Coming Back from Dead Man's Curve: Jan and Dean

The sometimes tragic history of these surf and hot-rod vocal pioneers

Jan and Dean at the height of their fame
The duo at the height of their fame. unknown

Who are Jan and Dean?

They were perhaps doomed to live in the shadow of their neighbors and contemporaries the Beach Boys, but Jan and Dean also played a large part in making Southern California's surf and hotrod music scenes into pop vocal for the masses. Even after the fad had passed, Jan Berry continued to follow an unconventional musical path... that is, until one of their songs came tragically to life.

Jan and Dean's' 10 best-known songs:

  • "Surf City"
  • "Dead Man's Curve"
  • "The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)"
  • "Sidewalk Surfin'"
  • "Baby Talk"
  • "Linda"
  • "The New Girl in School"
  • "Drag City"
  • "Honolulu Lulu"
  • "Popsicle"

Where you might have heard them Their music is dated in many ways, but so well-crafted and irresistibly catchy that their best-known songs have a permanent place on oldies radio. It recalls a very specific moment in history. That;s also their harmonies mingling with the Beach Boys throughout their classic 1965 album Beach Boys' Party!


1959 (Los Angeles, CA)

Styles Rock and roll, Surf vocal, Hot Rod vocal, Pop-rock, Folk rock, Doo-wop


Jan Berry (b. William Jan Berry, April 3, 1941, Los Angeles, CA; d. March 26, 2004, Los Angeles, CA): harmony vocals (bass), piano, production

Dean Ormsby Torrence (b. March 10, 1940, Los Angeles, CA): lead vocals (falsetto)

Claims to fame:

  • Along with the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, Jan Berry helped develop the sound of vocal "surf" and "hot rod" music
  • Berry was a major influence on Wilson's production
  • Bridged the vocal era of doo-wop and the Southern California sound
  • Employed the famous "Wrecking Crew" of L.A. session musicians
  • One of the first rock groups to incorporate classical arrangements
  • Torrance became one of rock's great graphic artists
  • Jan Berry's comeback after a near-fatal crash is one of pop music's most inspiring achievements

Early years:

Jan Berry and Dean Torrence first became friends on the football team at L.A.'s University High, but Dean's first success came with Arnie Ginsburg (not the Boston DJ); the duo scored a big doo-wop hit as Jan and Arnie with 1958's "Jennie Lee." That song, actually written about a stripper, gained Berry some friends in the business, including Herb Alpert and producer Lou Adler. Together with friend Torrence, who'd just returned from an Army stint, they developed a song called "Baby Talk."


It was also a smash, but it wasn't until 1963, with the release of the Four Seasons-inspired "Linda," that the Jan and Dean sound began to take shape. After meeting the Beach Boys on the L.A. scene, Jan befriended leader Brian Wilson, and the two began work on what would become "Surf City." Inspired by the local scene and Wilson's very recent hits, "Surfin'" and "Surfin' Safari" -- and benefiting from Berry's amazing self-taught production skills -- it went straight to Number One.

Later years:

The duo flourished well into the mid-Sixties, weathering even the British Invasion. But on April 12, 1966, Berry's Stingray slammed into a parked gardener's truck (not at the site mentioned in "Dead Man's Curve," despite legend), and Jan entered a decade-long nightmare of physical recovery, drug abuse, and depression. By the mid-Seventies, amazingly, Berry could perform almost at normal, and the duo began an amazing comeback that lasted well into the mid-Eighties. Berry passed away in 2004.

More about Jan and Dean

Jan and Dean facts and trivia:

  • Dean recorded a solo pro-war answer to "The Universal Solider" called "The Universal Coward"
  • Recorded a full-length album parody of the "Batman" craze in 1966
  • Set to star in their own "Route 66"-type TV show on ABC before Berry's crash
  • In addition to designing many album covers in the Seventies, Torrence co-created the logo for the band Chicago
  • Neil Young's "Tonight's The Night" references Jan's brother Bruce
  • Berry's '60s girlfriend, Jill Gibson, was in an early version of The Mamas and the Papas

Jan and Dean hit singles and albums:

#1 hits:

Pop "Surf City" (1963)

Top 10 hits

Pop "Baby Talk" (1959), "Drag City" (1964), "Dead Man's Curve" (1964), "The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)" (1964)

R&B "Surf City" (1963)

Notable covers As with a lot of surf artists, Jan and Dean's music was beloved by some subsets of punks, which is why the Ramones covered "Surf City" on their famous 1994 covers album Acid Eaters and why Blink 182, around the same time, took on "Dead Man's Curve." The original b-side of "Curve," called "The New Girl in School," was revisited by Box Tops/Big Star legend Alex Chilton on his 1995 solo album A Man Called Destruction. The Carpenters routinely included "Curve" in their live "oldies medley."

Movies and TV Both Jan and Dean appeared as judges in the short-lived Chuck Barris TV beauty pageant "Dream Girl of '67:; though they didn't star in it, the 1978 NBC smash biopic Deadman's Curve was an unflinching look at their pre and post-crash lives; the duo perform "Pasadena" in the legendary 1964 live concert film The T.A.M.I. Show