The Rock 'n' Roll Mafia would like you to think that surf music never happened.
If you subscribe to the Rolling Stone/Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame/Baby Boomer critics world view, there was Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc, then rock died in 1960. Then, in the mid-'60s, Dylan and the Beatles "saved" it. Uh, yeah. Right.
Actually, if anything, surf music saved rock. When The Bel-Aires and Dick Dale made their 1961 debuts, reinvigorating rock 'n 'roll with a fresh, exciting new sound and instantly inspiring countless musicians, the charts and airwaves had gotten fairly rock-free. Even some early rockers like Bobby Darin thought that rock was a fad that had run it's course, so he put on a tux and switched to adult pop.
The Rock n' Roll Hall of Shame thinks nothing of inducting scads of obscure doo-wop groups, cheesy British Invaders, and decidedly un-rocking hippie folkies. Why the antipathy towards a music that would seem to embody rock's greatest virtues? I have a few theories:
- East Coast bias. That's where the critical establishment is based, and that's where most of the above-cited doo-wop groups that no-one's heard of come from. And I am in no way opposed to obscure doo-wop - I'm just asking for a little equal time.
- Instrumental music doesn't sit well with rock crits; it doesn't have any lyrics to quote and analyze, and you know how they love to do that. They are writers, after all, not guitarists.
- Surf is the one kind of rock 'n' roll that draws inspiration from nature. Even if there are lyrics, they often refer to man's place within a natural setting, and not just the beach. Dick Dale has said that, apart from surfing, wild animals like big cats also inspire his guitar playing. There's a lot of outer space-inspired surf music. The most famous album produced by a surf group is "Pet Sounds," recorded after the Beach Boys stopped singing beach party songs. Once the themes went back to familiar teen/romance subjects, it became acceptable for critical consideration.
But enough yackin', less talk, more rock! Behold! "Surfrealism" going way beyond the usual Ventures twang for your maniacal beach party needs. From such masters as Luis Bun-swell. And Surfvador Dali (all right, I'll stop now):
The SG Sound is my discovery of the year. Yes, another lounge revivalist mixing surf, spy, bossa, a-go-go etc. might not sound so original anymore, but this LA boy's strengths are many: good songwriting (much appreciated, in an genre that often favors style over all), excellent production, fun without being overly jokey/smirky. From the Planet Twist ep:
The SG Sound: Jump The Shark
From a 1982 Rhino Records comp "Rhino Brothers Greatest Flops" comes this mysterious one-off, a version of The Chantay's surf standard done on traditional Indian instruments:
The Bombay Beach Boys - Pipeline
Another total obscurity: an Asian Moog album from 1973 featuring an electro version of the Bel-Airs classic:
The Carmets: Mr. Moto
"The Thurston Lava Tube is a psychedelic, experimental surf instrumental group from Leicester, England." This really is great, even if you're sick of the Beatles:
The Thurston Lava Tube: "I Am The Walrus"
Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra: "Get Ur Freak On" - Yep, covering Missy Elliot inna John Barry-goes-surfing stylee; another cover that improves on the original.
From an album called "Jesus Christ Surferstar" (could I make this stuff up?):
Susan & The Surtones: "Everything's Allright"
Stay tuned for part 2!