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It is with much trepidation that I write of “beach music,” a phenomenon that has consistently been making waves across America and the world (yes, Virginia, there are even “beach enthusiasts” in Muncie) since the early ’60s. Over the past three decades, I have become increasingly fond of a questionable musical consciousness termed “beach music”. Yet, I fear writing about it, not just because I still do not know what IT is, but because neither does anybody else.
One thing beach-nuts do agree on is that the sounds which inspire partying on the East Coast have absolutely nothing to do with California and surf music. In the East, a beach party means shuffling a little bit in the sand (a dance called, appropriately enough, the shag) and guzzling beer or sipping bourbon. In the Wild West of the ’60s, a beach bash implied some surfing, and required the sounds of the Ventures and the Beach Boys as well as many weird bands such as the Pyramids and the Trashmen.
Beach music of the East Coast bears the light of nostalgia and beams it through the AM radio waves–a longing for a past that was never a part of the scene to begin with.
Unlike the music on the West Coast, which was by white kids on an instrumental warpath, beach music has always been primarily music by blacks. What’s more, whereas the classic image and style of surf music suggested a homosexual subtext (with rockabilly’s similar subtext right on its tail: Roy Orbison’s “Domino” being the first example of rock music emulating the sound of the waves), the theme of East Coast beach music is heterosexual love and desire, often thwarted but always remembered.