2 SURFIN' USA
The Beach Boys, 1963
Think about where surfing would be without the Beach Boys. (And don't listen to surfing purists, who'll say, "Better off." They just want uncrowded waves.) In 1959 there were an estimated 5,000 surfers worldwide. Four years later there were two million, almost all of them in California. The movie Gidget, in '59, helped launch the craze, but the Beach Boys, who first hit the local L.A. charts with "Surfin' " in 1961, broadcast the sport's siren song all over the world, giving the craze its anthem.
Oddly enough, Brian Wilson, the Pied Piper of surf mania and the eccentric genius who wrote the Beach Boys' songs and meticulously crafted their sound, was deathly afraid of the water. But he had a role model close at hand—his brother Dennis. "Dennis wasn't really a musician in the beginning," says Domenic Priore, the author of Pop Surf Culture. "He really did fix up cars and race them, and he surfed a ton, so Brian primarily was writing songs about Dennis's lifestyle." Safe in his room, Wilson cranked out hit after hit about surfers, souped-up cars, summertime fun and girls in bikinis. "Surfin' USA" was the song that launched the band into national stardom.
3 ALL KINDS OF TIME
Fountains of Wayne, 2003
Adam Schlesinger, the bassist for the ironic indie band Fountains of Wayne, is an unusually versatile songwriter. He's been nominated for a Grammy (for the song "Stacy's Mom"), an Oscar (That Thing You Do), a Tony (Cry-Baby) and an Emmy (A Colbert Christmas). But of all his compositions, "All Kinds of Time" might be his most satisfying. "Every once in a while a song turns out better than you expected," he says, "and that's what it felt like with this one."
It begins with a sportswriting cliché—a young quarterback with "all kinds of time"—and turns into a moving ballad about youth, zen calm and coming through in the clutch. On a crucial drive the young QB drops back and, as tacklers close in on the pocket, finds time slowing down. Suddenly, he knows just what to do. He finds his open receiver, and the whole world is his. "I thought of that phrase all kinds of time, and taking it literally," says Schlesinger, who describes himself as a casual football fan. "I wanted to pick one little moment in a game and see if I could stretch it out for the length of an entire song. NFL Films was the inspiration, pretty much. I just thought of it with that super slo-mo vibe." That made it all the more satisfying when a few years ago the NFL used the song in a commercial with footage of iconic quarterbacks. "That was all I had really wanted for that song," Schlesinger says.
4 RACING IN THE STREETS
Bruce Springsteen, 1978