Gidget Theme Song – The First Real Surf Song?

Who remembers this old classic tune from days gone by? The picture above is of James Darren, singer of the song, next to Sandra Dee, the star of the movie.

The theme song for the movie, “Gidget”, was released in 1959 and climbed as high as #41 on the U.S. charts.The song was composed by Fred Karger (pictured below) with lyrics written by Patti Washington, and it was sung by none other than James Darren, who appears as a star in the movie as a surfer named Moondoggie.
fred karger gidget theme song composer

Fred Karger

If you recall, during the opening credits of “Gidget”, the Four Preps sing their version of the song, and James Darren sings it later on-screen.  Here’s the Four Preps’ version of the song, chock full of those classic 4-part harmonies that once made songs so irresistible to music fans…

If you’ve never seen the movie Gidget, well – go see it!  What’s holding you back?  Here, we even have the trailer on hand for you, from back in 1959, featuring that “cuddling, befuddling teen”… 🙂

What’s that you say – no time for Gidget?  No time to watch this classic flick which helped to introduce the world to surfing (which was, incidentally, until this point in time in the 1950s, a little-known subculture?)?

If you don’t have time to watch this classic right now, or you’ve seen it a hundred times already, here’s the general plot.  We don’t think we’re telling tales out of school, revealing this plot to you at this point in time.

Plot of Gidget (1959 classic surf movie)


The movie is about a disenchanted girl named Frances who encounters a gang of surfers, who want to live the carefree life at the beach, which means no working 9-5 for them!  Free spirits, you might call them today.

Gidget – upon meeting Kahuna (the leader), Waikiki, Stinky, Lord Byron, Hotshot, Loverboy, and Moondoggie – becomes fascinated with their easy, breezy ways, and their surfing lifestyle, and decides she wants to take up surfing herself.

The surf gang give her a somewhat condescending nickname, which is a cross between “girl” and “midget” (Gidget), but, nonetheless, she slowly becomes more infatuated with the character, Moondoggie (who is played by James Darren, the singer of the Gidget theme song).  We won’t reveal the entire movie to you – you should watch it, or, if it has been a while – watch it again and relive the magic.  🙂
gidget theme song
“She’s the sweetheart of the beach generation” was the slogan for the movie Gidget, which has been deemed to be the single biggest influence on surfing, becoming a part of mainstream American culture in the 1960’s.  More than Beach Blanket Bingo?  Yep – that wasn’t for six more years.  More influential than the Beach Boys?  Gidget got there first – the Beach Boys didn’t release their hit Surfin’ until 1961.  Even Dick Dale’s classic Misirlou wasn’t out until 1962.

Gidget Theme Song – The First Real Surf Song?

Although it doesn’t sound much like a surf song, there is an argument to be made that the Gidget theme song is actually the very first surf song.  “How so?” you might ask.

gidget theme song

You might wonder how a song that has no reference at all to surfing can actually be a surf song in the first place?  Well, it can’t – at least not in terms of the music or the lyrics.  “What else is there besides music and/or lyrics?”

Exactly.  What else is there that point to Gidget being a surf song?  In order for it to be a surf song, it would have to have some of the characteristics of surf music.

Wet spring reverb – a guitar effect found on many classic surf songs – can be found on the famous Misirlou by Dick Dale.  We all can probably agree that if any song is synonymous with surfing, Misirlou by Dick Dale is the definite surf song.

When we think of waves rolling, surf crashing, and surfers getting up on their boards – many of us can hear Misirlou playing in the background, with its fast guitar picking and dramatic instrumental flair – although did you know that it originally came from Lebanese folk music, due to Dick Dale’s family background?

Here’s the original Misirlou, which dates back to 1927 and does not really bring to mind much surfing, does it?

And then there’s the famous Beach Boys.  The Beach Boys continually sang and recorded many, many songs about surfing.

Surfin’ was released in 1961, as we mentioned, and it was only the beginning of a great number of surf titled and themed songs by the Beach Boys.

Many of the songs that Brian wrote, were actually quite slow and contemplative, as opposed to trying to capture the drama and action of surfing, the way Dick Dale did.

For instance a song like Surfer Girl, which is a slow and beautiful song, but talks more about a romantic interest in someone than the actual act of surfing.  Other surf-themed songs the Beach Boys wrote seemed to be more lively (eg. Surfin’ Safari, Surfin’ USA) and more representative of life at the beach and surfing itself.

For instance, Surfin’ Safari is basically a call to action for surfers, with its lyrics: “Let’s go surfin’ now / everybody’s learnin’ how / come on a safari with me!”  Yes, they really were persistent about getting out there and surfing…

dennis wilson did any beach boys surf

Dennis Wilson – the only member of the Beach Boys who surfed

And they didn’t even surf!  Well, none of them except for Dennis – who was credited as carrying the spirit of surfing within him for the whole band.

This raises the question – why did the Beach Boys sing so much about surfing, but that is a topic for another post 🙂
To be fair, they are called the Beach Boys, not the Surf Boys – then it would have been really weird if none of them surfed, right?  As it stands, their band name makes no claims, except that they enjoy the beach.  Fair enough.  Although they did write *a lot* of songs about surfin’… Here’s that first hit, Surfin’, from back in 1961…

Whoa, we almost forgot about sweet little Gidget, didn’t we?  Getting back to Gidget, consider this: the theme song to the movie Gidget in 1959 was the song that introduced the movie that turned America on to the surf craze in the first place.  Shouldn’t that count for something?
gidget theme song surfing movie

Gidget and Kahuna

The question is, if this song was meant to be in a movie that is all about surfing, and it’s sung by one of the stars of the movie, why does the song not mention surfing at all?

Why didn’t lyric-writer Patti Washington include at least something about surfing in the lyrics to the song, since it is about the main character of a movie that apparently popularized surfing?  We don’t have all the answers here folks, but we bet that someone out there does.
The main point is, we think that Gidget should be credited as the first real surf song.  Maybe it doesn’t mention surfing in the lyrics, and maybe the style of the song isn’t actually “surf music”, but it is featured as the theme song in the movie that broke surfing in America.

Brian Wilson’s songs weren’t always about surfing, and even the ones that were explicitly about surfing were sometimes slow and ruminative, not to mention dark and moody – not exciting and dramatic like the act of surfing is.  Even Dick Dale’s Misirlou was taken from a slow non-surfing song that translates as “Egyptian Girl”.  We rest our case!
What do you think? 🙂

Whatever the case may be, here are the lyrics to Gidget, so you can sing along!

Gidget Theme Song Lyrics

(Songwriters – Fred Karger, Patti Washington)

She acts sorta teenage, just in-between age
Looks about four foot three
Although she’s just small fry, just about so-high
Gidget is the one for me

A regular tomboy but dressed for a prom
Boy, how cute can one girl be?
Although she’s not king-size, her finger is ring-size
Gidget is the one for me

If she says she loves you
You can bet your boots she loves you
If she says she hates you
That can also mean she loves you

It very well maybe she’s just a baby
Speaking romantically
If that’s a bad feature, I’ll be the teacher
Gidget is the one for me

She’s not much on glamor
And she should improve her grammar
Still, I sigh and stammer
And my heart beats like a little ole hammer

Strictly from Dixie, face like a pixie
Shorter than girls should be
The rest of the shipment standard equipment
Just a doll in dungarees
But Gidget is the one for me

About the author: Robert is a former teacher and travel buff, and has spent the last 30 years travelling to different parts of the world including all over North America, South America, Africa, and Europe.  He loves trying new cultural cuisine, zip-lining through the Amazon jungle, and his cat, Twyla-Mae.