Album Review

Dick Dale - Surfers' Choice

Dick Dale

Surfers' Choice


Release Date: April 7th, 1962

Words by: Adam Wilding
May 12th, 1962


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Before there was the Endless Summer, (just) before The Safaris started making waves (pun intended, thanks Dad), and before Quentin Tarantino revitalised John Travolta's post Look Who's Talking career, there was a Californian by the name of Dick Dale. This man pioneered the sound that would later come to be known universally as surf rock.

Being left-handed, Dale had to learn to play the guitar upside down and despite having left-handed Strats eventually made available, he continued with the unconventional setup of having the low E string on the bottom rung of the guitar neck. This unusual technique contributed greatly to his unique strumming style, and in turn, the early sound of surf rock. His dissatisfaction with the capacity of the amps available at the time led Dale to call on Leo Fender to build him the first 100 watt amp. This request, in combination with his playing style, successfully paved the way towards many new possibilities - one of which being the distinct reverb sound that permeates through The Pixies' 'Surfa Rosa' album, and then more recently, MGMT's largely ignored but still great sophomore offering, 'Congratulations'.

Although more known for Dale's accomplishments as a guitarist, 'Surfer's Choice' also demonstrates the artist's aptitude as both singer and composer. He clearly had a sense for strong vocal melody, as heard on his cover of the anti-war tune 'Sloop John B'. His employment throughout of many a 'doo-wah' backing vocal lines, as well as the use of piano and sax flourishes, demonstrate his tasteful songwriting abilities.

Always fascinating with early 60′s records is the drum sound, and 'Surfer's Choice' provides a great example of quality reel to reel drum recording. Somehow there always seems to be so much soul, groove and character to the recorded drum sounds of this era. It's seemingly part of the landscape of sound and feel, rather than sticking out in pops and cracks of digital cleanness as is so often the case with modern day records.

The tracks 'Surfing Drums' and 'Lovey Dovey' are more traditional 50′s sounding pop songs, and while they're swallowed easily enough as a listener, one can't shake the image of Dale simply putting them on the record to appease either a label or a Manager.

For those of us who don't have time for sentimentality there's plenty of fast surf rock on this album, and it's not only the type of stuff that made the snorkeler dance popular and got weekend surf culture noticed, but the type that arguably went on to inspire Thirteenth Floor Elevators' hit, 'Your Gonna Miss Me' (check out the opening track 'Surf Beat' for an explanation). 'Surfer's Choice' also contains the earlier version of 'Misirlou' which has become the benchmark song for anyone who has pounded those pentatonic scales at guitar lessons in the last 50 years. It also leads on to perhaps my strongest argument for the quality of this record: if it's good enough for the opening scene of Pulp Fiction, then it's damn well good enough for me.

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