Today’s song came to my attention this week when it was featured in a presentation on the surf music of Florida at the most recent conference. While providing a history and overview of the genre, this song came up as a representative of the style and due to its familiarity.
Surf music dates back to the early ’60s and was associated with California surf culture. It was originally primarily instrumental music, featuring saxophone, drums, and reverb-y electric guitars used to reference the waves and water. A later version of surf music added vocals, featuring tight harmonies, as made extremely popular by the Beach Boys.
Surf music also frequently employed guitar slides, again as a reference to waves and water, which makes it a perfect match for Guitar Slide Wednesday. This song is by the “King of Surf Guitar,” Dick Dale, who more or less established the style. His first hit was “Let’s Go Tripping” (1961), and today’s song, “Misirlou” (1962) reveals a common trait in Dale’s work, the use of Middle Eastern and Eastern European melodies and scales.
“Miserlou” is perhaps most well-known as the opening theme to Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction (1994). The version below is taken from a much earlier film, A Swingin’ Affair (1963) and features a live performance of the song by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. In this video, you can hear guitar slides all over the place–just before the melody comes in at 0:19 and again at 0:24. There’s also a fantastic slide at 0:39 that takes the melody up an octave. Slides everywhere! Hooray!