“Two girls for every boy!” went the immortal opening line from Jan and Dean’s “Surf City,” the song that reached the top of the U.S. pop charts on July 20, 1963. It was a claim that wasn’t actually supported by the facts, but it helped create a popular image of California as a paradise of sun and sand and endless summers.
To anyone with just a passing familiarity with 1960s pop music, “Surf City” might easily be mistaken for a Beach Boys record, though in fact, the Beach Boys had yet to have a #1 of their own when Jan and Dean scored theirs on this day in 1963. Still, “Surf City” owes its existence directly to the Beach Boys and their resident genius Brian Wilson.
High-school classmates Jan Berry and Dean Torrence earned a pair of minor hits while still in their teens, including one — “Baby Talk” (#10 1959)— that Beach Boy Mike Love would later credit as an inspiration for his group’s 1961 debut single, “Surfin’.” But by 1962, the direction of influence between the two groups had shifted. Jan and Dean’s doo-wop flavored sound was passing out of fashion, and when the duo met the Beach Boys while appearing on the same bill at a Los Angeles record hop, they heard the sound that would reinvigorate their career. They became good friends with the Beach Boys and with Brian Wilson in particular, and when they asked Wilson if they could record one of his songs, he declined to give Jan and Dean their first choice, the then-unrecorded “Surfin’ Safari,” but he did give them the instrumental track and opening line to “Surf City.”
In a year that also saw the debut of the Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon Beach Party movie franchise, “Surf City” became the first chart-topping surf song ever. Jan and Dean would go on to have four more significant surf hits in their career:: “Honolulu Lulu” (#11, 1963); “Drag City” (#10, 1963); “Dead Man’s Curve” (#8, 1964); and “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)” (#3, 1964).