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A Boomer’s Guide to Surf Music

Summer may be winding down, but you still can dig these aquatic grooves

  • A Boomer’s Guide to Surf Music

    Between its birth in 1961 and the beginning of its demise in 1964, when the Beatles took the United States by storm, surf music reigned supreme on the American rock scene. Here’s a 50-year flashback to 1964, the genre’s high-water mark.

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    The Beach Boys

    Formed in California in 1961 by three brothers, a cousin and a friend, the Beach Boys manage to cut through Beatlemania and land their first No. 1 hit with “I Get Around,” which soars to the top of the Billboard charts on July 4, 1964.

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    Jan and Dean

    Jan and Dean score three Top 10 hits in 1964 — “Drag City,” “Dead Man’s Curve” and “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” — and, at the height of their fame, host and perform in the T.A.M.I. Show, an all-star rock 'n' roll concert turned Electronovision documentary film. Also in ’64, they perform the title track for the movie Ride the Wild Surf.

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    The Marketts

    “Out of Limits,” by the Marketts, an instrumental group, spends 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and sells more than a million copies. Originally released as “Outer Limits” (after the popular sci-fi TV series), the title is changed after Rod Serling threatens to sue the Marketts for lifting the four-note motif from the Twilight Zone without his approval. (In 1994, Quentin Tarantino’s use of the song in his film Pulp Fiction helped trigger a resurgence of interest in surf music.)

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    Ronny & the Daytonas

    GM’s Pontiac division puts its marketing muscle behind “G.T.O.,” the made-to-order debut single of a Nashville studio band dubbed Ronny & the Daytonas. (Lead singer Ronny's real name is John Wilkin.) With lyrics largely written by Pontiac adman Jim Wangers, the record sells more than a million copies.

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    'Little Stevie' Wonder With Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello

    Little Stevie Wonder appears as himself in Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach alongside teen heartthrobs Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. But his Motown surf-tune album, Stevie at the Beach, is pretty much a flop.

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    The Rip Chords

    The Rip Chords score their biggest hit in 1964 with another hot-rod song, “Hey Little Cobra.” (An early band lineup included Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher.) Some of their songs are released under the name “Bruce and Terry.”

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    The Hondells

    The Hondells also score their biggest hit in 1964: “Little Honda,” written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys and inspired by the popularity of Honda motorbikes in Southern California.

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