The year is 1964. Lyndon Johnson is president of the United States, the Red Sox stink and 14-year-old David Bowling is the apple of his grandmother’s eye.
And so with $2 safely tucked in my pocket I set off on what would become a lifelong adventure. I was about to purchase my first record album – which is the one I’m reviewing today, a real vinyl record, not some digitalized prissy CD.
My original intent was to purchase the Beach Boys Concert LP but was advised by my family that I might be receiving that particular album for Christmas or my upcoming birthday. Therefore, I had to go to plan B.
Herioux’s one-stop music in Woonsocket, R.I. just sold records. It is the type of Mom and Pop store that has all but disappeared from our country’s landscape. I would purchase hundreds of records from the old gentleman behind the counter over the course of the next eight years.
Plan B was to just select the record that happened to catch my eye. It came down to Jan & Dean, Dick Dale and Roy Orbison. Dick Dale played instrumental surf music and Roy Orbison looked a little like me. Ride The Wild Surf by Jan & Dean had a Beach Boy sound plus girls in bathing suits on the cover. I was 14, so this was a no-brainer.
Forty-three years is a long time in music collecting and life. My record collection has grown to some 30,000 albums. But I still remember Ride The Wild Surf as my first album purchase, the one that got me started down this road. And really, it’s quite a good choice.
Jan & Dean produced some excellent singles and a number of poor to average albums during the first half of the 1960s. Ride the Wild Surf is probably their strongest studio album.
Jan Berry was just a cut below Brian Wilson as a studio technician. He was able to take two average voices and combine them into a soaring group sound. Jan & Dean’s problem was that they were unable to produce that sound on stage.
“Sidewalk Surfin’” was the major hit from the album. Jan & Dean capitalized on the fad of skateboarding that was sweeping the nation. It is an infectious uptempo and dated piece of Americana. The harmonies and concept of surfing on land, which you could even do in Woonsocket, R.I., made this song a hit. “Ride The Wild Surf” is a classic mid-sixties surf song with harmonies built around a simple theme.
Unlike many Jan & Dean albums, there are also a number of other excellent songs. “A Surfer’s Dream” is one of the better ballads to come out of the surf music era. “Tell ‘Em I’m Surfin’” was covered by a number of early surf groups. “She’s My Summer Girl” and “Wiamea Bay” were both above average efforts for the duo.
There were some of the usual Jan & Dean gaffes on the album. “Skateboarding Part 1” and “Walk On The Wild Side” are instrumentals by a duo that didn’t play any instruments. “Surfin’ Wild” was just plain out of tune vocally and “The Submarine Races” was a common and failed try at comedy.
Ride The Wild Surf has justifiably disappeared in the mists of time. It was an average album at best. Yet music is more than just sounds. Music evokes memories and takes us to places to which we will never travel. Ride The Wild Surf is an album that represented life’s possibilities for me. When I play this record I am not a grandfather but am back in junior high school. Hopefully everyone will have music of this kind in their past and present.
I may be the only person in the world to would rate this album an A, but hey, it’s my review and my first.