Saturday, June 28, 2008

It's SURFADELIC, Man!! (pt.2: Surf-xotica)

Jeez, I'm practically writing a book here! Let's just start with the music this time so we can get a-rockin' and a-rollin' before I start yammering. Here's some weird, exotic '60s (except for the contemporary group Boom Pam) rock influenced by surf music:

"Jan Pahechan Ho" by Mohammed Rafi, for the film Gumnaam (The Anonymous); from Bombshell Baby of Bombay

Vacilando Con Ayahuesca" by Juaneco Y Su Combo from Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru

JAPAN: "Kanjincho" by Takeshi Terauchi and the Bunnys from Seichô Takeuchi-Bushi

ISRAEL: "Gross" by Boom Pam from their self-titled album. Saw these dudes open for The Ventures last year - they use a tuba.

Fawn Ngeo" by Johnny Guitar from Thai Pop Spectacular 1960s-1980s

To repeat from part 1: the Rock 'n' Roll Mafia would have you believe that rock 'n' roll had died by the end of the '50s, and thanks to Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, etc, it was rescued in the mid-
'60s. A glance at the American top 100 charts for 1960 and 1961 might lead some to think that. Almost none of the big '50s rock pioneers are represented, except for Elvis, of course, and Roy Orbison, but only after he switched from rockabilly to lush orchestral ballads. There's plenty of teen music, but most of it is of the lightweight pop variety e.g.: Connie Francis, Frankie Avalon. And there's lots of EZ pop, and country. But take a closer look: there's plenty of sweaty rhythm 'n blues, groovy girl groups, early soul and Motown action. Looks pretty rockin' to me.

Ah, but that's black music. That's not rock 'n' roll!
The rock critical establishment doesn't just have a white-boy defintion of what's considered rock, do they? Why, that would be, well, kinda racist, wouldn't it? Perish the thought!

Even by the white-boy defintion of rock, the surf wave that broke by 1961 disproved that theory of history. Suburban youth with electric guitars were popping up all over Southern California, due to a confluence of influences: early rock instrumentalists like Link Wray and Duane Eddy, mariachi (due to the all-pervasive Mexican influence on California culture), Hawaiian, and Western musics, and the surf lifestyle. Take Wray's slow, dark grind, or the lazy clip-clop rhythm of Western guitar instrumentals, give it a jolt of adolescent energy, drench your guitar in reverb to make it sound "wet," and voila! You're now playing to thrilled teenagers who are rushing out to buy guitars and start their own bands.

And not just in America. Surf music provided an entre into rock for musicians of other cultures and countries, from Europe to Australia, from Asia to South America, where they would often meld it into their own traditions, producing the weird and wonderful hybrids we're featuring today.

I first started getting into India's "filmi" Bollywood soundtrack pop during the late '80s/early '90s, a time when Los Angeles' Indo/Pak community had grown to the point where there was now a weekly TV program showing music clips from Indian films, and grocery stores were popping up all over town selling cassettes. These tapes were often really inexpensive, like 99 cents, so why not visit one of these curry-scented shops and get some mysterious (to me) cheap entertainment? I was surprised to hear the occasional strong surf influence, but have become less suprised the more I hear it popping up all over '60s (and post-'60s) music, from Thailand to Peru.

Which makes sense, when you think about it - instrumental music holds no language barrier. All that Dylan-esque wordplay so beloved by the Jann Wenner-types doesn't mean much to a non-English speaking population. But cool rockin' twangy guitars and high-energy dance beats? That's a party in any language.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Remember when air travel was fun and glamorous? Here's a mix done for the Peter Nelson Show of swinging '60s swank rudely mixed with all manner of odd noises and voices, propelled by boomin' beats. Note the dialogue between The Big Bopper and The Electric Six. You'll larf!

"Jet-Set Suite"

PanAm commercials, Mel Torme "Jet Set," The Wild Magnolias "Somebody Got Soul," Eazy E "Eazy - Chapter 8 Verse 10," "The Naughty Stewardess" movie ad, Anaconda "Cuban Beach," Ming & FS "Madhattan Bound," Esquivel "Whatchamcallit," the crypto-Beastie Boys "Your Sister's Def," Alphaville "Jet Set," Astrud Gilberto "Fly Me To Brasil," Joe Walsh "Meadow," Enoch Light & the Light Brigade "(Sittin on the)Dock of the Bay," Moby "James Bond Theme," Stevie Wonder "Superstition," The Big Bopper "Chantilly Lace," Electric Six "Gay Bar," Mason Williams "Classical Gas," from "Akom: The Art of Possession," Komeda, Beastie Boys "Shake Your Rump," Manu DiBango "Soul Makossa," Tom Jones "Sex Bomb," Flipper "Sex Bomb," B-52s "Rock Lobster," Henry Jacobs "Lowdown on the New Line," additional beats, synths, sounds.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Earliest Known Computer Music

This article from the BBC tells the story, and has audio, of the oldest known piece of computer music, a 1951 medley of "God Save The Queen" (not the Sex Pistols song)/"Baa Baa Black Sheep"/"In The Mood." Now that's my kind of techno.

Ferranti Mark 1 computer

Friday, June 13, 2008

It's SURFADELIC, Man!! (pt.1)

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 versi
on 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 & Th
e Surtones: "Everything's Allright"

Stay tuned for part 2!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


From this article in the LA Times: "I spent an entire career at the major labels," [Larry] Jenkins [head of CBS Records] said, "and I learned a lot of what to do -- and a lot of what to avoid. I thought, 'What if we went into this where we'll only sign artists who are really talented?"

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Once again, it's Lakers vs Celtics in the National Basketball Association championship, which reminds this long-time Lakers fan of an album I've had since 1980, released through Denny's Restaurants. I had asked my mom as we drove by our local Denny's if we could stop in and get me a copy. Thanks, Mom!

The album is highlights of the 1979-80 season, when the Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers for the world title. It's hosted by the late great Chick Hearn, who was really, if ya ask me, a spoken-word artist who just happened to work as a basketball announcer. Hadn't heard this album in ages, and a few things struck me as I was recording it to mp3:
- swingin' library music
- there's some wobbly audio of game broadcasts, as if the tapes were stretched too thin
- the 76ers were a classic big-Afro '70s team, with players like Julius "Dr. J" Erving, and the backboard-shattering Darryl Dawkins, who came up with all kinds of George Clinton-like names for his dunks, e.g.: "Chocolate Thunder." The Lakers, featuring here the rookie phenom Earvin "Magic" Johnson, would be the dominant team of the '80s. This was like New Wave and rap pushing aside disco and hippie-rock to signal the start of a new era.

Lakers Magic side 1
Lakers Magic side 2

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Chris Swank, a very kind and generous Maniac, has compiled four-count 'em-FOUR cds worth of wonderful tuneage: novelty, outsider, garage rock, celebrities, New Wave oddities, mashups, space age/Moog, and general weirdness, including plenty of songs that were originally posted here, but have since gone off-line.

He put these together just for his friends and fave bloggers, but has agreed to make it available for all y'alls. Be sure to thank him in comments!

Music For Weirdos vol1
Music For Weirdos vol2

Music For Weirdos vol3
Music For Weirdos vol4

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Kaleidoscope of Meaningless Ectoplasms

A recent ad running on Colorado radio by the conservative religious group Focus on the Family is the funniest thing I've heard lately. Apparently, a law was recently passed in that state to allow trans-gendered people to use public bathrooms, resulting in this bit of unintentional hilarity:
Focus on the Family ad

Could John Waters have done any better?

This actually dovetails quite nicely into my current interest in the literary and biographical side of the film world's most famous trannie, Edward D. Wood, Jr, pictured here starring in his own cinematic plea for cross-dress tolerance, "Glen or Glenda." I've been a fan of his films for ages, but never read any of his books until recently. I whole-heartedly recommend his novel "Killer in Drag," an outl
andish bit of pulp brilliance that's easily as entertaining as any of his films. His non-fiction movie-world expose "Hollywood Rat-Race" is also quite wonderful. Check these quotes:
"Actually, there is no Hollywood any longer. It's become a kaleidoscope of meaningless ectoplasms which abound between reality and the unreality."

On writing: "...why don't you give up before you get started? And that's not sour grapes! That's good, sound advice, which few of you will take...but sound advice all the same."

"You'd be surprised how many of the boys prefer girls' clothes and the girls who prefer boy's clothes! And I mean big stars, directors, producers, and writers!"

"Nothing is stranger then the strange itself."

And thanks to the definitive biography, "Nightmare of Ecstasy" and The Church Of Ed Wood website I've been able to compile a tour of...(drum roll please)...Ed Wood's Los Angeles!
- 4477 HOLLYWOOD BLVD. (Wood's office from 1947- ?)
- 5271 Bakman Ave., North Hollywood (His World War II play "Casual Company" was performed here, but it's an office building now; I live around the corner.)
Santa Monica Boulevard near Western: "Plan 9 From Outer Space" shot at Quality Studios. (The entranceway is located next to the Harvey Hotel.)
- KFWB/Ted Allan studios, Yucca & Argyle: where "Bride of the Monster" shot
- 6136 Bonner St, North Hollywood 91606: apartment from 1965 to 1970
- Yucca @ Cahuenga: apartment of his final years
- 5636 Laurel Canyon Blvd, #4: apartment he died in 12/10/78 (also around the corner from my house - I didn't realize I lived on hallowed ground.)

- Criswell's apartment: Selma Ave. and Cassil Place, Hollywood, CA
Criswell's Burial Spot: 10621 VICTORY BLVD. NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA. Valhallah Memorial Park
Tor Johnson's Burial Spot: 23287 SIERRA HWY. NEWHALL, CA. 91321
Bela Lugosi's Home: 5620 HAROLD WAY, L.A.
Bela Lugosi burial spot: HOLY CROSS CEMETARY, 5835 W. SLAUSON AVE, CULVER CITY, CA 90230

As you make your tour, listen to some choice excerpts from Ed Woods' films, featuring the great performer Criswell:

Orgy of the Dead - opening

Night Things
Furs and Fluff
Ghouls Feast
Orgy of the Dead - End

POSTSCRIPT (6/02/08): Just saw the greatest thing: in a drugstore downtown the ugliest drag queen you've ever seen - tall, gawky, badly dyed hair, hideous lip liner - in a heated discussion with a ghetto sista - short, fat, cornrows. Imagine Herman Munster in drag arguing with Shirley from "What's Happenin'?" God, I love LA.