The Rip Chords

Hot Rod U.S.A.

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Although the Rip Chords were originally the duo of Phil Stewart and Ernie Bringas, at some point in the studio the writing and production team of Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston took over the controls -- including doing all the vocals -- and there is some argument as to whether Stewartand Bringas even appeared at all on any of the singles issued by the band. Aural evidence seems to indicate they didn't, since the Rip Chords carry the full stamp of a Melcher/Johnston project, with trademark Beach Boys-styled harmonies, solid musicianship from California's finest session players, and stripped-down, brief arrangements big on pop slogans and hooks. Surf and hot rod music from the 1960s is really a kind of Americana, idealizing a perfect summer that never ends for a culture that values anything with speed, power, and a shiny exterior. Melcher and Johnston (taking an obvious cue from Brian Wilson) were experts at capturing all this in under two-minute summery blasts, and songs here like "Hey Little Cobra," "Three Window Coupe," "Hot Rod U.S.A.," "Gas Money," and "Summer U.S.A." might say more about the American mindset than any ten country tunes. True, this brief budget collection is at least half made up of note-perfect but needless Jan & Dean and Beach Boys covers, but it catches in amber the perfect summers of 1963 and 1964, creating a kind of instant nostalgia for a time when a hot car was all you needed. Melcher and Johnston (or the Rip Chords, if you wish) weren't innovators, but they shrewdly spotted a folk trend, stripped it to its bare components, hijacked a band, and manufactured it all back into the pop stream, complete with a veneer of sunny innocence and boundless optimism. As "Gas Money" points out, it all works fine until you can't afford to run the damn thing anymore. Plus the Beatles were right around the corner.

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