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The Score of Muscle Beach Party


House band in this film: primarily Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, with limited assistance from Candy Johnson’s Exciters Band.  Details on the lineup and history of the latter band can be found in the Candy Johnson and (the/her) Exciters page in the Performers section of this site.


Things kick off a little differently this time.  Annette Funicello (now Dee–Dee) and Frankie Avalon are rolling down the Pacific Coast highway on the way to the beach again, but this they’re followed closely by a truck loaded with Dick Dale, his Del-Tones and most of the gang.  They all join together to sing Surfers Holiday, a Dale authored number whose refrain melody borrows heavily from Freddie Cannon’s Palisades Park.  It’s notable as not only a decent opening song  - perhaps among the top two or three in the whole series – but also as the first true ensemble piece to appear.  While covers of this number appear on LPs from both Annette and Frankie, enjoy the film version, for it is much better than those other recordings.

After we are introduced to a group of pompous bodybuilders (who immediately disrupt the beach) and a female millionaire desperate for romance (and her frantic business manager, played by Buddy Hackett in comparatively rare unamusing mode) we need a break, which is an excuse for some music.  What we actually get is one of the silliest “musical” sequences of the series.


It starts with Candy Johnson’s band the Exciters, looking somewhat uncomfortable as they plunk away in the sand (this group was used to hot, brightly lighted stages in Las Vegas and Palm Spings, not a cold, overcast beach in December).  As they play some unknown, generically twangy upbeat piece in the background, the camera focuses on the gang dancing.  We then add Dick Dale running around with -- but not playing -- his Fender Stratocaster; I guess William Asher felt the audience had to be reminded Dick was a musician, or perhaps Dale insisted, whatever.  The whole thing is then topped with a long Candy Johnson dancing segment (left; her biggest of the series, in fact).  After Candy knocks down just about every surfer in the water, she finishes up by simultaneously knocking out every male in the gang.  


After the sun falls, the script starts getting negative.  Sitting by a romantic beachfront campfire, Dee-Dee and Frankie have a spat over his superficial wanderlust, which leads Frankie to tell Dee-Dee off.  He then grabs a torch (a piece of burning wood from the fire) and storms off with his surfboard.  As he angrily paddles out under the moon, Annette has misgivings about her treatment of Frankie as she sings the ballad A Boy Needs A Girl.  It’s a quiet, reflective piece, just Annette and a muted jazz guitar as background, with nice camerawork of her under the firelight.  This could have been a beautiful, sensitive musical sequence, but it isn’t; the doubletracking and echo applied to Annette’s vocal is seriously overdone, which makes her and the song sound canned and artificial.  That’s unfortunate, because it’s one of the few ballads written for these films that had not only a nice melody but also comparatively intelligent lyrics.  

The segment continues after Frankie finishes his surfing, comes out of the water and parks his board in a grotto to have a cigarette (keep in mind this is                     "Love villianess" Paluzzi                 early 1964; the Surgeon General’s report on smoking is still a year away.                                                                            Notably, after it came out there was no more smoking – other than by villain characters  -- in these movies.)  He proceeds to sing his own version of A Boy Needs A Girl, an ambiguously “reversed” version of Dee-Dees ballad (it isn’t clear if he’s regretful or not).  His execution here is very good, perhaps among his best of all the ballads he did in these movies.  That’s because the song plays to Avalon’s core style, benefits from the night time setting, has a slightly different accompaniment (more acoustic-sounding guitar) and isn’t ruined by audio over-processing the way Annette’s was. 


He also has an audience here in the form of “Julie,” the romantically-challenged-eurotrash-millionaire-heiress-whatever played by Italian import Luciana Paluzzi (above).  After he finishes singing, she engages Frankie in flirtatious discussion and a kiss, which leads to a loud, ugly confrontation when Dee-Dee suddenly arrives.  During it, she, Frankie and Julie – two of Asher’s “nice” kids and an overseas tart  -- all demonstrate their extensive vocabulary of nasty insults and put-downs. What fun. 

Later, we have the longest musical sequence of any of these movies.  Five – count ‘em, five – songs are packed one-on-top-of-another in an extended scene at Big Daddy’s.  On the surface, one might presume this was an attempt to hold an impressive mid-movie mini-concert, but actually, it’s more the music scorer desperately trying to find a home in the script for a bunch of unrelated material of highly varying quality. 

    Annette graduates to a two-piece in the second film        The “show” starts with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones playing My                                                                                                    First Love, a rare moderate tempo love ballad, which I’d love to tell you more about, except that most of it is covered up by Frankie and Dee Dee shooting lines back and forth at each other.  Suddenly, in mid-lyric, Dick and the band switch to the presumed title number Muscle Beach Party.  In a great example of how a movie music pro like Baxter could diplomatically dispense with a weak and forgettable song, Dick and his group keep playing the supposed title piece, albeit they and it are intentionally buried under discussion between various characters (Julie, her manager, Frankie, Dee-Dee, Cappy, etc.)  That’s actually merciful treatment, since it spares the audience of having to pay attention to the boring melody and brain dead lyrics of this truly unmemorable song, one of -- if not the -- worst of the whole series.  

Suddenly, Candy Johnson – dressed in flaming orange -- appears and briefly starts doing her thing again.  As she throws men all around the club, some generic Baxter jazzy piece plays in the background.   Dick Dale and his group briefly then take over (playing another unnamed piece, we’re now up to four musical numbers in less than three minutes).  They stop when Julie drops in on Dee-Dee and Frankie, starting another bickering session, which results in Dee-Dee stomping off…temporarily.   

But things aren’t over yet.  Frankie Avalon jumps up to do his second number in the film, this time the upbeat dance piece Runnin’ Wild, which he does a much better job with than his previous similar effort (“Don’t Stop Now in Beach Party).  While the song is nothing special, this time Avalon almost succeeds in coming across as a rocker.  The schemata of the two numbers is basically the same, however; Frankie is flirting with girls as he sings (again), which gets Dee-Dee annoyed (again), which is yet another excuse for the two to get angry at each other (again), which by now is really getting tired. 

After a truly angry Annette gets tough with Julie, with one of the more classically dated lines of the era (“you start peddling your pasta somewhere else right now, because if you don’t, I’m going to send you into orbit with a blastoff that will make Friendship 7 look like a wet firecracker”), the musclemen show up, and the inevitable confrontation results.   

Shortly thereafter, we’re back at the gang’s beach house at night.  Just to re-emphasize the core element of the Beach Party theme (which is “nice” kids having “wild” fun) as well to reinforce the storyline focus (the gang’s unwillingness to bend to the weightlifters next door), we are treated to a riotous dance number: Dick Dale and the Del-Tones are performing Muscle Bustle, along with a new guest singer, Donna Loren. 

The legend regarding this Loren debut is that it wasn't originally planned.  Supposedly, the Dr. Pepper soda company (which had invested in the production in return for product placement) "lent" their increasingly popular teen spokesgirl Donna for a gag cameo in the script (she was going to be abruptly thrown into a scene, shown chugging down a Dr Pepper, or something to that effect).  Per the legend, the producers/directors heard Donna sing, saw the light and in mid-production wrote her into this musical sequence.

Now, many synopses of this film make a big, big deal out of that debut, which frankly amuses me; Donna is seen briefly here at best, in fact her entire time on screen clocks in at about 27 seconds.  However, during that snapshot she’s attractive and tuneful, to the degree that she got invited back for a solo number in the next film, which I guess is why the debut is seen as so important.  As for the blaring song, it’s O.K. – nothing to write home about -- but is notable not just as Donna’s debut, but also as the sole Beach Party movie song that had any Beach Boys input: Brian Wilson helped author it, along with Gary Usher and Roger Christian (some sources erroneously credit Wilson as the sole writer). 

We then abruptly cut to Dick Dale leading the gang in some sort of “surfing-woody-with-the-boards-in-back” group sing as they sit on the beach, when they are interrupted by Frankie.  Yet more bickering results (which by now has lost any dramatic or comedic interest). 


Suddenly, we’re again back at Big Daddy’s, with our special guest artist, Little Stevie Wonder (with Frankie Avalon, right).  Now, one either likes the early Stevie Wonder or they don’t.  Frankly, I’m neutral, I think he – like fine wine – improved with age, so I can take or leave his early Motown product.  Interestingly, the then thirteen13 year old is introduced completely straight here (no gimmicks, no jokes, just “little Stevie Wonder,”) and performs Happy Feeling  “just like the record,” except he’s backed by Dick Dale’s band.   The sight of him grinning away while Candy Johnson squirms in front of him is interesting, to say the least. Somebody must have enjoyed all this, since Wonder got invited back for a repeat appearance in the next movie. 

Frankie then walks in, apologizes to Dee Dee publicly, and it’s “happy ending” time. 

Or is it?  Oh, no - the bodybuilders show up again.  The proverbial nonsensical barroom brawl results (there’s almost always such a fight at the end of these movies, usually against the Von Zipper gang, but since they’re absent – and sorely missed -- this time around, the musclemen will have to do).   Just to add to the excitement, Dick Dale and the Dell Tones start playing (another unnamed piece) so Candy Johnson can be used as a weapon.  Peter Lorre (another stock “over the hill” AIP player who the studio used heavily for cameos) shows up at the end and puts a merciful end to this painful waste of celluloid. 

The closing credits start with a reprise of various songs from the film (Running Wild, A Boy Needs A Girl, My First Love, Muscle Bustle), then change to Stevie Wonder doing Happy Street (sometimes at the drums), with Candy Johnson again wiggling along.  She even fractures the camera lens at the end.

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