Jan and Dean IV
Bill Long 7/24/08
Some Early Tunes (1959-60)
In this essay I would like to describe the "tone" or "sound" of Jan & Dean in a few of their earliest songs together, from 1959 and 1960. Jan had originally recorded three songs with Arnie Ginsberg in 1958/1959, including "Jennie Lee" (a top 10 song) while Dean was stationed at Fort Ord, but when Dean returned the duo picked up where they left off and began to record. The songs I would like to comment on here are "Baby Talk" (1959); "There's A Girl" (1960); and "White Tennis Sneakers" (1960).
Before linking to YouTube videos of these songs, I would like to develop a tentative chronology of the early Jan & Dean. We would have:
I. 1958-59; with Jan and Arnie;
II. 1959-1962; with Jan & Dean, but before the meeting with the Beach Boys early in 1963;
III. 1963-1965; the peak of their fame, with several top 10 songs, capitalizing on the "surf, cars, and skateboard" themes.
IV. April 12, 1966; Jan's nearly fatal accident on Whittier Drive in Beverly Hills.
Many of the songs in period III hark back to the style and sound of period II, but they involve a much deeper harmonization and musical complexity, even if some of the words are seemingly inane and "teeny-bopperish" as ever (e.g., "New Girl in School" in 1964 or "I Found a Girl" in 1965). This essay will focus on the three aforementioned songs from period II.
Each of the three has a "bee bop" rhythm and the nonsense words so popular from that era. "Baby Talk" begins with three lines of "bom ba ba bom bab," etc. before getting into the "heavy" lyrics of:
"I am only five years old and my baby's three..But I know that she's my girl just you wait and see."
A similar style is evident in "There's a Girl." Here the doo-wop sound is sung by a dreamy-looking Jan, "la da da dum da da da da da" before singing about the girl, who is doing nothing more than preening herself with her comb and mirror, in words like:
"she doesn't know yet...
I'm the boy she's going to get...
Just you wait and see.."
The same is evident in "White Tennis Sneakers," though there the sound is a "bom da bom bom bom bom.."
A second "style-setting" theme of the early years is for Jan & Dean to wear "uniforms" or relaxed clothing to capture what they are singing about. The effect is to get the teeny-bopper girls to scream and go crazy over the handsome blond CA duo, Jan & Dean. The video of "White Tennis Sneakers," available here, is illuminating. The tall, blond, chiseled Southern CA guys, in matching sweaters, with white shorts, long black socks and their own white loafers, gently and amble down a flight of stairs and approach the audience. They are easily dancing, snapping fingers, making as if they are playing the background music, pointing to and smiling at the wildly screaming audience. The music, though innocent and inane, at one level, is both intended to stimulate but keep a respectful distance from the hormone-affected pubescent girls that flock around them.
And, I suppose this is the third theme of those early songs. It bespeaks the faithfulness of guys to girls. The guys are talented, handsome, and seemingly able to get any girl they want, but they are committed to "her," even if they are five and she is three ("Baby Talk"), even if she doesn't yet know who they are ("There's A Girl"), and even if it is for no other reason than the guys just go wild over her white tennis sneakers. The "message" then to the eager females taking in every sound is that there are guys out there who just want to be in your heart; they will wait for you to make the decisions and the moves; they will ever be faithful to you; they aren't rough and mean and independent.
What a transition there will be when we get to 1963--when there are "two girls for every guy" in "Surf City"! Once we get to that theme, the early and innocent Jan & Dean will be subsumed under the new appeal of fast cars, surfboards and endless parties. And, of course, to whom would this music appeal? Of course, the guys. Is it any surprise, then, that when Jan & Dean started to market their stuff to "the guys," their records shot to the top? That will be the theme of the next essay...