Tom Lohr is a fan of surf music. He has seen the Beach Boys 12 times in concert. He has also caught three Jan and Dean concerts.
The Other Beach Boys
The California sound brought the beach to middle America. The light, upbeat music of surf and sand provided a ready respite from the often tedious times of the 1960s. The west coast music craze had every teen planning a trip to California to “hang-ten” and soak up the fun and sun. You can't think of the surf and drag sound that saturated the mid-60s airwave without thinking of the Fab Five of Surf; The Beach Boys.
Without a doubt, the Beach Boys are the ambassadors of surf music. They have produced countless albums and are, in some fashion, still touring fifty years after they hit the music scene. But unless you are a connoisseur of surf music, you probably can't name any songs by the duo that were equally responsible for making surf music mainstream. Jan Berry and Dean Torrence, better known as Jan & Dean, pounded out nearly as many car and surf songs as the Beach Boys and scored the genre's first number on hit with the single with “Surf City,” in 1963.
You can be forgiven for confusing Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys. The two groups worked closely together on numerous occasions and have collaborated on some of their top hits. However, unlike the Beach Boys, who have been recording from 1961 until forever, Jan & Dean had a short run of eight year from 1958-1966. They would have likely been relevant for several more years, but in April of 1966 Jan Berry was in a near fatal car crash the promptly ended their careers until a TV movie about their lives fostered a nostalgia driven comeback tour.
Actually, you have probably heard several Jan & Dean songs and mistook them for the Beach Boys. If you have listened to “Surf City,” “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” and “Deadman's Curve” then you were hearing Jan & Dean, not the Beach Boys. It's ok to admit you were hoodwinked, but you also have to admit that you really dug those songs. And if those top three Jan & Dean songs were so great, what else by the duo have you been missing?
Jan & Dean put out eighteen albums in their short career. From 1958 until 1963 they were mainly a doo wop duo. But as doo wop faded, the boys dug how the Beach Boys snuck a little doo wop into their first surfing song and began to see the light. While they enjoyed a good reputation and following in the doo wop world, it would be the car and surf genre that would catapult them to superstardom.
If you want to get a good feel for the spectrum of Jan & Dean greatness, you can take two top cuts from each of their albums and craft a playlist that captures the essence of their mark on mid-century music. Although I highly recommend listening to each album in its entirety, for those of you who just can't find the time, here is a list of their albums and the top takes from each.
The Jan and Dean Sound 1960
“Clementine” (charted #65 in 1959) You know the story. Boy loves girl with big feet then she falls into the lake and drowns. Yes, that Clementine. They took an old song and put a rock 'n roll beat behind it and made it pretty damn catchy.
“Baby Talk” (charted #10 in 1959) A quirky song about a little boy who loves a little girl and knows that someday they will be married. Lots of bomps in this one.
Bonus track: “Jeanette” About a girl in school they would love to date, only her hair is a mess making her undatable.
Jan and Dean's Golden Hits 1962
“Heart and Soul” (charted #25 in 1961) Those two had a knack for taking an old standard, spicing it up and making a rock hit out of it.
“Barbara Ann” Yes, that Barbara Ann; the one the Beach Boys made a smash hit in 1965. They recorded it on the advice of Dean Torrence. You would think Jan & Dean would get more credit for it, only they weren't the first to release it. A group called the Regents released it as a single in 1961 and it hit #13 for them. Jan & Dean never put it out as a single, but perhaps they should have. They Beach Boys version hit #1.
Bonus Track: “Jennie Lee” (Charted #8 in 1958) Technically, this is not a Jan & Dean song. While Dean was involved in the making of “Jennie Lee,” Jan pressed the single under the guise of Jan and Arnie. Arnie Ginsburg was a pal of Jan's slid into Dean's spot while Dean was completing a six month stint in the Army Reserves. Jan & Arnie had a few more minor hits before Arnie became disillusioned with the music business and left; just as Dean was completing his service. It make the list for two reasons: it was the start of Jan and Dean's career, and it's a song about a stripper.
Jan and Dean Take Linda Surfin' (charted #71 in 1963)
In case you were wondering, Linda is the name of another standard remade into a rock 'n roll song (do you see a trend here?) that charted at #28 in 1963. But, I really can't stand that song, so it fails to make the grade.
“The Best Friend I Ever Had” One of the few slow songs you will find on this list. It's about a guy who ditched his best pal in order to steal his girlfriend. What a guy.
“Mr. Bass Man” A remake of a 1963 Johnny Cymbal song that peaked at #16 for him. It's a tribute to all of the bass singers of the doo wop songs of the 1950s.
Bonus Track: “Surfin'” You are forgiven for mistaking this for a Beach Boys song, because it is a Beach Boys song. The song “Surfin'” was a regional hit for the Beach Boys, and Jan & Dean couldn't resist the bomps and dips in the song and recorded it for their album. I actually like Jan & Dean's version better. It's a richer recording with slicker production.
Surf City (and Other Swingin' Cities) (Charted #32 in 1963)
This was concept album to quickly whip up an LP for their smash hit “Surf City.” It's a cool concept actually, and makes you think about how many songs were written about towns across the USA. It was also the breakout album that made Jan and Dean into rock sensations.
“Surf City” (Charted #1 in 1963) This was the first pure vocal surfing song that hit number one and placed surf music in the limelight. They hit the top spot before the Beach Boys, which is ironic because Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote most of the song. This is the number that Jan & Dean are remember for and it really is one of the top surf song of the 60s.
“Honolulu Lulu” (Charted #11 in 1963) It's a bit of a parody song but immensely catchy.
Bonus track: “Tallahassee Lassie” another remake, this time of a Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon hit. Frankly, I think Jan & Dean's version is superior.
Drag City (Charted #22 in 1963)
If you have a city song about surfing, why not capitalize on the car craze and have a city song about drag racing? It's a good business move, and it paid off as you can tell from the album's chart position.
“Drag City” (Charted #10 in 1963) Jan & Dean closed out 1963 with a top ten hit. Similar in concept to “Surf City,” it features a harder charging falsetto and awesome background vocals. The lyrics are a tad clumsy but it still is a fine tune.
“Hot Stocker” It's hard to come up with songs strictly about cars and racing, which being a concept album Drag City is full of. “Hot Stocker” is a good song with a great chorus.
Bonus track: “Schlock Rod (part 1)” If you get tired of car songs bragging about how fast and powerful the singer's hot rod is, then “Schlock Rod” will be a welcome change. It's a comedy song about how lame their car is.
Deadman's Curve/New Girl in School (Charted #80 in 1964)
The double title comes from the fact that both of the songs in the album title were hit singles. Strangely, “New Girl in School” was the B side of “Deadman's Curve.” From a business perspective, not a great move, but fans certainly were pleased.
“Deadman's Curve” (Charted #8 in 1964) This song was actually released on the Drag City album first, and then packaged together with the other hit to produce a new LP. Jan & Dean were making hay as the sun shined as they released three albums in 1964, which turned out to be the apex of their career. This song is also special to Jan & Dean fans as it loosely predicts what would happen to Jan Berry two years later.
“New Girl in School” (Charted #37 in 1964) Not bad having a single with one side reaching #8 and the B side breaking into the top 40 at #37. This song sings about a new chick showing up at school and all of the boys going ape for her.
Bonus track: “Three Window Coupe” This was a remake of a Rip Chords song that was released earlier that year. I prefer the Rip Chords version, but Jan & Dean do an admirable job of making it very listenable.
Ride the Wild Surf (Charted #66 in 1964)
“Ride the Wild Surf” (Charted #16 in 1964) Jan & Dean were tapped to perform the title track for the movie of the same name. The film Ride the Wild Surf featured the top beach hunks of the day, including Fabian and Tab Hunter. Jan & Dean were supposed to be in the movie, but Dean was implicated (and later absolved) in the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. (seriously). The B side of this single was, are you ready for it: “The Anaheim, Azusa, Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association.” Apparently they group did not learn from the “Deadman's Curve/New Girl in School” mistake as this B side song charted at #77.
“Sidewalk Surfin'” My personal favorite Jan & Dean song. It is of course about skateboarding, a phenomena that was taking the country by storm in the mid 60s. It was the closest you could get to actual surfing in Tulsa or Kansas City. The song is a remake of the Beach Boys' “Catch a Wave,” which should have been released as a single but never was. “Sidewalk Surfin'” features the same music with skateboarding lyrics. Jan and Dean's recording sports richer instrumental and vocal backing tracks, and it seems a bit more energetic than the Beach Boys' effort.
Bonus track: “Surfin' Wild” While the lyrics and vocals a somewhat clipped, the song is a hammering ode to everyone's favorite mid-century sport.
The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena) (Charted #40 in 1964)
“The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)" (Charted #3 in 1964) In case you didn't know, there really was a Little Old Lady from Pasadena. She was a granny in a hot rod that did commercials for a local car dealership. The commercials were so popular it spawned the song by Jan & Dean. It is the duo's second most famous tune and one of their most recognizable.
“Move out Little Mustang” A mid-tempo song about a guy in a Mustang that sees a chick in another hot rod and he races to catch up with her. They of course end up a couple. The song features a short, spoken line by Jan Barry's then girlfriend Jill Gibson (who was briefly a member of the Mamas and Papas)
Bonus track: “Horace, the Swingin' School Bus Driver” Jan & Dean had a reputation as clowns, and some of their songs demonstrate this. Despite its weird title, it is remarkably catchy and about a school bus driver that tends to push the speed limit.
Command Performance-Live in Person (Charted #33 in 1965)
What do you do when you have no new material ready? Release a live album to keep your name in the music news and some checks rolling in. To be fair, this is one of the few live albums that the singers and music can be heard over the screaming fans. A high quality live album.
“Here They Come, from All Over the World” (Charted #56 in 1965) This was the theme song to the T.A.M.Imovie/concert. It was a movie of the top rock acts of the day performing live. Jan & Dean are the hosts of the show and perform two of their hits along with the title track. The T.A.M.I (Teenage Music Awards International) is a highly regarded cinematic time capsule of rock 'n roll from the mid-60s. If you get a chance, the entire movie is worth watching. The song itself is dubbed over with loud and adoring fans on the album. The single is sans fans.
“I Get Around” At this stage in their careers, Jan & Dean were regularly coving Beach Boys songs. “I Get Around” was the Beach Boys first #1 hit. It makes the list because most of the album are live versions of previously listed hits.
Bonus track: “Little Honda” This makes the list for the same reason. It is a cover of a Beach Boys song that was a major hit for the Hondells and a minor hit for the Beach Boys. Jan & Dean do an admirable cover.
Jan and Dean's Pop Symphony No.1 (in 12 Hit Movements) 1965
This is a concept album of Jan & Dean Hits performed by the Bel-Aire Pops Orchestra. It is purportedly conducted by Jan Berry. It pains me to say this, but unless you like symphony, there is nothing worth listening to from this album. If you notice, it did not chart. There is a reason. Skip it.
Jan and Dean's Golden Hits Volume 2 (Charted #107 in 1965)
“The Anaheim, Azusa, Cucamonga, Sewing Circle Book Review and Timing Association” (Charted #77 in 1964) This hit is a holdover from the being the B side of “Ride the Wild Surf.” If finally made it to LP vinyl in their Golden Hits collection.
“You Really Know How to Hurt a Guy” (Charted #27 in 1965) I put this song on the list to demonstrate why Jan & Dean recorded mostly upbeat, happy songs. It's because they suck at sappy, sentimental songs. It also makes the list because it broke into the top 40. How is anybody's guess. Probably its most memorable contribution to music is that while recording it, Dean Torrence had nothing to do. So he strolled down to another studio a few doors down where the Beach Boys were recording. They asked him what he wanted to sing. He persuaded the group to sing “Barbara Ann” with Dean helping out on the falsetto. “Barbara Ann” would become a #1 hit for the Beach Boys and one of their most iconic songs.
The rest of the songs on this album are previously mentioned hits, so there is no bonus track.
Folk 'n Roll (Charted #107 in 1965)
As the calendar turned to mark the last half of the 1960s, music began changing from carefree, happy and airy tunes to more serious songs addressing some of the era's pressing issues; it was called folk music. Jan & Dean, as you can tell from their waning chart numbers, were trying to stay relevant and took a stab as recording some folk numbers as well.
“I Found a Girl” (Charted #30 in 1965) This was Jan & Dean's only real hit from the album. It is not folksy as most of the tracks are, but is a nice mixture of Jan & Dean's signature car/girl/surf sound with a subdued tone.
“I Can't Wait to Love You” This song is a prime example why Jan Berry was never known as a finesse singer. Still, it's upbeat and catchy enough to warrant a listen.
Bonus track: “Folk City” Imagine the #1 hit “Surf City” with folky lyrics and tempo.
Jan and Dean Meet Batman 1966
This is another concept album that features songs about the smash 1966 TV show Batman. Half of the album is music, the other half is a parody of Batman. It features Captain Jan and Dean the Boy Blunder fighting crime and facing off against some pretty silly villains. It's actually pretty funny and well worth your time. Sadly, this is the last album the duo recorded before Jan's fateful car accident that left him brain damaged.
“Batman” (Charted #66 in 1966) An ode to the cape crusader and guardian of Gotham. There are some spoken lines that are distracting, but overall it's an energetic tribute.
“Robin the Boy Wonder” This song had me at “he goes to school by day and fights crime by night.” It's probably the only song ever recorded about Batman's sidekick.
Bonus track: “Flight of the Batmobile” It's an instrumental, but who doesn't love Batman tempo songs?
Filet of Soul: A Live One (Charted #127 in 1966)
A repackaging for previously released hits and recorded material. Jan was in the hospital at the time and would never recover fully. This was the label's first attempt to keep the duo relevant.
“Gonna Hustle You” This is the original title and version of “New Girl in School.” The record label rejected it because saying “hustle you” was a tad too racy in 1964. Two years later it was deemed decent. They say the 60s was a time of transition. It is also sung mostly falsetto by Dean.
“Lightnin' Strikes” A cover of the Lou Christie hit. Another falsetto gem.
Bonus track: “Hang on Sloopy (My Girl Sloopy)” A cover of the McCoys hit. The pair do a decent job making it a very listenable track.
“Popsicle” (Charted #21 in 1966) A cool and airy song about America's favorite frozen treat. It is also the first top 40 rock 'n roll song to feature a banjo. It is really one of Jan and Dean's most underrated hits. The song was titled “Popsicle Truck” and placed on the Drag City LP. It never got the airplay or promoting that it deserved. In an attempt by Dean to keep the duo in the limelight, he released it as the title track for an album.
“She's My Summer Girl” All of the album's tracks were previously recorded. “She's My Summer Girl” was the B side of the “Surf City” single. It's simple, a bit slow, and fun.
Bonus track: “One-Piece Topless Bathing Suit” A remake of a parody song that is much better than the original.
Jan and Dean's Golden Hits Volume Three
When you have only been a group for eight years, it's tough to gather enough hits for three golden hits albums. While the first two are decent, the third is a flimsy attempt to keep the duo's name in the news.
“Little Deuce Coupe” Another Beach Boys' cover, but they do a good enough job to give it a spin.
“Memphis” Yet another cover song pulled from their concept album about cities (Surf City (and Other Swingin' Cities)).
Sadly, there is no song on this LP worth a bonus track mention.
Save for a Rainy Day (recorded in 1966, officially released in 1996)
Another concept album, mainly by Dean Torrence. It's a cool idea. All of the songs have a rain theme. I had no idea there were so many. The sound void between tracks is filled with sounds of rain and thunderstorms. The single “Yellow Balloon” was released but fared poorly. The LP release was subsequently cancelled. The record wallowed in obscurity until it was resurrected 30 years later in 1996.
“Yellow Balloon” (Charted #111 in 1967) Light, airy and upbeat, just like a balloon. I think the song fits nicely with the late 60s genre.
“Here Comes the Rain” A cheery song, that almost sounds like it was recorded for a children's album.
No bonus track
Carnival of Sound (Recorded in 1968, released in 2010)
If the cancelling of Save for a Rainy Day didn't completely pull the plug on Jan and Dean's career, putting the kibosh on Carnival of Sound gave it the final yank. The duo's star had begun to fade in 1965 and after Jan's tragic accident, there was no more Berry genius to infuse into new projects and a duo minus 50% just won't cut it.
The album actually began recording shortly before Jan's wreck. He continued to work on it while recovering. But due to his debilitating injuries only sang on a few tracks. He did either write or produce the other songs even though they are sung by others. Dean Torrence only appears on one song and Carnival of Sound, although earmarked to be released as a Jan & Dean album, was more of a Jan Berry solo project. Had it been released, I think it would have fared well.
“Only a Boy” Actually, this is a pretty awful Vietnam protest type song. It's included on the list because it is the only song on the entire album that features either Jan or Dean. The rest of the songs are sung by others, including Glen Campbell, with a meager vocal contribution by Jan.
“Fan Tan” This is actually a great song about a girl and chewing gum (really). It would have been an awesome J&D recording. As it stands, it can nearly pass for the boys and is the best on the album.
Bonus track: “Tijuana” This song is “The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)” with different lyrics. Still a catchy song even when reinvented. What makes it even more special is that it features Glen Campbell on lead.
One Summer Night/Live 1982
This is the only Jan & Dean album released after Carnival of Sound that was a true J&D product (although Carnival of Sound barely meets the bar). It is a recording of one of their live concerts during the top of their post TV movie popularity. If you want to know what Jan sounded like after his accident, this album is a good representation. I personally attended several Jan and Dean concerts in the 1980s and this album is pretty much what they all sounded like. It's painful to hear Jan's voice drag, but also inspiring to realize that after all he had been through he is up there performing. No tracks from this album are recommended for a playlist, but if you want to know what a J&D, post accident concert was like, give it a listen.
If you don't have the time to digest all of this, let me do the math for you:
- Baby Talk
- Heart and Soul
- Barbara Ann
- Jennie Lee
- The Best Friend I Ever Had
- Mr. Bass Man
- Surf City
- Honolulu Lulu
- Tallahassee Lassie
- Drag City
- Hot Stocker
- Schlock Rod (Part 1)
- Deadman's Curve
- New Girl in School
- Three Window Coupe
- Ride the Wild Surf
- Sidewalk Surfin'
- Surfin' Wild
- The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)
- Move Out Little Mustang
- Horace the Swingin' School Bus Driver
- Here They Come, From All Over the World
- I Get Around
- Little Honda
- Anaheim, Azusa, Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association
- You Really Know How to Hurt a Guy
- I Found a Girl
- I Can't Wait to Love You
- Folk City
- Robin the Boy Wonder
- Flight of the Batmobile
- Gonna Hustle You
- Lightnin' Strikes
- Hang on Sloopy (My Girl Sloopy)
- She's My Summer Girl
- One-Piece Topless Bathing Suit
- Little Deuce Coupe
- Yellow Balloon
- Here Comes the Rain
- Only a Boy
- Fan Tan
Grab Your Board and Ear Buds
Give that list a listen and you have a handle on the full breadth of Jan and Dean's career. And if you have not watched the made for TV movie about their lives called Deadman's Curve, it is available on YouTube. And if you want the most complete collection of Jan and Dean hits in one neat package, I recommend this CD.
Had Jan avoided his accident, who knows what the future had in store for the dynamic duo of surf music. They were to make a feature film called Easy Come, Easy Go but on the first day of filming there was an incident involving a locomotive that left Jan's leg mangled and seriously injured numerous others. The film was then cancelled and was never resurrected. They also filmed a pilot for a TV show called Jan & Dean On the Run. Shortly after Jan crashed his Corvette and the era of Jan and Dean as members of mainstream entertainment abruptly ended.
Jan passed away in 2004. Dean still occasionally tours with a band. He is very approachable. If you happen to run into him be sure to tell him how much you appreciate his music. In the meantime, enjoy your audible history lesson and glimpse into one of the most remarkable eras of rock 'n roll.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 15, 2020:
You have put this duet in the spotlight very well in this article. It's so sad that a tragic accident severely curtailed their singing career.