Dick Dale's Surf Anthem Is Remake Of Traditional Greek Song

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Dick Dale & His Del-Tones— Surfers’ Choice (1962)(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The surf’s up in California (thanks to Hurricane Marie from Mexico) as 15-foot waves have been pounding beaches from Mexico to Malibu. I just heard Dick Dale‘s most famous surf song, “Misirlou” and was reminded that its roots lie far away from our local beaches.

This legendary tune originated as a traditional Mediterranean song from 1920s Greece. It may have even first performed in the late 19th century. The title “Misirlou” translates from both Turkish and Greek as “Egyptian Girl”. Over the years, both Turks and Greeks have claimed it. It even became popular at Jewish weddings.

According to an article on the Dinosaur Gardens website, the earliest known recording of it was done by Tetos Demetriades in 1927; a follow up record was made in New York 1930 by Greek bandleader Michalis Patrinos, who had just arrived in New York from Greece.

A few years later a musician named Nick Roubanis falsely claimed authorship, but it didn’t stop him from recording a big band hit in 1941, which launched a succession of versions by various artists. Some versions include: Esquivel And His Orchestra in 1959 (Strings Aflame), Martin Denny in 1960 (Exotic Percussion).

Yet, it was Dick Dale (born Richard Mansour into a Lebanese-American family) who had the biggest hit. The now-familiar melody with its catchy Stratocaster guitar intro by Dick Dale and His Del-Tones hit the airwaves in 1962 on the album, Surfer’s Choice. And, as before, other artists followed with their version of the song: The Beach Boys, The Ventures, Surfaris, and the Bobby Fuller Four. The Dick Dale version also won new fans when it was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction  and when it was sampled in The Black Eyed Peas’ 2005 song, “Pump It“.

This song is only played on one string of the guitar, then changes to another string for a higher pitch. This one string sound played by Dale combined with heavy reverb added a trademark to the sound of surf music. Dale also included the original Greek version of this song as a hidden track on his 1993 album, Tribal Thunder.

The traditional Greek version from 1927:

A live version performed by Dick Dale in 1963:

Here are some surf clips with the song and some modern hotdogging: