Archive for the ‘Jan and Dean’ Category

February 3rd, 1978, was a cold, cold Friday in the Delaware Valley, with highs in the mid-20s (Fahrenheit) and lows in the low teens. As anyone alive out there can confirm, that winter of 1977-78 was a rough string of months for much of the Midwest and Northeast, with extreme cold and snowstorms the norm. In the Philly area, for example, some 13-15 inches of snow paralyzed the region two weeks prior; and from Sunday the 5th through early Tuesday morning, we’d endure a repeat performance that dropped 14 more inches of the white stuff. 

I was 12 1/2 years of age and still adjusting to the realities of winter; just a few years earlier, I’d actually thought 60 degrees was freezing. (Life in a desert kingdom may not have been ideal, but at least we didn’t have snow or actual cold.) About the only relief: Escape via books, television and, increasingly, music. As I charted in this long-ago post, Elvis Presley’s death the previous August essentially kickstarted my interest in rock ’n’ roll.

My parents picked up the book-thick Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer early Saturday evening most weeks, and we would spend part of the night reading through it. At that juncture, Michael St. John’s oldies show on WPEN-AM, which I routinely listened to, was on Sunday night – but there were plenty of oldies to be had around the dial. (Oldies, back then, primarily meant the rock, pop and soul/R&B of the 1950s and early ‘60s.) My parents and older brother weren’t much into music, but indulged me. So, for at least an hour, the sounds of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, the Ronettes, Supremes and Beach Boys filled the living room.

On occasion, Jan & Dean rode the wild surf from California to the eastern seaboard… 

…I loved the songs of theirs that I heard on the radio, most likely because they were often catchy and funny. Over time, I bought three 45s that sported hits on each side (and, eventually, the cool two-LP Anthology) – and, this night, turned on our local CBS affiliate, Channel 10, to watch Deadman’s Curve, a made-for-TV movie about them.

My memory tells me that it was a dramatic, dark and ultimately uplifting film accented by top-notch performances. My memory is wrong. A while back, I stumbled upon a gray-market DVD of the movie while looking for the 1977-78 James at 15 TV series, ordered it and, last Wednesday, gave it a go. Wow. It’s almost as awful as the Inky calling Jan Berry “Jan Perry” in its TV highlights for this night…

The TV movie was inspired by a 1974 Rolling Stone article by Paul Morantz, who also helped with the screenplay. One problem: Jan is presented as a first-class jerk from the get-go, which begs the question: Why would anyone want to work with him? Also, his friendship with Brian Wilson, who cowrote “Surf City” and “Ride the Wild Surf,” isn’t mentioned, nor is Jan & Dean’s memorable stint hosting the T.A.M.I. Show

Still, the film is a product of its time and environs, as TV mores were not what they are today. If James at 15’s attempts to deal with teen life in an authentic manner were met with resistance, one can only imagine the hurdles faced by Deadman’s Curve. 

The film did help re-energize the duo’s career, however. As this L.A. Times article explains, they began by touring with the Beach Boys before venturing out on their own. Dean says, “I didn’t want to play for just the over-30 crowd, but I found out that teen-agers were coming out for the music. In 1978 Jan and I toured with the Beach Boys to test the waters. It went OK, and in ’79 we became Jan and Dean again.” (That article is well worth the read in full, I should mention.)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Jan & Dean.

1) “Surf City.” Where this video comes from, no idea, but it portrays their humor very well.

2) “Dead Man’s Curve.” 

3) “Honolulu Lulu”

4) “Sidewalk Surfin’” Dick Clark welcomes them to American Bandstand, where they lip sync to their latest release – and then Dean demonstrates his skateboard skills. 

5) “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” This hails from the T.A.M.I Show – a classic performance from a classic film, and yet another example of their humor.

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Like many a child of the ‘70s, my introduction to the surf-rock stylings of Jan & Dean came by way of oldies radio. In my case, it was Michael St. John’s Saturday-night show on WPEN-AM in Philadelphia, which I tuned in after Elvis Presley’s death. I picked up a few double A-sided singles of theirs from the Hatboro Music Shop and, like many of my classmates, was blown away by Deadman’s Curve, the made-for-TV biopic about them that aired on CBS on Feb. 3, 1978.

I was 12 years old. Soon enough my attention would be diverted elsewhere – but I never forgot about their music, which I found funny, sly and just plain good. A year or three later, in fact, I wound up picking up their two-LP Anthology. Not only did it collect their best work, aka their hits, but it also included their versions of two Beach Boys songs (“Surfin’ Safari” and “Little Deuce Coupe”) and two Beatles songs (“Michelle” and “You’ve Got to Hide My Love Away”).

Fast forward a few more years, to the end of 1984: I’m browsing the used and rare vinyl in Memory Lane Records in Horsham and come across Early L.A., a compilation that featured pre-fame recordings by Dino Valenti, David Crosby, the Byrds and Canned Heat… and Jan & Dean’s 1965 LP Folk ’n Roll, which found the duo trading in their surfboards for fringed jackets.

The mid-‘60s were a difficult time for established acts, remember. Times and tastes were changing at a rapid clip, and veterans were doing whatever they could to hold onto the spotlight. Folk ’n Roll is a perfect example of that. It’s not a great album, though it has a few good-great moments; and, title aside, it’s less folk-rock and more pop-folk, with a dose of attempted satire tossed into the mix.

That said, the opener – “I Found a Girl” – could’ve been released at any point in the preceding years …

I should mention that it was co-written by the legendary P.F. Sloan and partner Steve Barri, who worked with Jan Berry often in those days. (That’s Sloan’s falsetto on “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” in fact.) “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which closes the first side, is also theirs; and has more of a folk-rock feel…

“Where Were You” was a hit for the Grass Roots the following year, of course; that group was created after Sloan-Barri’s demo began receiving airplay sometime in 1965. The Jan & Dean version falls between the demo and the official Grass Roots release, I believe. I should add that its similarity to Sloan’s “Eve of Destruction” is even more pronounced here because “Eve” falls two songs earlier on this album side.

Part of what I find to be the kitschy charm of Folk ‘n Roll comes from the earnest unease that the duo have with the material. They don’t sound comfortable with the slowed folk-rock beat or ringing Rickenbacker, for example, though their harmonies remain a joy to hear…

…and, yet, the album is eminently listenable – even the one misfire, “A Beginning from an End,” about a man seeing his late wife in his daughter. That sounds sweet, and it is – up until the spoken interlude, when he recalls the wife’s death during childbirth. “I felt so all alone as they wheeled you through the doors and told me to wait….” (In some respects, that interlude conjures “Deadman’s Curve.”) The song sounds great until you listen to the lyrics, basically. And once you do? It becomes awkward. And crass. Let’s leave it there.

Well, let’s not. Here it is:

Likewise, their attempt at satire with “The Universal Coward” falls flat – the song is similar, in a sense, to “Ballad of the Yellow Beret,” the parody of Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Beret” that featured a young Bob Seger. (In their defense: Neither possessed crystal balls that foretold what was to come.) More funny: the back cover picture of a new “potest” movement:

And, too, the title tune – which borrows its melody from “Surf City” – is a funny delight. Unlike “Coward,” it pokes affectionate fun at the folk-rock scene.

So, in short: Not a great album (thus it’s “(un)essential designation”), but an interesting listen, all the same.

To hear the album in full (and with commercials):

In the late 1990s, just like every other driver, I was dependent on CDs or the radio for my in-car entertainment; and, given that my daily commute to and from the office was a mere 10-15 minutes, that meant the radio more often than not. In no specific order save for the last, stations in my rotation at the time included KYW-1060, Philly’s all-news station, which I listened to for the weather; WIP, a sports-talk station; WXPN, which featured (and still features) the “adult album alternative” music format; WMGK, a “classic hits” station that leaned heavily on the ‘70s; and WOGL, which programmed more traditional oldies.

In those days, I should mention, my company gave us an hour paid lunch. That meant that I zoomed home at noon and, fifty minutes later, zoomed back. It was great. And while the specific year of the sun-soaked spring day that I’m remembering has been lost in my memory banks, in a sense it doesn’t matter. What does is this: On the way back to work from lunch, I tuned to WOGL only to hear the Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket” saunter from the speakers like a wisecracking diner waitress.

“Brass in Pocket” was an oldie?! If not for the fact that I was stopped at a red light, I would’ve driven off the road. The oldies in my mind then and now basically equate to the songs Michael St. John played on his Saturday night oldies show on WPEN-AM in the late 1970s – a musical milieu of pop, rock and doo-wop from the 1950s and early/mid-1960s. They weren’t the songs of my youth.

But, of course, by the late ‘90s they were becoming just that.

So, for today’s Top 5: Oldies, but Goodies (aka, Singles I Purchased in 1977, ’78 & ’79)… in the order that I bought them. I think. (Not all were “oldies” at the time, but those that weren’t definitely are now.)

1)  Jan & Dean – “Sidewalk Surfin’.”

 

2) Dion – “The Wanderer.”

3) The Zombies – “She’s Not There”

4) Carly Simon – “You’re So Vain.”

5) Al Stewart – “Song on the Radio.”

And one bonus:

6) Eddie Cochran – “Twenty Flight Rock.”

Okay, a second bonus…this one from 1981.

7) The Go-Go’s – “Our Lips Are Sealed.”