Spotify playlist Hit play to listen as you read


Brian Wilson gets all the respect and Jan Berry’s been forgotten and I’m gonna try to rectify that right now.


Because it’s the one you know.

When I first heard this in the summer of ’64 I had no idea where Pasadena was, but I was enraptured nonetheless.

I can still remember hearing this on the transistor blaring over the pavilion at the beach in Fairfield, Connecticut as I waited for them to deliver my ten cent fries.

She may be the terror of Colorado Boulevard, she may be implored to go, but the magic is in Dean’s harmonies, and the way the song starts with the chorus and soars with the Super Stock Dodge.

Back when what you drove was more important than what was in your pocket, when we were all optimistic, when cynicism had not yet been born and we were all yearning to go to California.



“I bought a ’34 wagon and we call it a woodie”

And that’s how the term was popularized, that’s the power of popular music.

“You know it’s not very cherry, it’s an oldie but a goodie”

And there’s another term new here but a cliche now!

And during the chorus you can literally see them on the waves.

Frank Zappa didn’t want us to hear surf music ever again, but that was before surf music itself was forgotten.

This is so inherently joyous that if it was played on the radio today people would stop in their tracks, unable to move, wondering what this alien sound coming out of the speakers was. Yup, it sounds like the soundtrack to a Pixar movie, something so different, yet so exquisitely good, that it’s embraced right away.


Let’s go back to the beginning, the initial Lou Adler and Herb Alpert production that was a top ten hit, REALLY!

Sounds dated, but that doesn’t mean you won’t love it!


Well, this tribute to a stripper, was really the first, in ’58, but Dean was in the Army and Arnie Ginsburg sat in for him.


Yup, Linda Eastman, Paul McCartney’s beloved, written about her when she was all of one year old…

A cover, but Jan & Dean made it their own.



The one! The one that took the deceased teenager trope and jetted it to the stratosphere, killing almost all competitors, as well as the genre itself.

“Let’s race all the way to Dead Man’s Curve”

There’s no one in Los Angeles who doesn’t reference it. Everybody knows every twist and turn of Sunset Boulevard, L.A.’s most famous drag.

But this was before they straightened it.

“I was cruisin’ in my Sting Ray late one night
When an XKE pulled up on the right”

And here we are, plunked right down in the midsixties, after a horn intro that immediately enraptures.

“The street was deserted late Friday night
We were buggin’ each other while we sat out the light
We both popped the clutch when the light turned green
You should ‘a heard the whine from my screamin’ machine
I flew past La Brea, Schwab’s and Crescent Heights
And all the Jag could see were my six tail lights
He passed me at Doheny then I started to swerve
But I pulled her out and there we were
At Dead Man’s Curve”

And if that don’t make you want to move to L.A…

Yup, back when Van Nuys Boulevard used to be gridlocked, when everybody was drivin’ and draggin’.

And there’s ultimately a spoken interlude you’d never be able to get away with today and…

This is a dated masterpiece, definitely of a time, but it’s still just as rewarding as ever.


The flip side to “Dead Man’s Curve,” but a chart hit itself, an infectious ode to the new student in high school, come on, you remember that!

If you don’t sing along with Dean, you ain’t got a voice!


From the movie starring Fabian, this was the title track.

I owned the album, I just couldn’t get enough, I even went to see that flick, I’VE STILL GOT TO TAKE THAT ONE LAST RIDE!


I played this so much my father used to sing along, and he hated my music!

Yup, nothing equated surfin’…not baseball, not the girl with the pool…just pack Jan a lunch and he’ll be on his way!


“Grab your board and go sidewalk surfin’ with me!”

Yup, once upon a time that’s what it was called, back before polyurethane wheels, when you went around a corner and…slid.

Yup, there was a skateboarding phase in the midsixties that died out before the midseventies technological renaissance and this, a remake of the Beach Boys’ “Catch A Wave,” was the anthem.


One of the last chart hits, but still definitely worth a listen.


I knew it because it was the flip side of the “Ride The Wild Surf” single!

I had no idea where these towns were, but I knew I had to get closer to this sound, I had to move to the west coast, I begged my mother, I had to wait to graduate from college, but it was not a moment too soon. People always ask me what made me move to California and I always say the Beach Boys, and that’s true, but it’s Jan & Dean too, I was a fan of theirs first.


Yup, Jan & Dean were the hosts of the live concert movie almost as famous as “Monterey Pop” and “Woodstock,” the one that brought James Brown to a white audience, where he upstaged the Rolling Stones and Felice was part of the audience at the Santa Monica Civic.

But this take is from Jan & Dean’s live album, “Command Performance,” not only my first live disc, but one of my first albums ever, I played it so much the grooves turned grey. I play it now and it sounds like nothing so much as…me.


This is the opening cut on “Command Performance,” and as great as the radio single was, I prefer this, because of the ENERGY!


“Dead Man’s Curve,” “Sidewalk Surfin’”, they’re better on “Command Performance,” I’m gonna include the entire LP so you can know what it was like to be little Bobby Lefsetz, alone in his bedroom in a house dominated by females dreaming of a better life in…L.A.

And it IS!


For a long time they were forgotten. Then their story was told in a ’78 TV movie, and then they were forgotten again.

You see Jan Berry had an accident himself on Sunset Boulevard, and was never the same.

The act reunited, I went to see them at the Starwood, it was bizarre and creepy but a necessary pilgrimage nonetheless, because they were my heroes.

And Jan Berry was no loser, he had two years of medical school under his belt when he crashed his car.

And Dean Torrence went to USC and ultimately became a graphic designer responsible for the covers of some of your favorite LPs.

But somehow they’ve been forgotten to history, they’re in the rearview mirror.

And Brian Wilson’s deserving of all his accolades, but Jan Berry was no slouch, he too could write and produce. He was a true wunderkind.

And I doubt I’ll be able to convince those who were not there, but if you were, you remember it… When our heroes sang about a life we could all share, out in the elements, having FUN!

Spotify playlist:



Jan Berry

Jan and Dean


Visit the archive:


If you would like to subscribe to the LefsetzLetter

Category: Friday Night Jazz, Music, Weekend

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

9 Responses to “Before the Beach Boys, There Was Jan & Dean”

  1. chartist says:

    I prefer Jan and Dean to the Beach Boys, their music seems edgier. I always regretted not seeing them during the summer of 1981 when they played at a bar in Dewey Beach, DE.

  2. J Kraus says:

    Great write-up. I still remember the night in 1966 when I saw the black and white photo of Jan’s mangled Sting Ray on the front page of the local evening paper.

    Dead Man’s Curve compacts the length of Sunset Boulevard to better fit the narrative. The lyric “I flew past La Brea, Schwab’s and Crescent Heights” for example refers to a stretch that is actually 18 blocks long. The lyric “He passed me at Doheny and I started to swerve makes sense because there is a 45-degree left-hander (travelling west as the lyrics imply) immediately after that might be a bit tricky at high speed on ’60s tires.)

    The actual Dead Man’s Curve has always been open to conjecture, but if the two imaginary cars were going fast enough to get a bit sideways past Doheny, the following corner, a hard 90-degree right a mile or so beyond at the northern edge of the LA Country Club would be enough to give them trouble.

    Just two years after Dead Man’s Curve charted, Jan crashed his personal Sting Ray, not on Sunset Boulevard, but just a bit south of it on Whittier Drive in Beverly Hills, a sleepy residential street just east of the LACC North golf course.

    A last bit of trivia: the lyric “all the Jag could see were my six tail lights” indicates that the Sting Ray was modified. They came with only four tail lights but it was not at all uncommon at the time to buy two more and mount them inboard of the factory units for that six-light “Impala Look.”

  3. BennyProfane says:

    I remember seeing them on Ed Sullivan doing Sidewalk Surfin, and they whipped out a skateboard (was it both, just one?) and proceeded to ride that thing on the stage during the obviously canned chorus.

  4. hankest says:

    “Frank Zappa didn’t want us to hear surf music ever again, but that was before surf music itself was forgotten.”

    I’m not sure what that is supposed to mean. The line you’re paraphrasing was from Third Stone from the Sun, a Hendrix song, and both Zappa and Hendrix were apparently fans of surf music.

    Most people believe that Hendrix put that line in for Dick Dale who was suffering from cancer at the time. Dick Dale, the true father of surf music (listen to Let’s go Trippin), later did an amazing rendition of 3rd Stone

  5. RW says:

    Never thought much of Jan & Dean much less compared them favorably to the Beach Boys but obviously they had their fans too (or they wouldn’t have stayed under contract to make more records)

  6. gemfinder says:

    Brian Wilson co-wrote Surf City.

  7. bsnceo says:

    Ah, this brings back memories – the wide beach in Santa Monica. Surf music on the radio, Cruising Van Nuys Blvd (gridlock and all), Bob’s Big Boy- people would be served in their cars, which would be blasting all sorts of music and,to feed the cars which were all gas guzzlers then (except my VW, of course), people could relish the “Gas War” signs (24.9 cents a gallon marked down to 19.9 cents a gallon).

    Another time and place.

  8. Joe says:

    I learned my geography from top 40…..

    I grew up in San Francisco, but the music made Pallisaides Park, Broadway, Philly and Motown real.

    Being a car crazy kid had me dialed into Jan and Dean, 409′s and Super Stock Dodges. My wife, being in Texas (Houston)during those years, like the rest of the kids, were SURE that was Pasadena, Texas where the Goin’ Grandma resided….

    After all the California surfin’ stuff, they were overjoyed about this new band singin’ swamp stompin’ Born Onna Bayou stuff. They finally had a Gulf Coast band to listen to. But they couldn’t figure out why the Proud Mary’s big wheel kept on “toinin’ and the Proud Mary kept on “boinin’” That was New Yawk talk…

    I broke it to her gently….