SURFER'S CHOICE by DICK DALE
REVIEWED by BRADLEY MASON HAMLIN
For MYSTERY ISLAND MAGAZINE
The most frustrating (and sometimes most fun) thing collectors endure is having to deal with music mediums changing [vinyl records vs. compact discs, etc] and having to either figure out how to transfer their favorite tunes from one form to another or just wait and see if the record companies are smart enough to keep the good stuff in print.
One such smart company is Sundazed. Since 1989, Bob and Mary Irwin have dedicated themselves to preserving great music from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. You can find everything from garage band classics such as The Knickerbockers and The Barbarians to the awesome Turtles recordings (Can you believe those records weren’t in print?) and of course, the best of the best: Dick Dale and His Del-Tones.
For years, there has only been a choice between two “greatest hits” packages, but now you can own the ultimate choice, Dick Dale’s first record: Surfer’s Choice from 1962.
Surfer’s Choice is one of those records that you simply can’t overvalue, easily as important as owning the first full album by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, or The Beach Boys.
Now, as for the CD, the first great thing you’ll notice is that this package includes all three of Dick Dale’s Deltone singles from 1961 and 1962:
Let’s Go Trippin’/Del-Tone Rock (1961)
Jungle Fever/Shake N’ Stomp (1961)
Miserlou/Eight Till Midnight (1962)
["Miserlou" is the greatest single record ever cut in the history of music].
Dick’s first single for Capitol, Mr. Peppermint Man/Surf Beat (1962)—-was already included on the original play-list, as was “Let’s Go Trippin’” and “Shake N’ Stomp,” but now all the missing A sides/B sides are together in one place where they belong as well as an additional single from 1963: Lovin’ On My Brain/A Run For Life.
Having those early singles on Surfer’s Choice, is not only great for the collectors, but it’s historically significant.
Those singles hold the birth certificate for surf music.
But as Dick Dale himself tells us “in his own words,” on the liner notes, the surf wasn’t the first influence:
“Surfer’s Choice was my response to Gene Krupa’s explosive tribal beats, the fierce roar of my lions and tigers and the screams of my eagles and hawks as they soared through the air.
“Then came the religious experience of riding mother earth’s thunderous waves as she crashed them down on me. I surfed her throat in my ear ‘til she ate and spit me out.”
And in a separate article Dale said of the surf:
“I was riding, the ones that swept me five miles down the beach and knocked me unconscious about a half dozen times.”
Dick Dale is the real thing, and his intensity for life and living is indeed captured on Surfer’s Choice in both sound and lyric.
The album opens with the now classic “Surf Beat,” a terrific driving beat, accented by horns that are fun but not necessarily even needed—which you can witness for yourself if you see Dick play this incredible tune live.
Next we have “Sloop John B,” the Hays & Sandburg song beautifully sung by Dick Dale. That’s right, a good three years before Brian Wilson would record it for the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album.
“Take it Off” is another great song that Dick still plays live. With its sparse but suggestive lyrics and title, I think we can call this one the first “erotic surf” song.
“Night Owl” and “Fanny Mae” are both vocal numbers that Dick covered and being that this album was released in 1962—you get a real treat with the 50’s vibe.
“Miserlou Twist” is the center piece of this album for me. Originally, Surfer’s Choice did not include all of the Deltone singles as it was of course common throughout the '60s to release singles and albums with separate material. Therefore, we didn’t get the single version of “Miserlou” [until now] on the album. However, this debut, recorded primarily live at the Rendevouz Ballroom in Balboa, California, provides an expanded four minute version of “Miserlou” called “Miserlou Twist,” and it kicks ass.
Next up is Dick’s fist single for Capitol, “Peppermint Man,” another vocal number not written by Dale, but fun all the same.
“Surfing Drums” is another dead-on surf classic, mostly instrumental, but also contains some of the best vocal bits, an original from Dick Dale, and actually, this is the first song where I found myself saying to myself: Wow, you really can actually hear the surf in this music. Like, it’s really in there.
“Shake N’ Stomp,” for any of you who have seen Dick Dale live, you know just how great this one still plays. One of the most recognizable beats—full of that Lebanese gypsy rhythm that hypnotizes while rockin’ your soul.
“Lovey Dovey” is another fun old school vocal song that Dick continued to play up into the '80s and was captured live on The Tiger’s Loose in 1983.
“Death of a Gremmie” immortalizes one of my favorite surf words: “Gremmie,” a great tribute to those brutal moments when you haven’t yet earned your sea legs.
The album ends with the one that started it all: “Let’s Go Trippin’.” This version is definitely different from the one on the Greatest Hits package, so you have to go back to the source to get the true surfy timeline. Dick has updated "Trippin'" throughout the years and it's still amazing to hear live on stage -- exactly where Dick Dale belongs.
Well, that’s enough for now. Time to listen to the album, my hour of church, a blessing from the King of the Surf Guitar.
Bradley Mason Hamlin
OFFICIAL DICK DALE WEBSITE
"Dick Dale: Surfer's Choice Review" by Bradley Mason Hamlin
© 2009 Mystery Island Publications. Edited by Lucy Hell. Published September 04, 2009.
Photo of Lucy Hell by BMH. All rights reserved.
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