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Jan and Dean

Surf City

Two girls for every boy…

Once the phrase hit the airwaves, teenagers in their cars instinctively reached for the radio dial and cranked up the volume. What about this magical kingdom that promises two swingin’ honeys for every guy and all you gotta do is just wink your eye? Jan and Dean had the answer. It was called Surf City.

The Jan and Dean story begins at University High School in West Los Angeles near the end of the school year in 1956. “There was a student walking outside of the school grounds, on the other side of the fence, mind you, a place that 99.9 percent of the student body would never even consider being. Remember, this was the fifties. Now, not only is this guy not in class, strolling down the street on the other side of the fence, walking in plain view of the many classrooms facing the street for everybody to see, including teachers, and this guy is smoking a cigar! What an asshole, I thought. Hey, isn’t that Jan Berry, the rich kid from Bel Air? This guy is blond, good-looking, he is wearing a gray club jacket, he is swaggering, he’s on the other side of the fence, and he is puffing on a big stogie. Yep, that’s got to be Jan Berry. What an arrogant asshole!” recalled Dean Torrence. (1) So much for making a solid, first impression.

After a summer of surfing, Torrence was looking forward to school, especially the first football practice. “I was taking off my shoes ready to put on my pads when someone opens the locker next to mine. I looked up and it was that same Jan Berry,” Torrence remembered. ““He couldn’t be going out for football, could he? He didn’t work out with us, or scrimmage in those last hot days of summer. Does he think all he has to do is show up? Man, talk about an ego. Well, I won’t talk to him. I’ll pretend I don’t even see him,” Dean said.

“Hi! I’m Jan,” Berry said to Torrence. “Oh, shit! I guess I have to say something to him now,” a resigned Dean thought. (2) With introductions made and pleasantries exchanged, all that remained was the bonding experience of every high school athlete—singing where the acoustics were best—in the shower! Songs of choice in late 1957 were doo-wop. Someone took the lead, others chose harmony parts while another covered the bass. What was needed was a falsetto. Jan filled the void. In time, the group was sounding good. Good enough to enter the school talent show.

Rehearsing at Berry’s house where the garage had been converted into a make shift studio with an upright piano and two reel-to-reel recorders, the group, known as the Barons, prepared for the talent show. The short-lived career of the vocal group lasted three songs and eight minutes before most members of the group drifted toward their respective futures. Only Jan and Dean remained as regulars and plotted their course as recording stars.

Looking for inspiration for a song, Arnie Ginsberg, a member of the Barons suggested a trip to a burlesque show. So, some of the members piled into a car and took a trip to downtown Los Angeles. The headliner that night was Jennie Lee, “The Bazoom Girl” or “Miss 44 and Plenty More.” (3) Of course, the trench coat regulars would shout “Bomp” with every bounce of her breasts. On the way home, Arnie, duly inspired by Jennie Lee, took the bomp shouts of the regulars and started to build a song around it.

Over the next few weeks, members of the Barons had a hand in developing the song with Arnie in the lead, Jan singing bass and others filling in with harmonies. By this time, Jan was mastering the technique of song editing—taking snippets of numerous takes and splicing them to a master tape.

Dean, after listening to a pitch by an Army recruiter, decided to enlist in the Army Reserves. Since he graduated high school in the winter semester, he figured that after a six-month hitch in basic training beginning in March, he could enter his freshman year in college in September. Jan had other ideas.

The song, Jennie Lee was completed. Berry took the finished master to a recording studio to have an engineer transfer the taped music to a lacquered disc. Joe Lubin, president of Arwin Records, a company owned by Doris Day and her husband Marty Melcher, heard the song transfer through the thick metal doors of the studio. “Four bars that were repeated intrigued me. I knew the engineer so I went in and saw two young kids, sixteen or seventeen, dressed in jeans and full of sand. They even had their surfboards with them,” recalled Lubin, who knew he heard something special. “I asked him where they recorded the song and Jan told me he did it at his house on an Ampex recorder. I wanted to reproduce this sound all the way. There was some mad banging going on that I loved. Jan played the upright piano and Arnie sang while banging the beat on the top of an old metallic chair.” (4)

Lubin signed the duo to an Arwin contract, added instruments to the song, recut the vocals and released the record by Jan & Arnie in mid-April of 1958. The song caught fire during the summer and reached #8 on the Billboard chart. (5)

Dean was in basic training when one morning, a fellow recruit brought in a radio while the station played Jennie Lee. Dean’s heart dropped when the DJ announced the song was by Jan & Arnie. He was in a hellhole called Fort Ord by his own choosing while he believed his two buddies were living the high life of rock and roll stars. “I had to accept the fact I blew it,” Dean said. “I spent many after-duty hours at the base Dairy Queen and drowned my sorrows in a bottomless vanilla malt.” (6)

By early September, Dean’s tour was finished and he enrolled at Santa Monica City College. At a weekend sandlot football game, he surprised to see Jan after a whirlwind tour with Dick Clark including an American Bandstand appearance. Jan too, was heading back to school at UCLA. It appeared it was a case of “too much, too soon” for Arnie, who shunned the rock and roll lifestyle. After the game, Jan asked Dean if he had anything planned. When Dean said he was open, Jan invited to the house to work on some songs. “What about Arnie?” Dean inquired. “He's no longer interested in making music,” Jan replied. “Let’s go,” Dean said. “I didn’t want him to change his mind.” (7)

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives.

After a few months of working together, nothing came from any collaboration. Stuck for some material, Jan suggested to Dean that he call a couple of talented guys he met on his tour with Arnie. He set up a meeting with Herb Alpert and Lou Adler.

Alpert and Adler met when working at Keen Records. They met Jan & Arnie when they were the only acts in their tour group that weren’t signed to Keen. A&A teamed with Sam Cooke and wrote Wonderful World. With royalties earned, they decided to look for more satisfying work.

Adler liked Jan & Arnie and the sound of Jan’s newer demos. He also liked the physical appearance of two tall, blond kids with distinctive haircuts. There was nobody in the music business that looked like Jan and Dean. Lou trusted his instinct believing he and Herb could produce and market the duo. So, they were independent producers (unheard of in those days) and Adler also became the duo’s new manager.

Alpert found their next hit. Baby Talk had originally been recorded by the Laurels a white group out of New York. The song had a new life when Jan injected his R&B style to it. Jan produced a demo of the song with just a piano and vocal from his garage studio. Keen Records passed on it but Doré Records leased it from the two producers.

“It’s Interesting how Baby Talk was produced,” explained Adler. “The first tape we heard of Jan and Dean’s demo was done on two Ampex tape recorders with Jan’s echo effect recorded in Jan’s family garage. When we recorded Baby Talk, we used the same garage and then took the tape to a studio and added musicians (members of the Wrecking Crew). That’s opposite of what we do now, preferring to lay down the musical tracks and then bring the artist in.” (8) If the process sounds familiar, it was the similar to the one used by Joe Lubin on Jennie Lee.

Baby Talk was recorded in April/May of 1959, released in May and entered the Billboard chart on August 3rd. (5) The song peaked at #10 on September 14th. (8)

Alpert and Adler decided to start their own company, Herb B. Lou. After a string of novelty records with little success, Alpert decided to step aside from the music business. A few years later, he returned with A&M Records, a successful venture with his own group the Tijuana Brass.

Adler stayed with Jan and Dean though the next releases on Doré barely dented the charts. They returned to the top 30 with Heart And Soul, released on Gene Autry’s Challenge Records in 1961.

Adler landed the duo with an album deal on Liberty Records. Jan and Dean had to first prove themselves with a hit single to launch an album. After five singles that tanked, the duo scored with Linda, a song written in 1947 by Jack Lawrence, to pay a legal fee to lawyer Lee Eastman. The song was written about an ex-girlfriend whom Lawrence hoped to win back. The ex didn’t want to be bothered so Eastman suggested the “Linda” be another Linda—his daughter, Linda Eastman, five years old at the time, who would one day grow up and marry Paul McCartney. (10) Linda topped out at #28 in the spring of 1963. (5) That was good enough for Liberty as they extended the contract for another Jan and Dean LP.

It was the spring of 1962 as Jan and Dean headed to the beach in Dean’s new corvette. With the car radio tuned to KFWB, the Los Angeles radio giant, all of a sudden this record comes on . . . Surfin’ is the only way, the only life for me, so come on pretty baby and surf with me, yeah, bomp bomp dipadittydip bomp bomp dipadittydip. We looked at each other with our jaws wide open. Who the hell are these guys, and why have they stolen our bomps and they even had the gall to swipe our dipadittydips just to really rub it in! And why the heck are they singing about surfin’? (11) Say hello to the Beach Boys.

Jan and Dean used the Wrecking Crew for their records. But for concert appearances, promoters were required to have an opening band that would provide instrumental backing for Jan and Dean’s set. At the 1962 Valentine’s Day dance at Hermosa High School, in the Los Angeles South Bay area, the opening band was the same Beach Boys that the duo heard on the radio.

Photo courtesy of Goldmine Magazine.

In a classroom serving as the green room, Jan and Dean met Brian and Carl Wilson, Mike Love and David Marks. Dennis Wilson injured in a recent car crash was replaced by close friend Mark Groseclose. The Beach Boys came prepared with some Jan and Dean songs as well as crowd-pleasers such as Louis Louie, but they needed more material for the encore. Dean suggested the two Beach Boys’ hits, Surfin’ and Surfin’ Safari. The Beach Boys were flattered, Jan and Dean stepped into the surf music arena and the crowd loved it. There was a definite air of mutual respect as Brian and Jan exchanged phone numbers.

A few days later, Jan called Brian and told him how much he and Dean enjoyed sharing the bill at Hermosa. “We also talked to Lou Adler and decided we wanted to try our hand at making surf music,” Dean recalled. (12) Brian was ecstatic and offered the services of the Beach Boys as a backup band.

On March 4, 1963, the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean met at Western Recorders in Hollywood and recorded Surfin’ and Surfin’ Safari for their upcoming album, Jan and Dan Take Linda Surfin’. This session saw the bonding of Brian and Jan as they exchanged thoughts on everything from songwriting to recording techniques. It was at this meeting that Jan suggested the use of studio musicians, as Brian believed the Beach Boys were limited musically. Brian took the suggestion to heart and used the Wrecking Crew exclusively on future albums most notably, Pet Sounds.

At the end of the session, Brian asked Jan and Dean if they’d like to hear the newest Beach Boys single. Brian pounded out a song that sounded much like Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen. Jan told Brian that if Berry heard it, there could be charges of copyright infringement. Brian brushed off the possibility as his dad said it would be OK. (Berry indeed heard the song and threatened to sue. An out of court settlement transferred the publishing of Surfin’ USA to Arc Music, Berry’s publisher.)

Still, Jan wanted the song believing that because he knew Chuck Berry, that something could be worked out. Brian told Jan no, that it was a Beach Boys song. However, Brian had something else that might interest him. “He said he had another song that wasn’t finished,” Dean recalled. “If we wanted to finish it, we could have it.” (13) “Want to hear it?” asked Brian. “Sure,” answered Jan.

Accompanying himself at the piano, Brian sang:

Two girls for every boy.

I bought a ’33 panel truck and I call it my woody.

It’s not very cherry, it’s an oldie but a goodie.

It ain’t got a heater or a radio,

but it still gets me where I wanna go.

“Well, that’s the first verse, what do you think?” Brian asked. “Wow! We’ll take it. What’s it called?” Dean replied. “Surf City,” Brian said.

Jan, now working with professional musicians in a professional studio, changed his manner of recording. Instead of vocals first, the band laid down the instrumental bed. Having his pick of the Wrecking Crew, his all star lineup consisted of Hal Blaine on drums, Ray Pulman on bass, Leon Russell on keyboards, Glen Campbell on lead guitar, and Tommy Tedesco on rhythm guitar. Jan wanted to try something new. He wanted to hear what two drummers playing at the same time sounded like. So he added their previous drummer, Earl Palmer, into the mix. (14)

It was time for the background vocals. “Once in the studio, Jan, Brian, and I laid down the four-part harmony background vocals first, and then we doubled them,” Dean wrote in his book. “Then Jan did the low bass background part and doubled that. Then Brian and I did the falsetto parts and doubled those as well. What a great sound! Brian’s falsetto was airy, smooth, angelic, and round sounding. Mine was a lot less airy—what they refer to as a head falsetto, less from the diaphragm and more from the sinus, sounding a lot more top end and edgier than Brian’s. Together, we had the full range of sounds.” (15) Couldn’t have explained it better myself!

The lyrics needed some work. Brian’s genius was in the recording studio. Jan’s abilities extended to the beach. Jan and Dean were surfers and knew how to talk the talk. Dean recalled the process.

“Brian wrote out the complete song combining Jan’s contribution to the lyrics with his own old lyrics, then he showed it to me for my two cents. I immediately noticed the first line, I bought a ’33 panel truck and we call it a woody.

I said, 'Brian, a panel truck is a metal paneled truck. It doesn’t have wood on it. It doesn’t have side windows. It’s solid metal. It’s a truck, not a station wagon.' So I crossed out the words panel truck in my distinctive printing and I wrote the word wagon. There, that’s better.

I bought a ’33 wagon and we call it a woody. But then I started to wonder if they made station wagons in 1933. 'Brian, I don’t think Ford made any cars in 1933, but I do know they did in 1932. That’s what we now call a Deuce. But I don’t recall seeing a Deuce station wagon, although I have seen a ’34 station wagon. Okay to change ’33 to ’34?' It was okay with him.

Also, Brian, you wrote it ain’t got a heater or a radio. Well, maybe we don’t need a heater, but ya gotta have a radio. You’ve got to be able to listen to surf music in a car, don’t ya? So if this woody is missing anything, it should be the back seat and the rear window, because that’s where the surfboards go. Plus, window rhymes with go in the next line. Check it out.”

It ain’t got a back seat, or a rear window,

but it still gets me where I wanna go.

Next, I noticed the line, There’s two swingin’ girls for every guy, and all you got to do is just wink your eye. 'Brian, surfers call their girls honeys. Let’s drop the word girl and replace it with honeys.'

There’s two swingin’ honeys for every guy,

and all you got to do is just wink your eye.

'How’s that?' He liked it. 'Let’s record it.'” (16)

After the magic touch of engineer, Bones Howe, Surf City was released on May 17, 1963, entered the Billboard pop chart on June 15 and perched at #1 for two weeks beginning on July 20. (5) (9) The mythical location of Surf City was found firmly at the top of the charts!

This picture was taken on February 27, 1965 during an appearance on The Hollywood Palace.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/ABC Photo Archives.

A Capitol Records promotion man heard the song on his car radio, pulled over to a pay phone (remember those?) and called the Los Angeles offices demanding to know why he wasn’t given the record to promote. Capitol knew nothing of a Beach Boys release and suggested the promo man head over to the radio station and get the scoop.

At the station, promo man was told the song was a Jan and Dean record and it was a appearing to be a monster smash. He saw the vinyl 45 and noted it was on the Liberty label with the writers credited as Wilson and Berry. Promo man wondered if this was the same Wilson of the Beach Boys and if so, why would he write a song for the competition?

Hearing the record again at the station, promo man swore the voice on this Jan and Dean hit was the same voice on Beach Boys records. He called Capitol in Los Angeles again with this information.

The corporate honchos at Capitol were irate as they placed a call to the Beach Boys manager, Murray Wilson, also the father of three Beach Boys. Murray, never the adult in any room he occupied, went ballistic and called Brian.

Brian explained to his drama queen father that Surf City was a song he never intended to finish and rightfully reasoned why not collect his share of the songwriting royalties and the full publishing rights if the song was successful. Murray being Murray called Jan and Dean “pirates” and forbade Brian from singing or playing on any of their future records. And for good measure, Murray didn’t want Brian to associate with them. Period.

Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, Jan and Dan all remained good friends. They toured together and the mutual respect showed when they all took the stage and sang each other’s hits much to the delight of the crowd. Brian and Jan collaborated on other Jan and Dean hits. Drag City, Dead Man’s Curve, The New Girl In School, Ride The Wild Surf and Sidewalk Surfin’ all wore Brian’s brand. As for Murray Wilson, Brian ultimately fired him. That’s another story to be told on another day.

Like any musical fad, surf music had an expiration date. Jan and Dean ran the string as long as they could with surf based hits Honolulu Lulu in late 1963, Ride The Wild Surf and Sidewalk Surfin’ in 1964 which finished the trend in grand style.

On April 12, 1966, Jan crashed his corvette into a parked truck on Whittier Boulevard just a short distance Dead Man’s Curve in Beverly Hills. He was in a coma for two months and suffered brain damage and partial paralysis. He had little use from his right arm and had trouble walking. A year later, Berry was in the studio writing and producing other artists. In 1976, the duo returned to the stage at the Palomino Club in Los Angeles. They toured sporadically through the next three decades until Berry’s death due to a seizure on March 24, 2004, eight days before his 63rd birthday.

Torrence tours occasionally with the Surf City All-Stars. He serves as a spokesman for the City of Huntington Beach, California, which, thanks in part to his efforts, is nationally recognized as "Surf City USA." Dean's website, features—among other things—rare images, a complete Jan and Dean discography, a biography, and a timeline of his career with Jan Berry. He currently resides in Huntington Beach, California, with his wife and two daughters. (17)

This is a studio version of Surf City complete with pictures of Jan and Dean.

Jan and Dean perform Surf City live in 1963 on an episode of the Steve Allen Show. You'll note the limitations of a live performance verses the studio version.

1) Torrence, Dean, Surf City: The Jan and Dean Story, 2016, Page 10.

2) Torrence, Dean, Surf City: The Jan and Dean Story, 2016, Page 18.

3) McKeen, William, Everybody Had An Ocean, 2017, Page 48.

4) Des Barres, Pamela, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments In Music Babylon, 1996, Page 11.

5) Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Pages 350-351.

6) McKeen, William, Everybody Had An Ocean, 2017, Page 51.

7) Torrence, Dean, Surf City: The Jan and Dean Story, 2016, Page 52.

8) Moore, Mark A., The Jan and Dean Record: A Chronology of Studio Sessions, Live Performances and Chart Positions, 2016, Page 50.

9) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Pop Charts 1955-1959.

10) Beard, David, M, Liner Notes, The Complete Liberty Singles, 2008.

11) Torrence, Dean, Surf City: The Jan and Dean Story, 2016, Page 86.

12) McKeen, William, Everybody Had An Ocean, 2017, Page 58.

13) McKeen, William, Everybody Had An Ocean, 2017, Page 59.

14) Torrence, Dean, Surf City: The Jan and Dean Story, 2016, Page 96.

15) Torrence, Dean, Surf City: The Jan and Dean Story, 2016, Page 98.

16) Torrence, Dean, Surf City: The Jan and Dean Story, 2016, Pages 99-100.

17) Wikipedia, Jan and Dean, Link.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives.

© 2018 Jerry Reuss

Copyright  2009