesale changes to the sound — as was clearly done for most of these modern versions — is just wrong.
It ruins everything that is good about the recording.
Now do you see why we have so little respect for modern mastering engineers?
They ruin classic titles like Surfs Up with their “improvements.” They destroy what is good about vintage analog while promoting themselves as the protectors of vintage analog.
The only people who can be trusted to promote the sound of vintage analog are the people who sell it and write about it.
The rest of them are frauds and charlatans and, as far as I can tell, deaf as a post.
Our Most Recent Hot Stamper Commentary
When it works, boy can this album sound AMAZING. Full of Tubey Magic, not to mention analog warmth and sweetness, this is clearly one of the band’s best albums of the 70s.
What’s magical about The Beach Boys? Their voices of course, what else could it be? It’s not a trick question. Any good pressing must sound correct on their voices or it has no practical value whatsoever. A Beach Boys record with bad sound in the midrange — like most of them — is to us a worthless record.
What the best sides of Surf’s Up have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1971
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
When you drop the needle on a copy with gritty, spitty, harsh, shrill vocals, give up and move on. You have a bad one and no amount of cleaning or adjusting of the table can ever fix it.
What We’re Listening For on Surf’s Up
Less grit – smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on Surf’s Up.
A bigger presentation – more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.
More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way Glyn Johns wanted it to.
Present, breathy vocals. A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.
Good top end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording including the studio ambience.
Last but not least, balance. All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find.
Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.
Not only is it hard to find great copies of this album, it ain’t easy to play ’em either. You’re going to need a hi-res, super low distortion front end with careful adjustment of your arm in every area — VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate — in order to play this album properly. If you’ve got the goods you’re gonna love the way this copy sounds. Play it with a budget cart / table / arm and you’re likely to hear a great deal less magic than we did.
Don’t Go Near the Water
Long Promised Road
Take a Load off Your Feet
Disney Girls (1957)
Student Demonstration Time
Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)
A Day in the Life of a Tree
‘Til I Die
… the last three tracks are what make Surf’s Up such a masterpiece. The first, “A Day in the Life of a Tree,” is simultaneously one of Brian’s most deeply touching and bizarre compositions; he is the narrator and object of the song (though not the vocalist; co-writer Jack Rieley lends a hand), lamenting his long life amid the pollution and grime of a city park while the somber tones of a pipe organ build atmosphere.
The second, “‘Til I Die,” isn’t the love song the title suggests; it’s a haunting, fatalistic piece of pop surrealism that appeared to signal Brian’s retirement from active life.
The album closer, “Surf’s Up,” is a masterpiece of baroque psychedelia, probably the most compelling track from the Smile period. Carl gives a soulful performance despite the surreal wordplay, and Brian’s coda is one of the most stirring moments in his catalog.
Wrapped up in a mess of contradictions, Surf’s Up defined the Beach Boys’ tumultuous career better than any other album.