Jan & Dean

Surf City

Song Review by

"Surf City" is the best vocal surf song excepting the Beach Boys' early hits and actually is just as good as any of those early Beach Boys hits. The Beach Boys comparisons are no accident: the song was co-written by head Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who also sang high harmony vocals on the track itself. It was, as well, just as commercially successful as anything the Beach Boys did, reaching number one in 1963 at the height of surf music's popularity. For a rock song of 1963 (and indeed of many rock eras), "Surf City" was unusually structurally and melodically adventurous, starting not with the verse but the chorus: the exultant declaration "two girls for every boy," which unexpectedly goes into a lower key as the rhythm revs up for the verse. The verse is the more standard Chuck Berry-derived basic rock & roll that Brian Wilson often used on his early compositions, but is still special, particularly with the constant low harmonized interjections of "surf city, here we come!" Surfing may be a rather frivolous pastime, but to hear Jan & Dean (and Wilson) sing about it here, it's delivered with no less passion than an announcement of the imminent coming of the messiah. The song builds excitement with a verse bearing a completely different melody and stratospherically high backup harmonies, coming around again to the "two girls for every boy" chorus. The mounting excitement of arrival at "Surf City," presumably the Los Angeles in which Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys lived, is heightened by a change to a higher key for the last half of the last chorus, after which the song rather peters out with an instrumental fade. "Surf City" has endured as a classic not just because of its musical excellence, but also due to its mythological resonance, summing up the endless-summer teen-bliss appeal of California beach surf culture better than any other song. And though the percentages were way off from reality, the promise of "two girls for every boy" fueled an even more basic teenage boy fantasy.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Surf City 1963 Lt Series 2:31
No Image 1965 Liberty
No Image 1966 Liberty
Max Weinberg Presents: Let There Be Drums, Vol. 2 - The 60's 196?
Various Artists
Rhino 2:28
The Very Best of Jan & Dean 1970 EMI Gold 2:28
No Image 1971 United Artists Records
Gotta Take That One Last Ride 1973 One Way Records 2:34
No Image 1974
Original Soundtrack
Arista 2:27
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: 1963 1988
Various Artists
2:28
No Image 1989
Various Artists
Rhino
Surfin' Hits 1989
Various Artists
Rhino 2:30
All-Time Greatest Hits 1990 Curb / EMI Music Distribution 2:29
Monster Summer Hits: Wild Surf 1991
Various Artists
Capitol 0:00
Eis Am Stiel, Vol. 6 1991
Original Soundtrack
Ariola
EMI Legends of Rock N' Roll: 24 Greatest Hits of All Time 1991
Various Artists
EMI Legends of Rock 'N' Roll Series / Capitol 2:42
No Image 1992
Various Artists
Capitol 0:00
Breaking the Rules 1992
Original Soundtrack
Varèse Sarabande 2:26
The Sensational 60's, Vol. 1 1993
Various Artists
Dominion / K-Tel Distribution 2:31
Surf's Up: Surfing Music's Greatest Hits 1994
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution 2:29
Surf City: The California Sound 1995
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:28
Only Rock 'N Roll 1960-1964: 20 Pop Hits 1995
Various Artists
Rhino / JCI Associated Labels 2:28
Car Trax: California Cruisin 1995
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:28
All Time Greatest Beach Party Hits 1995 Madacy Distribution / CEMA Special Markets
Surf City's Greatest Hits 1995
Various Artists
Quality Music / Quality 2:38
Awesome Surfing Album [Prime Cuts] 1995
Various Artists
Prime Cuts 1:59
Surfin' Safari [Prime Cuts] 1995
Various Artists
St. Clair / Prime Cuts 2:34
The Original 1995 Disky 2:43
Jan & Dean Golden Hits, Vols. 1-3 1996 One Way Records 2:29
Tossin' & Turnin' 1996
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:28
Songs of Summer [Deuce] 1996
Various Artists
Deuce 1:59
Drag City/Jan & Dean's Pop Symphony No. 1 1996 One Way Records 2:25
Surfer Hits 1996 Remember Records 2:28
World of Rock N Roll 1996
Various Artists
ZYX Music 2:30
Jenny McCarthy's Surfin' Safari 1996
Various Artists
Interscope
All the Hits: From Surf City to Drag City 1996 Capitol 2:48
Double Gold Hits, Vol. 2 1996
Various Artists
Public Music
Anthology Album 1996 One Way Records 2:31
Seasons in the Sun [Video] 1997
Various Artists
Galaxy Music 2:21
Golden Surf 1997 Public Music
Sixties Generation: 1963 1997
Various Artists
Retro Music 1:58
1963: 20 Original Chart Hits 1997 A Time To Remember 2:30
20th Century Rocks, Vol. 6: '60s Rock N Roll - Tossin' and Turnin' 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:31
Rock & Roll Beach Party 1997
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:34
Kahuna Classics: Surf Music 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:29
Golden Jukebox Hits, Vol. 1 1997
Various Artists
Galaxy Music 2:24
Party Dance Mix [Riviere] 1997
Various Artists
Riviere International Records 1:27
Music That Changes Our Lives: 50's 60's 70's 1997
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:32
Greatest Hits of the 60's: 1963 1998
Various Artists
CMM Music 2:30
Music for a Summer Barbecue 1998
Various Artists
EMI-Capitol Special Markets 2:29
Hard Rock Cafe: Surf 1998
Various Artists
Rhino 2:29
#1 Hits: Party Favorites 1998
Various Artists
St. Clair / Number 1 Hits 2:00
Beat Goes On [Rivie're] 1998
Various Artists
Riviere International Records 2:30
Chart Toppers: Dance Hits of the 60s 1998 Priority Records 2:31
60's Greatest Rock & Roll Hits 1998
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:32
Non-Stop Dancing [Madacy] 1998
Various Artists
Madacy 2:24
Non Stop Hits: R&R of 50's 60's & 70's 1998
Various Artists
Madacy 2:27
Sizzling Sounds of Summer 1998
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Power Hits 2:28
Rock -N- Roll's Greatest Hits of All Time Early 60s, Vol. 2 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:41
Sound & Sensation: Rock'n'Roll Beach Party 1999
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:32
Surf Rock [#2] 1999
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 2:32
4 Legendary Groups 1999
Various Artists
Double Play Records 2:30
Good Times: The 60's 1999
Various Artists
Intercontinental Records 2:30
Favorites 1999 Intercontinental Records 2:38
From the Vaults/More from the Vaults 1999
Various Artists
Beat Goes On 2:29
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Disky
Surf City: The Very Best of Jan & Dean 2000 EMI Music Distribution 2:27
SPF 16: Summer Party Favorites 2000
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 0:00
Sixties Generation: 1962-1963 2000
Various Artists
Boxsets 2:00
Sixties Shakin' All Over 2000
Various Artists
Legacy 2:30
Surf City [Direct Source] 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 1:59
Classic Rock Crate 2000
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:27
Memorable Party Favorites 2000
Various Artists
St. Clair 2:00
Back 2 Back: Turtles and Jan & Dean 2000 Intercontinental Records 2:30
Number One Hits: 1960-1964 2000
Various Artists
GNP / Crescendo 2:39
No Image 2000
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:27
Inside the Music: Surf's Up 2001
Various Artists
Silverline Records
Beat Boom 2001
Various Artists
Disky / Disky Communications 2:42
Surfin' Beach Party 2001 Legacy 2:28
Teenage Idols [4 Discs] 2001
Various Artists
Disky Communications 2:42
Dick Clark's #1's: 50's to 70's "When AM Radio Was King" 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 2:29
20th Century Rocks: '60s Rock 'n Roll - Tossin' and Turnin' 2001
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:30
Teenage Idols [CD #2] 2001
Various Artists
Disky 2:42
Wolfman Jack's: Teen Idols!/Cruisin' Songs/Surfin' Toons 2002
Various Artists
Boxsets 2:32
Jukebox Hits 1963 [Madacy] 2002
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:30
Ultimate Jukebox Collection [Ross] 2002
Various Artists
Ross Records 2:29
Take Brian Surfin' 2002 Japanese Import 2:59
The Beach Boys and Other Summer Favorites 2002 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:32
In the Summertime [K-Tel UK] 2002
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:30
The Perfect Wave 2003
Various Artists
CEMA Special Markets / EMI-Capitol Special Markets 2:32
Top Hits of the Sixties: Absolute Hits 2003
Various Artists
Collectables 2:29
The Sixties [Platinum Disc] 2003
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:38
Original 60's Summer Album 2003
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:26
The Sunshine Collection 2003
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:31
Great Surfin' Songs [3CD] 2003 Platinum Disc 2:29
Rock On 1963 2004
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:32
Their Greatest Hits 2004 Fuel 2000 2:28
Summer Soundtrack 2004
Various Artists
CEMA Special Markets / EMI Music Distribution 2:30
Ride the Surf with Jan and Dean 2004 Castle Pulse 2:36
Great Men of Rock and Roll 2004
Various Artists
Collectables 2:29
Surf City/Dead Man's Curve/The New Girl in School 2004 Beat Goes On 2:28
Legends and Heroes 2004
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:30
Great Men of Rock & Roll: The 60s 2005
Various Artists
Collectables 2:28
The 60's Pop Classics [Legacy] 2005
Various Artists
Legacy 2:30
#1 Hits of the 60's [K-Tel] 2005
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:30
Rock N Roll's Greatest Hits of All Time 60's, Vol. 7-8 2005
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:44
It Happened in the Sixties 2005
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:32
Dead Man's Curve 2005 Toma Records 2:35
Ultimate 16: Ultimate 60's 2005
Various Artists
Madacy 2:37
Complete Sixties 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:27
Nothing But Number 1's of the USA 2005
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:31
All #1 Hits '60s 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 2:39
#1 Pop 60s Hits 2007
Various Artists
Madacy 2:39
Heartbeat Summer 2007
Various Artists
Virgin 2:27
All Summer Hits 2007
Various Artists
Madacy 2:37
The Original 60's Box Set 2007
Various Artists
EMI 2:26
Where Were You: 1963 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:26
Folle Histoire de Rock N Roll: Platinum Collection 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:26
101 Driving Songs 2008
Various Artists
Virgin 2:26
101 Rock 'N' Roll Songs 2008
Various Artists
Virgin 2:26
Pure Driving Rock [3 Discs] 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:27
The Complete Liberty Singles 2008 Collectors' Choice Music
No Image 2008
Various Artists
CMC Records 2:28
Original Hits: Rock 'N' Roll 2009
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:27
Dreamboats and Petticoats: Summer Holidays 2010
Various Artists
Universal Music / Universal Music TV 2:25
60's Summer Party 2011
Various Artists
EMI Gold 2:26
The Ramones: Heard Them Here First 2012
Various Artists
Ace 2:26
20 #1's: Summer Hits
Various Artists
Universal 2:43
No Image
Various Artists
EMI 2:31
Golden Hits, Vol. 2 Capitol / EMI Music Distribution 2:29
Long Hot Summer
Various Artists
Gold Classic Hits Radio 2:26
Rock Around the Clock: Early Rock 'n' Roll Jukebox
Various Artists
Universal 2:28
No Image
Various Artists
Universal 2:31
Sounds of the Sixties: The Hits
Various Artists
EMI Gold 2:29
Summer Holiday
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:26
Summer Surf
Various Artists
Hip-O / Universal 2:31
Surf City and Other Swingin' Cities Capitol / EMI 2:26
The Party Dance Mix, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Euro Trend 1:27