Jan and Dean were riding high in 1965. The surf-rock duo was slated to star in a Hollywood film. They had shot a television pilot for ABC, and were preparing to move on from their longtime home of Liberty Records for greener pastures. Standing in the way of their split from Liberty, however, was one last contractually-required album. Berry and Torrence had no intention of giving the label any new material, and didn’t want to turn over any live recordings of their hit songs, either. They decided to record a couple of nights in December ’65 at Los Angeles’ Hullabaloo Club and then rework the recordings in the studio with a heaping helping of what Torrence today describes as “over-the-top zaniness.” The result was Filet of Soul – not the eventual album that Liberty released following Jan Berry’s debilitating car crash of April 12, 1966, but rather the original record fusing comedy and music that the label’s brass turned down. The whole bizarre story of Filet can now be told with Omnivore’s release of Filet of Soul: The Rejected Master Recordings – and the surf has never been wilder!
Dean Torrence serves as narrator of the proceedings via his wonderfully tongue-in-cheek liner notes. Per Torrence today, it’s no surprise that Liberty rejected the record. He describes the live recordings as “average at best,” admits that “as we edited, we realized that we would much rather hear every band member be introduced than another lame song,” and that “once the tape was rolling, all hell broke loose [as] Jan and I tried to out-bizarre each other.” The resulting LP, now being issued for the very first time, was an anarchic sonic collage that more than anything else recalls a lighter version of Frank Zappa’s early musical deconstructions.
Comedy had, of course, always been a part of Jan and Dean’s onstage act, and sometimes on records as well, such as the spoken-word/musical mélange Jan and Dean Meet Batman. But the loopy quality of Meet Batman was dialed up (more than) a notch on this Filet. The “lame” songs recorded at The Hullabaloo (and a couple tracks from an earlier show at the San Diego Civic Center) were interspersed with coughing jags, flatulence, bizarre comedy skits, funny voices, breaking glass, and further sonic embellishments.
This was no standard live album, such as the pair’s own Command Performance. One of the album’s bona fide Jan and Dean hits, “Dead Man’s Curve,” is interrupted by fits of coughing and laughter, the tape being sped up, and so on. “Honolulu Lulu” is hardly treated with reverence. The intentionally lengthy band introductions referred to by Dean take up more time than the songs themselves, despite the fact that the world-class musicians (The Wrecking Crew’s Don Peake, Tommy Tedesco, Gary Coleman, Ray Pohlman, and Hal Blaine – described as “the world’s most famous drummer”) take a backseat to the lunacy.
The three Beatles covers on Filet of Soul (two from its title inspiration, Rubber Soul) were eventually included on the “completed” album assembled by Liberty following Jan and Dean’s departure. The Fab selections were, per Dean, included when “we concluded that we needed to put as many Beatles songs as we could on Filet of Soul if we hoped to sell squat.” Hence, a relatively straight reading of “Michelle” is followed by a rousing “[I Wish I Were In] Dixie” (!), and The Wrecking Crew musters as much brassy energy as possible for “Norwegian Wood” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” Goofier yet are the album’s other covers including absurdist takes on Lou Christie’s “Lightnin’ Strikes” and Len Barry’s “1-2-3,” not to mention repeated attempts at the introduction to The Four Seasons’ hit “Let’s Hang On.” (All of these tracks were featured on Liberty’s assembly of Filet in very different form.)
One quality that comes through loud and clear on Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings is the affection and camaraderie between Jan and Dean – an aspect that doesn’t come through on the straightforward reworking by Liberty which became, in Torrence’s words, “just a record full of mostly lame songs” as the comedy, sound effects, and lengthy band introductions were stripped. Redux is a chaotic and occasionally trying listen, but rarely less than an interesting one, from two of pop’s clown princes. Remarkably, it was an ahead-of-its-time collection that may not have satisfied those looking for the polished productions of “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Sidewalk Surfin'” or “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” but just might have been an underground classic in the making.
Torrence’s notes are supplemented by David Beard’s fine essay filled with historical context for the period; both are contained in the colorful 16-page booklet designed by Torrence (an accomplished, Grammy Award-winning artist responsible for The Beach Boys’ logo and much more in his distinguished career) and Omnivore’s Greg Allen. Torrence has happily incorporated many of the art elements originally intended for the album. Michael Graves has beautifully remastered from the sole surviving acetate that exists of this iteration of the album, and the mono sound is full and vivid. (The original, off-color, handwritten label for that acetate has also been replicated.) Omnivore and producer Brad Rosenberger are to be commended for seeing that Torrence and the late Berry’s originally-intended, extraordinarily offbeat Filet has truly been served well done.