Summer means fun

“Then you’ll never hear surf music again”- Jimi Hendrix. 1967
“Oh yeah ? Says who ? ” Me. 2011

No one knows quite when surfing was invented. At some point in the past someone on one of the Hawaiian islands looked out at the waves breaking 30ft tall over the shark infested waters, looked at a tree and thought “Hey ! I have an idea”*.
Cut to the early 60s and California was booming, the state was young, sunny and aspirational. Times were good and, for the young ( at least those from comfortable backgrounds) there was plenty of leisure time and the money to enjoy it to the full.
Surfing and beach culture fitted naturally in to this environment and , like so many “youth cults” , pretty soon the kids developed their own style of clothes, dancing and music ( in no small part helped by the Fender guitar company , also based in California, and their innovative guitars and amps).
It couldn’t last, of course, as the 60s progressed various black clouds loomed over America, the Cold War, The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Kennedy assassination, Vietman, drugs.
By 66 surf music was, more or less , dead in the water. A few die hards clung on but by the time I went to “big” school anyone professing ( as I did) a love of the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean would be mocked, scorned and poked with pointy sticks by the bigger boys.
I never lost my love of surf music though. The twang of the Jaguar or Strat, the tremulous tremelo the reverb..oh ! the reverb ( words never heard at surf music mixing session include “Hmmm. To much reverb I fear , Gervais”.)
And so, as the weather is sunny and I don’t have any money ( or honey) I thought I’d raid the old archive for a few surf beat classics.
I hope you enjoy them, dudes, the are boss to the max !

Let’s kick off , as one does when paddling out on one’s “board” with The Fantastic Baggies and the fairly self explanatory “Summer means fun”. A studio group hiding the identities of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, writer of many a 60s hit tune. Very much in the “two girls for every boy, no matter how ugly or malodorous” ballpark.

Next the Sunrays with “I live for the sun”. I first heard this on an album ( a rather poor one) by The Surf Punks , a late 70s surf-punk hybrid band. It has a fine , upbeat sound and rhymes “fun” with “sun” which is only right and proper and how things should be.
From there we lurch into the world of commerce with Jan and Dean’s Coke ( the drink) ad. First featured, in an edited form, on a Pebbles L.P in the 70s this is the full version. Many 60s bands cut adverts for Coca Cola, including the Troggs, Fontella Bass, the Supremes and Herman’s Hermits. Jan and Dean’s take, I think, is by far the best. Surfing and Coke go together like surfboards and wax. Made for each other.
“California Sun” is well known these days thanks, I suspect, to the Ramones. Back in 1965 the Rivieras, who had already had a hit with the song, decided to “update it” and the product is , I think, pretty wonderful, it stretches the song a bit and ,whilst staying pretty faithful, brings something new to the table.
Big guns next, in the form of Gary Usher and producer Brian Wilson with “Sacremento”. Perhaps not overtly “surf” this song most definitely draws on the influence of the genre. It’s a tale of settling down, of wanderlust sated of California dreaming becoming a reality.Lovely.

It had to end though. Summer turns to Autumn and Autumn to Winter , as is the way of the world, and, from the tail end of the surf era comes one of the best numbers of the whole genre.
Literature has it’s Shakespeare, Art it’s Leonardo and Surf Music has the Tradewinds and” New York’s a Lonely town”. Just listen to the words here. California has been left behind, the singers “Woody” is covered in snow, the fun and the sun are gone and what’s left is but a poignant reminder of better, warmer days. This is American Gothic music. At it’s best.
Back in California the mid 60s saw a change in mood, things became all the more introspective, the ocean ,which once represented fun now stood as a metaphor for something deeper, darker perhaps.An ever shifting, dangerous world of wetness. Where could it go , musically speaking ?
Why, to the sandbox in Brian Wilson’s living room. From which, his toes dabbling in the sand and cat poop he produced the sublime “Surf’s up”. Surf was, indeed, “up” but not in the way the surfer boys and “bunnies” imagined. They were out of date, washed up on a more unstable shore and musically as relevant as a caveman banging a rock on his head and humming “The me eat mammoth song”.
Still, every now and then a revival , of sorts, resurrects the ghosts of surf music past. Tarantino revived Dick Dale’s career with the use of Miserlou in his film and, over in Japan, some girls who called themselves That’s a no no ! picked up a copy of the old Lee Hazelwood song “Surfin’ Hootenany”, poured a few gallons of finest reverb over it and let loose with a wild, hypnotic version that has the whiff of authenticity about it.
And there we leave them, sand in their shoes, seaweed in their hair and dreams of a California that shone , however briefly, like a diamond on an Hawaiian black sand beach.

I hope you like them.


* They also invented and even more dangerous land based form in which they, basically, hurtled down sheer cliff sitting of bits of tree.

21 thoughts on “Summer means fun

  1. It is a great play list I really enjoyed them all and it was a really interesting article and I really like your writing style!!!

    Did you know there was a Japanese surf music scene also??

    And what about the Mosrite guitar???

    Here are both!!!

    • Mosrite were, I think, mainly associated with the Ventures. Quite a few surf bands used Danelectros too but I do think Mr Fender’s products were what really gave the sound it’s sound.
      I’m constantly amazed at how well the Japanese bands do genres like surf. That’s a cool track…er…dude…gnarly, in fact.

  2. I should point out, perhaps, that I’ve been researching that Hendrix quote and it appears it was said in response to being told that Dick Dale was seriously ill.
    That, I think, puts a rather different nuance on what was said.
    I don’t think Hendrix was anti-surf music. In fact I’d be surprised if he was anti any kind of music.

    • I don’t think Dick Dale regarded Jan & Dean, The Beach Boys etc as really being “surf music”. Just songs about surfing.

      He felt that real surf music recreated the sound and the feel of riding the waves and that – for some reason – this can only be done on a Fender Stratocaster.

      Radio 4 listeners, of course, will remember that John Peel used Dick Dale’s “Let’s Go Trippin'” as the theme music of his Saturday Morning miscellany Home Truths.

  3. In 1978 I was a young punk and also a Library Assistant at Kensington & Chelsea. This was not an easy life-balance to strike.

    Anyway, one day at The Marquee Club I met an American Girl who was was over here for the punk wars and she introduced me to her friends Jeremy and David who were in a punk/surf band called The Barracudas.

    I’m surprised they never became more famous than they did.

  4. That was a fantastic playlist. The only song i’m aware of knowing was of course Surf’s Up. Loved them all (except the last one).

    Another revival of sorts of course, with another take on the surf and Coke theme –

    • I try to find stuff people won’t have heard before.
      Surf’s Up only made the cut because it is, I think, the perfect example of where “surf” went when the drugs kicked in.
      I couldn’t think of another song that, while seeming to be “of the genre” actually marked the end of the line.

    • I’m not sure that there were really many “surf” bands as such in the U.K at that time. The Beach Boys only had minor hits up until Barbara Ann and the real surfing scene was tiny over here ( my brother has been surfing since the mid 70s and even then there were only a very few native surf dudes.).
      That said, Mr Page was a top London session guitarist and played on billyuns of sessions ( so many that even he doesn’t really know what he played on !).
      Don’t know if you’ve ever seen this, I find it fascinating on two scores. First it’s Jimmy Page’s first TV appearance, secondly when the interviewer asks the lads what they will do if they don’t make it they all have eminently sensible answers.
      If you ask my daughter’s pals what they want to do when the leave school they will answer “actor” or “rapper”. They are, I fear, in for a disappointment.
      It pays to be realistic. I’ve told my daughter to ready herself for a career stacking shelves in a Polish owned supermarket.

      • I think they are so cute!!! And so well mannered and charming!!!

        I had a part time job in a convenience store for a short time when in University but I got fired because I turned off all the freezers by mistakes when I was helping to close the store and all the food got spoiled…It can be surprisingly technical actually….

        But I am sure Ubette will be very successful and contribute a lot to society!!! She seem like a very nice and sensible girl!!!

  5. I have been looking to see if this is true, but I am not sure really.
    The first band Jimmy page was in was Neil Christian and The Crusaders. He joined when he was 15 and left after two years because he got sick.

    After this he was professional session musician and played on really very many classic tracks. Including tracks by The Who and The Kinks and the Rolling Stones, Joe Coker and Van Morrison. But he played on really so many tracks for so many different artists it is really very possible that he played for a surf band at this time. I can find some of the bands listed on Wiki but many are not, so it is hard to identify if one was a surf band. I am sure one of the Jimmy Page fans will be able to tell us.

    Once he decided to join another band he joined Yardbirds and then Led Zeppelin so there was no surf band joined by him as a full member.

  6. Thanks! I’ll listen to that clip after my housemates wake up. I think Mitch said that he played for Screaming Lord Sutch (along with many, many others), but i think it was kind murky who played on what song.

  7. Thanks for this Pairubu, I love a bit of Surf and these were all known to me except the last one!

    Here’s a bit (more) of Charlie and the Hot Wheels with a familiar cover:

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