My favorite Beach Boys songs are the surprisingly despondent ones, the sunny veneer washed away by the ceaseless tide. 1971’s Surf’s Up is peak-bleak for The Beach Boys, containing some of their most forlorn, existential tunes, an omen of the tragedies that would befall the exceptionally talented Wilson brothers. Beginning with the album’s artwork, an interpolation of a sculpture by James Earle Fraser titled, “End Of The Trail”, you know you are in for something far different than the albums of the previous decade.
No track captures the poetic dejection of this album more than “‘Til I Die”, a solemn introspection of one’s mortality in terms of the vastness of infinite natural elements: “I’m a cork on the ocean / floating over the raging sea. / How deep is the ocean? / How deep is the ocean?” The surf pop of Pet Sounds glided blissfully, naively across the surface of a breaker; “Til I Die” plumbs the depth of an inscrutable ocean until sunlight is no longer visible. It is here that you get a glimpse into Brian Wilson’s psyche –this song was actually ready about a year and a half prior to its release, but the band felt it wasn’t consistent aesthetically until they changed management and direction with Surf’s Up.
The track is equal parts piercing poetry, mollifying harmonies, and disquieting organ. It is poignant in a way that was new for Beach Boys fans, perhaps not so much for Brian Wilson who had been hiding demons for half a decade upon the album’s release.
I have been playing this on repeat ever since Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno of Best Coast discussed their favorite walk-out music on Celebrity Playlist, and I am so glad they called attention to this great track.
You can check out that conversation below: