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Surf music
Stylistic origins Rock and roll, Jump blues, country, European, Middle Eastern, Mexican
Cultural origins Mid 1950s United States
Typical instruments Guitar, Bass, drums, keyboards
Mainstream popularity Significant regional mainstream success in the early 1960s, revival in late 1980s and 1990s
Derivative forms Surf rock - Surf pop - Rautalanka - String (Thai pop)

Surf music is a genre of popular music associated with surf culture, particularly Orange County and other areas of Southern California. It was particularly popular between 1961 and 1965, has subsequently been revived and was highly influential on subsequent rock music.[1] It has two major forms: largely instrumental surf rock, with an electric guitar or saxophone playing the main melody, pioneered by acts such as Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, and vocal surf pop, including both surf ballads and dance music, often with strong harmonies that are most associated with The Beach Boys. Many notable surf bands have been equally noted for both surf instrumental and surf pop music, so surf music is generally considered as a single genre despite the variety of these styles.[1]


Instrumental surf rock



Surf music began in the early 1960s as instrumental dance music, almost always in straight 4/4 common time, with a medium to fast tempo. The sound was dominated by electric guitars which were particularly characterized by the extensive use of the "wet" spring reverb that was incorporated into Fender amplifiers from 1961, which is thought to emulate the sound of the waves.[1] Guitarists also made use of the vibrato arm on their guitar to bend the pitch of notes downward, electronic tremolo effects and rapid (alternating) tremolo picking.[2] Guitar models favoured included those made by Fender (particularly the Mustang, Jazzmaster, Jaguar and Stratocaster guitars), Mosrite, Teisco, or Danelectro, usually with single coil pickups (which had high treble in contrast to double coil humbucker pickups).[3] Surf music was one of the first genres to universally adopt the electric bass, particularly the Fender Precision Bass. Classic surf drum kits tended to be Rogers, Ludwig, Gretsch or Slingerland. Some popular songs also incorporated a tenor or baritone saxophone, as on "Surf Rider" and "Comanche".[4] Often an electric organ or an electric piano featured as backing harmony.


By the early 1960s instrumental rock and roll had been pioneered successfully by performers such as Duane Eddy, Link Wray, and The Ventures.[5] This trend was developed by Dick Dale who added the distinctive reverb, the rapid alternate picking characteristic of the genre, as well as Middle Eastern and Mexican influences, producing the regional hit "Let's Go Trippin'" in 1961 and launching the surf music craze, following up with songs like "Misirlou" (1962).[1] Like Dale and his Del-Tones, most early surf bands were formed in Southern California area, with Orange County in particular having a strong surf culture, and the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa hosted many surf-styled acts.[6] Groups such as the Bel-Airs (who's hit "Mr. Moto" was released months before Dale's "Let's Go Trippin'"), the Challengers, and Eddie & the Showmen following Dale to regional success.[7] The Chantays scored a top ten national hit with "Pipeline" in 1963 and probably the single most famous surf tune hit was 1963's "Wipe Out", by the Surfaris, known for their cutting-edge lead guitar and drum songs, which hit # 2 and # 10 on Billboard charts in 1965. The group had two other global hits "Surfer Joe" and "Point Panic".[8]

The growing popularity of the genre led groups from other areas to try their hand. These included The Astronauts, from Boulder, Colorado, The Trashmen, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who had a number 4 hit with "Surfin Bird" in 1964 and The Rivieras from South Bend, Indiana, who reached #5 in 1964 with "California Sun".[1] The Atlantics, from Sydney, Australia, were not exclusively surf musicians, but made a significant contribution to the genre, the most famous example with being their hit "Bombora" (1963).[1] Another Australian surf band who were known outside their own country's surf scene was the Joy Boys, whose hit "Murphy the Surfie" (1963) was later covered by the Surfaris.[9]

European bands around this time generally focused more on the style played by the Shadows. A notable example of European surf instrumental is Spanish band Los Relampagos' rendition of "Misirlou". The Dakotas, who were the British backing band for Merseybeat singer Billy J. Kramer gained some attention as surf musicians with "Cruel Sea" (1963), which was later covered by The Ventures and eventually other instrumental surf bands, including the Challengers and the Revelairs.[10]

Vocal surf pop

Although beginning as a purely instrumental form, surf music achieved its greatest commercial success as vocal music. Most associated with this movement were the Beach Boys, formed in 1961 in Southern California. Their early albums included both instrumental surf rock, including covers of music by Dick Dale and vocal songs, drawing on rock and roll and doo wop and the close harmonies of vocal pop acts like the Four Freshmen.[1] Their first chart hit, "Surfin'" in 1962 reached the Billboard top 100 and helped make the surf music craze a national phenomenon.[11] From 1963 the group began to leave surfing behind as subject matter as Brian Wilson became their major composer and producer, moving on to the more general themes of male adolescence, including cars and girls, in songs like "Fun, Fun, Fun" (1964) and "California Girls" (1965).[11] Other vocal surf acts followed, including one-hit wonders like Ronny & the Daytonas with "G. T. O." (1964) and the Rip Chords with "Hey Little Cobra", which both reached the top ten, but the only other act to achieve sustained success with the formula were Jan & Dean, who had a number 1 hit with "Surf City" (co-written with Brian Wilson) in 1963.[1]

The surf music craze and the careers of almost all surf acts, was effectively ended by the arrival of the British Invasion from 1964.[1] Only the Beach Boys were able to sustain a creative career into the mid-1960s, producing a string of hit singles and albums, including Pet Sounds in 1966, which made them, arguably, the only American rock or pop act that could rival the Beatles.[11]

Influence and revival

The use of instrumental surf rock style guitar for the soundtrack of Dr. No (1962), recorded by Vic Flick with the John Barry Seven, meant that it was reused in many of the films in the James Bond series, and influenced the music of many spy films of the 1960s.[12] Surf music also influenced a number of later rock musicians, including Keith Moon of The Who[1] East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys and Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago.[13] During the mid- to late 1990s, surf rock experienced a revival with surf acts, including Dick Dale recording once more, partly due to the popularity of the movie Pulp Fiction (1994), which used Dale's "Misirlou" and other surf rock songs in the soundtrack.[1] New surf bands were formed, including Man or Astro-man?, The Mermen and Los Straitjackets.[14]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra and S. T. Erlewine, All music guide to rock: the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul (Backbeat Books, 3rd edn., 2002), pp. 1313-4.
  2. ^ A. J. Millard, The Electric Guitar (JHU Press, 2004), p. 129.
  3. ^ T. Wheeler, The Stratocaster chronicles: Fender : celebrating 50 years of the Fender Strat (Hal Leonard, 2004), p. 117.
  4. ^ R. Unterberger, S. Hicks, J. Dempsey, Music USA: the rough guide (Rough guides, 1999), p. 382.
  5. ^ P Scaruffi, A History of Rock Music: 1951-2000 (iUniverse, 2003), pp. 18-19.
  6. ^ Roger Sabin, Punk rock: so what?: the cultural legacy of punk (Routledge, 1999), p. 158.
  7. ^ J. Blair, The Illustrated Discography of Surf Music, 1961-1965 (Pierian Press, 2nd edn., 1985), p. 2.
  8. ^ J. Blair, The Illustrated Discography of Surf Music, 1961-1965 (Pierian Press, 2nd edn., 1985), p. 75.
  9. ^ M. Warshaw, The Encyclopedia of Surfing (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005), pp. 776-7.
  10. ^ J. Blair, The Illustrated Discography of Surf Music, 1961-1965 (Pierian Press, 2nd edn., 1985), p. 126.
  11. ^ a b c V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra and S. T. Erlewine, All music guide to rock: the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul (Backbeat Books, 3rd edn., 2002), pp. 71-2.
  12. ^ K. Spencer, Film and television scores, 1950-1979: a critical survey by genre (McFarland, 2008), pp. 61-70.
  13. ^ M. Vorhees and J. Spelman, Lonely Planet Boston (Lonely Planet, 3rd edn., 2007). pp. 6 and 34.
  14. ^ P. Scaruffi, A History of Rock Music: 1951-2000 (iUniverse, 2003), pp. 383-4.

External links

Surf rock
Stylistic origins Rock and roll, Rockabilly, Blues, Country, European, Middle Eastern, Mexican
Cultural origins Mid-Late 1950s United States
Typical instruments Guitar, Bass, drums, keyboards
Mainstream popularity High mainstream success in the early 1960s, revival in late 1980s and 1990s
Derivative forms Surf rock - Surf pop - Surf folk - String (Thai pop) - Wong shadow - Rautalanka - Surfabilly

Surf rock, also known as "Surf Guitar"[1] is a style of music that originated in the USA that mixes elements of surf music and rock music, and partially due to the number of Mexican immigrants in southern California, added elements of Spanish rooted melodies, as well as popular titles like "Mexico", "Baja", and "Esperanza". The most influential styles on surf rock were general rock 'n' roll, pop rock and surf music. While in the 1960s surf music and rock 'n' roll were distinct styles, associated with competing dance styles and representing distinct and competing youth cultures, the development of rock music since then has built upon both styles. Many authorities now retrospectively classify all surf bands as rock bands, and surf music therefore as a subgenre of rock music.

Dick Dale has stated in an interview that he first performed surf music somewhere between 1955-57 (he claimed to be unsure): given the nature of his pre-"Let's Go Trippin'" recordings and his propensity (intentional or otherwise) for making incorrect, self-aggrandizing statements, this seems doubtful. Duane Eddy's instrumental "Movin' and Groovin'" is thought by many to be the first popular surf rock record, while others claim the first was Dick Dale's "Let's Go Trippin'". He was a surfer himself and sought to transfer the excitement and adrenaline of the sport through his guitar playing. He often drew on his Lebanese heritage, incorporating modal tonalities and instruments such as finger cymbals and reeds. Many surf bands that followed him incorporated Eastern & Spanish/Latin influences, as well as Dale's generous use of reverb. His rapid double picking and staccato playing was also very influential and an important part of the early surf sound, perhaps even more so than the reverb, which was only introduced years after Dale had already released his first singles. In Australia, which has always had a strong beach culture, the genre was strongly embraced in the 1960s, although Australian surf rock bands such as The Atlantics took their influences more from the famed British instrumental band The Shadows.

The Chantays recorded a top national single with "Pipeline", though much of the scene was highly localized in Southern California. The single most famous surf tune hit was 1963's "Wipe Out", by the Surfaris, which hit # 2 and # 10 on Billboard charts in 1965. The group had two other global hits "Surfer Joe" and "Point Panic". The Surfaris are known for their cutting edge avant garde lead guitar Jim Fuller and Ron Wilson drum songs. During the mid- to late 1990s, surf rock experienced a revival both of the music of older surf bands and in the formation of new ones. The popularity of the movie Pulp Fiction, which featured surf music, fueled the revival well into the 21st century.



The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has been at the forefront of surf music in both conception and present day. A typical surf setup consists of a "Fender Reverb unit" and a Fender amp as large as possible. For a guitar, models by Fender, Mosrite, Teisco, or Danelectro are popular choices. Single coil pickup (high treble in contrast to double coil humbucker pickups) designed guitars like the Fender Mustang, Fender Jazzmaster, Fender Jaguar and Fender Stratocaster are common to the genre. Fender Precision Bass, Danelectro, and Mosrite bass guitars are commonly used as well. Classic Surf drum kits tended to be Rogers, Ludwig, Gretsch or Slingerland. Some popular songs also incorporated a "whiney" sax, like famous surf songs "Surf Rider" and "Comanche". Seldom used but important in surf music was an organ or an electric piano.


Spy Rock is a subgenre of surf rock featuring similarly complex melodies, usually set in minor keys, evocative of spy films. Examples include the bands Double Naught Spy Car and the Twenty-Twos. An easily recognizable example of this subgenre is the James Bond Theme, from the popular series of spy movies, originally performed by guitarist Vic Flick with the John Barry Seven for the soundtrack of "Dr. No."

Surfabilly is a subgenre often featuring traditional surf melodies played over rockabilly chord structures. Examples include the bands Snowman, The Red Elvises, Southern Culture on the Skids, and The Young Werewolves.

Horror Surf is a subgenre with surf melodies, chord structures, and a surf beat played alongside unique B-Movie instrumentation, including theremin and sometimes Farfisa keyboards. This genre was made famous in the 60s by Frankie Stein and His Ghouls, and others. It has resurfaced in the late 90's and 2000s and grown in popularity. Examples of later Horror Surf bands include The Mummies, The Ghastly Ones, Gein and the Graverobbers, Thee Spectors, Satan's Pilgrims, The Mission Creeps, and The Horrors.

Hot Rod Rock (also called Drag Rock) is also a subgenre of surf rock. Traditional surf rock sounds are applied to lyrics about the also rising hot rod culture. For a few years it gained mass popularity. The Rip-Chords, Ronny and the Daytonas, and The Hondells are good examples of this subgenre. The Beach Boys, DragStrip Riot, Dick Dale, and The Trashmen produced songs in this subgenre such as "Little Deuce Coupe", "Mag Wheels", "A-Bone", "Sleeper", and "My Woodie"

Space Surf is a subgenre of surf rock. It contains many of the characteristics of the "true" surf rock sound, but it also contains many elements from pop and rockabilly. Rather than surfing, the titles of the songs are associated with outer space travel and technology, and feature more other-worldly sounds. The single Telstar and album The Ventures in Space are good examples, and modern groups such as Man or Astroman perform surf-derived music with strong 1950s Science-Fiction overtones.

Surf punk is a highly inclusive subgenre of surf rock that incorporates many of the styles and attitudes of punk music with traditional vocal and instrumental surf. The Surf Punks deliberately combined the surf and punk cultures with minor hits in the 80's. Many modern pop punk bands are popular among today's Southern Californian surfers. The Ramones experimented with surf music and numerous small bands of the midwest currently perform this style. The Amino Acids of Detroit, Michigan and The Deformities of Omaha, Nebraska, and others like Estrume'n'tal and Agent Orange build on this genre, while bringing in other influences such as heavy metal and/or psychobilly. The Dead Kennedys also had a very surf-influenced sound, largely due to guitarist East Bay Ray's guitar playing.

Eleki could be considered a catch-all phrase for the style of guitar-based music developed in Japan following the Ventures' 1962 tour. Important Japanese surf guitar players include Yuzo Kayama and Takeshi Terauchi. The 'Eleki boom' guitar craze sparked by The Ventures' tour had a profound and long lasting effect on Japanese rock music; when The Ventures returned to Japan in 1965 they were greeted with Beatlemania-like crowds. The Ventures are still very popular in Japan and continue to tour the country annually. The Surf Coasters are probably the most popular contemporary Japanese surf rock band.

Influences on contemporary rock music

A number of contemporary (post 1990) pop rock bands have incorporated themes from surf rock into their music. Smash Mouth ("When the Morning Comes") and Weezer ("Island In the Sun") are two examples. Another fine dutch example are (were) the Treble Spankers (1993-1998) with hits like "Red Hot Navigator" and "Popcorn". Another band, Brooklyn's The Giraffes play a surf infused type of hard rock. The Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago has also stated that surf rock was a major influence on his work with the Pixies, and can heard on tracks such as 'Hey' and 'Wave of Mutilation'

See also

Notable surf rock artists

Notable surf rock songs

External links


  1. ^
  2. ^ "The Music That Changed The World (Part One: 1954 – 1969)". UK: Q Magazine special edition. January 2004. 

Simple English

Surf rock is a kind of rock music. It started in the USA in the 1950s. As the name suggests surf rock had a strong relationship to the sport of surfing. The Beach Boys are an example of a band that play surf rock.


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