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Music Review: Jan & Dean – Surf City: The Best Of Jan & Dean

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I have just finished shoveling 12 inches of snow, the temperature has dropped into the teens, and now Jan & Dean are blasting out of my speakers.

Jan and Dean were responsible for some poor to average albums, an inability to reproduce their sound in concert, and some of the best surf and car singles of the mid 1960s this side of the Beach Boys. When all was said and done, Jan & Dean would rank a solid second behind the Beach Boys in terms of vocal surf sounds.

The 22 former singles contained on The Legendary Master Series release, Surf City: The Best Of Jan and Dean present them at their best, as their legacy is essentially that of a singles band. While they would produce over a dozen studio albums, this compilation, or one like it, is all you really need.

Jan Berry did not have the musical vision of Brian Wilson, but he was savvy enough to transform Jan and Dean from the producers of lite pop into multi-million-selling artists of the 60s. Like Wilson, Berry also had the ability to layer sound and, while his voice and that of partner Dean Torrence were not as strong as any of the Beach Boys, by the time Berry finished a song in the studio it sounded like a virtual choir.

Brian Wilson and Jan Berry developed a business relationship that brought them together. This enabled Wilson to find an additional outlet for his songs and Berry to find great music to record. For a five-year period, the songs kept coming and selling. Brian Wilson co-wrote such songs as “Surf City,” “Drag City,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” “New Girl In School,” “Ride The Wild Surf” and “Sidewalk Surfin’.” Combine these with “Linda”, “Honolulu Lulu,” “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena),” “Popsicle” and more and you have a strong catalogue of catchy music that reflected the California eternal dream and summer.

“Surf City’s” opening line “two girls for every boy” and the play on the word “Linda” from the song of the same name are memorable. “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)” is still fun and is probably the best Jan and Dean example of layered sound. “Ride The Wild Surf,” “Dead Man’s Curve” and “Drag City” all represent the 1960s California sound well.

The musical careers of Jan and Dean essentially ended in April of 1966 when Jan Berry’s Stingray hit a parked truck. Berry had to learn to talk again, such were his brain injuries. While they would tour again with a multitude of backup singers and remain popular on the oldies circuit until Berry’s death, their impact upon the recording and music industry was over. Dean Torrence would go on to form a successful company that developed album covers.

I think that music history has treated Jan and Dean fairly. The music is not essential but it is fun, and although much of it is dated, it’s worth hearing, especially on a cold winter night. Surf City: The Best Of Jan and Dean presents them at their best.

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About David Bowling

  • Brian Taylor

    I have read the article, and feel as though there are people who are experts on certain topics, and those that have a general understanding. As Beach Boys historian, I think you are putting too much of Jan and Dean’s success due to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Jan Berry was an innovator as was Brian Wilson from the early to the mid-sixties. Jan Berry, also a med student, during the beginning of his career had many similar ideas to the Beach Boys. Jan and Brian were collaborators, and innovators. I think you need to research Jan and Dean a little bit further. They also used the Wrecking Crew for some of there best compositions. I believe Jan Berry, along with Dean Torrence were an asset to the sixties surfing wave of music..

  • Josh

    “poor to average albums”???? is that a joke???? Drag City, Deadmans Curve/New Girl in School, Little Old Lady from Pasadena and Ride the Wild Surf are ALL phenomenal albums! boggles my mind the dolts that express their garbage opinions… Jan & Dean made great music before collaborating with Brian and while collaborating with Brian. They were the greatest duo in rock music history then and since. If anyone thinks otherwise Id like to see the proof, but that proof doesnt exist cuz they were bitchin!