Jan and Dean – Command Performance

ImageAlthough they never received anywhere near the same level of success or fame as The Beach Boys, this surf rock duo once dominated the top of the charts for a brief time period in the early 60s. Jan and Dean released this live album in 1965 on Liberty Records just as their popularity was starting to wane. Command Performance is essentially a greatest hits album performed in front of a live audience. The album is packed with many of the duo’s classic hits including “Surf City” and “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” Interestingly enough, Jan and Dean even cover a couple of their rival’s songs like “I Get Around.” The duo did reportedly have a friendly working relationship with their rivals, despite not becoming the same household name as The Beach Boys. Although the album itself is not all that imaginative, it does serve as a snapshot of the West coast surf rock scene in the early 1960s. Each song brings the driving electric guitar rhythms that have come to symbolize the heart and soul of surf rock. With pleasant, easy harmonies and fast tempos, these songs are quintessential rock ‘n’ roll songs that helped lead to more progressive rock styles such as garage rock and punk rock. Although many of the album’s songs are relatively well-known, it is not without its surprises. The song “Sidewalk Surfin'” is fun and catchy even though it never enjoyed the same success as songs like “Surf City.” Jan and Dean also close this album with a cover of “Louie, Louie,” one of the most celebrated garage rock songs of all time. This cover supports the rock narrative that links surf rock and garage rock with protopunk and later punk rock music. While this album can be mundane at times with many of the songs sounding quite similar, it is also important to recognize the role surf rock bands like Jan and Dean had in experimenting with the sound of rock ‘n’ roll. It is easy to dismiss bands like Jan and Dean 50 years after their prime. It is much more accurate to look at the influence they had on the development of rock ‘n’ roll and how they contributed to the sounds of middle and late 60s underground rock bands.  B

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The Astronauts – Competition Coupe

ImageThe Astronauts became a regional success in the early 60s as a Midwestern surf rock band. Despite their lack of surfing skills, the band fell into step with prominent West coast surf rock bands like The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. By the mid-60s such bands began to branch out from songs about surfing to songs about cars and girls, which is now referred to as hot rod music. Never ones to miss a trend, these boys from Boulder, Colorado quickly followed suit, releasing Competition Coupe on RCA Victor in late 1963. While it’s easy to rag on The Astronauts for capitalizing on the trend of the moment, there’s something to be said for adaptability. If you want true American hot rod music, this album delivers. Songs like “Little Ford Ragtop,” “’55 Bird” and “4:56 Stingray” epitomize vocal surf/hot rod rock with easy, pleasant harmonies, driving electric guitars and a relatively fast tempo compared to other forms of rock ‘n’ roll at the time. While the dominance of the electric guitars harkens back to the sounds of Chuck Berry and other electric guitar pioneers, the increased tempo paves the way for future forms of rock including garage rock and protopunk. Although The Astronauts prove themselves masters of the typical surf rock sound, they also prove their dexterity with instrumental numbers like the saxophone-heavy “Chevy Scarfer” and the Latin-infused “El Aguila (The Eagle).” Overall, this album is one of the preeminent hot rod albums of the early to mid-60s. For anyone who is interested in surf rock, garage rock or protopunk, this album is well worth picking up as it represents elements of all three. The album’s depth is also very surprising as there’s not really a bad song either side.  A