Posts Tagged ‘Surf’

Frankie Avalon: Muscle Beach Party – The United Artist Sessions

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Frankie Avalon’s mid-60s sides for United Artists

Along with Bobby Rydell and Fabian, Frankie Avalon was one of the “Golden Boys of Bandstand” – handsome, talented teen idols whose appearances on the original Philadelphia-based American Bandstand provided a ticket to pop crooning stardom. Avalon’s biggest hits (including two chart-toppers, “Venus” and “Why”) were recorded for the Chancellor label from 1958 through 1960, but in that latter year he began an acting career that led to starring roles in a string of beach party movies, including 1964’s Muscle Beach Party. The beach party films innovated on the surf-theme of the Gidget series by adding original music, including songs by Avalon, his co-star Annette Funicello and guest stars that included Donna Loren.

Unlike today’s consolidated marketing, in which soundtracks are developed in parallel with a film’s marketing plan, actual soundtracks to the beach party films weren’t typically issued at the time. The only full soundtrack was Wand’s issue of How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, and a few film tracks turned up on Annette Funicello’s solo albums. Instead, Avalon, Funicello and Loren re-recorded songs from the films for their respective labels (Avalon for United Artists, to which he’d signed after leaving Chancellor, Funicello for Disney’s Buena Vista and Loren for Capitol), often in very different arrangements. Most notably, several songs sung as duets in the films were re-sung as solos on the artists’ respective albums.

In the case of Avalon’s 1964 Muscle Beach Party (Funicello released an album under the same title that year), the first side was dedicated to remakes of songs from Beach Party and Muscle Beach Party, while side two featured six additional film-related titles. Avalon’s remakes of the beach party music weren’t typically as interesting as the film originals; having developed himself into a nightclub singer, he was miscast singing ‘60s pop-rock, and it’s even more evident without Funicello to sweeten the up-tempo numbers. The remakes often had minimal arrangements, such as these title themes, in which Avalon croons to raucous rock ‘n’ roll guitar offset by nagging yeah-yeah-yeah background singers. The best fit from the film sessions is the ballad “A Boy Needs a Girl,” which points to the success of the album’s second side.

The album’s flip gives Avalon a chance to show what he does best: croon orchestrated pop ballads. With the tempos slowed and the arrangements given a bit of sophistication, you can hear Avalon relax into his Perry Como-influenced balladeering, and his sensitivity as an interpreter and the deeper qualities of his voice both become evident. This may not have been what the films’ teen fans were looking for, but they remain the productions most worth hearing. Highlights include a tender reading of “Days of Wine and Roses,” an intimate, melancholy take on “Moon River” and a dreamy version of “Again.”

Real Gone’s CD reissue augments the album’s original dozen tracks with eight bonuses culled from additional United Artists releases. Avalon’s post-beach party singles failed to crack the charts but included some fine songs and performances, with the Brill Building-flavored “Don’t Make Fun of Me” chief among them. A shoulda-been-a-hit written by Neil Sedaka’s partner Howard Greenfield with his sometime collaborator Helen Miller, the song finds Avalon playing a wounded ex-boyfriend with a melody and arrangement that bring to mind dramatic hits by the Shangri-Las, Leslie Gore and Gary Lewis. Avalon’s four tracks from the soundtrack of I’ll Take Sweden, including the film’s title theme, are lightweight but charming, and the B-side “New-Fangled, Jingle-Jangle Swimming Suit from Paris” provides a cute take-off on “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

All tracks are listed as stereo, though “Every Girl Should Get Married” is indistinguishable from mono. Many are mixed in a super-wide soundstage that has instruments or vocals panned hard-left and -right. The disc is delivered in a two-panel cardboard sleeve with an eight-page booklet that includes liner notes from Tom Pickles, a reproduction of the Muscle Beach Party back cover and the front cover from I’ll Take Sweden. Also reproduced is the Muscle Beach Party cover photo without the credit overlay. If you haven’t heard Avalon’s Chancellor hits, start with Varese’s 25 All Time Greatest Hits, but if you’re already a fan, this is a most welcome look at his post-Chancellor recordings for United Artists. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Frankie Avalon’s Home Page

The Surfin’ Robots: Cowabungiga!

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Synthpop meets surf music and post-punk

If you’ve been itching to take a toaster into the ocean, this French band’s electrosurf music is for you. It melds the repetitive electronic buzz, drum machines, low bass and processed vocal riffs of dance music with the spring reverb sounds of surf guitar. This rambles between banal dance tunes, kitschy Perry & Kingsley-styled synthpop, ‘50s and ‘60s space-age bachelor pad pastiche, and Raybeats-styled post-punk surf. Surf fans should check out “Cowabungiga,” “Chemical Beach,” and “Made in China,” among other tracks. Ennio Morricone fans, give a listen to “Lonely Space Surfer,” and those still freaking out from ‘60s acid flashbacks might like “Speed Spirals.” [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

The Surfin’ Robots MySpace Page

Puta Madre Brothers: Queso Y Cojones

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Ferocious Mexicali-tinged garage-surf

The Australia-based Puta Madre Brothers bill themselves as a “triple one-man band,” and indeed they each play bass drum and assorted percussion along with their guitar or bass. Their garage-surf is heavily tinged with an ersatz mariachi style as they kick up the buzzing instrumental “Putananny Twist,” the electric Flamenco “The One Legged Horse (Race),” and stomp the lights out of “Malaguena.” Their stinging electric guitars, triple kick-drum backbeats and instrumental emphasis triangulates somewhere between Los Staitjackets, The Arrows and Thee Swank Bastards, which is a very fine place to be. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Puta Madre Brothers’ Home Page
Puta Madre Brothers’ MySpace Page

The Sunny Boys: Beach Sounds

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Italy’s #1 Beach Boys tribute band

The Sunny Boys are Italy’s leading Beach Boys tribute band, and given the quality of their playing and singing, they could easily compete with their stateside brethren. Their televised appearances, covering Beach Boys songs alongside voluptuous Italian dancers, can be found on YouTube, and now their debut album has received a U.S. digital download release. The production sound is more modern and clean than you’d expect on a classic Beach Boys record, and though the harmonies are heavily influenced by the Wilson brothers (and in turn by the Four Freshmen), the melodies are often more bubblegum and power pop (check out the great intro to “Fun Fun Fun”) than classic ‘60s beach rock. The lead vocals have a nasal tone that variously suggests Mike Love, Gary Lewis and Kasnetz-Katz mainstay, Joey Levine. This is a finely crafted album, and the exuberance of the group’s live performances transfers well to the studio, particularly in the spot-on falsettos. Group leader Gianluca Leone has added ten original songs to the Sunny Boys’ repertoire, including the “Kokomo” homage, “Mahalo.” You can hear the influences of their native Italy interwoven with the harmonies of Jan and Dean in “Full Throttle,” and the thrill of racing down the Italian Alps substitutes perfectly for the roar of a drag strip in the clever “Freerider.” The band’s originals don’t quite stand up to the Brian Wilson classics they cover on stage, but they’re infused with enough of the original group’s magic to bring a smile to your face. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Sunny Boys’ Home Page (Original Italian | Google English)
The Sunny Boys’ MySpace Page

The Lively Ones and The Surf Mariachis: Surfin’ South of the Border

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Fourth LP from SoCal surf combo split with studio hands

The Lively Ones’ fourth album is split with a group of West Coast studio players (including no less than Tom Scott and Billy Strange) recording as The Surf Mariachis. As on all of the Lively Ones’ albums, their sides collect previously released singles and additional covers, drawing in songs from outside the surf genre, such as the Oscar-winning theme “Exodus.” The Surf Mariachis add both Latin and surf flavors to their covers, which also pull from disparate sources, such as Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock,” Mongo Herbie Hancock’s (by way of Mongo Santamaria’s) “Watermelon Man” and the theme to Mondo Cane, “More.” It’s all quite fun, though kitschier than the Las Vegas grind/surf of the band’s debut album, recorded just the year before. Unlike the reissues of the band’s three previous albums, this one is all mono; available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with the band’s third album, Surf City) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Lively Ones: Surf City

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Third helping of instrumental surf from 1963

By the time this Southern California surf quintet cranked out their third album within a year, the formula – a few singles, a few new tracks, a track list populated almost entirely of covers – was proving durable, though decreasingly exciting. On this outing the band tackles Jan & Dean (“Surf City”), the Tornados (“Telstar”), Santa & Johnny (“Sleepwalk”), Johnny Fortune (“Soul Surfer”) and revisits “Misirlou” and “Surf Rider” from their previous outings. What makes each Lively Ones album interesting are the songs they repurpose from other genres, such as Freddie King’s “Head’s Up” and “Butterscotch.” They even manage to quote the Munsters theme song on the latter tune. As on their previous albums, the band mixes the twang of guitars with the fat saxophone of Joel Willlenbring, creating a hybrid that blends ‘50s instrumentals with ‘60s surf rock. The band is sharp as ever, but the lack of original material starts to make this feel more like a Saturday night covers act than an original surf rock band. There’s stereo sound throughout and the tracks are available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with the band’s fourth album, Surfin’ South of the Border) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Lively Ones: Surf Drums

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Second helping of instrumental surf from 1963

The second album from this Southern California instrumental surf quintet, one of four they released in 1963, isn’t quite as thrilling as their debut, Surf Rider! As on the debut, the band mixed twangy surf guitars with a fat-toned sax that recalled rock instrumentals of the ‘50s. Also as on their debut, this one mixes a few pre-album singles with tracks recorded especially for the long-player, with the song list sticking to covers, including Duane Eddy’s “40 Miles of Bad Road,” the Rockin’ Rebels’ “Wild Weekend,” Arthur Smith’s “Guitar Boogie” (rechristened as “Surfer Boogie”), Link Wray’s “Rumble” and “Rawhide” (the latter rechristened “Surf Drums”), and so on. Tom Fitzpatrick’s drumming isn’t mixed as snappily to the fore as on the debut, and the heavy use of Joel Willenbring’s sax sometimes weighs this more towards ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and Las Vegas Grind than pure surf. Still, the band is tight, with some great stop-start arrangements and energetic bass lines by Ron Griffith. There’s stereo sound throughout and the tracks are available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with Surf Rider!) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Lively Ones: Surf Rider!

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Solid instrumental surf from band’s 1963 debut LP

The Lively Ones’ debut album remained their best effort, and a great example of ‘50s instrumentals morphing into ‘60s surf rock. Joel Willenbring supplies the fat-toned sax, and Jim Masoner and Ed Chiaverini the reverbed guitars. The quintet’s first full length pulled together previously released singles – notably the title track’s reworking of the Ventures’ “Spudnik” – with a handful of covers and a few memorable originals. The album opens with Tom Fitzpatrick’s crisp drumming kicking off Dick Dale’s “Surf Beat,” smoothly integrating Willenbring’s growling sax with the low twanging guitars. A take on the classic “Miserlou” hasn’t the manic staccato virtuosity of Dale’s version, but the drums once again cut sharp lines behind the energetic guitars. The more obscure covers are even better: a moody take on the Strangers’ “Caterpillar Crawl” and an upbeat romp through “Walkin’ the Board” each sound like something Thee Swank Bastards would use to get Szandora LaVey’s hula-hoop up to speed. The two originals, “Goofy Foot” and “Happy Gremmie” are quite fine, the latter with a bluesy edge to its combination of surf and Vegas grind. Great sound (stereo except track 2, 4, 5 and 6) – this is a must have for any surfer stomp; available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with their second album, Surf Drums) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Jan and Dean: Surf City and Other Swingin’ Cities

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Take a road trip with Jan & Dean

As great as are the singles (1963’s “Surf City” and “Honolulu Lulu”), Jan & Dean’s first concept album doesn’t always represent their most interesting or inventive work. Heavy on covers that pale in comparison to the originals, the duo’s nasally voices weren’t well-suited to Rodgers & Hart’s “Manhattan” or Tony Bennett’s classic “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Still, Jan Berry’s true stereo production is excellent, and there are some unusual touches in his arrangements – like fuzz guitar played against violins – that are oddly compelling. They manage to rock Freddy Cannon’s “Tallahassee Lassie” in a sun-bleached West Coast sort of way, and fare nicely with the nostalgic novelty “Philadelphia, PA” the swinging cha cha of Chuck Berry’s “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis,” and the go-go closer “Soul City.” [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Famous: Come Home to Me

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Post-punk informed country twang

San Francisco’s The Famous, led by guitarist/vocalists Laurence Scott and Victor Barclay, debuted five years ago with the post-punk rock of Light, Sweet Crude. They still profess deep affection for the Pixies, but their new release isn’t nearly as raw as the debut, and the country twang explored on the earlier “Deconstruction Worker” is the new record’s raison d’être. Scott’s vocals retain their edgy emotion, and the music still has its rock power, but the band plays with more dynamics, and the tempos mull over the lyrics’ angst rather than spitting them out. If country music’s original outlaws had made their break with Nashville in the post-punk era, it might have sounded a lot like this. Scott’s bitter words and needy tone straddle the line between anger and remorse on the perfectly unconvincing “Without You,” and though “Perspicacious” sounds like the post-punk power-pop of Sugar, Scott retains the twang in his voice. The band shows their instrumental chops on the lengthy spaghetti-western intro to “Happy,” and the title track mixes the growl of Tom Waits and dark theatrics of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins with a mix of trad-jazz trombone, hard-twanging guitar and pedal steel. The closing instrumental “Under the Stars” is wistful, with countrypolitan piano, lazy steel and a terrific Endless Summer guitar that draws the day’s surfing (or perhaps trail ride) to a close. The melding of eras and influences is heard throughout the album, with heavy lead guitars winding into hard-charging Gun Club-styled verses, and spare solos that build into musical walls. This is a terrific evolution from the band’s debut, focusing the muscle and energy of their post-punk rock into compelling, emotional twang. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Under the Stars
Stream Come Home to Me
The Famous’ Home Page