Waves, Not Wavves: 10 Timeless Beach Albums


Beach bums, rejoice! Slate ‘s Jonah Weiner has declared the return of the “beach band,” mostly in the form of Wavves, Beach Fossils, Beach House, Best Coast, and other artists whose names make you think of sun, sand, and surf. (Never mind that Beach House doesn’t sound like the others at all.) Now, we know this isn’t a popular opinion in the summer of 2010, but we listened to Wavves’ King of the Beach a few times and couldn’t believe the whole thing wasn’t a stupid joke. So, although we love some of these bands, we’re mostly feeling nostalgic for the great beach albums of yore (most of which, we admit, came out before we were born). Reminisce with us as we count down ten classics after the jump.

The Beach Boys — Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) (1965) Let’s just get this out of the way: No one is ever going to agree on which Beach Boys album is the quintessential beach record. We would say just about any of their pre-1966 offerings (although, don’t get us wrong, in terms of general mind-blowingness, Pet Sounds wins every time) could fit the bill. So we went with the one that has “California Girls” — and “Help Me, Rhonda” — on it. Accept no (David Lee Roth) substitutes. Listen: “California Girls”

Lou Reed — Coney Island Baby (1975) Most classic beach albums come from California or, at the very least, reference that fun-in-the-sun sound. But Lou Reed is New York through and through. This record is wistful, backward-looking, softer than most of Reed’s more experimental offerings, and perfect for a day in that syringe-laced Brooklyn sand. Lester Bangs may have hated it, but our relationship with Reed is a little less complicated than his, and we can’t complain. Listen: “Coney Island Baby”

The Surfaris — Wipe Out (1964) Although, these days, it’s been relegated to oldies radio, The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” was kind of revolutionary for its time. A rare rock instrumental hit (well, except for that famous derisive opening, voiced by the band’s manager, Dale Smallin), it was originally recorded as the B-side to “Surfer Joe” but soon eclipsed that song’s success. But that track, and the rest of this energetic album, have much to offer beyond “Wipe Out’s” addictive hook. Listen: “Wipe Out”

The Dictators — Go Girl Crazy! (1975) What, you thought The Ramones were the first New Yorkers to fuse punk and surf? Nope. The Dictators earned that distinction in 1975, before punk even formally existed. And you know what else? On their debut, Go Girl Crazy!, Handsome Dick Manitoba and friends covered “California Sun” years before Joey Ramone got his grubby hands on it. But the true classic on this record is the greaser fantasy “(I Live for) Cars and Girls,” which rocks the boast, “I leave ’em in another state whenever I accelerate.” Listen: “(I Live For) Cars and Girls”

The Go-Gos — Vacation (1982) Beauty and the Beat may remain The Go-Gos’ best-known (or simply best) album, but the one we want on our beach blanket is most certainly Vacation. “Beatnik Beach” is another seaside staple, but even the less specifically summer-oriented tunes are perfect for a party in the sand. Watch: “Beatnik Beach”

The Ventures — Ventures in Space (1963) It’s kind of impossible to choose between the thousands of wonderful albums in the prolific Ventures’ early ’60s catalog. So we’re going with one of the weirdest: The band’s surfy tribute to the great unknown. We have to assume that some of these strange, now-commonplace, sounds made their debut on this very record. Listen: “Moon Child”

Man or Astro-Man? — Is It… Man or Astro-Man? (1993) Perhaps the heirs to The Ventures, Man or Astro-Man? were unquestionably the oddballs of the ’90s surf revival. Instead of confining their love of kitsch to the realm of ’60s beach-party soundtracks, these wacky instrumentalists sample all manner of B-movie gems, from sci-fi cheese to biker bravado. While their schtick eventually grew old, there’s nothing quite like Man or Astro-Man?’s pleasantly bizarre debut. Listen: “Mermaid Love”

The Honeys — The Honeys Collection (2000) Surfer dudes like The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean may have gotten all the attention, but we bet your parents will remember The Honeys. Led by sisters Diane and Marilyn Rovell (the latter was Brian Wilson’s first wife), the group sang a catchy combo of surf-rock and Phil Spector-style girl-group pop. Since they never managed to release a proper album, this recent comp is your best bet. Listen: “Shoot the Curl”

Mr. Bungle — California (1999) Mike Patton’s Mr. Bungle would never release an album that only referenced a single genre, so don’t look for pure surf rock on the band’s final studio release, California. Although it’s by far the group’s most accessible full-length, it’s a slightly more seamless version of the typical genre clusterfuck: There’s some metal, some Hawaiian sounds, some doo-wop, and some straight-up out-there experimental stuff. This is what summer sounds like when you’re a weirdo. Listen: “Air-Conditioned Nightmare”

The B-52s — s/t (1979) The bouncy synth beats of New Wave owe a great deal to the tube-amp sounds of ’60s surf — and nowhere is that clearer than on The B-52s’ self-titled debut. The album (which apparently counted John Lennon among its fans) is full of gnarly bass lines, from “Wipe Out” cousin “Planet Claire” to oddball anthem “Rock Lobster.” Watch: “Rock Lobster”