Beach Blanket DJ

WTJU is co-sponsoring the summer film series with the Virginia Film Festival. Our role is to provide a DJ before the movie. This Friday, the VFF is screening “Beach Blanket Bingo.” It’s one of my favorite movies (and part of one of my favorite sub-genre of movies) — so of course, I volunteered to DJ.

Actually, I would have preferred to give the pre-screening lecture, but they said providing some music would be fine.

So what would you play for the 90 minutes before the movie starts? Perhaps an all-Beach Boys set would work, but that’s lazy and wrong. Here’s why:

A little movie background

The music featured in the early 1960s beach party movies only partially overlapped with the surf guitar and beach music genres. The genre took its name from the first of American International’s beach movies, “Beach Party.” It starred Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, whose names would become synonymous with the genre. 1964s Beach Blanket Bingo, (5th in the series) is where all the elements came together. When people refer to beach movies, this is the one film they’re probably thinking of.

A little movie music background

Beach party movies don’t necessarily feature beach music. Beach Blanket Bingo, for example, features songs by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello that are simply pop tunes (and heavily orchestrated at that). Donna Loren sings a top 40-friendly ballad, and Linda Evan’s two songs (lip synching to Jackie Ward) wouldn’t be out of place in the Brill Building. The Hondells do provide some Beach Boys-like beach music, but those are only two out of seven songs.

Great song — but not especially “beachy.”

Other American International beach pictures feature more authentic music, such as surf guitarist Dick Dale, the Astronauts, and the Pyramids. And they also feature Littel Stevie Wonder, Nancy Sinatra, and the Kingsmen.

A little music background

So what music would be appropriate for a pre-screening of Beach Blanket Bingo? Most of the audience won’t have a deep knowledge of the variety of music found in beach party movies, so playing Stevie Wonder, Nancy Sinatra, and the Kingsmen selections wouldn’t set the right mood.

Beach music would be nice — but what kind? Folks in the southeastern coastal states are well familiar with Carolina beach music. This style is rooted in 1950s soul, and doesn’t prominently feature the guitar. Playing Bill Deal and the Rondells and the Tams would stir some memories, but would be a big disconnect wit the aesthetic of the film.

Great song for shagging (Carolina beach dance)– but not West Coast enough

West Coast beach music has two subgenres — surf guitar and beach music. In the early 1960s there were many southern California bands that had no vocalists. The lead guitar carried the tune. Its distinctive voicing can be heard in Dick Dale’s music, as well as that of the Ventures, and the numerous one-hit-wonder groups who charted with surf music classics, like “Wipeout” and “Pipeline,” (both surfing terms).

Dick Dale and the Deltones from “Muscle Beach Party.” Now we’re on the right track.

The Beach Boys took the surf guitar sound and softened it quite a bit. And they added the falsetto harmonies that became the signature sound of what many people consider beach music. Jan and Dean, the Hondells, and many others mimicked this sound, like Bruce and Terry (below).

The beach party movies do have representatives of both surf music and beach music, so tracks from these two genres would be appropriate — and familiar to the audience.

Pick and choose

I created my final mix by blending selections from:

1) Songs from the soundtracks of the beach party movies
2) Surf guitar classics
3) Beach music classics
4) Related top-40 tracks.

Tomorrow: my set list

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