“You’ll never hear surf music again,” is a very famous line from “Third Stone From the Sun,” from Jimi Hendrix‘s debut album Are You Experienced (1967). That lyric was taken by many (including myself, until I learned the truth), as something of an indictment of the whole surf scene of the early ‘60s. The reality is that Hendrix wrote the words in tribute to one of his heroes, “The King of Surf Guitar,” Dick Dale.
At the time, Dale was diagnosed with what was thought to be an incurable form of cancer. Miraculously, he beat the odds, and is still making amazing music to this day. In a very sad irony, Dick Dale wound up recording a version of “Third Stone From the Sun” as a posthumous tribute to Hendrix. As interesting as I find that story though, my point in including here is that those lyrics about “never hearing surf music again” seem to have taken on a life of their own, regardless of the truth.
If one looks at the surf scene as represented by movies such as Beach Blanket Bingo, then yes, it does appear to have been a pretty innocent time. But give a listen to the brilliant selection of songs on the new four-CD set Surf-Age Nuggets: Trash & Twang Instrumentals 1959-1966, and you will come away with a very different impression. These tracks feature some of the rawest, coolest, and most “rebellious” music as any I have heard. Many of them are also among the rarest 45 rpm singles ever released.
As something of a record collector myself, I am all too familiar with the desire to own the most obscure items ever released. It is almost an affliction really, and sometimes the music itself gets lost in the hunt. It is pretty clear that James Austin, who compiled and produced Surf-Age Nuggets, is first and foremost a music fan though, because there is nary a dud in this collection.
The whopping 104 tracks are spread out over the course of four CDs, and housed in an outstanding box set. You open it up, and the CDs are held in place on the front and back covers. Almost as cool as the music is the 60-page book between the covers. The introduction is written by Mike Campbell, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Following this is an essay from Chris Isaak about his love of surf music in general. Next comes “Surf-Age Culture,” an article written James Austin. In it, he talks about not only the music, but of the cultural phenomenon that surrounded the era as well.
The main body of the text features a paragraph or so about each song. These notes were written by Alan Taylor and Dave Burke, of Pipleline magazine, and they really know their stuff. There are also some fabulous pictures, including vintage ads for Fender guitars, and even a “Fender Pretender,” from the Kent Guitar Company. That one is hilarious; it features a band set up on the beach, surrounded by some hot chicks with surfboards. The musicians are (of course) all dressed up in their stage suits. There are also some fantastic comic-book covers reproduced, including one featuring Wonder Woman surfing!
As wonderful as the packaging is though, Surf-Age Nuggets is all about the music. If ever there were a collection with which you could just hit “shuffle” on your CD player, and never be disappointed, this is it. There are even some surf-related ads included. These feature spots for radio stations and soft drinks, as well as trailers for movies such as The Horror of Party Beach and House on Haunted Hill.