A Trove Of Obscure Sixties Pop, Garage & Psychedelic Wibblery!
Okay Hot-Doggies....Let's Go Surfin'!!
There was a time when I really hated Surf Music and all that it stood for and encapsulated. But all that changed almost exactly 20 years ago to the day; the day I listened to one of my favourite albums of all time for the first time. Who's up for a history lesson then?
Okay....let's go back to Tuesday the 3rd of July 1990, at the height of the World Cup known as Italia 90. I used to get Tuesdays off back then and I'd use those days to go to Glasgow to buy records. On this day I found myself in Tower Records and wasn't looking for anything in particular but found myself browsing the Nuggets/Pebbles Compilations section when I happened to spot Pebbles Vol 4. At the time I had Pebbles Vols 1-7 but had never been able to find the elusive Vol 4. Suddenly there it was! I quickly grabbed it and joined the queue at the till. Standing in the queue I decided to check out the sleeve to see who was on this volume. The first thing that raised alarm was that the album had a subtitle: 'Summer Means Fun'. Huh? It also had a silhouetted image of a surfer in the front. HUH?? I quickly scanned the back cover and realised to my horror that this was a volume of Surfing and Summer rarities....Oh God NO!!!! I hate Surf music!! All that stripey shirted, white teethed, high voiced harmonious piddle. To be honest, all I really knew was the Beach Boys who got played every Summer on Radio 1, but I hated them and their cheesy all-American whiter-than-white screeching. I was going to put the record back when I suddenly realised it was my turn to get served. Oh to hell with it....I'll just take it.
At night I watched the World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina. It finished 1-1 and went to penalties. Diego Maradonna scored the winning penalty and the camera panned to the face of Italian hero and talisman Toto Schilachi whose crystal blue eyes looked empty and haunted. Even though it was now after 10:00pm, it was still quite hot and stuffy as I went up to my room to listen to the dreadful rubbish I had bought earlier in the day. I had a bottle of Budweiser and put the needle onto the vinyl....
40 minutes later you could not kick the smile off my face! I sat there beaming, grinning madly having just listened to the most joyous and uplifting record I had ever heard. It was pure aural fluoxetine! I couldn't wait to play it again, and so I did, then again...and again. I just wanted to keep hearing it, it was like the greatest music I had ever heard. It immediately became one of my most treasured and loved records, something that still triggers the same emotions when I listen to it, though now with added nostalgia of my own for a time when I was still young and uncynical.
So lets take a closer look at the album and I'll pick my FIVE favourite tracks and we can all wallow together.....Race you to the beach....Surf's Up!!
1)'Summer Means Fun' by Bruce & Terry
Where better to start than with the first track I heard that night. This wonderful track hooked and dragged me in almost immediately. What struck me, as did most of these tracks, is that it was a little rougher, a little rawer, a little less polished than the Beach Boys tracks that I knew. But it just sounded so HAPPY. It all sounded like a foreign language to me; "So come on everybody, Grab your Baggys and Bikinis, cos' it's only just begun...", sorry? Grab what?
Bruce and Terry are Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher, both veterans of the Surf Scene. Bruce Johnston would of course eventually join the Beach Boys proper, and Terry(son of Doris Day) Melcher would go onto become a successful record producer.
After years of listening to fairly morose, navel-gazing, existential Indie music, to hear something this joyous, frothy and upbeat was quite startling. I guess thanks to them my love of Surf Music began here.
2)'R.P.M' by The Four Speeds
Not technically a Surf song as a car song, but a briliant Summer sound complete with screeching tyres and revving engines. The Four Speeds weren't a proper band, but a studio project supervised by Surf Music legend Gary Usher who also sang lead on this track. The song also features Beach Boy Dennis Wilson on drums! The middle section with all the ooooh-aaaahh vocals over the revving engines is just fantastic. Every mix-tape I ever compiled for my friends after 1990 contained this track, I just think it's so exciting.
3)'New Generation' by The Trashmen
Yes...THE Trashmen....The 'Surfin Bird' Trashmen....here proving that they didn't have just the one brilliant track to their name. This track actually proves(as does 'Surfin Bird') that really fast Pop-music was around almost 15 years before The Ramones. This is a really superb track about how this generation has found new levels of excess in their partying. It's also one of the (very)few tracks to feature a hydrogen bomb explosion completely in context; "We're gonna go dancing every Friday night// And surfin when the sun comes on// Saturday night, we do it up right// You couldn't wake up Sunday with a hydrogen bomb!" KAAABBOOOOOMMMMM!!
The track on Pebbles Vol 4 which rounds off Side One, is mastered slightly fast and in glorious punchy Mono which gives it a real kick, the version from Youtube below is mastered at the correct speed and in fake Stereo making it seem a little flabby. If you want to hear it how it should be heard, try and track down the proper vinyl version of the Pebbles compilation.
4)'Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby' by Sharon Marie
So, onto Side 2 and here's where the King throws his crown into the ring; Brian Wilson turns up to show all the young pretenders how it's done.
So who is Sharon Marie? Well she was Brian's girlfriend at the time and he wrote and produced this beautiful gem for her. Brian's savvy is to slow everything down to a crawl accentuating the warm, harmonious melodies. The drum track is so louche and lazy it practically idles up to the rest of the music kicking it's heels. The vocal performance too is just perfect....how on Earth did this flop?
If you're thinking that you recognise the melody here, a few years after this was released Brian recycled the melody, sped the track up and re-wrote the lyrics calling it 'Darlin' and scoring one of the Beach Boys biggest singles.
99 times out of 100 I'd take the Sharon Marie version though!!
5)'The Fun We Had' by The Ragamuffins
And so my final choice is also the last track on the album. Brian Wilson once wrote a Beach Boys Christmas song called 'The Things We Did Last Summer' in which he list all the things that he, his friends and their girlfriends did during the previous Summer as they reminisce during a cold Winter. That's kind of what this track is like. It's a very poignant track beginning with a harpsichord riff(pre-dating 'Smile' by a couple of years!) and a really downbeat melody. The vocalist reels of all the things that mattered during the Summer as it comes to an end.
This is another studio band centered around Gary Zekeley who was another writer, producer, arranger who turned up on many chart discs. He really seems to be straining to reach the falsetto vocal which adds to the melancholy of the track especially on the final verse; "So long Baby, I'll see you soon// I'll be waiting until next June// Be good Baby, and don't forget// The fun we had last Summer// The fun we had last Summer".
Aaaawwww.....and there it goes....a perfect Summer captured on one perfect 12" slab of black vinyl.
There have been an abundance of Surfing compilations in recent years, but this really is the ONLY one you will EVER need. If you don't like Surf music then you're in luck because most of these tracks are by garage bands jumping on the Surf bandwagon; if you don't like garage music then the sweet harmonies and upbeat melodies may sweeten the rough edges.
If your listening pleasure leans rather too much towards Joy Division, The Cure, Radiohead and Tindersticks then you might be surprised by an album with the sunniest disposition imaginable.
If you are thinking of pursuing this album then I would have to suggest you get a hold of the vinyl version as it's Mono, slightly-too-fast mastering adds a sheen of vibrancy over the proceedings....and it just simply sounds better. If you can't find a copy on E-bay or at a record fair, you should be able to rip a copy from here
So what are you waiting for Gidgets and Moondoggies? Grab your baggys, wax up your woody and let's go hang ten on the ripcurl......I'm sorry I have no idea what I'm talking about!!
Catch A Wave!!
Keep Your Mind Open!!