History Lesson: Surf Rock

One of the hallmarks of summer for me is listening to surf rock. I wasn’t exposed much to the genre as a child, unless you count the Beach Boys. Full disclosure: although they are often classified that way, I don’t entirely think of the Beach Boys as surf rock because their sound tends to be softer and veer into the pop realm.

I want to dive into (heh) surf rock today with an abbreviated history lesson. It’s straight out of the culture of Southern California. That’s why you’ll often hear lyrics about surfing and sunny days, beach babes and boardwalks. Surf rock is also very heavy on the reverb. Think “Miserlou” by Dick Dale or “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris. That’s why, even though surf rock does still linger today, the genre feels very vintage to me. Reverb guitar was huge in the ’60s, which was when surf rock hit its peak.

Surf rock’s musical descendants include another California creation known as pop-punk. Like surf rock, pop-punk is enmeshed in a culture. This time, its origins overlap with California’s skateboarding scene. (More details about pop-punk and the wild vocals that live there can be found here.)

Grab your sunglasses and listen to some of my favorite surf rock songs below:

History Lesson: Link Wray

As a music fan and critic, I’m always interested in finding new songs and artists. That’s part of the joy of it for me. And, too, there’s a similar element of “knowing what you don’t know” by continually educating myself about music history and how it shapes our present. I don’t know if this will become as regular a series as, say, my Covers Corner or Throwback Thursday features, but I’m interested in sharing something recent I learned. This time it’s about a guitarist named Link Wray. Perhaps fitting for a post during Native American Heritage Month: Wray was of Shawnee descent. Representation is important in music; it’s unfortunate that this detail seems to be downplayed.

Link Wray is another example of someone who was incredibly formative for rock’n’roll, but whose recognition isn’t comparable to their influence. His guitar work set the stage for Jimmy Page and his ilk: titans of the genre who are known by chords alone. In Wray’s case, his most iconic chords are in the instrumental tune “Rumble.” Funnily enough, “Rumble” is the only instrumental song to be banned from radio. Why did the powers that be condemn this song if there weren’t any controversial lyrics involved? Well, they felt that the chord progression would encourage gang violence. To be sure, there is something kind of sinister in the song; “Rumble” is just slow enough to be unsettling and gives off Sharks and Jets vibes. Listening to it now, I picture myself in a diner somewhere while the greasers crowd into a booth next to the jukebox.

Grab a chocolate milkshake and see what I mean: