Monday, February 4, 2013

Jan and Dean -- "Surf City" (1963)

And there's two swingin' honeys for every guy
And all you gotta do is just wink your eye

It's a long way from New York City to Los Angeles -- which is city number four of the seven that are featured in this year's "29 Songs in 28 Days."

There's quite a bit of overlap between the two cities when it comes to pop music.  For example, Phil Spector -- he was born in the Bronx, the grandson of an immigrant Russian Jew -- moved to Los Angeles when he was a teenager, and many of his great "girl group" records were recorded in Los Angeles, not New York City.  ("River Deep, Mountain High" was written by Brill Building songsmiths Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, but Tina Turner recorded it in Los Angeles.)

But the songs about surfing and hot rods that dominated AM radio just prior to the "British Invasion" belonged to Los Angeles alone.

"Surf City," the first surf-rock song to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard "Hot 100," was a collaboration between the two greatest surf-rock groups: the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean (Jan Berry and Dean Torrence).

Jan and Dean do a little sidewalk surfin'
That's kind of like saying that the two greatest "Merseybeat" groups were the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers: mentioning those two groups in the same breath seems almost blasphemous today.

But at the peak of Jan and Dean's popularity, they were certainly the equals of the Beach Boys.  That was partly due to the fact that Brian Wilson collaborated with Jan Berry to write about a dozen songs for Jan and Dean -- including "Surf City."

Jan and Dean were so popular that they were chosen to host the 1964 concert movie, The T.A.M.I. Show, which featured the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, the Supremes, James Brown, the Beach Boys, and many others -- arguably the greatest collection of pop music talent ever assembled in one place at one time.

Jan's wrecked Corvette
Jan and Dean's wildly successful career essentially ended in 1966, when Jan crashed his Corvette Sting Ray into a parked truck on the way to a business meeting.  The accident occurred a short distance from the site of the fictional crash in "Dead Man's Curve," Jan and Dean's 1964 hit single.

"Surf City" begins with this line: "Two girls for every boy!"  It's the quintessential teenaged boy's fantasy -- although if you were a teenaged boy growing up in Joplin, Missouri (which was even further from the beaches of southern California than the map indicates), you might have believed it was the literal truth.

I was very familiar with "Surf City" when I was a teenaged boy.  One of the first LPs I owned was Jan and Dean's Surf City and Other Swingin' Cities -- which included not only "Surf City" but also covers of Bobby Bare's "Detroit City," Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City," and Freddy Cannon's "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" and "Tallahassee Lassie."  (It also included a cover of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," which was not really a good choice for Jan and Dean.)

The quintessential middle-aged man's fantasy may be having two women at the same time.  That's not what "Two girls for every boy!" is all about.

If you were a teenaged boy in 1963, you couldn't have really wrapped you head around the concept of a threesome.  Just getting one girl to make out with you was a daunting enough task.  The attraction of a place like Surf City -- which existed only on Jan and Dean's record, alas! -- was that there were so many girls and so few boys that you figured you would certainly end up with one of them.

Welcome to "Surf City"
Today, the Orange County town of Huntington Beach -- where Dean Torrence moved in 1991 -- is the official "Surf City."  But in 1963, there were any number of places that might have claimed the name: Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach, Newport Beach, and especially Malibu.  (Surfrider Beach in Malibu was the birthplace of the southern California surfing culture.) 

Unfortunately, none of those places features two girls for every boy.  "Surf City" exists only while the  record is playing -- and only in the mind of the listener . . . dammit!

Here's "Surf City":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. Although Huntington Beach, Solana Beach (north of San Diego) and Santa Cruz all claim to be "Surf City", I view it as a metaphorical place, rather like the "Crossroads" is to the Blues. One time when my daughter Vicky was in Southern California for some work-related task, she went to Huntington Beach in the evening, because some of the "alumni" from Dick Dale's Del Tones were playing. She went in to see the show, and one of the musicians, said "Is that Vicky?" Her band "The Surf-Liners" is mostly known around Davis, but apparently their fame has spread to the "south-facing beaches". And speaking of Dick Dale, back in Oct. 2008, I saw him in action at a Carl Wilson Foundation benefit. He had been quite ill during that period, but he came out and left no doubt that he is still "King of the Surf Guitar". Afterward he visited with Evie (who is also a left-handed guitar player) and as someone commented they were going "19 to the dozen" like long-lost kinfolk. For a great video, look up "I Can Hear Music" by the Honeys (ex-wives of Beach Boys) from the same show. A year or two later, my wife and I went to an Evening with Evie at Brennan's Pub in Marina del Rey. After the show, we were heading back to our car and I spotted a car with the license HONEY M, and we had a brief chat with the former Marilyn Wilson (and her considerably more normal present husband).