Every year around August, surfing hits the lifestyle pages. It’s less known, that Surfing spawned it’s own raunchy soundtrack in the 1950’s. At its best, it’s ‘Punk’ rock before its time. A genre dominated by real life beach bums and exploitation artists could only produce extreme records - Both in a good and in a bad way. The rush only lasted from roughly 1959 to 1963. After that nobody wanted to know. Apart from The Ramones and Quentin Tarantino.
I know, surfing is not actually great in August. September has better waves breaking on European shores. But like other dads I too will dust off my trusty stick (the board) and bring it on the family beach holiday. The waves won’t be nearly right for it and I’ll be too slow - a 7′ stick likes a steep take-off angle and a good bit of paddling speed to get going - but hey, I’ll knock some fun out of it.
Anyway, Surf Music sounds just right in August. So here’s your guide to what’s hot in Surf Music.
Top 5 Surf Music Artists
- Dick Dale & His Deltones
- The Trashmen
- Fleet Foxes
- Dennis Wilson
- The Beach Boys
Dick Dale & His Deltones ‘Surfers’ Choice’
Dick Dale is the original surfer dude and beach bum. Dick earned a living giving guitar lessons to kids on the beach in between his surf sessions. He developed his own unique style of fast single-note guitar picking to express the sensation of powering down a wave.
Dale’s style fast became wildly popular and his band would play to packed ball rooms up and down the California coast. There is no discussion, this guy is the best when it comes to surf guitar.
It’s no accident that Quentin Tarantino picked Dale’s Misirlou as theme tune for his cracking classic ‘Pulp Fiction’.
Dick himself had a bit of a comeback following ‘Pulp Fiction’. He’s still a mean guitar player and a hell of a showman. I’ve seen him being carried into an Amsterdam venue on a surfboard by fans while playing his guitar without missing a beat. No kidding.
Surfer’s Juke Box: Play Dick Dale & The Deltones
Readers from the UK and Ireland, Click Here to download ‘Surfers’ Choice’ from iTunes UK.
The Trashmen ‘Tube City’
The Ramones famously covered The Trashmen’s ‘Surfin’ Bird’. The original recording is easily as whacked out and demented as its punk rock cover.
Let’s face it, The Trashmen probably never surfed in their lives, they just had a sharp eye for trends. The band also exploited the hot rod and drag racing fad and other early 60s crazes in their inimitable style.
‘Tube City’ is choc full of surf references (a Tube is a hollow wave that breaks over the surfer as he/she rides it) but the music is pure garage rock. Mental, high octane rock’n'roll that had its roots in an instrumental rock scene where hits were made by crazy antics and weird sounds. The Trashmen had too much of both and didn’t survive after rock turned serious in the mid-60’s.
Gimmicks aside, what The Trashmen also had was a sound that few could rival in terms of sheer rawness. Often cited as proto-punks, the band made seriously ill records at a time when most bands were brainwashed and sanitised within an inch of their lives as they entered the recording studio.
Surfer’s Juke Box: Play The Trashmen
Readers from the UK and Ireland, Click Here to download ‘Tube City’ from iTunes UK.
Fleet Foxes ‘Fleet Foxes’
Seattle band Fleet Foxes sit inbetween the darker side of the Beach Boys and the jangly folk rock of the Byrds. At their best, the Foxes make timeless surf pop songs full of towering vocal harmonies.
The harmonies and the echo-drenched drums expand songs like ‘White Winter Hymnal’ and ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ into soundscapes as big and wide as a Pacific beach. Both tracks plus the quieter ‘Heard Them Stirring’ recall the more intense creations by Beach Boys’ mastermind Brian Wilson.
The ex-Grunge Rockers among you may like to know that this five-piece hails from the suburbs of Grunge capital Seattle. Like the Seattle bands that came before them, the Fleet Foxes display a mellow, laid back vibe throughout the album. Strictly speaking, Fleet Foxes are ’surf’ by association, as their inspiration are the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson rather than sport itself. But hats off to the world’s first grunge surf pop band for an ace addition to the surf music canon.
Surfer’s Juke Box: Play The Fleet Foxes
Readers from the UK and Ireland, Click Here to download ‘Fleet Foxes’ from iTunes UK.
Dennis Wilson ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’
Brian Wilson might have filled his living room with sand to get the right vibes for writing songs, but his brother Dennis was the only Beach Boy who actually surfed.
Fuelled by the Beach Boys’ success, Dennis was a notorious playboy, living fast and hard. A different side of Dennis came out in the studio when he began recording his solo debut Pacific Ocean Blue. The album may be marred in parts by obnoxious boogie rock, but there are songs here that are truly far out and visionary.
At its best, Pacific Ocean Blue mixes touches of William Orbit style ambient music, soft rock, weird synthesisers and some tight disco funk. It’s the kind of music that would have not been out of place at an all night disco session in Ibiza back in the jet set 1970’s. In other words, it’s Balearic Disco at its best.
Surfer’s Juke Box: Play Dennis Wilson
Readers from the UK and Ireland, Click Here to download ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ from the iTunes UK store.
The Beach Boys ‘Surfin’ Safari’/'Surfin’ USA’/'Surfer Girl’
Surfer dude Dennis Wilson spotted the potential for his brothers’ band to cash in on the surfing craze that spread across the USA as the 50’s gave way to the 60’s. So the band posed with longboards and Pendleton woollen plaid shirts - the hottest surf fashion item of the day.
It’s all pure exploitation, naturally. Early Beach Boys albums were full of tame cover versions - including sanitised attempts at covering Dick Dale’s crazy surf guitar antics - and other fillers with as many titles as possible including surf references. However, the harmonies are tight and you can hear chief songscribe Brian Wilsom developing his unique, psychedelic-baroque style that came to the fore on ‘Pet Sounds’.
Surfer’s Juke Box: Play The Beach Boys