Ride The Wild Surf / Folk ‘n’ Roll – Jan & Dean

  • The Beach Boys don't surf, too dumpy, too pasty-faced or too geeky. But Jan & Dean are the real bronzed Aryan all-American hunks-in-trunks who do the image thing to perfection. Sure, minimal vocal talent, they don't write, don't play, but they're ideally-positioned to benefit from the patronage of others. First, Brian Wilson who writes Surf City for them, the first surf-beat US #1, a full year before the Beach Boys get their own chart-topper. Then Lou Adler, Phil 'P.F.' Sloan and Steve Barri (aka The Fantastic Baggys who provide back-up vocals), plus the cream of west coast session musicians. For example, each Jan & Dean album has a cheesy instrumental just waiting to be rediscovered by the Austin Powers set, but as the duo don't write or play, in what sense can these be said to be Jan & Dean tracks?

    Who cares when they feature the likes of Spector team-players Leon Russell, drummer Hal Blaine, keyboardist Larry Knechtel, Glen Campbell and saxist Steve Douglas? Jan Berry and Dean Torrence start out under the doo-wop influence, doing sound-alike Danny & The Juniors, Freddie Bell & The Bell-Boys cool falsetto close-harmonies. Their track Philadelphia Pa remembers TV's Dick Clark Show when the Diamonds "topped the teenage chart", alongside Bobby Darin, and Don & Phil. Until the duo luck into a couple of minor hits of their own, before catching the surf wave, building that first album (1963) concept-wise around the how-many-US-cities-can-you-name game, hence Kansas CityTallahassee Lassie, even I Left My Heart In San Francisco. On Honolulu Lulu she "handles all the big ones/ every year..." (Oo-er!! - they mean waves!), while 'Marie' in their Memphis "is only sweet sixteen," moving Chuck Berry's lyric ten years out of the paedophile zone.

    Then, for the next album (1964), they gear-shift into the parallel 'hot-rod' sub-fad, with an album that reads like pages from Autotrader magazine, all about carburettors and triple-exhaust systems, saved by the irresistibly pubescent bubble-pop of New Girl At School ("pappa-doo-rondy-rondy doo-rondy-rondy doo-rondy-rondy") and the exquisitely black Leader Of The Pack-alike Dead Man's Curve - a total overkill tasteless death-classic that opens "cruising in my Stingray" into a drag-race down Sunset and Vine with a Jaguar XKE, complete with tyre-skid car-crash effects and a monologue that cracks me up every time, "the last thing I remember Doc...". I loved it first time around. The trash-aesthetic in me loves it now. Surf-fan Keith Moon even covers its Bucket-T for the Ready Steady Who EP. Until Ride The Wild Surf (1964) makes not only the last great surf-beat album, but possibly a genre-best, written for a Fabian movie they were supposed to co-star in - before being dropped, it's also the first on-record skate-punk vinyl with Sidewalk Surfin' (re-working the Beach Boys' Catch A Wave) clacking in with the authentic sound of skateboard-wheels on city pavement. With the added Submarine Races, a feature for their goofy dumbed-down Porky's-style humour.

    Finally Folk 'n' Roll (1965) tries to jump one trend too far, merchandising protest with a generous dose of Sloan/Barri songs (first bites at the Grassroots Where Were You When I Needed You, and Barry McGuire's Eve Of Destruction neatly switching 'Selma Alabama' for 'Watts California', and dropping the 'damned' from 'so frustrating'). The oddly touching lyric-turn-around of Beginning From An End offsets the puerile Yesterday, some uninspired Dylan and Pete Seeger covers, and the horrendous Universal Coward, an appalling right-wing answer-disc to Buffy St Marie's Universal Soldier which even Dean refuses point-blank to appear on. Aimed at the draft-card burning pickets at Berkeley Jan accuses "he's a pacifist, an extremist, a Communist/ a demonstrator, an agitator,/ a conscientious objector, a fanatic or a defector/ and he doesn't know he's digging his own grave," adding uneasily contemporary neo-con chauvinism to "he just can't get it through his thick skull/ why the mighty USA has got to be the watchdog of the world." Eventually, by way of closing loops, they add a sarcastic re-do of that career-first as Folk City, still "two girls for every boy," but now with longer hair and a harmonica-harness ("I'm gonna sing all the words like Bob Dylan does/ in the jingle-jangle morning like a Rolling Stone"). Jan & Dean, they surfed a little talent for a long wild ride.