It's notable that the trailer ("preview") for the first film in the series screamed out "SIX SENSATIONAL SURFIN' HITS" and then spent over forty seconds of that precious promotional time showing cuts from every single one of them. In other words, right at the start AIP knew music was one of -- if not the -- major attractions of these movies. And this wasn't just "any" music - it was proprietary material written specifically for the films.
That may not seem like a big deal, until one thinks about where things are today. In post millenium Hollywood, movies aimed at teens don’t have original music. Soundtracks these days simply consist of a producer running out to grab a handful of the supposed hits du jour from whoever is getting airplay, and then using them as background pieces. It’s cheap, easy and hey, who really cares about soundtracks to begin with?
That's why it’s almost amazing to think back to a time when a low budget studio like AIP cared enough about soundtracks to actually pay professionals to write original material. Yet that is exactly what is going on in the Beach Party movies. And while much was forgettable, some of what was produced on the cheap back then was actually pretty darn good.
So let’s get down to brass tacks, or what I like to call Beach Party Music 101: the music one hears in any of these films basically falls into one of three categories:
Title Pieces (e.g. “Beach Party,” “Muscle Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach” etc.)
These usually but don’t always appear during the titles at the beginning of film (Annette didn’t perform “Pajama Party” until over ¾ of the way through the movie!). They're always upbeat and are usually sung by the major stars, ergo Frankie and/or Annette, occasionally by an ensemble. While these songs are what most people readily remember when one gets into the subject of Beach Party films, they aren’t the best material that came out of the series. Frankly, the high water mark in this category was probably “Beach Blanket Bingo,” which plays at the beginning of that film and also happens to be the most carefully edited/choreographed musical number in the entire series. It’s a whole little music video (one far more developed than any Scoptione of the same period), conceived and executed almost two decades prior to MTV.
Ballads (e.g. “Treat Him Nicely,” “Because You’re You,” “ It Only Hurts When I Cry,” etc.)
Solos or duets, usually but not always sung by major characters (both Donna Loren and Linda Evans got to do them as stand alone pieces in Beach Blanket Bingo). Within this group one finds the best material written for the films, some of which stand as fantastic examples of early and mid 60’s mainstream American pop. As example, I dare anyone to listen to Annette singing “Promise Me Anything” in Beach Party and not walk away feeling like they’re on summer vacation, albeit forty one years ago.
Dance numbers (e.g. “Swingin’ and Surfin’,” “Don’t Stop now,” “Secret Weapon”, etc.)
Wild dancing to fast, twangy music was a critical, core element of these films. It was also an area where the writers and directors had the most latitude, in terms of who sang and what was sung. These numbers could be performed by a star, a secondary character, the “house” band or even a “guest artist” musician like Stevie Wonder. The song could be a “written in five minutes” throwaway or an actual top 40 hit. What these pieces all had in common was that they were upbeat and had to involve having the entire Beach Party gang jumping up to dance, either on the beach, by a pool or in a club. While much of the music in this category was immediately forgettable, there were a few gems among the sand, the Hondell’s “Cycle Set” in Beach Blanket Bingo being one notable example. This area of the music also includes some great instrumental dance and background pieces, notably in Pajama Party and How To Stuff A Wild Bikini.
So, now that you understand Beach Party Music 101, we can enter the meat, heart and soul of this site - a detailed, piece by piece assessment of every musical number and performance that appeared in the seven films. Please note that the section on each movie consists of two sections:
- The actual review, commentary and assessment of the musical score
Suffice to say, what you're about to digest required lots of effort. Enjoy!!!