Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
The Astronauts - Surfin' With The Astronauts / Everything Is A-Ok!dotdotdotdot
artworkThe Astronauts began life as the Stormtroopers in Boulder, Colorado in 1959. They became the Astronauts in '62. Through a connection from years before, they were able to meet with Steve Sholes of RCA in Hollywood while on vacation in 1963. While sitting in Steve's office, the phone rang. It was a distributor telling Steve about the massive sales volume generated by the Beach Boys' "Surfin'" single on Capitol. Steve covered the phone, asked if they played surf music, and they naturally replied "Yes." They'd actually never even heard of surf music at the time. They were signed shortly afterward by Al Schmitt. In April 1963, they went into RCA Hollywood where many famous folks had cut hit sides. They recorded their first album, Surfin' With The Astronauts. The whole thing took 9 hours, spread over three days. The most difficulty came with Miserlou, which took 33 takes to nail. RCA had planned the album prior to the band signing, just waiting for a band to fill the job. Collectables Records (now part of the BMG family of labels) has released all eight Astronauts albums on four two-fer CD's. That has given them access to the RCA vaults. Not only is it about time all these albums hit the streets, but they are also reasonably priced. This two-fer couples the first two Astronauts albums. About half their material is on the first album are vocals, and all of the second album is vocal, more akin to their actual club sound. They were a spectacular band. While the second album contains no surf at all, the whole package is quite good, and it sports 8 fine vintage surf instros. The package sports extensive liner notes, plus the original liners from the two albums.
Picks: Baja, Misirlou, Surfers Stomp, Pipeline, Banzai Pipeline, Movin', Let's Go Trippin', Batman

Track by Track Review

Baja dotdotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

"Baja" displays power of their trademark three guitar line up, and shows what a few weeks at RCA Hollywood could do. Actually, having said that, I'd really like to remix this. The lead guitar is too loud in the mix. Anyway, if there's a list of the ten most significant surf singles, this must be on it. Hazelwood had a knack for melody, and the Astronauts had a knack for the sound, and together, look out!

Misirlou dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

The lead sound is less than the powerhouse Dick Dale sound, but they have done a good job getting the energy down, and the feel of the melody just right.

Surfers Stomp dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Joe Saraceno's wimpy big band surf pop hit was first made into a real surf song right here. Old Joe had the melody, but it took a band with real guitars to make it work. Credible track.

Pipeline dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

None of the delicacy of the Chantays or the edge of the Lively Ones. It's a good track, just not remarkable.

Banzai Pipeline dotdotdotdot
Beat Generation Surf (Instrumental)

When Henry Mancini named this, he undoubtedly was capitalizing on the surf trend du jour, but he gave it none of the hallmark characteristics of a surf instro, not the beat, the melody, or anything. When he recorded it, he gave it the big band sound he was famous for, and given it's Beat Generation structure, that was a perfect match. Undaunted, Boulder, Colorado's Astronauts used the classic surf instrumentation to recreate it into a surf classic, if only because of it's reputation as the first crossing into the MOR-Lounge venue for surf material. It's quirky, completely uncharacteristic of surf, but curiously endearing and catchy. A fun track, for sure.

Movin' dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

A Lee Hazelwood composition. This track was also covered by the Surfaris and Eddie and the Showmen. It's a great track for the Astronauts' three guitar line up. This version is better than any of the others from the vintage days of surf. It's melodic, energetic, and very cool.

Let's Go Trippin' dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

None of the immediacy of Dick Dale and the Del-tones. It's a good track, just not remarkable.

Batman dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Another Lee Hazelwood composition, this track was also covered by the Surfaris. It's a good track for the Astronauts' three guitar line up, but not quite as interesting as "Movin'." It's melodic, energetic, and very cool. It is not the Neil Hefty TV theme.