SURF ROCK

dick dale     HangTen

Elvis Presley was and still is referred to as The King and the Beatles are a household name associated with the British invasion. Many believe The Beatles were responsible for dethroning The King. But Elvis’s popularity peaked in the late 50’s and the Beatles came on to the scene in the 1964 leaving a gap that was filled by a new Southern California sound, Surf Rock. Surf Rock began in the early 1960s as instrumentals dominated by electric guitars and rapid picking. The reverb on the guitar was used heavily to emulate the sound of waves and became known as the “wet sound”. Dick Dale and the Del-Tones are credited with launching the surf music craze in 1961 with his hit “Let’s Go Trippin'”. It was a fast, energetic, racy guitar sound that was very unique. I happened to see Dick Dale at a car show some 40-years later in 2011 performing the same same sound and songs and the crowd loved it. Like Dale most early surf bands were formed in Southern California, with Orange County in particular having a strong surf culture. “Wipe Out ” performed by The Surfaris in 1963 became probably the most well known instrumental of the era with it’s drum solo copied by kids everywhere with just two pencils and a table-top. The song has been featured in over 20 films and television shows since 1964. The flip-side of “Wipe Out” was “Surfer Joe” which was also widely popular in the early 60’s. The surf rock sound was still considered regional to So. Cal until two vocal groups came on the scene, Jan & Dean and of course the internationally popular Beach Boys. Jan & Dean had the hugely popular “Surf City” which topped the charts in 1963. Other chart topping hits included “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” and “Dead Man’s Curve”. The Beach Boys, 5-kids from Hawthorne, CA came on to the scene in 1961 and make surf music popular across the US. They relied more on vocal harmonies and lyrics reflecting a youth culture of surfing, cars, and romance. Early Songs included “Surfin’ USA”,”Surfer Girl”, “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Surfin’ Safari”. Brian Wilson, one of three Wilson brothers in the band, was the creative force and chief songwriter. The Beach Boys were “It” in the early 60’s. Teenagers everywhere blasted their songs while cruisin’ in their suped up hot rods or even their parents borrowed car. The big striped t-shirts that the Beach Boys wore became standard for kids and teens and wanna’ be surfers were the norm. Life was good. The lyrics were catchy and simple to remember. I think any person who grew up in Southern California since the Beach Boys came on the scene could recite the lyrics to half a dozen Beach Boy songs, particularly “California Girls” which has been covered multiple times. In 1966 they released Brian Wilson composed “Good Vibrations” which was a departure from the simplistic surf rock sound but made music critics take notice of how good they really were. The Beach boys have often been called “America’s Band” and have sold over 100 million records worldwide ranking them number 12 on Rolling Stone. Unfortunately two Wilson brothers have died…Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983 and Carl died of lung cancer in  1998. The remaining three founders with additional back-up continue to do periodic tours to sold-out crowds and spreading Good Vibes to a new generation. It’s easy to remember Elvis as being The King and The Beatles as the Fab Four, but there is period of time in the 60’s when surf rock owned the airwaves. The Beach Boys was by far the biggest name to come out of that era, but the lesser known names such as The Surfaris, Dick Dale, and Jan & Dean all were popular names to listen to while driving to the beach with the surfboard on the roof. One fan of this surf rock era is Quentin Tarantino who featured several retro surf songs in his movie Pulp Fiction.

 

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