I could come from miles away
No place to stay
“Surfin’ U.S.A.” was the first Beach Boys album I bought.
Before that came Jan & Dean. I remember the first time I heard “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” it was from the 16 transistor boom box hanging on a cord at the pavilion at Jennings Beach where I went to buy french fries.
Some tracks you only need to hear once. In the case of “Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” it was a confluence of factors, the backup vocals, the “Go Granny Go!” and the twisted lyrics about a woman driving a Super Stock Dodge when I was years from my license and it all happened in Pasadena which I somehow did not know was the home of the Rose Parade, it was just another exotic place in California, the state where I begged my mother to move us every damn day. For a better life.
It’s where everything came from. The music, the TV, the culture!
New York was about business.
California was about lifestyle!
And I forced my mother to buy me the single of “Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” and after that I purchased possibly my favorite album of all time, Jan & Dean’s “Command Performance,” a live LP that let me dream of my home in California, even if it only existed in my mind.
The album opened with “Surf City,” and having not yet reached puberty, I had no idea of the attraction of two girls for every boy, but I certainly understood the energy. This was long before music became dark. The California surf sound was upbeat, it was about living as opposed to sitting at home playing the yet to be invented video games.
And it wasn’t only surfing, it was also cars. The story was told in “Dead Man’s Curve.” People still argue where that is on Sunset Boulevard. But one thing’s for sure, Jan Berry cracked up his Corvette and that was the end of Jan & Dean’s prodigious recording career. Oh, there were some releases from the can, but the act was dead.
And that just left us with the Beach Boys. Which I was well aware of because of “I Get Around” in the jukebox at Nutmeg Lanes and the fact that “Sidewalk Surfin'” was a cover of the Beach Boys’ “Catch A Wave” with new lyrics, about skateboarding before it was called that. They sing about the tricks and it makes you just want to ride, which we did, on steel wheels, before they went to urethane.
So I decided to buy a Beach Boys album. In mono, I didn’t want the heavy needle of my record player ruining a stereo record. And the LP I picked was their second, with a giant wave on front and pictures of the band members on the back that had me trying to comb my hair like Dennis Wilson for hours.
And just like “Sidewalk Surfin'” had new lyrics for a Beach Boys tune, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” had new lyrics for Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
Yup, that was the title track of the album I bought, “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
But contrary to legend, the “Surfin’ U.S.A.” album wasn’t just a hit surrounded by dreck. First and foremost, it contained another hit, “Shut Down.” Back when I had no idea what taching it up meant.
And there was a cover of Dick Dale’s “Let’s Go Trippin’,” which I heard here first, back in an era where most surf hits were regional, i.e. played on the west coast only.
But it was the originals that floated my boat.
Like “Lonely Sea.” I’d lie on my floor and close my eyes and imagine that the people who made this music understood me. It was moody, it set your mind free in a way that today’s hit music does not. Not that you ever heard “Lonely Sea” on the radio.
And Mike Love might have sung the hits “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Shut Down,” but Brian took the lead on “Lonely Sea” and…
It was the second track on the LP. Right after “Surfin’ U.S.A.” It was upbeat, but heartfelt, not mindless, due to the aforementioned Brian Wilson lead vocal.
You go to see him now and wince when he can’t hit the notes. But once upon a time Brian Wilson was not only an instrumental genius, but a vocal one too. So sweet, so smooth, positively ethereal, his voice was not of this Earth, it seemed to emanate from above.
Now we all knew the joke, even at that age.
But “Farmer’s Daughter” is no joke.
It’s a dream, a memory of an encounter, a meeting, what once was, when Brian met…
The farmer’s daughter.
Help you plow your fields
Just a couple of days
Rest and on my way
There’s nothing salacious, it’s not even implied, it’s positively G-rated, but with this exquisite sound, oh-so meaningful.
Better leave your land
It was mighty grand
Hope to see you again
It’s not even two minutes long, “Farmer’s Daughter” clocks in at 1:53, but it’s a whole story, a mental movie. And I haven’t been able to get it out of my head after playing it on Sirius XM last week.
That’s how songs are. Most slide off of you. But when there’s a melody and a melodious vocal the track becomes embedded in your brain, and when the switch is flipped it sticks with you for weeks, even though you might not have thought of it for years.
The amazing thing is this track still exists. It hasn’t degraded over time. You can jet back to 1963 and it’s still bright, not sepia-toned. You can see the girls on the beach, the boys in their woodies, the good times. Brian and the Boys bring you right back. It’s embedded in the grooves, in the 0’s and 1’s, doesn’t matter how you listen, your life is changed. You’re convinced there’s really a farmer’s daughter out there.
And you’re ready to put on your huarache sandals, grab your board and find where the waves are breaking and smile.