Lex Neon on Jan Berry (Jan and Dean)

The music of Jan and Dean looms large in the ancient musical memories of Lex, who talks about the influence of Jan Berry, who’s birthday we celebrate on April 3.

A while back, I was having lunch with my friend Jeff Celentano of Las Vegas pop gods Tripsitter. He told me that he and the band were about to record a Jan and Dean song as part of a tribute project. I immediately said, “The Anaheim, Asusa, and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association.” He gave me a surprising glance and laughed out loud. Something tells me he’d know that I would go for a “semi obscure” gem instead of an obvious hit.

I later listened to the Tripsitter version after it was completed and placed on a very cool Jan and Dean Tribute MySpace Page. I listened to the song over and over again, grinning from ear to ear (and yes, Jeff; I was jealous as hell). “Anaheim” was a song that I secretly dreamt of covering for a Poppermost “favorite oldies” project down the line. The Tripsitter vocals shimmered and accentuated the strange syncopation of the melodies perfectly. It’s a great tribute, not only to one of my favorite L.A. pop acts, but also one of the all-time underrated producers of the 60s in Jan Berry.

When I was four years old, I got my first phonograph. My uncle Kenny gave me a box of 45 RPM single records that had done their “tour of duty” the previous decade. Among these 45s were two by Jan and Dean; “Sidewalk Surfin’,” and “The Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association.” I became hooked on “Anaheim.” It was fun for me to listen to this record over and over again. So, I did. It’s still my favorite Jan and Dean track of all time (and I still prefer the mono mix).

A few years on, I would discover a Jan and Dean album called The Little Old Lady From Pasadena in the family music library. It contained the two aforementioned songs, plus other songs that would stay in my mind for years to follow. Ever hear “Horace, The Swinging School Bus Driver?” Excellent slice of cool mid 60s L.A. pop, with a wicked brass section (and automobile horn honking). There is also “One Piece Topless Bathing Suit” (which I read as a poem in the fifth grade) with shimmering background vocals complete with that damned maniacal laughing.

The album also contained more moody pieces in “It’s As Easy as 1,2, 3” and “When It’s Over.” I identified with the “Easy” – my family had just moved from one house to another. I changed schools, leaving behind my friends and a girl who I really liked. “When It’s Over” is a pretty startling piece of music. The somber, murky tone of the cello paints a dark color against the acoustic guitars and reedy English horn. It sounds like loneliness. Jan’s double tracked vocal had me on the edge of my seat every time his voice sang the middle 8:

I can barely think ahead
To find out what will be
I can’t imagine what tomorrow will see
Please don’t leave me . . .

For you fellow vinyl junkies, “When It’s Over” was also the original B-side of “Sidewalk Surfin’.” If you get the chance to hear this one, take it. It will melt your butter.

During this renewed interest in Jan and Dean, I saw a television docu-drama on the two called Dead Man’s Curve. Turns out that they, like me, were from southern California. Dean went to USC, right down the street from the new family house! Jan went to UCLA, which is where I wanted to go to school when I got older. I also learned of the tragic ’66 car crash that almost took Jan’s life, and the aftermath. It was inspiring, and in the middle of the annoying “Disco Summer” of ’78, I became a proud Jan and Dean head!

Happy birthday, Jan. Here’s to you, your music, and your spirit.

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)

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~ by Poppermost on September 6, 2008.

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