As I admitted here, I’ve never been any kind of surfer, and truth be told actually recoiled from most beach culture when I was growing up. In the South Bay, the beach was too easy, too available, too obvious – and I was an awkward, contrary, angry bastard by nature. But all that’s neither here nor there when talking about music, since I frickin’ love much of what’s been called surf music all down the pipeline. While surf began in the early 60’s as a highly structured, narrowly prescribed musical form, by the end of the decade the wide ranging, wildly divergent sounds being used to score surfing films couldn’t be captured under pat definition. And as Australia was the locus for surf documentaries in the late 60s and early 70’s, so too, was it the place for surf music during those times.
The recent Chairman of the Board compilation on Harmless Records did a decent job at surveying the wide-open terrain covered by late 60s/early 70’s Antipodean surf soundtracks, even if it did linger a bit too long on derivative singer/songwriter G. Wayne Thomas for my liking. But it was left to Japan’s EM Records to really dive deep into reissuing the individual scores themselves. Their Under Water Series was welcomed with open arms in this household; here, I’d only ever heard wind of one of these LPs before, and that’s only because I worked at a record nerd outpost in Hollywood 15 years ago! These CD reissues are all beautiful digipacks with copious liners and photos, and they sound effin’ phenomenal. Haven’t actually seen any of the flicks in question, but I did watch the Cali/Aussie surf flick Crystal Voyager just the other night, and can vouch for the fact that endless clips of waves breaking appeals to even us gremmies in a meditative, hypnotic sorta way. So go to it:
FARM – “Animal” (The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun Soundtrack, EM Records, Japan 1968/2007) Filmed largely in Australia, but scored by pure SoCal dudes. Drummer Dennis Dragon (THE DRAGONS, SURF PUNKS, THE BEACH BOYS et al) was still young at this point, but he was already a vet of surf soundtracking – he and his brothers had scored Dale Davis’ Strictly Hot way back in ’64. The primary sound on Innermost teeter-totters from the Dragons’ jazzy, DOORSian organ workouts to Denny Aaberg’s spacey acoustic numbers – all which strain to reinvent the sound of surf music in a post-Sunset Strip, late 60’s way. Mike Curb-like exploitation influences are at work here, too, particularly in the blues rock instrumental stuff – blame the geographic proximity of Hollywood. But repeated listens have brought this CD to lurid Technicolor life: the playing is nimble, the interaction never feels anything less than inspired, and there’s no bogue string or brass sections to bog anybody down. Nice stuff fellas. Now why don’t EM Records go and re-release some other Dennis soundtracks, like A Sea For Yourself, Go For It, or the aforementioned Strictly Hot? I could listen to 10 CDs worth of this kinda unpredictable instro action.
PETER MARTIN & FINCH – “Lady of Truth” (Drouyn Soundtrack, EM Records, Japan 1974/2007) The most soundtrackery of these soundtracks: it’s a very 70’s mix of mellow acoustic strummers, library sound string arrangements, groovy funk cues, faux eastern exotica, and some disorienting ARP synthesiser that speak of studio agility rather than spontaneous garage jamming. But see, this Peter Martin guy is reeeally agile at soundtracking. Every little bit fits perfectly into a totally appealing whole in an oddly seamless, DJ-curated way. Didn’t hurt at all to invite along actual garage jammers FINCH, who play three of their own appealingly overwrought rockers and add texture/muscle to a few of Peter’s own numbers. Perhaps the least crucial of the four soundtracks I’ve talked about here, but that’s only ’cause the others are so fucking singular. Don’t overlook this one, like I almost did – I’m already imagining this will help me through any number of breezy Summer afternoons in my immediate future.
TULLY – “Brother Sun” (Sea of Joy Soundtrack, EM Records, Japan 1972/2007) A true milestone this was: if FARM was groping for something new, TULLY not only found but surpassed it completely. This has quickly become one my favourite soundtracks of all time. It’s a glorious collection of acousticly driven clarinet/flute chamber melodies punctuated by soaring vocals, eerie electric distortion, Indian drones, and even a bit of wet reverb depending on mood and intuition. The band also musters a focused seriousness that speaks of a kind of collective spiritual longing, bringing to mind England’s THIRD EAR BAND. It’s no surprise these folks were devotees of Avatar Meher Baba at this juncture. But this is sooo good, even confirmed atheists will want to crack an ear to the way these folks reinvent surf in their own gorgeous, hippie image. A+.
TAMAM SHUD – “Mr. Strange” (Evolution Soundtrack, EM Records, Japan 1969/2007) Killer post-beat heavy psych action that has that hard-hitting but warmfuzzy low end I associate with contemporaneous PRETTY THINGS and CREAM records. The difference is, this wasn’t no production job: the whole thing was recorded in a matter of a few hours one afternoon! The live-in-the-studio feel has the rolling energy and primal force of big surf waves, and the urgent energy on display here totally wastes this band’s later, inferior Goolutionites & The Real People LP. An argument can be made that SHUD’s great tracks for the Morning of the Earth surf soundtrack in 1972 (buttressed by members of TULLY!) were their absolute pinnacle, but man! The abandon they exhibit in their rockin’ is totally invigorating and like little else I’ve come across from the period. Makes me wanna get naked and dive in the very, very cold English Channel straightaway. Well, almost.