"Surfin' U.S.A." is a song by the American rock band the Beach Boys credited to Chuck Berry and Brian Wilson. It is a rewritten version of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" set to new lyrics penned by Wilson and an uncredited Mike Love. The song was released as a single on March 4, 1963, backed with "Shut Down". It was then placed as the opening track on their album of the same name.
The single peaked at number two in the chart of the Music Vendor trade paper (within a year renamed Record World) and at number three on the Billboard and Cash Box . Billboard ranked "Surfin' U.S.A." the number 1 song of 1963, Although this song was Billboard's original number 1 song of that year, later lists from Billboard rank "Sugar Shack" by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs as the number 1 song of 1963. It has since become emblematic of the California Sound. The song "Surfin' U.S.A." is part of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.
The song features Brian Wilson's surfing-related lyrics set to the music of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". According to Wilson:
"I was going with a girl called Judy Bowles, and her brother Jimmy was a surfer. He knew all the surfing spots. I started humming the melody to 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and I got fascinated with the fact of doing it, and I thought to myself, 'God! What about trying to put surf lyrics to 'Sweet Little Sixteen's melody? The concept was about, 'They are doing this in this city, and they're doing that in that city' So I said to Jimmy, 'Hey Jimmy, I want to do a song mentioning all the surf spots.' So he gave me a list."
When the single was released in 1963, the record only listed Brian Wilson as the composer although the song was published by Arc Music, Chuck Berry's publisher. Later releases, beginning with Best of The Beach Boys in 1966, listed Chuck Berry as the songwriter. Later releases list both writers although the copyright has always been owned, since 1963, by Arc Music. Under pressure from Berry's publisher, Wilson's father and manager, Murry Wilson, had given the copyright, including Brian Wilson's lyrics, to Arc Music prior to the release of the single.
Despite tensions with Berry over the controversy at the time,[clarification needed] Carl Wilson said the Beach Boys "ran into Chuck Berry in Copenhagen and he told us he loves 'Surfin' U.S.A.'." The group often includes other Berry compositions in their repertoire; for example, during their 50th anniversary concert, "Surfin' U.S.A." is preceded by Berry's "Rock and Roll Music".
In 2015, Mike Love stated that "Surfin' U.S.A." was one of many Beach Boys songs he helped write but for which he did not receive credit.  In a 1974 radio interview, Brian said "When we first got going, Mike was a Chuck Berry fan, so ... he and I turned the lyrics into a surfing song."
In the song the following surfing spots are mentioned, mostly in California, as well as one in Hawaii (possibly two) and one in Australia:
- "Del Mar" – Del Mar, San Diego County, California
- "Ventura County Line" – County Line Beach, Malibu in Ventura County, California
- "Santa Cruz" – Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County, California
- "Trestles" – San Onofre State Park, San Diego County, California
- "Australia's Narrabeen" – Narrabeen, New South Wales
- "Manhattan" – Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles County, California
- "Doheny" – Doheny Beach, Dana Point, Orange County, California
- "Haggerty's" – Palos Verdes Estates, Los Angeles County, California
- "Swami's" – Swami's Beach, Encinitas, San Diego County, California
- "Pacific Palisades" – Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles County, California
- "San Onofre" – San Onofre State Park, San Diego County, California
- "Sunset" – Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii – or – Sunset Beach, Orange County, California
- "Redondo Beach, L.A." – Redondo Beach, Los Angeles County, California
- "La Jolla" – La Jolla, San Diego County, California
- "Waimea Bay" – Waimea Bay, Hawaii
The "Surfin' U.S.A." 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. Although the double-sided hit single registered in Billboard as number one in chart points at the end of the year (tabulated up to mid November 1963) and was cited by Billboard as "best-selling record of the year", in a low-selling year for singles in the US it apparently did not initially sell a million copies—and has never been issued an RIAA Gold Disc award. 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.
- The Beach Boys
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||3|
|US Cash Box Top 100||3|
|Canadian Singles Chart||6|
|New Zealand (Lever Hit Parade)||3|
|UK Singles Chart||34|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||36|
|Australian Singles Chart||66|
- Leif Garrett
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||2|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||6|
|Canada RPM Adult Contemporary||48|
|Canada RPM Top Singles||32|
|US Billboard Hot 100||20|
|US Cash Box Top 100||29|
|United Kingdom (BPI)
Beach Boys version
sales+streaming figures based on certification alone
- The Beach Boys
- Mike Love – lead vocal
- David Marks – rhythm guitar
- Brian Wilson – bass guitar, organ, background vocals
- Carl Wilson – lead guitar, background vocals
- Dennis Wilson – background vocals
- Additional Personnel
- Frank DeVito – drums
The song was first released on an album as the title track on the band's 1963 album Surfin' U.S.A. In July 1963, a month after the song had been issued as a single in the United States, Capitol issued the Surfin' U.S.A. EP featuring "Surfin' U.S.A." & "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' U.S.A." 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 VHS 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 VHS 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.
In popular culture
In the 1985 film Teen Wolf, Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) and his friend Stiles enjoy standing on the roof of Scott's father's delivery van (and later Stiles's step van), mimicking surfing while blasting the song.
The song is also played when Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker are in the car in Rush Hour.
The lyrics are included as a chapter in the compendium by Caroline Kennedy, A Patriot's Handbook.
The song opened The Man in the High Castle Season 4 as main character Juliana crossed to the alternate world where Allies won World War II, rather than the main world that United States is conquered and divided by Axis.
Leif Garrett version
- 1964 – Rod and the Cobras on Drag Race At Surf City
- 1972 – Takeshi Terauchi & Blue Jeans (instrumental), Manatsu no Umi wo Buttobase!! – Takeshi Terauchi To Subarashii Ereki Yarotachi
- 1977 – Leif Garrett, which reached #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #4 in Switzerland.
- 1983 – Alvin and the Chipmunks, Season 1 – The Curse of Lontiki
- 1985 – Papa Doo Run Run, California Project
- 1987 – French Frith Kaiser Thompson on Live, Love, Larf & Loaf
- 1988 – The Jesus and Mary Chain on Barbed Wire Kisses (B-sides and More)
- 1988 – Kids Incorporated, Season 5 – Kahuna Kids
- 1988 – M.O.D. on Surfin' M.O.D. EP
- 1996 – Blind Guardian on The Forgotten Tales
- 1996 – Pennywise on MOM: Mother for Our Mother Ocean
- 1998 – Aaron Carter on Aaron Carter
- "Top Records of 1963", Billboard, Section II, December 28, 1963. p. 30. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
- "The Billboard Hot 100 – 1963", Billboard, Archived October 20, 2006. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
- Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits. New York: Billboard Books. p. 138. ISBN 0823076776. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
- "500 Songs That Shaped Rock". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
- Badman, Keith. The Beach Boys (2004): 32
- Pegg, Bruce. Brown Eyed Handsome Man (2002): 162–163
- Good Timin': Live at Knebworth England 1980 DVD, 2002.
- Hedegaard, Erik (February 2016). "Mike Love's Cosmic Journey". Rolling Stone.
- Wilson, Brian (November 1976). "KRTH" (Interview: Audio). Interviewed by Jim Pewter. New York City.; on YouTube
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
- "Canadian Singles Charts". mountvernonandfairway.de. Archived from the original on 10 March 2007. Retrieved 12 November 2007.
- Flavour of New Zealand, 20 June 1963
- "Musicline.de – Leif Garrett Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
- "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1977-10-01. Retrieved 2019-06-12.
- "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1977-10-29. Retrieved 2019-06-12.
- Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
- Cash Box Top 100 Singles, , 1977
- "British single certifications – Beach Boys – Surfin' USA". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
- "Sunshine Plaza music from Disney's California Adventure – ParkTunes". www.parktunes.com. Archived from the original on 2017-09-25.
- "Calling All Cars (4.11)". 19 January 2014. Archived from the original on 26 April 2016.
- on YouTube
- "Leif Garrett, "Surfin' USA" Chart Position". Retrieved December 10, 2016.
- "Leif Garrett - Surfin' USA - swisscharts.com". Archived from the original on 2016-08-28. Retrieved 2017-07-20.