Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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100 Years, 100 Songs: #90. The Ventures – “Walk, Don’t Run”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 14, 2007

Walk walk walk walk, walk walk walk, but don’t ru-un, walk walk walk walk, walk walk walk, but don’t ever run…

For most people I imagine Surf Rock is still best associated with fun-in-the-sun type songs by The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and the Rivieras, among others–either that, or the sort of intense, in-your-face tracks by the Commanches and the Tornadoes that revitalized the genre on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. What I’m generally more about though, are the kind of surf rock songs that really get at the mystery of the ocean–songs that approximate the actual feeling of the beach. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never actually been surfing, and never have much fun in the sun myself, but that’s the shit I can better relate to.

Aside from maybe “Pipeline” by the Chantays, no song better personifies that strangeness of the deep dark blue better than The Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run“. A #2 hit in 1960–the age when songs without words still had significant commercial potential–“Walk, Don’t Run” just sounds like the beach to me, the waves of drums and bass crashing against the arid, sun-baked guitar riff. It doesn’t have the good time summertime vibes that most of the genre might be associated with, and frankly it’s shocking that a song this shadowy and off-kilter sounding could ever have been such a monster hit (though to be fair, this was the era that made a #1 out of “Telstar”). Needless to say, though, it’s aged much better than “Surf City” or “Surfin’ Safari” (or even the Surfaris’ immortal “Wipe Out”) ever could’ve hoped to.

Truth told, there’s really not that much to say about the greatness of “Walk, Don’t Run”. It’s an exceedingly simple song–just an intro, a main hook, a bridge and an outro, obviously with no lyrics to speak of, clocking in at just 2:06 total. But really it’s the little things that make this song so unique and memorable–the drum-roll intro, the way the song’s rhythm subtly breaks into a swingier pattern in the bridge, the tiny imperfections in the bass playing here and there, or the hazy guitar bend in the song’s final seconds. The whole thing feels weird and dark and inexplicable, and it makes me wish I was back in Hawaii (sadly, I did not discover The Ventures until years after my family vacationed there between my Junior and Senior year).

Something about it must’ve stuck in the consciousness of listeners of the time as well, as The Ventures sent it back to the top ten just four years later in the form of the re-recorded “Walk Don’t Run ’64” (one of the only songs to hit the top ten twice by the same artist in different versions). It’s a pretty cool new version–harsher and more skeletal than the relatively free-flowing original–but they’ll never top that original, as far as I’m concerned. It might not scream endless summer, but that just means that unlike some of the genre’s other classics, it’s actually listenable all year.

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