Surf-Age Nuggets
Trash & Twang Instrumentals 1959–1966

While earlier this past decade saw a penchant in indie rock for oceanic monikers (Beach Fossils, Wavves, Surfer Blood, etc.), anyone familiar with the surf craze of the early ’60s must have certainly thought the trend kind of trite. Indeed, for a period from roughly 1959–1966—the span of this new four-disc boxset, Surf-Age Nuggets: Trash & Twang Instrumentals—popular culture in America was inundated with surfing and the Southern California lifestyle. From Hollywood to Madison Avenue, everyone wanted to hang ten. This was the case with music as well, both popular and not-so popular forms. The surf guitar sound—a reverb-soaked twang usually emanating from Fender equipment—was pervasive, as evidenced by hits like “Pipeline” and “Wipe Out” and the 80-some songs found here, many by groups from places as far away from the Pacific as New Mexico (The Emeralds), Ohio (Johnny McCoy & The Cyclones), Minnesota (The Vaqueros), and Pennsylvania (The Shan-Tones).

Compiled by James Austin, Surf-Age Nuggets is meant to be a companion to Rhino’s 1996 set, Cowabunga! The Surf Box, which Austin curated with historian Jon Blair. But where that set focused on the hits of the day and included pop songs by The Beach Boys and the like, this one, as its name indicates, focuses on obscurities of the era and, more specifically, instrumentals. Like those on the more famous Nuggets comps, the sides here were singles on regional labels that simply didn’t have the mechanisms in place to ever hope for national airplay. As Mike Campell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) explains in his intro, “In some ways this culture (had) similarities to the punk culture of the late 70s.” Indeed, these were kids who grabbed guitars and attempted to emulate the sounds they were hearing. The results must have seemed as wild and wooly at the time as punk eventually did, as the brash energy that courses through this lengthy set is unmistakable.

Austin and his colleagues have done an exemplary job putting this set together. Though glancing over innocuous names like The Travelers, The Scouts, The Sherwoods, and The Buddies gives little clue to the raucous sounds contained herein, it is hard not to dig stuff like the thumping “Kick Out” by The Safaris or the whirl of “Slaughter on 10th Ave.” by The Avengers VI. And if the idea of more than three hours worth of surf guitar sounds monotonous, Austin has mixed things up enough so one never gets burnt out. Plus each disc is interspersed with examples of surf culture being appropriated, with radio ads for Dr. No, Vox, and Coca-Cola, which says it’s the most popular drink in Hawaii “because of how it tastes when you come in from the waves.” Moreover, the accompanying box is full of information and visual stimuli. Each track has been annotated with notes from Pipeline magazine’s Dave Burke and Alan Taylor, and there is plenty of surf ephemera from the era along with record covers and concert flyers. Surf-Age Nuggets is a testament to the surf sound’s lasting resonance long after it went out of style.
Stephen Slaybaugh