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The Other Side Of The Hit (B-side Appreciation): Surfing And Spying

“Beauty And The Beat knocked me out, a near-perfect confection of confident, irresistible pop music.”

Before mp3, CD, and cassette singles, a hit record was always a 45. The A-Side had the hit. The B-Side? Sometimes it was a throwaway. Sometimes it was something more.


THE GO-GO’S: “Surfing And Spying”IRS, 1981; A-SIDE: “Our Lips Are Sealed”
I don’t really consider myself a collector. I know, I know–there is an abundance of evidence to suggest I’m delusional when I say that. I have stacks and stacks of records (LPs and 45s, CDs, cassettes, some flexi-discs, one Bay City Rollers eight-track), books, comic books, magazines, DVDs, VHS tapes, and probably some other miscellaneous ephemera I’ve forgotten in the moment. I like stuff, cool stuff. Nonetheless, I’m generally more into the heady experience such stuff intrinsically supplies–the sound of the music, the thrill of the word, the rush of images on screen, the BAM-SMASH-POW!! of the comics page–than I’m concerned with accumulating multiple variant copies of the same thing over and over. Yeah, I bought all four variant covers of the Archie Meets Ramones comic book–I am as God made me–but that’s an exception. Usually, if I buy a CD reissue of an LP I already have, I ditch the LP; if I buy a later expanded CD reissue of a disc I already have, the earlier CD goes out the door. It’s a rule of thumb, its application varies, but more often than not, if I have one copy of some great thing, I don’t feel a need to keep two copies of that same great thing.
This was always true of my 45s. Well, sorta–I didn’t really ditch those singles even when I later bought the LP. But if I was going to get the LP, I needed a reason to also buy the single. I needed a non-album B-side. There were a lot of those, justifying my purchases of singles by artists ranging from The Beatles and The Monkees through The RamonesR.E.M.The Records, and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. One of my favorites was a surf instrumental called “Surfing And Spying,” the B-side of “Our Lips Are Sealed” by The Go-Go’s.

The first Go-Go’s album Beauty And The Beat knocked me out, a near-perfect confection of confident, irresistible pop music. I heard “We Got The Beat” in 1981 (possibly the original import single version) on a Sunday night alternative-rock radio show, I heard the live version on a 2-LP various-artists soundtrack album called Urgh! A Music War, and I was a spontaneously-generated Go-Go’s fan. Other than Urgh, I think my first Go-Go’s purchase was the Beauty And The Beat album, followed by the “Our Lips Are Sealed” single. I needed that B-side.

The early ’80s represented a continuation of my ongoing education in the wonders of pop music. I describe the years 1976-78 as the crucible that forged my tastes, as I expanded from a 16-year-old who worshipped The Beatles (as I still do today) into an avid fan of punk, power pop, and new wave, but still always with an eye and ear out for the beguiling sounds of the past. Post-crucible, a college graduate in 1980, I became enthralled with the guitar-bass-drums appeal of the legendary instrumental combo The Ventures. The Ventures’ “Walk–Don’t Run” knocked me out on oldies radio, prompting an essential purchase of The Very Best Of The Ventures. Somewhere, probably in the pages of the fine rock ‘n’ roll magazine Trouser Press, I learned that Go-Go’s guitarist Charlotte Caffey wrote a song for The Ventures. Well! Had to have that, didn’t I? There was no ready option for me to buy “Surfing And Spying” by The Ventures, but I cowabunga’d and hung ten for the chance to own a version by its author’s own rockin’ band. (If pressed, I would concede the possibility that I mighta maybe had a little crush on all of the individual members of The Go-Go’s, particularly bassist Kathy Valentine. Sorry, Ventures, but ya just can’t compete with that.)

Even considered apart from my prerequisite girl-pop swooning, The Go-Go’s did a helluva job crafting and capturing a Ventures-type song. I loved the record, and played it often. I don’t understand why it was omitted from the expanded CD reissue of Beauty And The Beat, nor why its only CD appearance seems to be on the two-disc Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go’s anthology set. It’s an important song for me, and it was important for the growth of my awareness and appreciation of ’60s instrumental rock. Before “Surfing And Spying,” I had my Ventures best-of and the 45 of “Beatnik Fly” by Johnny & the Hurricanes; after The Go-Go’s, my scope expanded to include latter-day instrumental groups like The Raybeats and Jon & the Nightriders, and classics like “Mr. Moto” by The Belairs, “Penetration” by The Pyramids, “Pipeline” by The Chantays, and the incredible “Miserlou” by Dick Dale & his Del-Tones. In later years, I’d learn of Link Wray, and of British instrumental gods The Shadows. It was all music simply too good for words.

I saw The Ventures play live at a club show in the late ’80s. I never did have a chance to see The Go-Go’s. I don’t remember whether or not The Ventures’ amazing live set included “Surfing And Spying,” but if it didn’t, it should have. It’s a great song, and it deserves to be considered right alongside recognized Ventures essentials like “Walk–Don’t Run,” “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue.” And honestly, I think Beauty And The Beat would have been perfect (rather than just near-perfect) if “Surfing And Spying” had replaced “Automatic” on the original LP. SURF! SPY…! Some records are just plain meant for the collector in me.

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