5 Classic Surf Rock Recordings: Remembering Surf City U.S.A. Circa 1960s and 70s

For those who grew up in the Southern California of the 1960s and 70s, access to the beach was much simpler than it is today. Highway 39, or Beach Blvd. (it’s casual name), was a conduit from Whittier Hills straight through back-to-back Orange County towns terminating at Huntington Beach…Surf City U.S.A. On any given day, almost year-round, it was common to see surfers with their long surfboards sitting on benches at bus stops along road-just waiting for the next bus to pick them up for the trip to the beach. Other surfers would just drive together and park on the State beach side where parking was cheaper than the City side, or just park along Pacific Coast Highway One for the day.

It was a family tradition to head to the State beach in the afternoon. Fire pits for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows were always available. Watching the sunset around the open pits could be enjoyed most of the year- except winter- when the steel gray-blue of the Pacific Ocean brought fiercer waves, cold rain, and sometimes fog.

In those days, Huntington Beach wasn’t the nicest beach. It’s wide flat sands opened broad stretches of land to the sea, and it’s wasn’t as picturesque as beaches tucked into picturesque coves. Those beaches were further north in Malibu, or further south in Laguna, where wealthy homes took up expensive beach-front property; and still do today. Driving toward the beach, it was possible to smell the salt air and know you’d be there soon. After a certain point, it was possible to see the beach from the highway. That was pure heaven.

1. Surfin Usa

The Beach Boys started out as a garage band in Hawthorne, California. Three of the original members were brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, and the other two were the Wilson’s cousin Mike Love, and one of their friends, Al Jardine. They created their influential rock sounds by combining 50s rock ‘n’ roll, jazz vocal harmonies, classical jazz stylings, and rhythm and blues. Their hit records were filled with the stuff of southern California popular with the youth at the time, including going to the beach to surf, swim, dance, and hang out; cars, and young romance. Their music became known as the California Sound, and many groups emulated their style. In later years, their innovations came to be viewed as contributing to the emergence of counterculture music.

2. Wipe Out

The Surfaris were a surf rock band that began in Glendora, California. Their 1963 is an iconic instrumental best known for drummer Ron Wilson’s solo. “Wipe out” is surfer slang for a particularly painful fall from a surfboard. The iconic song has been a part of more than 20 television series and films.

3. Pipeline

The Chantays were five students at Santa Ana High School in Orange County, Southern California. They created their hit surf rock instrumental in 1963. The song is included in the list “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

4. Surfin’ the Wedge by Dick Dale

Dick Dale’s title of “King of the Surf Guitar” was earned due to his phenomenal guitar techniques. He was the pioneer of surf music, though he originally came from Quincy and Boston, Massachusetts. He drew on his Lebanese American heritage by adding Middle-Eastern musical scales, extremely fast picked notes, and his unique use of Fender guitar custom built amplifiers.


5. Good Vibrations — The Beach Boys

Today, every bit of open land heralding the arrival at the beach has amazingly beautiful homes and expensive hotels covering what used to be scrappy hills. It’s still amazing to spend the day in Huntington Beach, walk down the pier, go shopping, have a bite to eat, see beach volleyball and watch surfers in the waves. It’s much harder to find parking these days, though. Fabulous street fairs fill the sidewalks with amazing food vendors and music. Great music. After all, it was surf music that let the world do some California dreamin’ and brought so many to So Cal in the first place.

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