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A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png This a Useful Notes page. A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png

Surf Rock is what California sounds like.

Or, to be more specific: surf rock is a genre of Rock and Roll associated with surf culture, which originated in The Sixties in Southern California.

Surf rock comes in two flavours, instrumental and vocal. Both versions are centered around some common traits, such as electric guitars using "wet"-sounding spring reverb (the central defining characteristic of surf music, arguably), vibrato and tremolo, driving rhythms, and in the case of vocal surf rock, doo-wop inspired vocal harmonies. While surf rock generally stuck to the guitar-bass-drums lineup and used some very specific guitar models (they loved the Fender, Mosrite, Teisco and Danelectro brands), there was occasional use of other instruments such as keyboards or saxophone. Notably, surf rock was one of the first genres to universally adopt the electric bass.

Dick Dale developed the surf sound from instrumental rock, where he added Middle Eastern and Mexican influences, a spring reverb, and the rapid alternate picking characteristics. His 1961 single "Let's Go Trippin'" essentially launched the genre.

Surf rock was incredibly popular between 1961-1965, the period from which originated its iconic songs such as "Misirlou", "Let's Go Trippin'", "Pipeline", "Wipe Out", "Surfin' USA", "Fun, Fun, Fun" and others. Another label applied to some of these bands, who played songs about fast cars rather than surfing, was "hot rod rock". The genre's popularity was effectively killed by The British Invasion starting in 1964, with the only group that survived being The Beach Boys, who despite their association weren't really a Surf Rock band.

However, the genre proved very influential on several other rock bands, such as The Who, Dead Kennedys and The Pixies. It underwent a revival thanks to the use of several of its songs in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (most famously, "Misirlou" and "Bullwinkle Part II"), and new surf bands have appeared lately such as Man or Astro-man?, The Mermen and Los Straitjackets.

A good argument can be made that what we know as "spy movie music" borrows a lot from surf rock and just uses a lot more minor keys (case in point; the James Bond electric guitar theme).


Instrumental surf rock bands:

  • Dick Dale and His Del-Tones ("Let's Go Trippin'", "Misirlou")
  • The Chantays ("Pipeline")
  • The Surfaris ("Wipe Out")
  • The Centurions ("Bullwinkle Part II", "Intoxica")
  • The Bel-Airs ("Mr. Moto")
  • The Atlantics ("Bombora") - Australian band, one of the few non-American surf rock bands.
  • The Lively Ones ("Surf Rider")
  • The Tornadoes ("Bustin' Surfboards")
  • The Ventures ("Walk Don't Run")
  • The Revels ("Comanche")
  • The Astronauts

Vocal surf rock bands:

Revivalist surf rock bands:

  • Blue Hawaiians
  • The Eliminators
  • Jack Johnson
  • Los Straitjackets
  • The Mermen
  • Man or Astro-man?
  • Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (who were so annoyed by this categorisation they wrote a tune called "We're Not a Fucking Surf Band")
  • Best Coast
  • The Ziggens
  • Sublime has a few surf rock songs, notably "Paddle Out"
  • Meshuggah Beach Party, who have dedicated themselves to proving that traditional Jewish melodies work alarmingly well as Surf Rock — which only makes sense, given the genre's roots in Middle-Eastern music.
  • The Reverb Syndicate, whose first album was in the style of a spy movie soundtrack - bringing "spy movie music" back to its roots. Every one of their albums since then has been in the style of a different movie-genre soundtrack, while remaining surf rock.
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