Joel Goldenberg: Jan and Dean Meet Batman

Jan and Dean circa late 1965.

Nineteen sixty-six was a heck of a year in rock and pop music — in fact, a whole book was written about this year's musical impact.

There was The Beatles' Revolver, which advanced psychedelic music; The Rolling Stones' Aftermath, the first album in which Mick Jagger and Keith Ricards' wrote all the songs (12 on the U.S. album, 14 on the original U.K. version); the Kinks' Face to Face; and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys says he was influenced in his producing skills by at least two major musical figures — Phil Spector, architect of the Wall of Sound; and Jan Berry of Jan and Dean.

Jan and Dean Torrence, who actually started recording before the Beach Boys but are frequently mixed up with them, were, in 1963 and 1964, mirror images of the Beach Boys with their own surf and car songs. The difference, at least in 1963, was that while the Beach Boys' songs were recorded in the studio by the Beach Boys themselves, Jan and Dean's songs were played by the group of musicians now known as the Wrecking Crew — great Los Angeles session musicians.

As a result, some of Jan and Dean's songs sounded more dynamic than those of the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson took the hint and began using the Wrecking Crew himself in a big way beginning in 1964.

By 1965, the Beach Boys were progressing production-wise, while Jan and Dean went off in some odd directions. Jan, who was uniquely a conservative in the 1960s, wrote songs mocking Vietnam war protesters, including a parody of Buffy Sainte-Marie's The Universal Soldier with his own The Universal Coward. Jan also wrote a rather bizarre (but very tuneful) song influenced by Dead Man's Curve, about a mother who dies in childbirth, called A Beginning From An End.

The guys also recorded some folk-rock, including cover versions of then current hits; and produced a bizarre live album overdubbed with wild sound effects, which was rejected by their record company, Liberty. That recording, Filet of Soul, was first partially released on their Legendary Masters 2-LP set in 1971, and then in its entirety a couple of years ago. A more conventional, partially live, album with the same name (Filet of Soul) was released in 1966.

By 1966, while the Beach Boys were about to come out with their landmark Pet Sounds, Jan and Dean were about to unleash their own magnum opus, except their album's attributes had little to do with music.

Jan and Dean Meet Batman was a take-off of the then-hot TV series of the Caped Crusaders, starring Adam West and Burt Ward.

The album is a mix of spoken-word comedy and music. Originally, the comedy bits directly referenced Batman and Robin, but DC Comics put a halt to that. And a good thing, too, those original comedy tracks are nowhere near as effective as what eventually came out.

Instead, Jan became Captain Jan and Dean became Dean the Boy Blunder. The result was a mix of straight goofy comedy and near-surrealism, and even includes a reference to the Beach Boys. Dean also engages in some delightful word transposition, as he did in the liner notes of some of Jan and Dean's albums. Some of their previous albums also included some comedy, including the very goofy track The Submarine Races.

Jan and Dean Meet Batman is an album where, uniquely, I ignore most of the music (much of it instrumental) and go straight to the comedy.

Jan and Dean might have gone even further out after this, but tragically, Jan was very badly injured in an April 1966 car accident that partially paralyzed him, led to brain damage and very much hindered his musical prowess.

Despite his limitations, and an inability to sing properly (other singers subbed for him), he still produced an entire album called Carnival of Sound, a not-bad entry into psychedelica. Unfortunately, the album was not released in its entirety until the 2000s.

In general, the potential lost here for some way-out albums was rather massive.

Next time: Magic Bus On Tour by The Who.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.