Chairman of the Board: Surf Soundtracks 64-74
o I got a PR email about this compilation some three months or so ago while I was in a big Nuggets and Tropicalia phase, digging Os Mutantes and the Count Five and stuff, lots of fuzzy guitars and stomping rhythms and throbbing basslines, and I thought “wow! that sounds terrific!” and gave the PR person my address. So they sent me a copy, and I listened to it, and it was pretty awesome—lots of three-minute instrumentals, a couple of straight ‘60s surf pop songs, and a handful of lengthy psychedelic grooves, all of it with lots of fuzzy guitars and stomping rhythms and throbbing basslines which made the Beach Boys look like the wannabe poseur geeks they really were (when it came to, y’know, actually surfing, and stuff). Never mind Jack Johnson. Sure, it’s nowhere near as consistent and microcosmically epochal as Nuggets or Tropicalia seem when you’re first exposed to them, but the songs are cool.
What was doubly cool was that I recognized most of the crazy counterculture surf movie titles too, stuff like Innermost Limits of Pure Fun, Endless Summer, Crystal Voyager and Children of the Sun; borderline hippy, totally-stoned, seriously hard-to-find, seriously hardcore (I’d link to IMDb but they don’t have a page for Innermost Limits of Pure Fun; THAT’S how obscure it is) surf movies that blow Blue Crush and Big Wednesday out of the water. (Excuse the metaphor.) Allegedly, anyway; I’ve not seen any of them. But a friend of mine has a PhD in the socio-economics and cultural theory of surf counterculture, and he’s seen all these as part of his ‘research’ and thinks they’re terrific.
Because before it went all Fat Willy, Roxy, and Billabong, surfing actually was seen as a really socially dangerous counterculture by the establishment. ‘Celebrity’ surfer John Squire, ex of The Stone Roses, once described the sensation of surfing as “better than sex.” Add drugs, sun, music, films, and a complete lack of interest in joining in with mainstream culture, and the surfer dudes of the ‘60s and early ‘70s were the US government’s worst nightmare. After Vietnam. And Watergate. And some other stuff. But you get what I mean. Surfer’s literal physical location on the coasts mirrored their cultural position on the outermost edges of American society.
And the films and their soundtracks that documented the surfing lifestyle only emphasized this; George Greenough’s Innermost Limits of Pure Fun eschewed the kind of cheesy narrative of films like Beach Party, and instead plunged into the mind-expanding avant-garde as he strapped a camera to his back and surfed into the center of a perfect ocean tube. The Farm soundtracked this by simply playing along, whether that meant funky ‘60s surf guitar instrumentals like “San Ho Jay,” or strung-out acoustic ditties like “Innerspace.”
Across the rest of the compilation we get the brief, organ-driven “Theme from Endless Summer” by the Sandals; G Wayne Thomas’ rollicking coastal beats and barroom piano; the lengthy, winding psychedelic passages of the extraordinary “Dream Chant” by Ticket, Taman Shud’s spectacular “Evolution,” a never-ending drum & riff fest, and borderline great tracks by completely unheard of artists like Smoghorn and the Protein Brothers.
Unfortunately the initial copy I received of Chairman of the Board was labelled “Unmastered! Listening copy only”; sure it was ragged, uneven, and cheap sounding, but this is ragged, uneven, and cheaply-made music, and it was fun. A few weeks later I received a mastered copy, smoothed-out, loudened-up, and headache-inducing. Presumably the mastering wasn’t intended with listening in mind.