It's always been a marvel to me how under appreciated surf music is. Oh sure it saw a minor resurgence in popularity in the mid-90s thanks to Quentin Tarantino, but to most people it's been a primarily unknown genre. Mention you like surf music to about 70% of the population, and be prepared to follow that up with 'you know, like that song from Pulp Fiction'. This response is even more surprising once you realize how many of these people really like surf once they hear it. And still it's an under appreciated genre. No one starts playing surf tunes to become a big rock star. Which is a shame, because despite the often simplistic song structures, it takes a lot of skill to play that music. Before I finally saw pictures of him, I imagined Dick Dale with an arm like a fiddler crab, he played so fast. And so, today I hope my post will have a twofold benefit; that I tell you about some great, horror themed music, but also that I turn you on to some really rockin' music. Probably the greatest form of music in the world.
I should mention I'm musically uneducated. It's like that old saying, 'I know what I like'. That may seem a bit lowbrow, but truly, I consider myself someone with pretty good musical taste, but I have no idea about the technical side of the art. Don't expect a lot on that.
There's a pretty big sub genre of surf music that seems as much informed by the old Universal monsters as they are by Dick Dale or The Ventures. I don't know what it is about horror or sci-fi that appeals to so many surf musicians, but damned if it doesn't fit. It probably has something to do with how geeky a lot of these artists are, and indicative of their lack of interest in widespread fame. Not to say they wouldn't like fame, it's just they all probably realize there's better paths to follow to get there. You try naming a surf band beyond the ones I've mentioned or the Beach Boys. And no, Rik, I'm not talking to you. So below are a few bands that would make some great, fun and spooky background music for whatever your celebration plans this Halloween.
My favorite surf band-Man... or Astroman?- may not technically be spooky or horror themed, but so steeped are they in late-night matinee culture that they deserve to be on this list. The basic back story for the band is that they are a group of aliens that have crash-landed on Earth and are using the cover of being in a band to disguise their true reasons for travelling around the world, which is to recover the pieces of their spacecraft. Now, if that sounds a little off putting in it's weirdness, don't worry, this isn't a band like Gwar, where they dress up and never let go of the image. In fact the only time this really comes into play, outside of the CD liner notes, is in their live shows where they call the audience members 'earthlings'.
To give you an accurate idea of what kind of band this is, they commonly perform the MST3K theme song live, and nearly every song contains samples from 50's sci-fi movies. This band is best described as nerd-rock, right up there with They Might Be Giants, with songs like U-Uranus(all about the planet, of course), and the entire album EEVIAC is basically a reference to ENIAC, the first large scale digital computer. Song titles can be equally as nerdy, such as 'Multi-Variational Stimuli Of Sub-Turgid Foci Covering Cross Evaluative Techniques'. This band truly rocks, and belongs in any true music lovers collection. A good place to start is Experiment Zero, a full length album containing some of their best, most consistent work. Move on to Deluxe Men In Space, which is a short album of really only 4 songs, but those are 4 of the best instrumentals you're likely to hear in a long while. Listen to it and just TRY and sit still. For a better look at their sci-fi side, check out Destroy all Astromen. Actually, check out anything pre-EEVIAC, because after that they become a bit more experimental and stop writing actual songs so much, instead messing around with weird frequencies and a lot of white noise.
Essential Track: Maximum Radiation Level; Deluxe Men In Space
Rob Zombies record label, Zombie A Go-Go, put out a small string of excellent horror-themed surf, including a couple of quite good anthologies, and two artists of note; The Bomboras and The Ghastly Ones. The Ghastly Ones only released one album, A Haunting We Will Go Go, and it was pretty damn fun. The entire album played out as a soundtrack to a really neat cross between Scooby Doo, Mexican Luchadore films, and mad scientist monster mashes. Apart from that, though, the album suffered from generic, although competent and enjoyable , tunes. The Bomboras, however, have released a relatively large catalog, and everything I've been exposed to has been incredible. The standout is Head Shrinking Fun, which comes in a package mimicking old Milton Bradley board games, and nonstop driving surf music. They slow down a bit with their collection of singles, appropriately called Swingin' Singles, which really does evoke a more laid back, swanky, kinda Playboy At Night vibe.
Essential Track: Land of the One Percenters; Head Shrinking Fun
Despite their name(taken from the60's film Satan's Sadists), to my knowledge Satan's Pilgrims only ever did on album of entirely spooky material, and although it isn't really as fast paced as the previous bands, it is probably the perfect soundtrack to your party. Peppy enough to be entertaining and noticeable, but low-key enough to to not intrude on whatever else your doing, with lots of nice, creaky sound effects. Satan's Pilgrims are probably most closely related to The Ventures, with clear concise picking taking the place of lightning quick finger work.
Essential Track: Ran-goon; Creature Feature
Deadbolt may come close to living up to their self-imposed nickname of Scariest Band In The World, but their obvious sense of humor might just hold them back a bit. The songs are funny, but VERY blue, and done with a completely straight face. To really enjoy this band you should make sure you wont be offended by necrophilia, clown sex, or brutal violence. They aren't your typical surf, but rockabilly doesn't describe them either. Since the music is so similar in each track, you're supposed to pay attention to the lyrics, which are mainly about voodoo and the troubles caused by it. In many respects they owe more to the Cramps than any actual surf band. It's a grimy soundscape that Deadbolt describes, and just about everything they've done can be seen as describing one world, and that world sure wouldn't be fun to live in, but great to listen to.
Essential Track: Jimmies Grave; Zulu Death Mask
Well... I'm running out of time today, but this was fun, so I might just have to continue this later. Keep your eyes peeled for my track list of the greatest Halloween CD never sold in stores. Hope you enjoy these songs, and hope they turn you on to some new artists.