Beach Boys’ ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ Voted Best Summer Song of All Time
By Jon Wiederhorn
(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives)
For the past month, Y! Music has been running a mega-poll to determine the Greatest Summer Song Of All Time.
After four exhaustive rounds, our readers have determined that The Beach Boys's "Surfin' U.S.A" takes the crown for the slice of rock and roll that sounds the best when barbecuing on the deck, sunbathing by the pool or surfing in the deep blue sea. In other words, it's the tune with the hooks, subject matter and history that best represent summer.
The lyrics for "Surfin' U.S.A." were penned by Brian Wilson and feature Mike Love on lead vocals. The song first surfaced as a single on March 4, 1963 and was the title track to the Beach Boys' second album, the follow-up to 1962’s "Surfin’ Safari." Like many great rock and roll songs, "Surfin U.S.A." wasn't exactly an original composition, but to their credit, The Beach Boys never tried to bury that fact under the sand.
From the get-go, Wilson was forthright about how he wanted to add lyrics about the best surfing beaches in America to the melody for Chuck Berry's 1958 hit "Sweet Little Sixteen." While Wilson was originally listed as the sole writer, proper permissions were later sought and Berry was properly credited as the composer.
"Surfin' U.S.A." debuted on national television on "The Steve Allen Show" two days before the record was released and the band lip-synched while the track played, which was common back when recording live sound was a hit-and-miss proposition.
From the start, the song was a hit, reaching Number 3 on Billboard and Cash Box, and Number 2 on the Music Vendor trade paper music chart. While the Beach Boys' version of the tune, with its invigorating vocal harmonies, twangy guitars (including a classic intro by Carl Wilson) and propulsive beat has never gone out of season, Leif Garrett released a cover of the song in 1977, which went Top 20. But it was the Beach Boys's version that was featured in the soundtracks of "Teen Wolf" (1985), "My Blue Heaven" (1990) and "Rush Hour" (1998).
Even today, "Surfin' U.S.A." epitomizes the excitement of catching a wave and the exhilaration of escaping mundane conformity and diving into a party of everlasting youth. To reach the heralded status of Y! Music's best summer anthem of all time, "Surfin' U.S.A." had to battle through four rounds of competition, defeating Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime," the Go-Go’s "Vacation," "Summer Nights" from the "Grease" soundtrack and finally Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville." Buffet didn't go down without a fight, Parrot Heads standing by their idol to the end, but when the smoke from the cookout cleared, The Beach Boys’s summer supremacy couldn't be denied and "Surfin’ U.S.A" took 57 percent of the vote, against Buffett’s 43 percent.
Other summer classics that didn’t make it to the final cut included Madonna’s 'Holiday," Weezer’s "Island In The Sun," Katy Perry’s "California Gurls" and Alice Cooper's "School’s Out."