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Surf Rock

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Surf music is actually just the sound of the waves played on a guitar: that wet, splashy sound.

Surf Rock is what California sounds like.

Or, to be more specific: surf rock is a genre of Rock & Roll associated with surf culture, which originated in The '60s in Southern California.

Surf rock comes in two flavours, instrumental and vocal. Both versions are centered around some common traits, such as electric guitars using "wet"-sounding spring reverb (the central defining characteristic of surf music, arguably), vibrato and tremolo, driving rhythms, and in the case of vocal surf rock, doo-wop inspired vocal harmonies. While surf rock generally stuck to the guitar-bass-drums line-up and used some very specific guitar models (they loved the Fender, Mosrite, Teisco and Danelectro brands), there was occasional use of other instruments such as keyboards or saxophone. Notably, surf rock was one of the first genres to universally adopt the electric bass.


On the Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness, Surf Rock covers a wide spectrum. While vocal Surf Rock could range from as light as 2 to as hard as 4, the instrumental side of the style was some of the first rock music to reach 5; in some revivals, instrumental surf rock can go as high as 7.

Surf rock was incredibly popular between 1961-1965, the period from which originated its iconic songs such as "Misirlou", "Let's Go Trippin'", "Pipeline", "Wipe Out", "Surfin' USA", "Fun, Fun, Fun" and others. Another label applied to some of these bands, who played songs about fast cars rather than surfing, was "hot rod rock". The genre's popularity was effectively killed by The British Invasion starting in 1964, with the only group that survived being The Beach Boys, who despite their association weren't really a Surf Rock band.


However, the genre proved very influential on several other rock bands, such as The Who, Dead Kennedys and The Pixies. It underwent a revival thanks to the use of several of its songs in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (most famously, "Misirlou" and "Bullwinkle Part II"), and new surf bands have appeared lately such as Man or Astro-man?, The Mermen and Los Straitjackets.

A good argument can be made that what we know as "spy movie music" borrows a lot from surf rock and just uses a lot more minor keys (case in point; the James Bond electric guitar theme, or the Peter Gunn theme).

Instrumental surf rock bands:

Vocal surf rock bands:

  • The Beach Boys: From 1961 to 1964 only, although Mike Love (rather unsucessfully) brought the band back to that genre in the early Nineties:
    • 1962 - Surfin' Safari
    • 1963 - Surfin' U.S.A.
    • 1963 - Surfer Girl
    • 1963 - Little Deuce Coupe
    • 1964 - Shut Down, Volume 2
    • 1964 - All Summer Long
    • 1992 - Summer In Paradise
  • The Fantastic Baggys ("Tell 'Em I'm Surfin'")
  • The Hondells ("Little Honda")
  • Jan and Dean ("Surf City")note 
  • The Rivieras ("California Sun")
  • The Super Stocks
  • The Trashmen ("Surfin' Bird")

Revivalist surf rock bands:

And, to top it all off, even the Muppets have once made an album with a lot of surf rock:


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