From the traditional ‘California Sound’ of the 60s to its many contemporary digressions, surf-rock has had a remarkable journey through the fabric of American music. Personally, surf-rock has always held a special place in my heart, so I compiled a list of 10 of my favorite surf-rock bands. Each band will have a link to one of their songs for you to explore. Let me know if you agree with my list!
10. La Luz
Founded in 2012 in Seattle, Washington, La Luz has been described as “surf-noir”. With a girl group sound nicely juxtaposed with eerie surf-rock riffs, La Luz creates a sound I like to describe as Halloween on the beach. Their first album, It’s Alive, was recorded in their friend’s trailer, giving it a pulpy, lo-fi disposition.
9. The Pixies
Not a surf-rock band? You may be right, but this legendary rock quartet from Boston, Massachusetts certainly had their surf-rock phase. On their 3rd LP with 4AD, Bossanova, Black Francis and the band explored surf and space rock, leaving their stamp on the two genres that are often seen tied together. Their transition into surf-rock was possibly foreshadowed with the name of their first LP, Surfer Rosa.
Perhaps no other band blurs the line between surf-rock and space-rock as evidently as Man or Astro-man. While taking sound-bites from obscure science fiction films, the Auburn, Alabama project seamlessly combines traditional 60s surf-rock with 80s punk rock to create their unique sound.
7. The Growlers
The always charming Orange County group, The Growlers, are known for their energetic and exceptional live shows. When a friend asked me to describe their genre before a show in Chicago in 2012, the best I could come up with was “acid surf-rock”. However, if you ask the band yourself, they would describe it as “beach-goth”. Whatever the terminology, it’s certain they’ve found a distinctive place within the surf-rock landscape.
6. The Ventures
Considering this 60s surf-rock group is the best-selling instrumental band of all time, chances are you’ve heard of The Ventures. But if you haven’t, there’s a plethora of Ventures songs to explore. Along with Dick Dale, The Ventures kicked open an entire new genre in music that would become to be known as surf-rock.
Nathan Williams, who satirically has proclaimed himself as “King of the Beach”, fronts this San Diego band who have seen some chaotic moments in their 8 year history. This chaos, naturally, bleeds through into their beach-inspired pop-punk.
Golden age rock brothers Santo & Johnny had a string of hits in the late 50s and early 60s, but none were more popular than” Sleep Walk”, and rightly so. With Santo Farina sporting his steel guitar, the sound was undeniably Hawaiian. In fact, the steel guitar was invented by Hawaiian native Joseph Kekuku in 1889. When resting in a hammock on a clear summer night, there is nothing better to listen to than Santo & Johnny. Trust me.
This Seattle band combines an eclectic number of influences including 90s indie pop, riot grrrl, and of course surf music to create their own fun and unique style. Their lyrics will make you think, laugh, and have you coming back for more. Tacocat is a fun-loving group, just don’t steal their shark mascot and use it for your own band on national television. They don’t like that too much. (I’m looking at you Katy Perry)
Of course The Beach Boys had to be on the list. They’re certainly the most prominent and successful surf-rock band of all time and the central influence of the “California Sound”. However, I resisted in putting them at the number 1 spot as I personally think their best material was recorded when they started to stray from their beachy roots. (Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile) Brian Wilson is back on the road in 2016, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds.
The King of the Surf Guitar. No one had a bigger influence on the surf music style than Dick Dale. He wrote what is often considered the first surf-rock song in “Let’s Go Trippin” and it’s hard to imagine where surf-rock and music in general would be without his contributions.