Every one of us has a deep, inherent love for music. It's not something that can be bought or developed. What kind of music we enjoy can certainly be added to or changed, but the love of music is something that cannot be attained in this way. I have often joked that I hope that each person admitted to heaven is given a lifetime soundtrack CD filled with one's favorite songs. If this were to occur, The Beach Boys would loom rather largely on the track list.
I have always loved the Beach Boys. I love the surf songs, the car songs, the introspective ballads. Part of this, I'm sure, comes from the fact that I hail from California, but if that does figure into the equation, I think it plays a minor role indeed. Here, I would like to talk about my favorite Beach Boys songs, Brian Wilson, and why these songs mean what they do to me. If you're looking for a technical analysis of their songs, you'd be better off looking elsewhere (and if you think that Beach Boys songs are musically simple, listen to some of their music and we'll talk then). We will talk about those sorts of things, I suppose, as we need to, but they are not the primary focus.
I have to admit that I had a personal bias against the car and surf songs for a very long time. I felt that they were nothing but fluff and were only written because Dennis Wilson (the drummer and Brian's brother) was big into surfing and hot rods and it was something new to market. However, if one scratches the surface, one finds a whole new depth that is not inherent to the casual listener. The more one listens to the surf and car songs, one realizes that they are not so much about the surf or the car itself but the exhilaration, the power, that those things provide. Consider the lyrics of "Catch a Wave" (catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world) or "Little Deuce Coupe" (She's got a competition clutch/and a four on the floor/she purrs like a kitten/makes the lake pipes roar). Both sets of lyrics imply the power of the event, something that elevates above a mere good wave or candy-colored hot rod and transforms it into a dreamy wonderland fit for the most intense, wonderful romances and dramas, a world of early-morning surf reports and late-night beach dance parties and hemi-powered drones as they scream down Main Street USA. This is a world where love and passion reign, a world where every one has a place, if one is only willing to reach out and take it. That's why I love the stories of Brian Wilson sitting with a friend, eating hot fudge sundaes at an all-night diner late at night and going over car song lyrics, because it just totally embodies that world that the car and surf songs convey.
"Don't Worry, Baby" has always held a soft spot for me, because it symbolizes and embodies something that I have longed yearned for. Originally written for Phil Spector and intended as a follow-up to the Ronettes' "Be My Baby", it was turned down by Spector in a vicious, intentional snub to Brian (who admired Spector's "wall of sound" way or recording, which almost made the recording studio into an instrument itself with its thundering drums, dizzying bass, and full horn sections). Brian then took back the song and, using the "wall of sound" method, made it into an amazing song that deserves to be listened to over and over again. Detailing a teen's anxiety over an upcoming drag race and his girlfriend's repeated reassurances (she makes me come alive/and makes me realize when she says/Don't worry, baby/everything will turn out all right). This song and it's portrayal of undying love becomes even more poignant when one hears the story of Brian Wilson's high school crushes. These stories tell of a young man who did not know how to give anything but all his heart to any girl who he fell for, particularly a young, witty, dark-haired cheerleader named Carol Mountain (who is the inspiration for two other wonderful Beach Boys songs, "Surfer Girl" and "Caroline, No"). This song is poignant to me also because that is really the only way to fall in love, and it's the only way I really know how. Love, true love, is not really worth the name if we are not willing all that we can into it, all our hopes, dreams, passions in this other person, and I think this song conveys it well.
Finally (and there are too many Beach Boys songs I love to talk about them all here; maybe another time we can return to them), I thought I would end with what I consider to be among the cream of the crop of their music, the melancholy ballad "The Warmth of the Sun." Chronicling the rise and fall of a relationship, the song closes with the sweet message that, whether it be in full, breathing life or only for fleeting moments in a dream, his love, like the warmth of the sun, will never die. This song depicts the epitome of what the nature of love should be. When one falls in love with another, really, truly in love, the feelings shouldn't end with the break-up. In fact, I would even say that if it's easy to break off the relationship, or if the time of the break-up is the last time you ever dream about the other person, that that couple never had true love. True love is when somebody comes along and touches your heart in such a profound, moving way that there is no going back; it is when that person is always going to be there to color your thoughts, it is when you know that your life is indelibly changed for the better because you met that person (okay, so I'm a romantic. So sue me.). True love is truly like the warmth of the sun; it warms our souls, it gives us life, it gives us that energy to keep pushing on, to keep on getting through to the end of day, and it is knowing that there is always that person there to pick you up, to care, to make all the blood and toil and tears and sweat worthwhile. And, of course, true love never dies.
In the end, I guess the reason I think the Beach Boys are so great is that they embody for me what music is all about. Music is not about reading and playing the notes on the page. It's about heart. It's about life. It's about having fun and moving people and something wonderful and being alive. I, of course, would be lying if I said I wouldn't be pleased if everyone who read this essay became a Beach Boys fanatic. But in the end, if we all have something that moves us and makes us feel happy and alive, that's what really matters.