Who wrote all this stuff?
Before we even get into that, someone must be mentioned, a man who more than anyone else contributed to the musical legacy of these films.
And that man is Les Baxter.
All the background music one hears in these movies was written and/or arranged by Baxter (the gent relaxing at home, right), but his contributions to the series go far, far beyond that.
He scored all these films, acting as the primary selector and arranger of everything you hear. Baxter was no B-movie hack; he was an accomplished, conservatory-trained composer who came to these films with a significant resume. After studying at the Detroit Conservatory and Pepperdine, he worked as a recording artist for Artie Shaw before becoming a composer and conductor at Capitol Records. There he became the father of "exotica," an early genre of world music that back in the 1950s fell into the niche of "creative easy listening." About the same time, he started playing around with the theremin, a crude, early version of the electronic musical synthesizer that preceded Robert Moog's later work.
Baxter's entry into film came about after he gained experience directing the music for various live radio programs, including that of Abbott and Costello. That led to film soundtrack contracts during the mid 1950s and 60s (he wrote over 100 during his career) which included his work with AIP and these films.
To Baxter's credit, all of the background music and much of the “original” material (vocal numbers composed by contracted writers) one hears in these movies are surprisingly well arranged and orchestrated, of much higher “production value” than one would have expected from a cheapo outfit like AIP. As example, listen to the background piece heard at the start of Bikini Beach. It’s a wonderful combination of twangy rhythm guitar backed up with Vegasy brass, carefully and thoughtfully tied to every element in the slapstick scenes that run during that silly pre-title sequence. It easily rivals anything the major studios were simultaneously putting into the soundtracks of Jerry Lewis or Natalie Wood comedies.
Baxter also had to arrange and position the singing pieces, no mean feat in a series that featured a continually changing stew of fading pop idols, competent instrumental musicians and rotating guest stars. Hate the way Avalon sings a dance number? Blame Baxter – the placing and arrangement of the number were probably his idea. Love the way Annette sings a ballad? Thank Baxter – he inevitably picked the piece and arranged it to work with her limited range.
Despite the fact Baxter worked on many "A" level productions, he never apologized for his efforts on these AIP movies. In fact, in a January 1995 interview, he joked that he "loved " his work on the Beach Party films because "I made more money off of those than I ever did QUO VADIS, you know. " Notably, when he died in 1996, his obituary in Variety -- after stating that during his career he scored over 250 television shows and movies -- mentioned only a few by name, but that short list included Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo and How To Stuff A Wild Bikini.
But there’s more to this legacy than Baxter, specifically, a core team of writers who pounded out material for years to keep these films going.
If any in particular stand out, it’s the team of Jerry Styner and Guy Hemric. They were both experienced writers who were contracted by Baxter to compose for the series right at the beginning and stayed with it through the full run, producing the overwhelming majority of the material (both good and bad) one hears in these movies. Their material improved with time, particularly their ballads. In fact, by the later part of the series, they were capable of making almost any female vocalist in the script sound good.
Also notable was the team of Gary Usher and Roger Christian. While still in their teens, they started writing music for the films while simultaneously appearing in them in non-speaking roles. Perhaps their main claim to fame is Muscle Bustle, a song they co-wrote with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys that appeared in the second film. Their work continued to appear in some of the later movies, again particularly if the piece required was an uptempo dance number.
Other contributors included Bob Marcucci and Roger Faith. Some of the surf and hot-rod related material that appears on Annette’s Beach Party LPs was authored and/or arranged by the famous Disney Sherman Brothers team.