Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
The Fireballs - The Best Of [Original Norman Petty Masters]dotdotdotdot
artworkThis is a fine introductory look at the Fireballs, spanning their entire career, short of the Jimmy Gilmer period. The songs are strong, the mastering is solid, and the price is right. Then, when you're ready to get the whole story, you can move the individual reissues with bonus tracks from Sundazed.
Picks: Torquay, Bulldog, Carioca, Yacky Doo, Foot Patter (Foot-Patter), Dumbo, Vaquero, Gunshot, Nearly Sunrise, Rik-A-Tik, Quite A Party, Really Big Time, Peg Leg (Pegleg), Fireball, Panic Button, Tuff-A-Nuff, Find Me A Golden Street, Blacksmith Blues, Daytona Rag (Daytona Drag), Kissin', Chief Whoopin' Koff (Chief Whoop-In-Koff), El Ringo, Torquay Two

Track by Track Review

Torquay dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"Torquay" is still a great tune, even 37 years after it was committed to tape. It was borrowed by the Challengers for their debut album Surf Beat, and by the Lively Ones for the Surfin' South Of The Border album. It's primal near-surf sound and rim shot percussion is quintessential Fireballs. The song's power is testified to also in the name being used for numerous bands, including San Jose's circa 1963 surf band the Torquays.

Bulldog dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"Bulldog" is rhythmic and infectious, and has a quiet power about it, as did most of the Fireballs / Norman Petty output. All of their sessions are available in various CD forms, from ACE, Sundazed, and others. The Challengers borrowed "Bulldog" for their debut album Surf Beat.

Carioca dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

Now if you want to hear groundbreaking ideas, try this on for size. Long before Jack Nitzche growled out "The Lonely Surfer," the Fireballs were playing a really low lead lines (maybe even on a bass?). Really evil for it's day!

Yacky Doo dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"Yacky Doo" suffers from those period "oh-oh" harmonies sung over parts of the song. Too bad it's not the undubbed version here. It is still a nice track, and the "oh oh's" aren't so frequent that it turns you off. The writing is much inspired by "Bulldog" or "Torquay," as is much of their work.

Foot Patter (Foot-Patter) dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

This is a nice chunky tune, with a certain raw edge and delicate energy that contradict the delivery. It's a very infectious melody, and a fine little number. That is why "Foot Patter" has been covered by the Challengers, and others. This track is an essential pre-surf ditty from 1959.

Dumbo dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"Dumbo" is a very quirky and memorable melody, and the double picking is perfect and clear as a bell. It has an incredible likability about it, and a magic all its own.

Vaquero dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

This tune is a faster number than many, lighter, more cutesy rhythm, almost polka like. That's not a slam, just a calibration. This is a fine track, which employs a minimal melody, but overcomes that with a very infectious arrangement. I'm not sure why the name, since there's not much Mexican influence here, but hey, that's ok with me. Happiness abounds.

Gunshot dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"Gunshot" is a cool and typical Fireballs tune. It has a plucky humorous melody line that is infectious and choppy. It has strange highly reverbed hand claps, and a cantina feel to it. Melodic and happy.

Nearly Sunrise dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

This warble-lead guitar tune is not very interesting. As soon as you get used to the almost calliope sound of the tremolo maxed out, you forget the melody. Novel, but not significant or memorable. Pretty darn MOR as well.

Rik-A-Tik dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

This is a brilliant bit of writing and playing. The rhythmic nature of the piece is relentless, and the melody is among the happiest of all rock instros. It was covered by the Lively Ones to great affect. This original rendering is much lighter than the Lively Ones version, but it has it's own infectious chunk and playfulness. This track rules.

Quite A Party dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

This track displays the first really nice panoramics on a drum kit that I am, aware of. The toms are panned, with snare and kick in the center. The bass is left and the rhythm is right, but because it's a gentle performance, it works ok. "Quite A Party" has been covered as "Quite A Surf Party" by Jerry MacNeish. Quite infectious.

Really Big Time dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"Really Big Time" is a very cool song, and sports that typical Fireballs sound. It pokes around the chords one note at a time, damped picking, plucky sound, then accented by open chords. A fine track.

Peg Leg (Pegleg) dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

Oh so lightly plucked, damped tweakery, slender rhythm guitar, and super lightweight overall sound. This would-be MOR song falls short of the elevator by virtue of it's honesty, and that's a good thing. It's just so sparse and light. Nice tune to eat a balogna sandwich to.

Fireball dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

That archetypical backtrack under a simple but effective melody - hey, that's what made this band work - their ability to do very simple, often minimal things that worked really well. Choppy, melodic, happy, cowboy rhythmic.

Panic Button dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

This song has a nifty melody, with an air that is anything but panicked, not even urgent. It's a happy-go-lucky track with a light fluffy arrangement. I has a certain desert soul to it, and is quite recognizable as a Fireballs number.

Tuff-A-Nuff dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

A light weight funk with a cowboy's sensibility. You can just see a saddletramp shuckin' and jivin' - it's quite a vision, but not much of a track, and certainly not tuff in the vernacular of the day. From March 1961, and previously only issued in Canada on a single.

Find Me A Golden Street dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"Find Me A Golden Street" is a very nice track. It is melodic, semi spaghetti western or spy conscious, but more chunky and rhythmic. A fine track. The Shockwaves used to due in their set, and Splashback currently do.

Blacksmith Blues dotdotdot
Escalator To Hell (Instrumental)

Whoa - who shoved these guys into the elevator in the bachelor building? Fluff incarnate.

Daytona Rag (Daytona Drag) dotdotdot
Country Fluff (Instrumental)

Very light, almost Three Suns or Buddy Merrill consciousness (were they conscious?). Choppy, acceptable non-MOR, but just barely. A slight breeze would blow this away.

Kissin' dotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

A "Panic Button"-like number, more halting, and much more Mexican influenced - like a hat dancer waiting for the canteena to open.

Chief Whoopin' Koff (Chief Whoop-In-Koff) dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"Chief Whoop-In-Koff" has a definite tribal coolness about it, a primitivity that transcends the sophisticated and quiet performance. The melody line is quite infectious, and the rhythm is very cool. It is now a regular part of the Eliminators & Splashback's sets.

El Ringo dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

"El Ringo" has a great cowboy feel and a rolling rhythm about it that just carries you down the road. The quirkiness of the melody, the cowboy feel, the rhythmic nature, and the ringing tones combine to create an irresistible track.

Torquay Two dotdotdotdot
Pre Surf (Instrumental)

This alternate version of "Torquay" is more refined and just as cool as the hit. Outstanding!