What is surf music?
Surf music is a subgenre of popular music created in Southern California between the late 1950s and the mid-1960s, with deep roots in the emerging surf culture.
From a strictly musical perspective, surf music is characterized by surf-related lyrics, high harmony vocals, catchy and earworm-y guitar solos and riffs, and high reverberation levels.
Traditionally, surf music has always had a successful and relatively influential instrumental and rock and roll side, but the dream pop and melodic singing generally found more followers and results in the charts.
"I think Dick Dale is the first one to start blowing up expectations about what surf music is with his arrangement of 'Misirlou.' But limiting it to the sound of early Ventures records and Dale, which is what most people think of, is too myopic for me," surf music guitarist Jason Loughlin tells SurferToday.
"I see surf music as a wide umbrella. In the same way, country music has many sub-genres like bluegrass, western swing, rockabilly, countrypolitan, country rock, outlaw and Tex-Mex, surf music contains many sub-genres."
"The Beach Boys, Exotica, Hawaiian music, Duane Eddy, pop surf like Jack Nitzsche and The Shadows, punk surf, 80s surf like The Mermen - all of these artists and genres fall under the surf umbrella in my opinion. What ties them together is a mood and a sonic landscape."
"There are sonic calling cards like spring reverb and low, twangy melodies, but I think it's unfair to reduce to only that. The writing and arrangement play a big role too."
For the Brooklyn-based musician, "surf and rockabilly have followed similar paths in the sense that they had a short window of popularity and growth and then went underground until their revivals which both happened around the early 80s.
"Bands like The Ventures survived because they stopped making surf records and made great instrumental records arranging popular music from many different styles. Surf became a sponge in the 80s through the 90s and soaked up influences from punk music and alternative rock."
"The Aqua Velvets started exotic instruments, Man or Astro-man? went the punk sci-fi angle and was using sound clips from sci-fi films and theremins and for the most part, the guitars got dirtier. There's more time taken these days to make a record. So surf records today sound tighter and more flushed out to my ears," concludes Jason Loughlin, who designed "Essential: Surf Guitar," an online course aimed at intermediate and advanced guitar players.
Surf music was a music formula with a tremendous success that used well the topics that white, middle-class American wanted to hear - fun, cars, girls, surf, and sunny days at the beach.