Surf, Rods, 'n Honeys . . .

Surf, Rods, 'n Honeys - Jan 'n Dean Part 1 of 5

1963 -- Brian, Jan, and Dean Take Linda Surfin'

E arly on, it was evident that at some point Jan was going to be able to produce himself," recalls Lou Adler. "On the early Jan & Dean records, a lot of the parts were done by Jan. And so when that first happened I continued to produce, and then I just sort of started to supervise, and then I started to consult. And it just evolved into that." And at the same time Jan was tired of the old East Coast fare from Aldon Music, and was ready to incorporate a new sound for Jan & Dean.

Jan chose a 1940s hit, "Linda," -- penned by Jack Lawrence -- and merged the established Jan & Dean sound with the soaring falsetto leads of The Four Seasons (a New Jersey combo that had scored two monster hits with "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" in late 1962). It was a fresh new sound that featured Jan's bass vocals against a thick, double-tracked falsetto from Dean Torrence (significantly less shrill than Frankie Valli's). Torrence had been incorporating small bits of falsetto in various Jan & Dean recordings dating all the way back to "Baby Talk" in 1959. But "Linda" marked the first prominent falsetto lead for Jan & Dean -- which was actually an extension of the earlier experiment with "Barbara Ann" on GOLDEN HITS the previous year. The backing harmonies were prominent on the opening hook and refrain, but were more subtle behind the verse. And Jan's use of brass added some nice accents to the record, including its instrumental break. Released in early January 1963, the new single began a slow ascent up the national charts.

The Early Beach Boys
The Beach Boys
Top Right: Brian Wilson

By this time a group of kids from Hawthorne, California, was beginning to make noise on the national scene. Brian Wilson's band of family and friends, now called The Beach Boys, was on the verge of exploding as one of the hottest American groups of the decade. Back in September 1961 -- just as Jan & Dean were making their switch to Liberty Records -- Brian Wilson took his group to a small family-owned studio to perform his new composition, "Surfin'" (penned with songwriting cousin Mike Love). The concept of "surf music" had already been established as an original instrumental form; but it was Brian's group that would add words to the concept, and present them with mind-blowing harmonies inspired by The Four Freshmen. And it was Brian's concept (thanks to the urging of surfer brother Dennis) that would take the notion of "surf music" to a wider national audience.

Brian's robust harmony structures were fully realized from the very beginning. This was evidenced by his early concept for "Surfin'," although the released recording of the tune featured a less effective arrangement in a higher key. The first studio session for "Surfin'" occurred in October 1961, and the song was released on the small Candix label that December. By late March 1962 -- just before Jan & Dean released "Tennessee" -- the "Surfin'" single peaked at #75 nationally (though it had been a huge local hit in Los Angeles).

In May 1962, the Beach Boys signed with Capitol Records, paving the way for Brian's own future emergence as a producer. The Wilson-Love original composition, "Surfin' Safari," was released in June -- and by the time Jan & Dean released their GOLDEN HITS album in August, the new Beach Boys single was on its way to a Top-20 national success. By January 1963 -- when Jan & Dean released "Linda" -- The Beach Boys were recording what would soon be their first Top-10 hit, "Surfin' U.S.A." And within two months, Jan Berry and Brian Wilson would be collaborating in the studio for the first time.

With the rise of The Beach Boys, it was only a matter of time before these sons of Southern California crossed paths with one another. Brian's group had begun to play live gigs around Los Angeles, and it wasn't long before The Beach Boys found themselves on the bill at a teen hop with established stars, Jan & Dean. Brian and The Beach Boys had of course been well aware of Jan & Dean; and the "Surfin'" tune actually featured a familiar sounding vocal hook, reminiscent of "Baby Talk." Jan had been immediately impressed with the new Beach Boys material. He was eager to explore possibilities for collaboration; and with Lou Adler paving the way, Jan Berry and Brian Wilson struck up a fast friendship.

Take Linda Surfin'
Jan & Dean
Take Linda Surfin'

The stage was set. Jan was putting together an album to go with the "Linda" single, and he approached Brian about including Jan & Dean versions of "Surfin'" and "Surfin' Safari" on the forthcoming release. The two Beach Boys singles had already run their course on the charts, and Brian was flattered that Jan was interested in the songs. At this point, Jan didn't have much of a budget to work with, and when he asked if The Beach Boys could provide the tracks and backing harmonies for the new versions, Brian was more than willing to help. It was good additional exposure for the Wilson-Love songwriting team. The guys got together in early March 1963 at Conway Recorders to re-cut the Wilson-Love compositions -- on the same day that "Surfin' U.S.A." by The Beach Boys was officially released by Capitol. Jan provided the bass parts while Dean Torrence covered the lead vocals, with Brian's crew filling in the backing harmonies.

The following month, just as "Linda" was peaking at #28 on the national charts, Liberty issued JAN & DEAN TAKE LINDA SURFIN'. This nifty album title, however, reflected all of three songs. And only one cut -- "When I Learn How to Cry," an upbeat rocker that had served as the B-side of "Linda" -- was a Jan Berry-Don Altfeld original. The other tracks once again featured hits by other artists, including two Goffin-King offerings from Aldon. Two of the cuts, however, did feature prominent string arrangements by Jan.

Jan 'n Dean - Arcade Card While the cover for GOLDEN HITS had featured Jan & Dean decked in gray suits and dark ties (which seemed a reflection of the album's recorded product), TAKE LINDA SURFIN' presented the boys in a very "California" mode of attire. Standing beside a shining burgundy panel truck, Jan & Dean sported shorts, red shirts, and purple and yellow surf boards. With one very hot-looking blonde female standing between them. On the back cover, the shirtless hunks -- boards in hand -- stood on a beach in Malibu, looking over their shoulders, with waves crashing in the background. Welcome to the West Coast -- land of eternal sun and fun. The myth was beginning, and Jan Berry and Dean Torrence certainly looked the part. But like Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, they had actually taken a board into the breakers on occasion.

With the aide of the strong single, not to mention the Beach Boys tracks, the album was a minor chart success later that summer (peaking at #71). It was Jan Berry's first (and last) official album production for Nevins-Kirshner, with oversight from the ubiquitous Lou Adler. The wave was cresting, and important business changes were in the wind.

© 2001-2003 MARK A. MOORE. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.