The unofficial anthems of Australian summers and why surfing songs aren’t true surf music.

The advent of a new genre of rock music, known as ‘surf music’ due to its origins in southern California, hit Australia in the summer of 1963, around the same time as surfing began to make a significant contribution to our beach culture.

Surf music came in two major forms; the instrumental characterised by electric guitars that simulated the sound of the waves (and, for purists, the only true surf music) and vocal harmonies with surfing themes pioneered by bands such as The Beach Boys.

Although instrumental surf music had been slowly growing in popularity since the 1950s, it wasn’t until the chart-topping ‘Bombora’ by The Atlantics and the No. 1 ‘Surfside’ by The Denvermen that the phenomenon took hold in Australia. Col Joye and his Joy Boys hit, ‘Murphie the Surfie’ garnered the attention of audiences beyond Australian shores.

According to Graham McDonald of National Sound and Film Archives, “The summer of 1963-64 was the summer of surf music in Australia.”

It was the summer of the dance craze, ‘The Stomp’, Little Pattie’s ‘He’s my blond headed stompie wompie real gone surfer boy/Stompin’ at Maroubra’, the summer when Jimmy Hannan (whom I know more from Fantale wrappers than actual memory) achieved fame when his recording of, ‘Beach Ball’ (with the Bee Gees as backing singers) shot to No. 2 in the charts. And of course, no discussion of the summer of surf music would be complete without a mention of The Delltones’ iconic ‘Hangin’ Five’ or Noeleen Batley’s B-side ‘Surfer Boy’, which was one of the earliest-known recordings of a Barry Gibb song.

The fall of surf music

As most of us might remember, an unknown band out of Liverpool captured people’s imagination and only the diehards stuck to the surf music. However, although the true surf music had had its day, we have our own sounds of summer, those songs that take you back to days on the beach, camping on the south coast or living it up at the Gold Coast. They’re the unofficial summer anthems of Australians everywhere (although perhaps you need to be of a certain age).

30 evergreen summer sounds

In no particular order, these are some of the sounds that, to me, say ‘summer’. Not saying I like all of them but they conjure up particular memories of surf, sand and summer shimmer.

  1. Sounds of Then (This Is Australia): GANGgajang
  2. Down Under: Men at Work
  3. Reckless: Australian Crawl
  4. Solid Rock: Goanna
  5. Living in the Seventies: Skyhooks
  6. In the Summertime: Mungo Jerry
  7. Howzat: Sherbet
  8. Wedding Cake Island: Midnight Oil
  9. School’s Out: Alice Cooper
  10. Summer Breeze: Seals and Croft
  11. Beach Baby: First Class
  12. Brown Sugar: Rolling Stones
  13. Sister Golden Hair: America
  14. Teach Your Children: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  15. Run to Paradise: Choirboys
  16. One Summer: Daryl Braithwaite
  17. California Girls: Beach Boys
  18. Khe Sanh: Cold Chisel
  19. Surfin’ Safari, Surfin’ USA: Beach Boys
  20. California Dreamin’: Mamas and the Papas
  21. Let’s Go Surfing: The Drums
  22. I’m a Believer: The Monkees
  23. Friday on My Mind: The Easybeats
  24. Do it Again: Steely Dan
  25. Eye of the Tiger: Survivor
  26. It’s a Long Way to the Top: AC/DC
  27. I was only 19: Redgum
  28. Great Southern Land: Icehouse
  29. Capricorn Dancer: Richard Clapton
  30. Fly like an Eagle: Steve Miller

Which summer favourite (or earworm) of yours have I left off my (random) list? Let us know.

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