Yes, that Dean, of Jan and Dean.
Dedicated readers will know they were my first faves, before the Beach Boys. I played their album “Command Performance” until it turned grey (which is what happened when you had a heavy tonearm, before the heyday of audiophile turntables in the late sixties and seventies). I made my mother drive from store to store until I could find blue sneakers. In the days before Vans, they were a rarity. Everybody wore white, with a few holdouts still wearing black from the fifties. And I had the striped shirts too. And when we went on a family trip cross-country I insisted we go to Malibu, where I rented a board and rode the waves, even stood up. Then again, I’d had some experience in Atlantic City. And this was before the Surf Punks informed everybody that they needed to go home because the waves were just too crowded.
Jan was an underrated genius, he has not gotten his due. He wrote and produced and recorded. With a bunch of high school buddies. Dean was one of them, and the two of them…
At first, Dean was giving short answers, believing this was the typical interview, but once I told him to go on at length, he came out with so many stories…I realized this was the definitive statement, and I let him go on as long as he needed to.
Was he a BMOC at USC? (That’s “Big Man On Campus” for those unfamiliar with the acronym.) NO! He might have had number ones, but those were in pop music, and everybody on campus was into FOLK MUSIC!
And I’ve never heard some of these Beach Boys stories before. At least not on this nuanced level.
Now at some point, this generation is gonna die. And the roots of rock and roll will be sealed in amber. And sure, Jimi Hendrix never wanted to hear surf music again, and Frank Zappa pooh-poohed it, but maybe that’s because it was so endearing, because it captured the essence of SoCal life, because it was so successful. Want to know what’s a hit? Listen to those Jan and Dean records, they got you in one listen, you had to hear them again. Somehow we’ve gotten lost, maybe as a result of the free-format album era that succeeded them. Given all the tools and all the time and space, it turns out many people have nothing to say, at least not in a way that immediately grabs you. Can you write a hit single? Can you record and release a hit single? Most people can’t, but that was the essence of Jan and Dean’s success.