Friday, 27 March 2015

Let's Go Surfin'

There are at least five recorded versions of the classic teen death disc Surfin’ Tragedy – well, I am aware of five and I present all of them to you today. No doubt if there are other recordings of this terrible song one or more of you will soon let me know.

I first became aware of Surfin’ Tragedy when I purchased the first volume of Rhino’s World’s Worst Records compilation back around 1982. That particular iteration, recorded by the Breakers as the flip to their 1963 single Surf Bird, was bad enough, but discovering that this was, in fact, a cover version and that there were other recordings available opened up a veritable geyser of badness. 

Written by Robert J Hafner and Anthony J. Hilder, the original version of this hideous song appears to have been recorded by Doug Hume and was featured on the 1963 album Surf’s Up At Banzai-Pipeline. Tony Hilder was an A&R man for Modern Records, which was connected to the budget Crown and Custom labels. His first co-writer credit was on stomping 1957 single John John (released by Aggie Dukes on Aladdin records) and, in the early 60s, Tony Hilder became involved with surf music, producing Jim Waller's Surfin' Wild, the various artists album Surf War and the aforementioned compilation Surf’s Up At Banzai-Pipeline. He supervised recording sessions by California group The Revels, who had a hit with the instrumental Church Key, and was also president of Impact Records, a label that released recordings by The Revels, Lil' Ray and The Premiers, Dave Myers and The Surftones, and indeed the Breakers 45. He also worked in the movies and on and supplied the music for the 1961 film The Exiles.

These days Hilder is an activist, investigative journalist, conspiracy theorist and talk show host. He’s also a documentary filmmaker, known for 911: The Greatest Lie Ever Sold, Polanski Unauthorized, E.U: Hitler's Dream Come True and Bohemian Grove amongst many others.

Robert John Hafner, a songwriter, musician, aspiring actor and producer, wrote songs recorded by The Revels, including the fabulous, sax-driven Comanche, which was used in the movie Pulp Fiction, but in the late 60s he walked away from the music scene, turned off by the hippie movement, the drug culture and the corporate takeover of music. He and his wife-to-be moved to Idaho, where they were married in 1969. The couple moved to the Chicago area in 1982 to be closer to her parents, with Bob working as a house painter for more than two decades. He passed away in October 2013 aged 81.

Anyway, back to the music. Here are all five versions of Surfin Tragedy, the previously mentioned vocals by Doug Hume and The Breakers, plus a third vocal take by The Sentinals (which appeared as the closing track on their 1963 album Big Surf! and, for my money, is easily the worst version ever recorded) and two instrumental versions, the first by Bob Vaught and the Renegades (issued as a single on GNP Crescendo and on their album Surf Crazy, both in 1963) and, finally, by The Surf Teens from their 1963 album Surf Mania.

UPDATE: since writing this post I have become aware, thanks to WWR readers, of a sixth version, recorded by The Blue Hawaiians, which appears on their 1997 album Live at the Lava Lounge. 



  1. Add The Blue Hawaiians to your list of Bands who covered this track.

    1. Thanks for that! It's on their 1997 album Live At The Lava Lounge

  2. Hey Darryl, you're high, this song is great. There's a version by Jim Waller and The Deltas on KFWB's Battle of The Surfin Bands LP

    1. I know! I love it! I think though that the version that appears on all three of the Del-Fi Battle of the Surfin' Bands collections is the Sentinels recording:


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