Jan and Dean did not start the surfin’ craze when it comes to music. That prize is up for debate, but, if you look at just the charts, I would suggest that the Beach Boys were the first to put a surfin’ song on the Hot 100. They released “Surfin’ Safari” (#14) in 1962. But if you go back another year to 1961, you will find a guitarist named Dick Dale who was playing surf music in the clubs of Southern California. Dick Dale is recognized by some as being the first to play surf music.
However, we are only interested in number ones in this article, so back to Jan and Dean, who were the first to put a surf song at number one. They had some help from the other great California group, The Beach Boys. In fact, “Surf City” (where the girls outnumber the boys, two to one,) was written by Jan Berry (half of Jan and Dean) and Brian Wilson (leader of the Beach Boys.)
Jan Berry was born in 1941 in Los Angeles, California and Dean Torrence was born a year earlier in 1940, also in Los Angeles. They met while in junior high school in Westwood and played on the school football team. While suiting up, they discovered that the locker room provided really good acoustics for singing and they would sing as they got ready to play or when they were winding down. They formed a doo-wop singing group they called the Barons (which was the school’s mascot) and started practicing.
The first thing to come out of the Barons was a song called “Jenny Lee.” Jenny Lee was the name of a stripper that was performing in town and they thought that would make a good subject for a song. Arnie Ginsberg, who was part of the Barons, actually wrote the song with some help from Dean Torrence. When they were about to record the song, Dan got called up to the Army Reserves, so Arnie stepped in and the first “Jan and Dean” song was actually “Jan and Arnie” singing “Jennie Lee.” The song hit number eight on the Billboard charts which meant that Jan, at least, was on his way. Dean came home from the Army and Arnie left and so, from then on, it was Jan and Dean. Their second hit was “Baby Talk” (#10) and in 1963, they met Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who told them about “Surf City.”
I think most people know that Glen Campbell played with the Beach Boys when he was just starting out, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that he plays on “Surf City.” This was the only number one song from Jan and Dean, but they continued to record and hit the charts until 1966. In 1964, they recorded “Dead Man’s Curve” (#8) which proved prophetic when on April 12, 1966, Jan was driving the Sunset Strip and crashed his car, putting him into a coma for two months. He would never be the same, suffering some brain damage. They carried on the best they could.
In 1991, Dean moved to Huntington Beach, California where he convinced the city officials to use “Surf City” as their official nickname. Today, more than 65 businesses in Huntington Beach use “Surf City” as part of their name.
Jan Berry died on March 26, 2004 of a seizure. It was eight days before his 63rd birthday. I’m pretty sure Dean Torrence is still alive. He currently lives in Huntington Beach, California (“Surf City”) with his wife and two daughters.
“Surf City” entered the pop chart on June 22, 1963 and stayed at number one for two weeks.