Hot Rod & Surf Music

Surf music is a subgenre of rock music associated with surf culture, particularly as found in Southern California. It was especially popular from 1962 to 1964 in two major forms. The first is instrumental surf, distinguished by reverb-drenched electric guitars played to evoke the sound of crashing waves, largely pioneered by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. The second is vocal surf, which took elements of the original surf sound and added vocal harmonies, a movement led by the Beach Boys.

Dick Dale developed the surf sound from instrumental rock, where he added Middle Eastern and Mexican influences, a spring reverb, and the rapid alternate picking characteristics. His regional hit “Let’s Go Trippin'” (1961) launched the surf music craze, inspiring many others to take up the approach.

The genre reached national exposure when it was represented by vocal groups such as the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Dale is quoted on such groups: “They were surfing sounds [with] surfing lyrics. In other words, the music wasn’t surfing music. The words made them surfing songs. … That was the difference … the real surfing music is instrumental.”

At the height of its popularity, surf music rivaled girl groups and Motown for top American popular music trends. It is sometimes referred to interchangeably with the California Sound. During the later stages of the surf music craze, many of its groups started to write songs about cars and girls; this was later known as hot rod rock.

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