Tuesday, May 20, 2008


A couple of months ago I heard a song. I was driving up Centinela/Bundy near the Santa Monica airport where at that perfect time of day you can see the sun setting over the Santa Monica mountains and the whole sky is that beautiful burnt orange color. In scanning the radio I had landed on LA's semi-oldies station, K-Earth 101, whose playlist consists humbly of "The greatest hits in earth." The song they played wasn't new by any means but it sounded amazing.

And damned if I didn't hear "Don't worry baby" for what felt like the first time.

Sure, I'd reheard "God Only Knows", "Wouldn't it be nice", Pet Sounds and of course always appreciated the studio wizardry of "Good Vibrations" and all that—it's not like I just discovered the Beach Boys. But I don't suppose I ever really,really realized what a phenomenal song "Don't worry baby" is. It was a b-side, after all. How it escaped me all these years, I don't know. I feel ashamed. I think the truth is Sunkist commercials and tv and movie soundtracks turned the Beach Boys into background music for a lot kids my age. "Kokomo" certainly didn't help.

But man alive, this one.

Here, listen to it. Or listen to it later, but do.

(note how Brian looks like 11 years old)

Those wave break drum beats in the opening, those warm breeze harmonies, Brian's falsetto, that woodie guitar solo and those lyrics. Worry instantly replaced by comfort.

I later googled it and found one of those "song essays" on McSweeney's that Simon French wrote. While creating a musical education for his 18 month-old son, Little Ed, he was somewhere in the "B's" when it happened:

"...so we're halfway through side one of the record when a song started that I had never really noticed before? "Don't Worry Baby." It originally appeared as the flipside to the "I Get Around" single in 1964 and is a lesser song from Brian Wilson's best pop year, which makes it twenty times better than most songs you'll ever hear. It has a great falsetto verse, where the singer complains that he's been bragging about his car and now he has to race some local hoodlums to prove he's not a complete pussy. Real adolescent whining, tone perfect. But then there's the chorus: he recounts how his girlfriend tells him "don't worry baby, everything will turn out all right." The phrasing is beautiful, flowing freely over the lush backing harmonies, which are mixed almost criminally low. The contrast between the pettiness of the verses and the calm reassurance of the chorus is staggering.

I'm lying on the floor playing with Little Ed, listening to this track, and tears come to my eyes. I can't believe it. It has been years since a song has moved me to tears by its sheer beauty. I am whisked back to a conversation that I had with a friend during those angst-ridden early twenties. It was about 2:30 a.m., and we were drinking whiskey, playing Tom Waits records, and bemoaning the pitiful state of our respective love lives. She described her ideal vision of love. "I want to fall asleep each night with someone stroking my hair and whispering, 'Don't worry, everything will be alright,' and to really believe it." I understood that longing, just as Brian Wilson obviously understood it."



Blogger ButtonHole said...

really beautiful post

5:24 PM  
Blogger minus five said...

i love this.


6:40 PM  

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