Rock music in the 60’s served as a bridge to the development of the music we listen to today. In the middle to late 50’s, Elvis led us to new vistas with his interpretation of blues based Southern music which contributed to the birth of rock n’ roll. In June of 1955, Decca Records announced that "Rock Around the Clock" performed by Bill Haley & The Comets had sold over three million records in just thirteen months. That record became the first rock ‘n’ roll song to hit #1 and we’ve been exploring new types of music ever since.
Early 60’s music built on the new ground broken in the 50’s. In 1960, Berry Gordy established Motown, Joan Baez appeared at The Newport Folk Festival and The Ventures instrumental ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ was a top selling record. In 1961, Bob Dylan made his performing debut in Greenwich Village at Gerde’s Folk City opening for John Lee Hooker. Dylan was nineteen years old at the time. Later that year, Brian Wilson along with his brothers Carl and Dennis, with his cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine recorded their first record in Los Angeles. By 1962, the Beatles had signed with Brian Epstein; The Rolling Stones made their performing debut in July at the Marquis Club in London and Little Stevie Wonder recorded his first single for Motown.
As the 60’s progressed, The Beatles led the British Invasion and as a result, our ears were never treated so well. American groups like the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and CSNY soon joined their European colleagues such as Cream, Rolling Stones and Yardbirds to produce a mnge of listening pleasures. At the same time, Bob Dylan was maturing from a folk troubadour with a guitar and harmonica to a prophet spreading his gospel with an electric guitar and rock band. On the West Coast of the U.S., The Beach Boys from Hawthorne California were offering their tales of beaches, cars, sun and fun.
As the 60’s drew to a close, the listening public had every conceivable choice of music on their radio. Many of those genres are still with us today in 2004. It amazes me that Mick and The Stones are still performing. It is extraordinary that the children of the fans who greeted the Beatles when they arrived in the U.S. in 1962 are enjoying the Fab Four. Soul music is still very popular. Bob Dylan’s son Jakob, John Lennon’s sons Sean and Julian, Ringo’s son Zak are following in their fathers’ footsteps as new generations embrace their music.
However, there is one type of 60’s music that seemingly has not enjoyed the wide popularity today as some of the other categories I have mentioned. Tunes in the style created by Brian Wilson and Jan & Dean simply have not stood the test of time. While a Beach Boy concert even today will usually sell out, we have not been treated to any new material extolling the sun and surf in many years. How fitting was it when I was recently riding in my car on a sunny day with the sun roof open listening to my favorite FM station when a song came on that immediately made me feel like I was in a time warp listening to the latest tune inspired by Brian Wilson himself? Turns out I was listening to The Thrills, a group from Dublin, Ireland whose song transported me back in time to the sun and surf sound popularized by many a West Coast band. Who knew?
The Thrills debut album on Virgin called ‘So Much for the City’ is a California influenced album. Traces of the Beach Boys, Neil Young, Gram Parsons are all there subtly (and not to so subtly) between the lines. Listening to the Thrill will certainly bring you back to 60’s themes such as sea, sun and surf. Locations like Santa Cruz, San Diego and Big Sur are prominently mentioned. Even the television manufactured group, The Monkees are mentioned on one of the songs. Lead singer and primary songwriter, Conor Deasy has done everything possible in this album to write tunes that will elicit memories of happy times on the beach. The album was released last November in the U.S. and as of April, sales have been close to 100,000 copies according to Nielsen Soundscan.
The song that piqued my interest while riding in my car on that sunny day was ‘One Horse Town.’ If I had to guess, this was the song that won the group their recording contract with Virgin. It is upbeat, with catchy hooks, crisp vocals and is neatly produced. It is by far, the best song on the album. Oddly, this tune is placed as the fifth cut on the album. I therefore started to listen to the album at the beginning cut, called ‘Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far) expecting more of the same as ‘One Horse Town.’ Conor’s vocals and the slow tempo at the beginning of ‘Santa Cruz’ give way to an upbeat tune reminiscent of ‘One Horse Town.’ The time of the song is listed as 4:12 which was a bit surprising to me since the liner notes show that this song is comprised of just six lines. I wondered how the group would be able to extend six short lines into a four-minute song. By 3:10, this song should have been over. For the rest of the song, we hear the name ‘Santa Cruz’ sung over and over and over again. So much so that at the end of the song the producer yells out ‘end it!’ Great song, just a bit too long.
‘Big Sur’ the second cut on the album is another gem written by Deasy extolling the virtues of leaving the city to get to the legendary California location. Great tempo, a truly well crafted song. Continuing the 60’s sun and surf theme, the band follows with ‘Don’t Steal Our Sun’ which could easily be mistaken for a record produced in LA in 1965 and only recently discovered unreleased on a dusty shelf in the recording studio. ‘Deckchairs and Cigarettes’ follows. It open with a piano riff that Richard Carpenter could have easily played for his sister in the 60’s. Conor seems to be uncomfortable with singing this melancholy song. Getting to ‘One Horse Town’ again as the fifth cut, I was happy to hear that song again. However, in playing the next offering, ‘Old Friends, New Lovers’ the band abandons it’s sun and surf theme to switch into a C&W influenced tune, hence the Gram Parsons comparison. The rest of the album embraces this different style than the first half of the album. It’s almost as if the group is trying to establish different identities. On the final cut of the album, the group is able to marry their sun and surf sound with country flair. ‘Til the Tide Creeps In’ is a perfect blending of all the sun and surf themes established in the first half of the album with a country kick that they established on the second half of the album. This tune is reminiscent of the Byrds ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ album.
On ‘Til the Tide Creeps In’ a strange thing happens. According to the timer, the song is 10 minutes long. At 5 minutes, the song seemingly ends. Approximately, 1 minute of silence then gives way to another song that is not listed and there is no explanation as to what the final four minutes of music represents. Is it a continuation or is it just filler or is it just the band having fun? Those last four minutes are an added bonus that you wouldn’t know about unless you listened to the entire album. It is actually quite good.
The Thrills are appearing this summer on the Lollapalooza tour and are currently working on their second album being recorded in LA. With an expected release in 2005. I am curious to see which style they will embrace on the new album. I am also looking forward to seeing their live show.
The 60’s were also the time of the ‘Peace & Love’ generation. Groups like the Yellow Balloon, Mamas & Papas, Sunshine Company, Turtles, Monkees, Don & The Goodtimes and Jan & Dean gave us a lighter side of music as opposed to the heavier rock being turned out by groups described as having a psychedelic sound. Short, snappy chords played on an organ with a simple beat punctuated by a rhythm guitar with crisp four part harmonies backed a 2 to 3 minute song extolling the virtues of love, gone good or bad, happy times, fast cars, surf, peace, sunsets and flowers as the recurring themes. The music was fun, it was light and it won no awards for depth. Yet, many of us bought those records and went to the concerts.
Forty years later, I’m riding in my car listening to my FM station of choice and I hear a song by a group that sounds like I was in a time warp. It’s the 60’s again listening to a band from Ireland called The Thrills.