Rockin’ for Sixty Years

Steve Propes

To some still-living rock and roll fans, the immediate pre-British Invasion year of 1963 hardly seems that ancient. To others not around at the time, sixty years does seem like a long, long time.

By 1963, genres like rock’n’roll, soul, garage, doo wop, surf, girl-group, Motown, Wall of Sound were populating radio and record store charts, but not every attempt at popularity caught on. For example, a largely unknown rock and roll band from the UK grazed the Inland Empire pop charts in April and May 1963, then disappeared. More about this band later.

Another unique aspect of late 1963 was the number of controversial releases, a few with lawsuits or threats thereof attached and one which attracted a world-class investigation.

The Trashmen ‘Surfer Bird’

The ultimate in garage with their manic recording of “Surfer Bird” for a middling Minneapolis label, the Trashmen claimed to have written the song, which had nothing to do with surf. In fact, it was really a wild combination of two 1962 hits by the R&B group, the Rivingtons out of L.A., “The Bird Is the Word” and “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow.” Granted, the Trashmen did insert random noises like clucks, growls and shrieks into “Surfer Bird.” When they got word of “Surfer Bird,” the Rivingtons were not amused and won the inevitable law suit. After all, the Trashmen vocalist Steve Wahrer had told Dick Clark on national TV the band had written the song. “Surfer Bird” reportedly sold 30,000 copies in its first weekend, though the Rivington’s Al Frazier regretted filing an early lawsuit, which removed the record from the market. They would’ve been much better off letting the sales play out, collecting a much bigger payday.

The Marketts ‘Outer Limits’

There was never a band named the Marketts, though under that name, an L.A.-based unit later known as the Wrecking Crew (called that by established session musicians as the newcomers were bound to wreck popular music) recorded two hits: “Surfer Stomp” in 1961 and “Out of Limits” in 1963. “Surfer Stomp” was a tame instrumental named after the stomp danced by surfers at the Rendezvous in Newport Beach and the Lido at the NuPike in Long Beach. “Out of Limits” was an entirely different animal. The actual opening theme to the “Outer Limits” TV show sounded nothing like this guitar and organ instrumental with muted background voices. In fact, the opening was lifted from the four note opening to “The Twilight Zone” TV theme. That’s why Zone’s Rod Serling threatened to sue Warner Brothers Records over the use of those four notes, so the label retitled future copies of the hit single, “Out of Limits.”

The Kingsmen ‘Louie Louie’

The Big Kahuna of rock and roll controversy began life as a Latin-tinged doo wop by a South L.A. songwriter and vocalist Richard Berry who in 1957 was appearing weekly at the Harmony Park Ballroom in the orange groves of Orange County with backing by a Filipino band, the Rhythm Rockers. One night the Rhythm Rockers played a variation of “El Loco Cha Cha” by Tito Puente. Berry liked what he heard, writing “Louie Louie” off the main riff. It became a local fave and seven years later, bands from the Northwest began recording garage versions of the song.

The version by the Kingsmen out of Portland Oregon with Jack Ely on lead vocals was so garbled, with mistakes such as Ely coming in early on one verse, imaginary fake lyrics began to appear, When the Indiana governor declared it pornographic, the FBI launched an extensive investigation in 1964 and asked the Indiana Broadcasters Assn. to ban it. The investigation spanned offices in several states, with technicians listening to the song at different speeds trying to discern any obscene lyrics. None were found; the FBI eventually declared it “unintelligible at any speed.”

The Pyramids ‘Penetration’

The title had nothing to do with surf, but it’s considered a surf rock standard. In fact, the title was one of several having to do with teenaged sex, but no one in our censorship-addled marketplace caught on. The Pyramids out of Long Beach Polytechnic High School took their name from the pyramid symbol of an on-campus fraternity. “Guitarist Skip Mercier was in a fraternity called Sphinx, since he was in the that, we called ourselves the Pyramids,” said the band’s Willie Glover. “We put the ‘Pipeline’ rhythm to ‘Penetration.’ “

That wasn’t supposed to be the hit. DJs were told to play “Here Comes Marsha.” They flipped it over, played the instrumental, “boom.’”Though often grouped with surf hits, Glover recalled “the title came from a group member who was very sexual. He said “let’s think of all the titles that have to do with sex, ‘Contact’ ‘Pressure’ ‘Penetration,’ which hit first in the Inland Empire, months later in L.A.”

Beatles’ ‘Please Please Me’

Oh, yeah. And that UK band that made a brief April 1963 chart appearance in the Inland Empire, then dropped away for good, that was a band called the Beatles (though some early pressings spelled their name as the Beattles) on “Please Please Me,” a title some complained suggested self-pleasuring.

Things turned around mightily in the first week of ’64 with the British Invasion, the first hit of which was by the Dave Clark Five, “Glad All Over.” One week later, five new releases by the Beatles dominated the national top ten, followed by Animals, Stones, Hollie, Faces, Kinks and Troggs, the American rock scene was never the same.

Stephen Propes is the author of eight books, including “Those Old School Records” and can be reached at writerguy@live.com.

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