Monday, March 15, 2021

Sonic Sorcery: The Shifting Foundation of "Surfer Girl"

In our 3rd installment of the series, let's look at the Beach Boys classic "Surfer Girl" from 1963.

Written by Brian Wilson (who co-founded the band and was originally played bass & keys in addition to lead & backing vocals) in 1961 when he was only 19 years old, he claims it was the first song he ever wrote! This is an amazing fact, as we'll soon see.

So lets look at the the chord progressions and how it interacts with the melody and the lyrics.

Chord progression:

We'll analyze things once we look at the chart (6/8 time):

D - /Bm - /G - /A - /
F#m - /D7 - /G - /Gm - /
D - /Bm - /G - /A - /
D - /Bm - G - /A - /

D - /Bm - /G - /A - /
F#m - /D7 - /G - /Gm - /
D - /Bm - /G - /A - /
D - /G - /D - /D7 - /

G - /A - /D - /Bm - /
G - /A - /D - /D7 - /
G - /A - /D - /Bm - /
E - /E7 - /A7 - /Bb - /

Eb - /Cm - /Ab - /Bb - /
Gm - /Eb7 - /Ab - /Abm - /
Eb - /Cm - /Ab - /Bb - /
Eb - /Cm - /Ab - /Bb - /Eb........

There is noting unusual about the first line (or the 3rd & 4th lines) of the verses, as Brian uses a standard 1, 6, 4, 5 progression. However, what is happening in the 2nd line? That's most unusual. Where did he get THOSE chords?

If we think of the 2nd line as a seris of chord replacements, it suddenly makes sense:

The F#m is one of the prime chord subs for D (the other being the Bm), but note it is a 3rd UP from D. The 2nd chord in the line, D7, replaces the Bm and it, too, is a 3rd UP from that chord. Adding the 7 to it also makes it a perfect set-up for the G (we'll look at this concept in another lessons), which is the same as the 3rd chord in the first line, but instead of moving to the A (the so-called "authentic cadence", which is the 5 chord returning to the 1 chord, the strongest push to resolve) Brian moves from G to Gm (or 4 to 4m to return to the one, also called the "plagal cadence"). 

Stunning shifting of chords! Then our ear wonders what will happen next, and Brian settles in by repeating the first line, which then has our ear yearning to hear if he'll switch it up again or not.

As we move to the bridge, we see him being fairly conventional (though revisiting that D7 at the end of the second line), but that's just to lull us into thinking the surprises are over....when suddenly, he makes a move to the E chord, which, in the key of D, should be minor, but he substitutes it for major which really grabs the ear AND sets us up for the key change as he moves to A7 and then the song slides up a half step.

The last verse is identical the the first, but in the new key (Eb).

Nice! Moving just like those waves....


Just a very pretty melody - right? A pretty melody, yes. But "just"? Absolutely not. Brian has a few tricks happening.

The first few notes are over the D & Bm chords and are just A to F# to D and back to D...which are exactly the notes of the D chord, which obviously sits perfectly not only over the D chord, but its primary relative minor, the Bm chord.

But as the progression moves into the 2nd line (remember, where he substitutes the chords for the 3rd UP?), he moves the guessed it.....a 3rd UP from the original melody (from A to F# to D, he moves from C# to A to F#) and continues this through the remainder of the line (even though the chord move to G and Gm).

Beautiful! And moving just like those waves....


The lyrics have no "tricks", as it were. They simply paint a colorful picture of he and his girlfriend on the beach, falling in love.

Except, wait....could I be reading into this? Or maybe as he sings in the bridge "I would take you, everywhere I go" its just a coincidence that he goes somewhere? Yes, up a half step to a new key. Rising up as a metaphor for their growing love?

Or maybe I'm now just seeing connections where none exist?

You be the judge.....(but it sure is moving, just like those waves....)


If you find this lesson to be of value, please consider leaving a small donation!

No comments:

Post a Comment