The beach is usually something that conjures up fantastic images in our minds. Sun, sea, and sand seem to hold a special place in our psyche. It is probably because it conjures up images of holidays, and not having to work – the possibility of visiting new places.
Songwriters have found plenty of material in and around the beach. With the “Surf” genre of Rock n Roll, a whole industry was created. The beach means more to us than just a stretch of sand. It also means the sea and surfing and the sun.
So, let’s take a look at some of the best songs about the beach, starting with the classic…
- Top 10 Songs About the Beach
- Looking for More Great Music?
- Songs About the Beach – Final Thoughts
Top 10 Songs About the Beach
Surfin’ Safari by The Beach Boys
What conjures up images of the surf, the sea, and a sandy beach? For most people, musically, it will be the Beach Boys. Where better to start our look at the greatest beach songs than with them?
“Surfin Safari” was the first track on their 1962 album of the same name. But, it had already been released as a single first and reached #14 on the American chart.
Its success was one of the reasons they got a contract to do a full album. “Surfin’ Safari,” the single was included. The album reached #32 in America.
Was It The Start of A New Craze?
The lure of the beach and all things associated with it was already popular in Southern California. As it is in every place in the world where there is a beach. But, this song created a new genre within Rock n Roll.
Were they, or should I say, Brian Wilson, the instigators of something new? Well, along with a couple of other California kids we shall look at later, almost certainly yes.
The Place To Go
Suddenly, the beach was “the place to go.” The words of another song I shall also look at later. And they introduced us to places most people had never heard of, like Laguna beach. They gave us new words, like “woody.”
A “woody” was a post-war car/van with wooden sides that surfers often would drive to the beach loaded up with their boards and other stuff for the day.
A very simple but effective song. And, if the aim of it was to conjure up those beach images in our minds and get us down there, then it worked.
Under the Boardwalk by The Drifters
When this song came out in Europe, it caused a certain amount of confusion. The younger generation asked the question, “What is a boardwalk?”
We had larger structures stretching out into the sea, but we knew them as a pier. Some towns like Blackpool and Southend in the UK were famous for them. But the lyrics to “Under The Boardwalk” didn’t sound like they were referring to those structures.
We also had smaller structures that were used for boats or people fishing. But, they were only usable when the tide was in. They were the closest to the “boardwalk” we had ever heard about.
It Captured The Moment
But, it didn’t matter that we didn’t quite comprehend it; the song set the scene. It captures the feeling of a summer romance. Meeting up in a secret place on the beach but out of the sun with a girlfriend. The sound of a fairground, or a carousel as the song calls it, and hot dogs and french fries.
The song was written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick and was released in 1964. Despite it seemingly being a well-known song of the time in the UK, it only reached #45. It was more successful in America, where it reached #4.
Plenty of Cover Versions
Being a popular song about the beach, it was always going to attract some good and, of course, not-so-good cover versions. The Rolling Stones did a decent job of it on their second album, Paper Sleeve.
The most successful version of the song seems to be that of Bruce Willis, which reached #2 in the UK and #20 in America. I can’t imagine for a minute how that happened, but there you go. It is a song, despite the cover versions, that will be forever associated with The Drifters.
Down On The Beach Tonight by The Drifters
The Drifters are an interesting example of a vocal group pointed in one direction and then having to change when it wasn’t working.
Clyde McPhatter was the early lead vocalist, but as time went on, the lead vocal duties were shared around. One notable lead singer, of course, was Ben E. King. In the early days, they recorded Rock n Roll songs. “Money Honey” and “Lucille” are two.
Of course, they became better known for their ballads. “Under the Boardwalk” is one of the more successful. Their first single came out in 1953. “Save the Last Dance for Me” by Ben E. King came in 1960, and “Saturday Night At The Movies” in 1964.
After that, success was limited…
The Beatles had conquered the world, and groups like The Drifters were largely seen as irrelevant. They desperately tried to keep in touch with songs like “At The Club,” released in 1965. But that was just a “Twist And Shout” look-a-like but a rather weaker variation.
A rather surprising return came with “Kissing in the Back Row,” which reached #2 in the UK. It failed to chart in America.
“Down on the Beach Tonight” was an attempt, I think to regain that “Under The Boardwalk” moment. The sea and the sand and talking about walking barefoot in the sand would have worked well ten years earlier. Now, it was just a bit too late for most people.
The song had all the right attributes for a good down at the beach song. However, it needed to be a little different to be a success in the 70s. But, for a 60s beach song, which is what it was, it is still a pleasant enough listen.
Wipe Out by The Surfaris
Was this a song about going to the beach? I think it is close enough to earn its place on this list of songs about the beach. Wouldn’t be able to surf without one, would you?
The surf scene seemed to arrive and pass very quickly. In some ways, it served as an antidote. Relief from those vivid and often disturbing images of prophecy about the future is presented to us by Dylan, Seeger, and Baez. But weren’t they right!
This was released in 1963 and brought them instant success. There is some discussion that always arises about whether the band played on the track. Or, on any of the tracks from the album that was given the same name, Wipe Out.
Well, whoever played…
The single reached #5 in the UK and #2 in America. It has always been a song that has just been for a bit of fun. And, in 1964, there was no better way of creating that image than anything to do with the beach or the sea or surfing.
To emphasize the fun aspect, the song was released again, but this time by “Animal” from “The Muppets.” It was included on their album, Muppet Beach Party. The single reached #38 on the UK chart nearly thirty years after The Surfaris original.
Beyond the Sea by Bobby Darin
Let’s change the mood and the style and go back a bit in time to this track from Bobby Darin. Many will recognize this song as “La Mer.” This is an English translation and version of that song. The original was recorded in the 1940s in French by Charles Trenet.
In translation, the lyrical meaning changed a bit…
The French version alluded to the changing moods of the sea. The version in English recorded here became more of a love song about a couple on the beach. It had a romantic edge to the lyrics, “My lover stands on golden sands.”
“Beyond the Sea” also became the title of a biographical film that was based on Bobby Darin’s life.
The single reached #8 in 1959 in the UK and #6 in America. A change of pace for those who like a little bit of jazz, Benny Goodman also recorded an instrumental version in 1948. A little more up-to-date, George Benson also released his version in 1985. It reached #60 in the UK.
The Boys Of Summer by Don Henley
Sometimes you hear a song or a chorus, and it just screams “beach” at you. This is one of those songs. It was taken from Henley’s album, Building The Perfect Beast.
The single reached #12 in the UK and #5 in America. The lyrics were written by Henley, but the music came from Mike Campbel, guitarist with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Essentially, the song is about a period in our lives when we pass from our youth to what is perceived as middle age. The song is looking back at past relationships and experiences but also saying we should never forget them.
Not the happiest of beach songs…
It uses the beach as symbolic of those changes in that the people have all left now, “Nobody on the road – Nobody on the beach – I feel it in the air – The summer’s out of reach.”
It was written and recorded at a time when Henley and some of The Eagles were spitting venom at each other like a group of puff adders. However, some good music came from their enforced hiatus from both Henley and Glenn Frey. Fortunately, in the end, hell did freeze over.
A song, as I say, that just screams beach at you. And, if you listen to it and if you close your eyes, it will take you there.
Surf City by Jan and Dean
The Beach Boys are the ones most associated with the sun, sea, surf, and the beach. But, they weren’t the first to get a surfing #1 hit. That prize went to Jan and Dean and “Surf City.”
Jan and Dean, Jan Berry and Dean Torrance, were both home-grown California kids. Meeting Brian Wilson for the first time, though, was to change their lives. Wilson had already written most of “Surf City,” and together, they completed it.
I wonder who that was?
“Surf City” was a hit way beyond all their dreams, reaching #1 in America in 1963. The song and its genre firmly established life on and around the beach as part of this new and emerging music. And Jan and Dean’s Californian association was established.
It became such a cult song that the well-known surfing beach at Huntington was nicknamed Surf City. Glen Campbell was a session musician on the track.
Who Was First?
We suggested the question earlier. There is no argument that the Beach Boys are synonymous with beach life and surfing music. And that Brian Wilson’s input to “Surf City” was vital. But, it was Jan and Dean that scored first.
But What Happened To Them?
Dead Man’s Curve was an actual stretch of road in Los Angeles. Jan Berry had a serious accident in his Corvette in 1966, just two miles away. He sustained serious brain damage and was partially paralyzed, but he recovered enough to work again; however, not at the same level as before.
He died in 2004, and the history-making partnership ended. But, it is not forgotten amongst the beach bums.
Sea And Sand by The Who
This is a track taken from Pete Townshends’ Quadrophenia. It offers a different view of the beach and what it can mean to someone.
This is an interesting piece of work from Townshend. Most of it is taken from real-life experiences. For the vast majority of people, it is just a story about a misguided and mixed-up youth.
For those that lived in London during the 60s…
It was an absolute reality. We saw it going on around us all the time. The trips to Brighton, to see The Who play incidentally, the scary mass fights between the ‘Mods’ and the ‘Rockers.’
The scooters and smart clothing, and union jack jackets for the ‘Who-loving’ Mods. The motorbikes and leather jackets for the ‘rock n roll loving’ rockers.
And, of course, that Whitsun bank holiday weekend in Brighton, where an actual war broke out. All are included by Townshend in this masterpiece of nostalgia which also had a very important message intertwined in the story.
The main character, Jimmy, has gone home after the Brighton violence and gets thrown out by his parents. He goes back to Brighton, thinking it will all be the same. But, everyone has left, and it is deserted.
Some of his heroes from the violence are working in menial jobs in hotels. The song “Bell Boy” is his awakening.
He goes down to the beach in a vain attempt to make sense of it all and his fast-disintegrating life. To him, the beach is not a place of fun and enjoyment. It is a place of sadness and bad memories, and of course, eventually, his end.
Do It Again by The Beach Boys
You knew there was at least one more song from The Beach Boys on this list of the best songs about the beach. In my opinion, this would rank in the Top 10 of their best songs. Once again, four years after the Surf Scene, they can recapture the atmosphere of those “beach” days.
It is a nostalgic piece that may be representative of what was going through Brian Wilson’s mind at the time. Harking back to those innocent days when the most common phrase was “surfs up.”
“It’s automatic when I talk with old friends – The conversation turns to girls we knew – When their hair was soft and long – And the beach was the place to go.”
And so it was…
The beach and how it was viewed conjured up a whole culture. Surfing may have been restricted to a few select countries. But, the music went round the world. It was #1 in the UK, but surprisingly only reached #20 in America.
The song was never included on an album. Although, the B-side, “Wake The World,” was included on the album Friends. The single came out about two weeks after the album. Another song that instantly says “beach” when you hear it.
Beach Baby by First Class
And so, to the last iconic beach song on the list, this one from First Class. Bit of a back story with this song which we won’t go into. It was written by a husband and wife team living in South-West London.
It was written in London…
Yet, it tells the story of a break-up in Los Angeles. It was released in 1974 and reached #13 on the UK chart and #4 in America. Once again, a very nostalgic look back at a life that had now passed into memory.
“Beach baby, beach baby, give me your hand – Give me something that I can remember – Just like before, we can walk by the shore in the moonlight – Beach baby, beach baby, there on the sand – From July to the end of September – Surfin’ was fun, we’d be out in the sun every day.”
It was a very commercial song and was written and produced to be so. A great track full of the feeling of the sun, sand, and the sea. Exactly what we have been looking at.
Looking for More Great Music?
We can help. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs About California, the Best Songs about Friday, the Best Songs About Cars, the Best Songs About the Weekend, the Top Songs About the Sea, and the Best Songs About Tequila for more awesome song selections.
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Songs About the Beach – Final Thoughts
Despite some of the sentiments in these songs, the beaches are still there. However, in many ways, they aren’t the same as they were. But, they are still there, and people still love their days on the beach with picnics while enjoying the sun.
The surfers are still there, though maybe not as many as there were. The culture may have gone for some of them, but the memories remain.
And that is what this list has given us. Some greatest musical memories of a time when life was simpler and innocent. As Brian Wilson wrote, “The beach was the place to go.” It was.
Until next time, happy listening.