Jan & Dean, who along with the Beach Boys, were the top groups to sing surf music. Jan & Dean also were known as the clown princes of rock ‘n’ roll.
What do the singing duos Jan & Arnie and Jan & Dean, drummer Sandy Nelson, trumpeter Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the Beach Boys all have in common?
At first glance, absolutely nothing except all had Top 10 hits.
A deeper look, however, reveals that their careers were intertwined.
The list of rockers who were considered “one-hit wonders” is endless. Certainly Jan & Arnie belong on that list. They had a Top 10 hit in the spring of 1958 called “Jennie Lee.” The song was inspired by “Jennie Lee, the Bazoom Girl,” who was a burlesque performer in Los Angeles.
The duo evolved from a high school group called The Barons that consisted of five students from University High School in Los Angeles. The quintet played football and, after practice, harmonized in the shower.
Among the Barons were Dean Torrence, Jan Berry and Arnie Ginsburg. Sandy Nelson, Torrence’s neighbor, played drums for the group. Nelson later had a Top 5 instrumental hit in the fall of 1959 with “Teen Beat.”
Ginsburg wrote “Jennie Lee” as a tribute to the dancer, and Berry arranged the harmonies. After weeks of practice, the trio planned to record the song in Berry’s garage in Bel Air, Calif.
No, not in a fancy recording studio, but in a garage.
There was only one problem: Torrence was inducted into the army early in 1958.
So the trio became a duo as Berry and Ginsburg recorded “Jennie Lee” under the name Jan & Arnie.
Later in 1958, Jan & Arnie released “Gas Money” and “The Beat That Can’t Be Beat,” neither of which enjoyed a modicum of success.
Unhappy with the craziness of the music business, Ginsburg left the industry, enrolled in the University of Southern California and became a renowned architect. Ginsburg later developed a unique portable batting cage for which he received a patent in 1976.
About the time Ginsburg departed the music world, Torrence returned from his six-month hitch in the military and he formed Jan & Dean with Berry.
Aided by producers Herb Alpert and Lou Adler, Jan & Dean had their first Top 10 hit with “Baby Talk” in 1959.
Alpert, a superb trumpeter, later formed Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and had a plethora of Top 10 hits including “The Lonely Bull” in 1962, “A Taste of Honey” in 1965, “Zorba the Greek” in 1966, “This Guy’s in Love with You” in 1968 and “Rise” in 1979.
Playing local shows in the Los Angeles area, Jan & Dean met and became close friends with the Beach Boys.
Berry and Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson collaborated on at least 12 songs, much to the chagrin of Wilson’s father, Murray, who ordered his son to stop creating music with Berry. Murray also served as the Beach Boys’ domineering manager.
Fortunately for music lovers, the free-spirited Brian did not listen to his father.
Jan & Dean peaked during the span from 1963 to 1964 when they charted 16 songs. They totaled 26 from 1958 to 1966.
The duo had their biggest hit in 1963 when “Surf City” reached No. 1. Torrence and Wilson co-wrote the smash hit. Other Top 10 hits included “Drag City,” “Dead Man’s Curve” and “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” all in 1964.
Jan & Dean also had success with “Linda” in 1962 and “Honolulu Lulu” in 1963.
With Torrence singing lead for the Beach Boys, the surfin’ group reached No. 2 on the charts with “Barbara Ann” in 1966.
Jan & Dean’s music career virtually ended on April 12, 1966, when Berry suffered severe head injuries in an auto accident on Whittier Drive, a short distance from “Dead Man’s Curve” in Beverly Hills.
Berry was in a coma for two months, and he suffered brain damage and also paralysis on his right side. He had a limp, his right arm was virtually unusable and his speech was affected.
Jan and Dean next performed on a limited basis in 1976.
In 1978, ABC-TV aired a made-for-TV movie called “Dead Man’s Curve,” about the accident and the duo.