Fricke's Picks: Endless Summer

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The best measure of a great summertime record: how it sounds when fall comes around. The salt-air tang and drag-strip vavoom of the music that Los Angeles writer-producer Gary Usher made at the short height of the surf-rock and hot-rod eras — gathered on Barefoot Adventure, The 4 Star Sessions 1962-1966 (Sundazed) — have already survived a lifetime of seasons. At the time he cut these tracks under names like the Four Speeds and the Sunsets, Usher was also co-writing songs like "409" and the sublime "In My Room" with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and on his way to producing some of the Byrds' best albums, including 1968's The Notorious Byrd Brothers. These singles and demos are rougher fun and, yeah, a little corny. But Usher was a wizard with the limitations of beach-party pop, and the best of this set — including the not-quite-Beach Boy harmonies and clipped-treble jangle of "R.P.M." and "Cheater Slicks" by the Four Speeds and "C.C. Cinder" and "My Little Beach Bunny" by the Sunsets — is classic California innocence. Just as good yet never originally issued: the sun-kissed Ronettes sparkle of two 1964 tracks with the Honeys and the surf-splashed spin on garage rock in "Tied Down" and "Harder and Harder."

[From Issue 1066 — November 27, 2008]