Friday, June 16, 2006

Wouldn't it be nice?

is a great Beach Boys tune. It's the opening song on Pet Sounds.

At first, it's all about how the singer wants to marry this chick, cos it'd be so awesome for them to always be together, and they wouldn't have curfews and such. A lot of the best early Beach Boys songs had this sort of thematic material - we're kinda young, we've got our parents to deal with, and isn't that a drag, but someday or somehow it'll be different and we'll be free and everything will be awesome. We have fun until our parents take our Thunderbirds away. And often there's an amazing state of bliss, characterized by love, which we can't quite have just yet, but oh it will be great when we do get it. Longing.

As in the middle section of Wouldn't it be Nice, where "if we think and wish and hope and pray" it might happen. We could be married. And the background vocals mimic the line. And then we'd be happy. And the background vocals repeat the words, but to a different, less bright melody. Well, wouldn't it be nice?

But then there's the last verse of the song, which has a very nice lyrical content to it. The singer's noticed that "the more we talk about" getting married, "it only makes it worse to talk about it." And then he sings "But let's talk about it."

I enjoy this part quite a bit. A lot of really good Beach Boys songs (and some not good ones) have this kind of pathological need for love. The songs are about wanting love, to be loved, and needing something. The emphasis is less on how wonderful some imagined love could be and more on how its absence is painful.

The worst instance, lyrically, comes in an unreleased Brian Wilson tune called Still I Dream of it. The tune, which Brian apparently wrote to be sung by a Sinatra type, starts out promisingly enough, as when Brian belts out the chorus:
Still I dream of it
Of that happy day
When I can say I've fallen in love
And it haunts me so
Like a dream that's
Somehow linked to all the stars above
Longing as a source of existential dread. I dig it. It may not be the most artful expression, but it'll do. But then, after two verses and two choruses, we get to the middle section. "A little while ago. my mother told me Jesus loved the world." Ok, that's a bit of a switch, but not terrible... "And if that's true then why hasn't he helped me to find a girl" Suddenly the song goes from being passable-to-good-late-Brian to sloppy-indulgent-shitty-late-Brian material.

It's what makes Wouldn't it be Nice so good. There's an honest expression, as well as a little self-awareness, but subtle and appropriate. A thoughtful spry pop song. Elvis Costello talks about Pet Sounds in the Endless Harmony documentary, and he says that it's everybody's favorite, because whereas before then, the Beach Boys were kinda goofy, and after that they got sort of weird and spooky. Pet Sounds was where everything was right. Wouldn't it Be Nice is a good example of that.

No comments: