Although Nitzsche had been involved in a number of top recordings as a songwriter, arranger, session musician, and producer, only one hit record bore his name as the artist – “The Lonely Surfer.” The production of this 1963 recording has a similar layering to Phil Spector’s famed “Wall of Sound”; that’s no coincidence, as Nitzsche was Spector’s understudy.
This instrumental is layered in the low end. The lead is a baritone guitar and key notes of the baritone’s runs are doubled on bass and piano. There are times when it is evident that two baritone guitar tracks are being used. Add strings and French horns and you come up with strange instrumentation for a record with a surfing connection. It doesn’t really quite make sense – but, I like it.
It really is like a combination of surf guitar, film score orchestration, and a spaghetti western arrangement meeting “The Lonely Bull.” Additionally, the French horn runs remind me of John Entwistle’s work on the “Overture from Tommy.” Perhaps Entwistle was inspired by this recording somewhat.
While “The Lonely Surfer” was not a colossal hit, it managed to squeeze into the Top 40 at #39 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and at #37 on Cashbox’s pop chart. From a historical perspective, it got Jack Nitzsche on the musical map and the rest is history. Just ask The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and others.