Surf City By Jan And Dean

September 11, 2014


Today Jan & Dean are best remembered for their 1960s series of surf and car singles that were second only to The Beach Boys in terms of commercial success. What people forget is that the duo placed 11 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 before they grabbed onto The Beach Boys’ coattails.

During the early 1960s, they opened for The Beach Boys in a number of concerts. Seeing the success of their type of music, Jan Berry asked Brian Wilson if he had any songs they could record. Wilson would not give them “Surfin’ USA” but did give him two unfinished songs, which he would share writing credit if Berry finished them. The first was “Gonna Hustle You,” which Berry changed to “New Girl in School.” The other song made history as the first number one surf song of the rock and roll era. “Surf City” first reached the Billboard Hot 100, June 15, 1963, and on July 20, 1963, reached number one, where it remained for two weeks.

If there was one thing Jan Berry could do, it was produce a song. He may not have been in Brian Wilson’s league but he had the ability to create a virtual choir of sound from his and Dean Torrence’s voices. He would then layer in the instruments to create layers of sound. He may not have had the musical vision of Wilson, but he was able to create some of the catchiest and best singles of the era. The problem was Jan & Dean could not re-create the sound on stage without an array of backing vocalists.

The opening harmony on “two girls for every boy” was an attention getter. It was a brilliant piece of up-tempo pop that made one want to pack up and head for the shore.

Their commercial success came to an end April 12, 1966, when Jan Berry was involved in a serious car accident. He suffered severe brain damage, from which it took him years to recover. It took almost a decade before they began to tour regularly again. While the hits stopped, they were summer regulars on oldies tours until Berry’s death in 2004.

The music of Jan & Dean is part of that nostalgic eternal summer. They may not have changed American music but they made it a bit more pleasurable and fun and sometimes that is enough. No matter what people may think of their legacy, 51 years ago  Jan & Dean ruled the American music world.

Good Vibrations Tour DVD by The Beach Boys

August 7, 2013


The Beach Boys celebrated their 50th anniversary last year with the release of a new studio album and a series of commercially successful and artistically brilliant concerts. A DVD and CD of those concerts have recently been released. Who knows what will soon follow? Now, to capitalize on the renewed interest in the band, Eagle Rock Entertainment has climbed aboard the time machine to issue the DVD, Good Vibrations Tour.

The Beach Boys were promoting their latest revival back in 1976. They had just released 15 Big Ones, but more importantly Brian Wilson had become active again. To capitalize on the then-renewed interest in The Beach Boys, the cameras were rolling during a concert in Anaheim. That concert material was combined with some studio tracks, interviews, and skits to create a television special. That program has now been resurrected, which is good news and bad news.

The concert features the original Beach Boys, consisting of the three Wilson brothers, Al Jardine, and Mike Love. The show is basically a greatest hits affair. Songs such as “Fun Fun Fun,” “I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “California Girls” and the like have been sung thousands of times live by the Beach Boys and the performances here are workmanlike. They are fine but there is nothing to separate them from what has gone before or has been released since.

One major issue is Brian looks completely lost. He is rarely the focus of attention and contributes little. On the other hand, Dennis Wilson is very animated and a center of attention. He shows why he was always the cool Beach Boy and is far different than his zombie-like appearance several years later, chronicled on the 1980 Live At Knebworth DVD. It is also a poignant look at Carl Wilson, whose voice and stage presence makes one realize just how important he was to the band.

One important fact to remember is this was a television program. There are a number non-concert sequences included among the concert tracks. There is a spectacular performance of the group performing “That Same Song,” supported only by a Baptist Church Choir and a piano. At the other end of the spectrum is Carl, Dennis, and Brian gathered around the piano performing a goofy version of “I’m Bugged at My Ol’ Man.”

There are a number of skits, for want of a better word. Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live was involved in the project and here we have John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, dressed as policemen, arresting Brian Wilson for violations of the surf code. I probably could do without Dennis Wilson judging a beauty pageant and Carl flying a plane, but it’s all harmless fun.

The major problem is the video quality. It was recorded during the 1970s and still looks like the 1970s. I don’t think there was any effort to clean it up using modern technology.

The Good Vibrations Tour DVD basically is a look at the Beach Boys at a specific time in their career. In many ways it is a nice counterpoint to what is being released from their 2012 tour. It is not a necessary release, but a pleasant one. It should fill in some gaps for their large fan base.

Pipeline 45 by The Chantays

October 7, 2012

The Chantays were formed in high school by Bob Spickard, Brian Carman, Bob Welch, Warren Waters, and Rob Marshall during 1961.

During early 1963 they produced one of the better surf instrumentals of the 1960s. “Pipeline” was surf music on steroids as the dual guitars and electric keyboards create wave after wave of sound. It was a big hit reaching number four on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

The Chantays never had another top 100 hit so they joined the list of one-hit wonders. Despite that fact, Spickard, Carman, and Welch plus three other long-tern members are still out on the road nearly 50 years after their big hit.

Haunted Guitar by Richie Allen

June 15, 2012

Richard Podolor was one of the most respected producers of the late 1960s and 1970s. He produced 11 albums by Three Dog Night and 10 by Steppenwolf. He also produced albums by Iron Butterfly, Alice Cooper, Phil Seymour, The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, Blues Image and many more.

His first success came as the writer and guitarist on Sandy Nelson’s big hit “Teen Beat.” He was an excellent guitarist and would issue three albums and ten singles on the Imperial label during the early 1960s.

As a musician and guitarist he will always be connected to the surf era. “Haunted Guitar” was representative of his sound and fit right in with the instrumental side of the surf era. His material may have been on the simple side but the man could play the guitar. His releases remain collectable for surf collectors today.

Pokey 45 by Jerry Cole and His Spacemen

June 14, 2012

Jerry Cole, 1939-2008, had more musical lives than just about any musician or artist that comes to mind.

He was a member of The Champs with Glen Campbell who produced the big instumental hit “Telstar.”

He was one of the leading session guitarists of the 1960s. His work can be found on such albums as songs as PET SOUNDS, “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” He was a band leader for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Roger Miller and appeared on such TV showa as THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS and ANDY WILLIAMS. He even led the pit bands for SHINDIG and HULLABALLOO.

He also worked for Crown Records. Crown was a budget label that would buy the rights to one hit and then surround it with unknown songs. They would say to Cole, make me a surf album or a country album. He would than compose nine songs and hire session musicians to record them. Much of the music is forgettable but there are some instrumental gems to be found among the dozens of albums he made for the label.

He even recorded some material under his own name with his backing band, The Spacemen. His single releases such as “Pokey” are now very collectable records from the surf era. If they was one constant in his career, it was that he was one of the best guitarists of the era.

Skiing In The Snow by The Beach Girls

June 13, 2012

The Beach Girls are hazy to me. I rememeber they were formed to cash in on the success of The Beach Boys. The concept did not work as they had little commercial success and remain, at best, a unique 1960s foot note.

They released “Skiing In The Snow” during the mid-1960s but the single had no chart success and quickly disappeared as did The Beach Girls.

Loaded With Love 45 by The Sunrays

May 25, 2012

When Brian Wilson took over control of the Beach Boys, he fired his father. Murry Wilson responded by producing The Sunrays in order to prove he could make a band successful without his son Brian. He almost made it.

The Sunrays produced two excellent singles that deserved better than charting in the middle of the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop 100 Chart. “I Live For The Sun,” and “Andrea” with lead singer Rick Henn’s voice soaring over the harmonies may not have been of Beach Boys quality but they were very good.

The Sunrays only charted three singles and none made the top 40. “Loaded With Love” did not chart and by the end of the 1960s the band was gone. Oddly one of the high points of their career was an an opening act for The Beach Boys.

The Universal Coward 45 by Jan Berry of Jan & Dean

May 24, 2012

Jan & Dean are best remembered for their seires of early to mid-1960s catchy and smooth surf and car singles that charted high on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Charts and sold tens of millions of copies.

Music was changing in the United States in 1965 and the career of Jan & Dean’s was in decline. They would respond by trying to change their style.

“The Universal Coward” was released during late 1965 and was really a solo Jan & Dean solo effort even though it was taken from their FOLK & ROLL album. It was a peace/protest song that Jan couldn’t quite pull off and did not appeal to tehir fan base. It received no chart action and little commercial success.

Shortly after the single’s release, Jan Berry was involved in a near fatal auto accident. It would take him over a year to recover and he would have to learn to speak again. While he returned to performing his life was never the same.

Ten Years Of Harmony by The Beach Boys

February 23, 2012

TEN YEARS OF HARMONY was the first Beach Boys compilation album to focus on their post 1960s Capital material. They probably could have done a better job arranging the tracks as their appears to be no rhyme or reason.

The good comes with the not so good. For every “Surf’s Up” there is a “River Song” and for every “Add Some Music To Your Day” there is a “Roller Skating Child. Still, there are some gems to be mined here.

While the album gives a taste of their 1970s music, it’s best to stick with such studio albums as HOLLAND, SUNFLOWER, and SURF’S UP.

Best Of The Beach Boys Vol. 3 by The Beach Boys

February 23, 2012

The was the third BEST OF Beach Boys album issued by The Capital label. As with the first two releases there was some padding to fill out the release. Songs such as “Frosty The Snowman,” “Girl Don’t Tell Me,” and “She Knows Me Too Well” were not hits.

Also the album combines material from different eras of their career, which makes for an uneven listen. Their first chart single “Surfin'” and “Good Vibrations” are as different as can be.

These early compiltion albums by the Beach Boys have been made obsolete by dozens and probably over a hundred complilation albums which followed. Still songs such as “God Only Knows,” “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” “Darlin,'” and “Good Vibrations,” are always worth a listen.