Dick Dale was becoming one of the biggest rock & roll acts in California's history in 1962 when he was signed to Capitol Records, who reissued his album Surfer's Choice (which had already moved close to 90,000 copies on Dale's own Deltone label) and put him into the studio to cut some fresh material for his new sponsors. Overall, King of the Surf Guitar was probably Dale's best album for Capitol, but it also suggested a fundamental misunderstanding of Dale and his music by the label. King of the Surf Guitar begins with the title tune, in which female vocal group the Blossoms (featuring Darlene Love) urge us to "Listen! Listen to the King!" as Dale reels off trademark riffs, as if anyone who bought the record would be likely to do otherwise, and the curious opener pointed to the album's flaw. Capitol seemingly wanted an album that would have something for everyone, so along with Dale's ripsaw surf guitar vehicles it includes folk tunes ("Greenback Dollar"), rock & roll oldies ("Kansas City"), country standards ("You Are My Sunshine"), lovelorn ballads ("If I Never Get to Heaven"), and plenty of vocal numbers, though Dale goes out of his way to inject his forceful personality into every tune and his singing, while not as impressive as his guitar work, was nothing to complain about. Still, this album truly shines on tunes when Dale gets to play guitar at full force, and "Hava Nagila," "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," and "Mexico" are as fiery as anything he would cut for the label. If King of the Surf Guitar isn't a Dick Dale album for purists, at the very least it leaves no doubt that he came by the title accolade honestly.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming