Minimalist Tiki

Skinny Jimmy’s Picks: The top 5 most sinister surf songs

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of special features on instro surf music by Skinny Jimmy Stingray, a guitarist and longtime fan of vintage instrumental rock. This and all of his future columns can be found here.

Skinny Jimmy Stingray performs with his band at Hulaween, The Mai-Kai's annual Halloween party, in October 2013. (Atomic Grog photo)

When the moon is bright and the shadows grow long, sounds that echo send a chill through the night. Nothing echoes quite as ghoulishly as the sound of a reverb-soaked electric guitar.

Let me strike a chord to remind you, the surf guitar world is full of sinister sounding musical creations. The nature of this music lends itself to a foreboding intensity. This has always been a part of my intrigue with instrumental surf guitar. The five songs featured here are only a sampling of a much larger banquet of spine-tingling offerings surf music provides.

1. Peter Lorre by Satan’s Pilgrims

As surf bands go, Satan’s Pilgrims is definitely one of the best out there and has been going strong since the early ’90s. It’s clear that the band is heavily into horror and sci-fi. Peter Lorre is one of my personal favorites. The riffs are ominous, but the music never gets too loud. The lovely, creepy Hammond organ provides the lifeblood that courses through the song. Give it a listen and you will feel what I mean.

2. Unknown by the Vy-Dels

Not much is known about the band but this 1965 song is awesome! Their use of reverb is vital, and the interplay between the lead and rhythm guitars is impeccable. I liked this song so much when I discovered it, I insisted on playing it with my band back in 2013 at The Mai-Kai for Hulaween. It turned out to be a good idea. The band’s obscurity does not undermine the impact of Unknown.

3. Magneto by Messer Chups

This Russian vampire surf band has completely mastered the eerie reverb-drenched guitar sound. I am more impressed every time I hear them. Magneto (2015) is fast, energetic and powerful. Even though they use a riff on the Twilight Zone theme, the song is original, endearing, and inspiring. The hypnotic effect draws the listener in with a pull that’s unstoppable.

4. The Evil Plans of Planet Spectra by Man or Astro-man?

Aside from being one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, Man or Astro-man? excels in the crazy, creepy sci-fi genre. This song takes you on a reckless ride through the cosmos. With the use of good hooks and half-step notes, The Evil Plans of Planet Spectra (1996) rivals even the sinister sounds of the great Black Sabbath. The impressive work of the drummer also contributes to this. The Alabama-based band has such a vast array of good stuff that it’s hard to choose favorites. For this list, I pick this one.

5. House on Haunted Hill by Kenny and the Fiends

This 1963 song was inspired by the 1959 William Castle film starring Vincent Price. It was released on the same label as, and immediately after, The Surfaris’ Wipe Out. House on Haunted Hill has a good spooky vibe and adds frightening cackles and shrill screams to set the right mood. As always, the use of dark minor keys is always important to the composition of “haunted” surf songs.

If you’re looking for spooky mood music for your Halloween shindig, these selections will make suitable additions. But, if you dig even deeper into the crypt of undead surf music, you’re sure to unearth many more worthy favorites.

Let us know your picks in the comments below.


Past Atomic Grog stories featuring Skinny Jimmy Stingray
* The Hukilau 2019 rewind: Photos and video from social media
* The Hukilau 2018 recap: Photos and video from social media
* ‘Boozy’ blog celebrates fifth anniversary with A Fifth of Grog at The Mai-Kai
* The Hukilau 2015 photo highlights
* Band of the Week: Skinny Jimmy Stingray
* Partygoers raise hell at The Mai-Kai’s fifth annual Hulaween
* Video clips guaranteed to get you in the Hulaween spirit
* Photos: Laramie Dean and Jimmy Dale in South Florida
* A Tiki Top 10: Photos and memories from The Hukilau 2013
* Photos: Dick Dale at Grand Central in Miami
* ‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party

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