Who Let the Dudes Out?
One of the best things about Surf Punks is they were exactly what they said they were. In the late 1970s, the Malibu band aimed to apply the no-frills surfer ideal to punk in the same way the Beach Boys had applied it to rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s. It was a novel idea, for sure. But, for a time at least, it succeeded, even if the Surf Punks story was weird and fragmented.
Adding to Surf Punks’ unlikely premise was the fact that co-founder, producer, and drummer Dennis Dragon was the younger brother of “Captain” Daryl Dragon of the soft-rock duo Captain & Tennille. In another odd twist, both Dragon brothers had played with the Beach Boys themselves.
Fronted by vocalist Drew Steele, Surf Punks self-released an album in 1979. It was later picked up by Epic, who issued it as My Beach the following year. Punk’s first wave was already dying out, and the band moved to indie Restless/Enigma for the 1982 follow-up Locals Only. Then, they disappeared for six years. This pair of re-issues on the new Noble Rot imprint picks up the story in 1988, when both Oh No! Not Them Again! and Party Bomb were released. These were Surf Punks’ final two albums, and it’s easy to hear why.
Surf Punks were a one-trick band, and Oh, No! Not Them Again! was their third album. What’s amazing is that it took six years for Dragon and Steele to come up with this lame assortment of non-songs. Each track is played with the irreverent, delinquent, frat-boy-surfer-dude attitude the band was known for, but there’s precious little to hold them together, even by the band’s modest standards. There’s punk, and then there’s the aimless musical fragments that serve as the backdrop for Steele’s narratives about girls, cops, “real” surfers, and poseur surfers. Never mind the establishment, or society’s ills. In Surf Punks’ world, a crisis issue is “Too Many Guys Out” messing with their wave karma.
The music itself is shrinky-dink, played on silly-sounding keyboards and clumsy electronic drums. Oh, No! Not Them Again! might be tolerable, a sort of early-Barenaked Ladies-style piss-take, were it at all clever. But the closest it comes is the deadpan TV send-up, “People’s Court”. A hard-rockin’ cover of the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” shows that, beneath all the juvenilia, there’s some real taste, and SoCal ballad “Klo-Rene” is evidence Dragon and Steele could write actual songs. But too much of Oh No! Not Them Again! sounds like an amateur college band, rehearsing with cheap equipment, who forgot to turn off the tape recorder during a beer break. Bonus track “Camp Malibu” only strengthens that impression.
Ostensibly part of a Restless Records live series, Party Bomb resembles a live recording only in that it’s made up almost entirely of material from the band’s previous three studio albums. Essentially, these are re-recordings. There’s no crowd noise or stage banter to be heard, so if anything here is really live, it’s live in the studio. The title only confirms how Surf Punks had gone from being a legitimate underground band to a novelty act, from a band that made jokes to a band that was a joke. Nonetheless, the material on display makes Party Bomb enjoyable, and a decent primer on the band.
Nearly half the songs are from My Beach, which may explain the need for re-recording them for a different label. Anyway, “No Fat Chicks” and “Big Top” at least follow the frat-humor theme to a logical, if sexist, conclusion. “Big Top”, by the way, is not about the circus. “No time for waves / Let’s talk about those boobs!” proclaims Steele in the least poetic ode to the female breast since Joe Walsh’s “I Like Big Tits”. The poseur-dissing on “The Dummies” gets points over the likes of “Too Many Guys Out” for wielding a big, loud hook. The punked-up rockabilly of “Shoulder Hopper” actually shows some musical chops.
The covers on Party Bomb stick pretty close to the originals. The sound and production are cleaner, and you can sense the influence of then-omnipresent hair metal creeping in. But these qualities actually suit what Surf Punks had become, and for what it is, Party Bomb is entertaining and often pretty funny.
Surf Punks hardly went unnoticed. The influence of Steele’s heavily-phased, ironic delivery and the band’s relatively lightweight, metal-tinged sound can be heard most notably in the mega-selling ‘90s releases of fellow SoCal punks the Offspring. These two reissues, while pretty well executed, hardly tell the best part of Surf Punks’ story. New issues of My Beach and Locals Only would take care of that. The out-of-print original CD versions of those titles fetch big bucks on the used market. Of the pair under consideration, though, Party Bomb is worthwhile. As for Oh No! Not Them Again!, two words come to mind. Beach Frisbee.
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// Notes from the Road
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