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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The Ventures

Alive Five-0 Greatest Hits Live

Review by Gary Hill

Jimi Hendrix may have said, "May you never hear surf music again," but he wasn't really trashing on the musical style. He and a whole host of guitarists were actually influenced by the musical style. Certainly groups like The B-52's and the Cramps owe a lot to surf sounds, but so do more modern instrumental prog outits like Djam Karet. When it comes to surf music the two greats are certainly Dick Dale and the Ventures - unless you get into the Beach Boys form of surf music.

The Ventures are celebrating fifty years in the music business and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a look at this live set seems a good way to be a part of the festivities. Recorded between 1999 and 2002, this set showcases a lot of different Ventures sounds and styles. It's a great CD and would be an excellent introduction to the Ventures' sound for new listeners and a joy for long time fans.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Medley: Walk-Don’t Run, Rawhide, Shanghai’ed, Torquay, The Work Song, Mr. Moto, Comin’ Home Baby, Besame Mucho, Rap City, Green Hornet ‘66, Perfidia, Blue Moon
They open this medley with one of their best known tracks. After a rousing performance of this they move it out through a couple different numbers. For my money, the two cuts that follow "Walk Don't Run" aren't as effective as that track, but the thing is they still intersperse melodic phrases from the main hit into the other sections and keep returning to it as an everpresent theme to ground the whole medley. This is a cool piece and a nice intro to the disc.
Diamond Head
The echoey musical phrasings of "Diamond Head" lead off and we're quickly on another surfbound adventure. The surf is up on this Island territory and you can really visualize the boards in the water here.
Seaside Story
This is a slower sort of groove. It's got some cool melodies and is a nice, if less frantic, jam. It's kind of a cool down period.
Hokkaido Skies
An even slower mode makes up this track. The guitar cries and sings on this ballad-like number. This is both pretty and evocative.
This brings the pace up a bit more. It's also one of the better known tracks. The echoey little twang on the guitar is a bit dated in terms of sound, but on the other hand it lends a certain quirky charm. The whole thing harkens back to simpler times.
Reflections In A Palace Lake
This has a much slower take, but it's also perhaps a bit more in keeping with a more "song" sort of approach. It's a pretty balladic number that seems to be more in line with folk music. Still, The Ventures manage to weave their brand of surf guitar into the mix.
This one has a bit more of a raucous sound. Looking to this one it's easy to see that the Ventures have borrowed quite a bit from jazz over the years. It's also easy to note the country leanings of the music. This is an energetic little romp that's quite a lot of fun. We get a rather extensive drum solo on this one, too.That doesn't do much for me, personally, as I'm not a big fan of drum solos, but I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there who disagree with me.
Classical Gas
What can you say about "Classical Gas?" There was a time when this was overdone, but it's high time to dust this one off and give a new screening. The Ventures take the classic number and make it their own while still preserving the classical guitar motif.
Here we get another of the classic Ventures numbers. This one has a bit of a Native American approach within its surf motif. This feels a bit slower than I remember, though.
Calhoun Surf
This is a very short little dittie, that's effective, but seems to get lost a bit between two stronger numbers.
Medley: Walk-Don’t Run, Rawhide, Shanghai’ed, Torquay, The Work Song, Mr. Moto, Comin’ Home Baby, Besame Mucho, Rap City, Green Hornet ‘66, Perfidia, Blue Moon
At over seven minutes in length, they seem to put everything but the kitchen sink into this one. Still, this medley is more effective than the one that opened the set as the material included is just stronger. It seems like the band know that, too as they don't resort to utilizing "Walk-Don't Run" throughout as they did on that first medley.
The Cruel Sea
This one comes in with a bit harder edge. It shifts out to more typical Ventures territory. This is another strong cut and I like how the drums show off throughout the track.
This is another Ventures classic and it works quite well in this rendition. It seems a bit more sedate than some of the other versions I've heard, but there are some great melodic moments here.
Black Sand Beach
Here we get a fun rocker, a bit more energized than the piece that preceded it. We get some killer guitar work on this one and some nice drum fills, too. I like this one a lot.
Let's Go
We actually get vocals - in terms of shouted, "Let's go" repeated and a little, "oh, rock and roll." This is a bouncy and fun little dittie.
House of the Rising Sun
I've always loved this song in all of its various incarnations and The Ventures take on this classic is no exception. The guitar work here is purely on fire and this is one of the highlights of the whole set.
Wipe Out
This killer cut is classic surf music and it's a great rendition. It takes disc one out in high style.
Disc 2
Ghost Riders in the Sky
This country tune gets the Ventures treatment in fine fashion. It's always been an intriguing piece of music and this version certainly keeps it to its high standard. It's one of the highlights of the set.
A solid rock and roll cut, this is energetic and fun.
Maria Elena
A mellow sort of Spanish meets Caribean texture serves as the backdrop for this dittie. It's mellow and entertaining, but seems just a bit of a let down after the last two pieces.
Yellow Jacket
This is more like it, surf music meets 1950's rock and roll in this energetic cut. Not necessarily a highlight of the set, this is still a major step in the right direction after the "ho hum" of "Maria Elena."
Although this is rather slow and sedate, it's far from music for "Sleepwalking." It's a relaxing little jaunt along the beach.
The McCoy
I like this track, but it's not a standout. It's sort of a typical surf jam. Not one of the more hard rocking jams on the disc it still has some energy.
The Ninth Wave
This one works well, particularly in comparison to the tracks that came before. It's got a great low, twang sound to it. It has a rather spacey sound in some ways. Not quite a scorcher, there's a certain charm and power to it.
Drums lead things off here and the progression that rises up has a bit of a prog rock texture to it. This one has echoes of jazz and other sounds in the mix and it's one of the more intriguing tracks on show here. This might not be the most trademark "surf" cuts on the set, but it's one of the best. I like this a lot. Anyone who dismisses the Ventures as irrelevant should give this one a spin.
Magic Night
The more expressive and less limited texture continues with this cool number. This is another highlight of the set. Again, it's far from typical surf music, but there's enough of that sound here to keep fans of the genre enthralled. It's likely to pull in fans of other musical realms to its fold, though. It's a great groove.
Driving Guitars
This one lives up to its name with a more typical "guitars on fire" surf approach. It's a great one to have on when you hit the waves on your board. It brings a bit of that flavor to those of us in the landlocked parts of the world, too.
Hawaii Five-0
With a higher percussion presence, the Ventures bring a new life to this TV theme song. Come on, it's always been perfect cover tune fodder for the Venture's stylings. We get a bit of a drum solo on this number. We also get some killer guitar work.
Manchurian Beat
This has just a touch of disonance and mystery at times. It's not necessarily one of the best cuts here, but it certainly has its charms. It's also got a unique quality separating it from the other material on show. With an intriguing ethnic bent to it I like this one a lot.
Back into more typical surf sounds, this one has a lot of energy. It's a cool cut and a great inclusion here.
Bumble Bee Twist
We get a bouncy surf jam here that includes (as one might guess from the title) bits of "Flight of the Bumble Bee" in its course. It's another strong piece.
Surf Rider
This has a slower groove and really feels a lot like modern guitar driven instrumental prog at times. This is one of the cooler tracks on the set. I like it a lot.
Out of Limits
Another classic, this has always felt quite a bit like "Secret Agent Man" to me with a bit of "The Twilight Zone" in the midst. It's a scorching jam and one of the highlights of the album.
Walk-Don’t Run ‘64
A variant on "Walk-Don't Run," this is another strong piece of music. You just can't go wrong with that familiar melody.
Slaughter On 10th Avenue
This has more of a "song" structure than some of the other material from the band. I wouldn't consider it to be a highlight, but then again, it's not a throwaway tune, either. This has some playful moments in its midst.
Secret Agent Man
The classic TV theme, song, this is another number that I've always enjoyed in all its incarnations. The Ventures have always had one of the best takes on its sound and this recording is no exception. It's also one of only a couple songs that have vocals here, just the "Secret Agent Man" on the chorus, but it is vocals.
Keeping in the secret agent vein, here we get the James Bond classic theme song. The Ventures bring into the rock and roll vein in a great way. This song is really one of the highlights of the set. Of course at least part of that is due to the instantly recognizable melody. I really like the Ventures' version, though. It makes for a strong close to the disc.
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