Written by 4:48 am Audiophile Music

A Monster Surf Album Resurfaces

Mark Smotroff’s a gremmie who knows good surf guitar when he hears it

Back in the 1960s — the early ’60s in particular — before the British Invasion became the unstoppable music force du jour, Surf music was a dominant wave (if you will pardon the cheesy pun) which many young music fans were riding. The Beach Boys were the most visible to the mainstream public but there were a slew of great bands and artists who came out of that first rush of reverb-drenched, electric guitar-driven, manic dance music, from Dick Dale to The Surfaris to The Rip Chords. 

AR-MonsterSurfCover225.jpgOther bands like The Astronauts who came out of Colorado far from the sun and fun with some killer surf records. The Trashmen put Minnesota on the rock ‘n roll map with one of the most manic and legendary singles:  “Surfin’ Bird.”  Heck, The Ventures began in Tacoma Washington in the late 50s even! 

Surf was indeed up no matter where you were from, it seemed.  

With the space program beginning around this time, some of the surf-tunes began to take on intergalactic themes. In 1962, Telstar by England’s Tornados became a number one hit there and in the US! Out Of Limits by The Markett’s (revolving around a theme from Rod Serling’s sci fi TV show The Outer Limits) reached the number three spot on the pop charts in 1963. 

The surf sound also expanded to encompass phenomenon like drag car racing and skateboarding. 

AR-MonsterSurfB&WStill225.jpgSmelling a trend, all manner of surf exploitation records began to surface from various and sundry record labels, from budget and regional entities to majors like Capitol Records. Some were crummy, barely inspired knock-offs. Others were pretty amazing! Fifty years on, there is a deep respect for many of these recordings which have inspired many next generation surf-space rock bands (Phantom Surfers, Man Or Astroman, etc.). 

Many of these genre spin-off records were made in very limited quantities back in the day (remember, the 45 RPM single was the purchase of choice at the time, so albums were a luxury item for most kids and thus often quite rare to find these days). Accordingly, many of these albums have gone on to become highly sought after collectors items revered by fans of the genre.

After the success of Bobby Boris Pickett’s smash hit “Monster Mash” in 1962 — spooky-cheesy B-grade monster movies were a flourishing trend, especially in the 1950s and early 1960s — enterprising executives at Chicago’s Vee Jay records apparently decided to bring a local surf-flavored bands into the studio to record an entire whole album of Monster-Surf crossover tracks! It’s Monster Surfing Time was the love child of those sessions which went on to become a much sought after collector’s item for fans of the genre.

AR-MonsterSurfGreen225.jpgHere’s the cool thing, bringing us back to the 21st Century: apparently for no particular reason other than its a cool thing to do (which, frankly, is the best reason), Concord Music Group is gleefully celebrating this genre with the reissue of this cross-pollinated surf and monster movie exploitation gem — reissued on clear “slime-green” vinyl  –for the first time in 50 years!

The standard weight vinyl LP sounds pretty groovy and of course the translucent green makes playing it extra fun. The disc seems well pressed, is dead quiet between songs and is well centered. 

Is it digital or analog, you ask?  

Well, the original tapes had to be analog, so that much we know. However, I can’t imagine the label spending the $$ to remaster this direct from the analog tape — if the original analog tapes even exist anymore! So, my educated guess is the album was probably made from some sort of digital safety file to  create this new album. There was apparently a CD reissue around 2001 on the Collectibles label (itself a bit of collectors item now!) and is available as an MP3 download on Amazon.   

AR-MonsterSurfLabel225.jpgHow does it sound? All things considered, pretty good! I mean… lets be realistic to begin with :  this is low budget surf music, raw rock ‘n roll from the early days that was probably tossed together on a non-existent budget. So we’re talking about what amounts to essentially a really good garage band (apparently led by Joe South, the only known member of the group, dubbed The Deadly Ones for these sessions) playing live-in-the-studio, probably recorded to two or three tracks at best but in all likelihood just in mono. Given the likely digital sourcing, there is some digital crunchiness going on and maybe even some phase-y swoosh-i-ness (how’s that for a technical term, kids?) apparent on the high end of some tracks. 

I say “maybe” because, honestly folks, I have never heard (or even seen) an original pressing of this album. For all I know, that could an effect the producers put on the original recording. Maybe someday I’ll get lucky and find an original pressing to compare this too (and if so, I’ll put some update notes in the comments section below).

So… it is what it is…. thus, please don’t dive into It’s Monster Surfing Time expecting Dark Side of the Moon!

However, until you locate an original pressing, you can have some fun (remember that?) splashing around with The Deadly Ones on It’s Monster Surfing Time.

How about that for a concept: buying an album simply for the fun of it! Turn it up and you’ll be Pogo-ing around your living room to tunes like “There’s a Creature In The Surfer’s Lagoon” and “Igor Goes Surfing.”  

I know I was (yeah, I realize that presents quite the visual). 

So what are you waiting for? Go snap up your copy of this (before it goes out of print again!) and soon you’ll be ready to throw the ginchiest of surf monster dance parties come this Halloween!

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