Dick Dale’s Miserlou is now rightly regarded as an all-time classic recording and the moment of birth for instrumental surf music. But Miserlou never made the US Top 100 and it continued to be overlooked for three decades before finally being more widely acknowledged outside of rock instrumental circles. However, to those within the circle it was but another link in the chain of rock instrumentals that stretched right back to the genre’s origins in the mid-'50s. This passion for vocal-less records continued to blossom throughout the late '50s and into the dawn of the '60s, a period that provided fertile ground for the conception and ultimate birth of surf music.
When The Beach Boys sang their way into the American Top 20 in 1962 with Surfin’ Safari they introduced the nation to a pastime that had become a way of life for many on the Californian coast. But they weren’t the only ones celebrating the thrill of riding the waves. With the charts dominated by big studio productions featuring clean-cut smooth crooning pop stars that they couldn’t hope to emulate, aspiring young musicians turned to the rock instrumental to keep the rock’n’roll flame alive. In fact the hits of guitar stars like Duane Eddy and Link Wray and popular groups like the Ventures and the Fireballs were just the thing for young musicians to cut their teeth on. Improvements in amplification and the invention of the Fender Reverb Unit enriched this music with a new and exciting sound. The result became known as surf music through the association of its performers with the beach culture and their choice of surfing terms as titles for their original compositions.
Surf music is no easier to define than any other form of popular music. The most obvious examples are where the title of a track is surf-related and the sound of the record is typical of the style, ie guitars with a reverb effect leading a small combo including bass and drums and sometimes sax or piano. With the gimmick of this new sound, such novel recordings as Pipeline by the Chantays and Wipe Out by the Surfaris made a significant impact on the Top 10 by reaching #4 and #2 respectively.
The Birth Of Surf traces the evolution of surf music from its rock’n’roll roots through the defining blast of Dick Dale’s Miserlou and on to the big chart hits of ‘63. After this it seemed that the whole of California was awash with surf groups and the best are represented here. It didn’t suddenly stop when the Beatles arrived at the beginning of 1964. Some great surf recordings were made after this date, but the surf groups had to adapt their repertoire and move with the times.
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