Friday, May 1, 2009

Surf and Drag V1

Now for something older -- Sundazed's 1989 compilation was an early CD entry into the archaeology of West Coast surf music. Beneath the better known (and anthologized) instrumentals, Sundazed dug into the car and surf tunes of Gary Usher, along with a few rare tracks from well-known acts, and a few obscurities. The resulting disc doesn't have the consistent hit quality of typical surf collections, nor the breadth of sets like Rhino's early-80s "History of Surf" or 1996 4-CD "Cowabunga," yet in venturing beyond the well-known tunes, these tracks provide important elaboration on the SoCal surf and drag scene.

Writer/producer Usher is most popularly recognized for his songwriting collaborations with Brian Wilson (including "In My Room," "409," "Sacramento," and "Let's Go to Heaven in My Car"), but he's also the mastermind behind numerous songs recorded under band names such as The Four Speeds and Super Stocks. It's these latter sides that are the focus here.

Usher's tracks are divided into work-for-hire and personal productions. The former is represented by three frightening tracks waxed by nightclub singer Don Brandon. Even with Usher's fine production (and the cream of L.A.'s session players -- many of whom backed Jan & Dean's hits!), Brandon's vocals sink these tracks faster than a gremmie wiping out on his first big wave. Their so-bad-their-good irony provide an inviting look at the surf bandwagon in motion.

Usher's own productions include The Four Speeds' oddly homoerotic imagery of "Four on the Floor," the car-lingo filled "Cheater Slicks," and an ode to the Dennis Wilson's dream car, "My Sting Ray." The Four Speeds' car-slang filled "RPM" sports an organ solo played on the same instrument featured on the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA"! Under his own name Usher produced "Power Shift" and "Mag Wheels" (the latter covered by no less than Dick Dale), filled with catchy tic-tac guitar (as opposed to slashing reverb-filled surf lines) and unusual (for surf/drag music) piano and organ breaks.

Many of Usher's songs, though more tightly produced and filled with authentic slang, sound as if they were lifted from AIP beach party films. In fact, Donna Loren's "Muscle Bustle" was featured in the film, "Muscle Beach Party." Usher's fine production helps divert the listener's attention from the insipid (even by AIP soundtrack standards) lyrics.

Among the non-Usher tracks, Gene Moles' "Burnin' Rubber," and a pair of tracks from The Royal Coachmen" are welcome additions to the SoCal early-60s surf/car-rock catalog. Oddities on this volume include a pre-"Lies" track from New York's Knickerbockers (a toothless follow-up to the Rip Chords' "Hey Little Cobra" entitled "Bite Bite Barracuda," presented in two different versions!), and a post-"Tequila" instrumental from the champs entitled "Twenty Thousand Leagues." The latter features guitar that's reminiscent of Link Wray and Duane Eddy, and Las Vegas Grind styled sax. Jan and Dean's pre-surf "Midsummer Nights Dream," recorded for Challenge, features a clarinet lead (!) and a less-than-soaring vocal.

Sound quality is top-notch, with a big helping of first-ever stereo mixes from the original 3-track masters. Not the place to start a surf collection, but certainly a good way to expand one.

1. Burnin' Rubber - Gene Moles 2. Swim - Don Brandon 3. Loophole - The Royal Coachmen 4. Bite Bite Barracuda - The Knickerbockers 5. Rendezvous Stomp - Rhythm Rockers 6. Four on the Floor - Four Speeds 7. Cheater Slicks - Four Speeds 8. Midsummer Night's Dream - Jan & Dean 9. Twin Pipes - Gene Moles 10. Barefoot Adventure - Four Speeds 11. Twenty-Thousand Leagues - The Champs 12. Ballad of Bonneville - Don Brandon 13. Repeating - The Royal Coachmen 14. Mighty Mighty Barracuda - The Knickerbockers 15. Power Shift - Gary Usher 16. Mag Wheels - Gary Usher 17. Muscle Bustle - Donna Loren 18. My Sting Ray - Four Speeds 19. RPM - Four Speeds 20. Party Last Night - Don Brandon



hotrodmike said...

These two volumes look great. Can't wait to give them a spin. Thanks for both!

martijn13 said...

Hello from Iceland! Great blog, this. Is there a way you could upload these Surf N Drag volumes in 320kbps mp3?
They deserve the sound quality.
I could send you links to the 4 volumes of Lost Sound Of Surf Guitar?
My email,

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