What follows here is Part 2 of a longer companion article that explores the Beach Boys’ early music and their history. This piece focuses on six of their songs from the 1963-1966 period. The full versions of all six songs, in MP3 format, are offered below in self-contained music players. They provide good examples of the Beach Boys’ early sound, featuring exceptional harmonies and good production values. The songs also serve as historical windows into the Beach Boys’ talents and biography during the 1963-1966 period. Subjectively selected, these six songs are meant as a Beach Boys’ sampler, and readers are encouraged to visit Part 1 of this article for further background and introduction, and also to explore Beach Boys’ music beyond these six offerings.According to Billboard, in terms of single and album sales, the Beach Boys are among the top-selling American bands of all time. Worldwide they have sold an estimated 70 million records (an estimate that is likely on the low side). Between 1961 and 1988, they turned out thirty-six Top 40 hits, more than any other U.S. rock band. They also produced 56 songs that charted in the Top 100. Four of their songs were No. 1 hit singles.
Rolling Stone placed the Beach Boys at No.12 on the magazine’s 2004 listing of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” New compilations of Beach Boys’ music have appeared as recently as 2009. Currently on Amazon.com there are more than 100 offerings of various Beach Boys’ recordings.
Here below, are six of their songs from the 1963-1966 period: “In My Room” (1963), “Don’t Worry Baby” (1964), “All Summer Long” (1964), “When I Grow Up” (1964), “The Warmth of The Sun” (1964), and “God Only Knows” (1966).
“In My Room”
In the 1950s and 1960s, high school kids of that day, if they were fortunate enough to have a bedroom of their own, regarded it as their sanctuary and private place. Brian Wilson knew that experience vividly for himself and his brothers, and was able to communicate the “special place” sentiment of that private quarter for millions of other kids at the time.
“I had a room, and I thought of it as my kingdom,” Brian would later say. “And I wrote that song, very definitely [with the feeling] that you’re not afraid when you’re in your room. It’s absolutely true.” Later in 1990, Brian told another story related to this song and how the Beach Boys’ Wilson brothers learned their craft, in part, in their bedroom: “…When Dennis, Carl and I lived in Hawthorne as kids, we all slept in the same room. One night I sang the song ‘Ivory Tower’ to them and they liked it. Then a couple of weeks later, I proceeded to teach them both how to sing the harmony parts to it. It took them a little while, but they finally learned it. We then sang this song night after night. It brought peace to us. When we recorded ‘In My Room’, there was just Dennis, Carl and me on the first verse…and we sounded just like we did in our bedroom all those nights…”“In My Room” was released as a single in October 1963 and remained on the Billboard Top 100 chart for eleven weeks, peaking at No. 23, although some charts and city surveys placed it higher. United Press International (UPI) had a weekly music survey in those days, which ranked it a No.17. In Boston and Seattle “In My Room” went to No. 1; in San Francisco, No. 2. It also reached the Top Ten in several other cities, including Washington, DC, Houston, Texas, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Columbus, Ohio. Singer David Crosby — no slouch when it comes to good harmony himself, and who performed memorably with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — is an admirer of this Beach Boys song. “‘In My Room’ was the defining point for me,” Crosby explained to one reporter. “When I heard it, I thought: ‘I give up; I can’t do that, I’ll never be able to do that’.” Rolling Stone magazine named the song No. 209 on its November 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Rock n Roll Songs of All-Time.”
“Don’t Worry Baby”
In early 1964, the Beach Boys were having a pretty good year. This was an exceptional time for rock music generally. A prolific period of terrific “girl group” songs had just gone by — a genre that was still going strong with Martha and Vandellas and the Supremes. It was also a peak time for the Beatles’ rise in America — the British group that would dominate the charts in 1964. But the Beach Boys held their own in this period and then some as they turned out several songs that had exceptional harmonies, novel arrange- ment, and excellent production. Among these was “Don’t Worry Baby.”
“Don’t Worry Baby”-1964
Brian Wilson had always been quite taken with the “wall-of-sound” production techniques of early 1960s studio whiz Phil Spector. Wilson was especially enamored of the sound Spector was getting on some of his “girl group” songs, such as “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, which Wilson played incessantly when it first came out in 1963. According to some accounts, Wilson had written “Don’t Worry Baby” partly in answer to that song, and had in fact gone to Spector’s production studio in L.A. offering the song as a response to “Be My Baby.” Spector did not accept the song, to the good fortune of history and the Beach Boys.
Among other credits, “Don’t Worry Baby” is said to have influenced John Lennon’s 1980 hit, “(Just Like) Starting Over,” and is also used prominently in the 2006 film thriller, Déjà Vu. “Don’t Worry Baby” is listed among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” It was also ranked 176th by Rolling Stone magazine in its November 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
“All Summer Long”
In the U.K., the song was later released as a single in February 1965, but did not become a top hit there. Even in the U.S., apart from being on the album, the song did not become that well known, making it perhaps one of the more neglected Beach Boys’ songs of that era, yet still among their best work. One noteworthy fan of the song is film-maker George Lucas, who gave it some notice when he used it as background music over the end credits of his 1973 film, American Graffiti, his ode to the happy days of early 1960s’ rock ‘n roll.In a review of this song for AllMusic.com, Donald A. Guarisco found it to be one of the classic examples of “sunshine pop” and of Brian Wilson helping to create the California Myth — “an idyllic dream world of sun, surf, and fun that created a potent mental escape hatch for many listeners.” The lyrics of “All Summer Long” tell a story of a happy summer of sharing between a guy and his girl. Yet the lyrics seem almost secondary to the song’s smooth musical power, its upbeat tone, and a kind of “take-you-away” easy listening. The harmonies are outstanding, and the buoyant instrumentation includes piano and some perfectly positioned xylophone. The All Summer Long album hit No. 4 on the Billboard charts and had a 49-week stay there. This also occurred during the peak of the “British invasion” of U.S. pop music.
“When I Grow Up”
“When I Grow Up” was released as a single on August 24th, 1964 with “She Knows Me Too Well” on the B side. It rose to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 7 on the Cash Box list. It also spent two weeks at No 1. on Canada’s national RPM chart (i.e., RPM Magazine, “Records, Promotion, Music”). The song was also released on the group’s 1965 album, The Beach Boys Today! This song was rarely performed live by the Beach Boys. However, on their first British tour in 1964 they did perform it, as well as “I Get Around,” on their first U.K. television appearance on the show, Ready Steady Go.
“When I Grow Up”-1964
“When I Grow Up” is one of those Beach Boys songs in which Brian Wilson takes on some of his own and his teen audience’s psychological concerns — namely facing adulthood and grow- ing up. It is a simple song about a young teen thinking about what he’ll be like in the years ahead as he grows older, with a background refrain of the boys in chorus counting off the ascending years — credited as an “effective hook” by All Music reviewer Matthew Greenwald. Greenwald also adds that the song is: “Buttressed by a fine series of harpsichord runs — clearly thought of during the songwriting and not the arranging process — an early example of Brian Wilson thinking about arrangements during the song’s construction.” This song was a precursor of things to come in Wilson’s later arranging of more complex Beach Boys’ music. In recent years, “When I Grow Up” has also been used in the opening credits of the cable TV show, Men of Certain Age, a U.S. comedy-drama about three best friends in their late forties dealing with the realities of middle age. The show, which premiered on TNT in early December 2009, stars Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula.
“The Warmth of the Sun”
“The Warmth of the Sun”-1964
Although it is commonly reported that “The Warmth of The Sun” was written on the evening of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and was inspired, at least partly by that tragic event, it appears there is somewhat more context to the song’s origins and writing. Mike Love and Brian Wilson had begun working on the song before November 22, 1963, and both had been involved in love relationships that had soured — personal experiences which appear to have figured into the song’s phrasing and its central message.Brian Wilson at that time had just broken up with his first serious girlfriend. And Mike Love had also noted in one account of writing the lyrics from the perspective of a changed relationship: “Yes, things have changed and love is no longer there, but the memory of it is like the warmth of the sun…” It has also been reported that Brian and Mike worked on the song together late into the night of November 22, 1963, at the El Dorado Hotel in Sacramento, after they had performed earlier that day in Northern California. Brian Wilson has stated in liner notes elsewhere of writing the song, along with Mike, “in honor of President John F. Kennedy.” The song may well have been dedicated to JFK, or offered in his honor, but its content is about being at peace after losing, and learning from, a love relationship. An article at Forgotten Hits.com explores the writing of this song in more detail. “The Warmth of the Sun” was recorded in January 1964.
The Beach Boys’ “The Warmth of the Sun” is also featured on the film soundtrack for Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), starring Robin Williams, a soundtrack which also includes two other Beach Boys songs, “I Get Around” and “Don’t Worry, Baby”.
“God Only Knows”
Musically, the song — coming from the Pet Sounds oeuvre — is more technically sophisticated than much of the earlier Beach Boys’ work, or that of other pop groups in the mid-1960s. The song has a complicated melodic structure and layered vocal harmonies which some have described as “brilliantly arranged.” In producing the song, Brian Wilson also used instruments not typically used in rock compositions, including the harpsichord and French horns, heard in the introduction.
Wilson also took other risks with this song, as it was one of the first to use the word “God” in its title. There were fears at the time — 1966 — that using such a title would hurt the song’s radio airplay and that it would also bring religious group protest, some of which did occur. On the other hand, there were also concerns that given the song’s religious-sounding title, the hipper kids of that day might reject “God Only Knows” as “too square.”Laura Barton, writing about the song years later for The Guardian newspaper of London in 2009, observed that the use of “God” was perfectly appropriate, given “the jump into the unknown required to fall in love” in the first place. It echoes “the leap of faith necessary to believe in God,” she wrote. And other lyrics in the song, she added, also cite “godly creations: the stars above,” “the world that turns,” and that “life that goes on” — all affirmations of faith and belief at some level.
The song’s biggest fans, in turns out, are other musicians. Former Beatle Paul McCartney has called it one of the greatest songs ever. Jimmy Webb, an American pop music composer known for songs such as: “Up, Up and Away”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston” and “MacArthur Park,” is also a fan of this song, calling it “a bow to the baroque that goes all the way back to 1740 and J.S. Bach.” Webb adds that the song represents “the whole tradition of liturgical music that I feel is a spiritual part of Brian’s music. And Carl’s singing is pretty much at its pinnacle — as good as it ever got.” One TV use of “God Only Knows” as background music riled up at least one fan who charged “manipu- lation” and “rape” of the song’s brilliance.Bono, the frontman for the Irish rock band U2, spoke in praise of the song’s string arrangement during Brian Wilson’s October 2006 induction into the U.K. Music Hall of Fame, calling that part of the song “fact and proof of angels.”
“God Only Knows” — a popular selection for weddings — has also found its way into contemporary film and television. It is heard, for example, near the end of the 2003 British romantic comedy Love Actually, a film about the different aspects of love as shown through ten separate stories starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson and others. The song has also been used in films with Christian themes, such the 2004 TV drama Saved. During 2006-2009, the song was used as the primary theme song for Big Love, the American TV drama on HBO (Tom Hanks, executive producer) — a series about a fictional fundamentalist Mormon family in Utah who practice polygamy, starring Bill Paxton and others. “God Only Knows” ran as Big Love‘s musical theme for the first three seasons, or more than 30 episodes. Some fans of “God Only Knows,” however, were not happy with the song’s use in this series. One writer, Adam Baer, at the Glass Shallot blog, observed, for example:
“…[B]y attaching a song like this to a manipulative soap opera like “Big Love”… the producers of the show have attached fictional scenes and pictures and characters and themes to this song. When we hear “God Only Knows” now, it’s hard for watchers of the show to separate it from “Big Love.” It’s just too famous and so-called “absolute” a song for it to be victimized by such semantic manipulation….”
“Look: We (fans) don’t own the song any more than “Big Love” does–in fact, we own it less because “Big Love” likely paid Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys a princely sum to use the music. I know that. But we also don’t broadcast to the world images of our lives–or worse, our lame narratives–with “God Only Knows” in the background. We don’t rape the song of its absolute brilliance–of its ability to mean something different to different people–and render it a semiotic aid for one particular narrative that needs a lot of help…”
In London, on the other hand, Laura Barton of The Guardian, praising “God Only Knows” in a 2009 review, found at least one TV use acceptable. “God Only Knows” is not just about the “billing and cooing” of love, as one critic put it, but also its highs and lows; the trepi- dations of love; its terrors and rewards… Calling the song “one of those shimmeringly perfect love songs,” she pointed to its use in a lost adolescent love scene in the American TV show Wonder Years (1988-1993) as being perfectly apropos, where the song was simpatico with the on-screen drama of the principal character losing the long-loved girl next door. Beyond this, Barton also observes of the song generally:
“…Considering the fact that this is a song about devotion, its opening line has always been unsettling: ‘I may not always love you,’ Wilson sings, a sudden cloud of uncertainty in the music’s clear blue sky. Yet it is of course this very line that makes ‘God Only Knows’ truly extraordinary. This isn’t just a love song. It isn’t just about the billing and cooing, the early doveish days of courtship; it’s a song that recognizes the fact that falling in love is somehow terrifying, that you go into that love blindly, as Wilson put it, but that in that blindness you can see that you are who you are because of someone else.”
“God Only Knows” has also been rated highly in several “greatest song surveys” by music magazines such as Mojo. Some have also named it the best song of the 1960s. Rolling Stone placed the song at No. 25 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
More background on the Beach Boys and their music is found in Part 1 of this article, “Early Beach Boys.” For more music stories at this website visit the “Annals of Music” category page. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Date Posted: 14 June 2010
Last Update: 9 October 2014
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Doyle, “Early Beach Boys, Pt. 2: Six Songs,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 14, 2010.
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Part 2: Six Songs