Rock and roll history tells us that 1964 was the year of The Beatles. “I Want to Hold your Hand” was released on December 26th, 1963. John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived for their first American visit in February of 1964. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan show. They released three albums during 1964, had 12 songs in the top ten charts, and released the movie A Hard Day’s Night to great commercial and critical success.
As is often the case, though, the real story goes far beyond a shallow narrative. There was so much great music released in 1964, only a small portion of which came from The Beatles. 1964 also saw the release of songs like “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters, “Bits and Pieces” by the Dave Clark Five, “Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes, and “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys.
The Beach Boys began as a surf rock group in Southern California in 1961, and by 1964 they had already had six songs chart in the Top 100. The songs were good, and mostly focused on a surf and sun lifestyle featuring the beautiful, lush vocal harmonies of the 5 man group. Most of their songs were primarily written by Brian Wilson, and his songs were beginning to show a thematic maturity as he was coming out of his young twenties.
“Don’t Worry Baby” begins with a massive bass drum beat intro, immediately evocative of “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes released the summer before, which made a big impact on Wilson. Whereas with The Ronettes the bass drum is followed by the large, cavernous Phil Spector “wall of sound” orchestra, The Beach Boys follow their bass drum with a spare band of guitars, bass, piano and drums and the enormous, beautiful and colorful harmonies of The Beach Boys. Staccato electric guitar marks the beats as the five Beach Boys fill our ears with color and tone.
The song is a simple, plaintive plea. The narrator is a teenage boy who his afraid “something’s bound to go wrong.”
“But she looks in my eyes
And makes me realize
And she says “Don’t worry baby”
Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Everything will turn out alright”
The world of The Beach Boys is a world of surfing, fast cars and girls on the beach. The narrator knows he should have kept his mouth shut. He dared his friends that his car could outrun their cars. He can’t back down now. He is scared.
“She told me “Baby, when you race today
Just take along my love with you
And if you knew how much I loved you
Baby nothing could go wrong with you””
Through Brian Wilson’s beautiful falsetto lead vocals, we identify with universal emotions, and these emotions resonate. Sometimes, this is all we want. We want someone to tell us everything is going to be okay. A hug from our father, a kiss from our mother, a simple voice of support from our girlfriend or boyfriend (wife or husband).
History tells us stories. These stories often become our truth. We are told that 1964 belonged to The Beatles, and they conquered America with amazing songs, thrilling harmonies, and all the girls screamed themselves sore.
And yet, here we have “Don’t Worry Baby,” a song that was released at the apex of The Beatles’ invasion. Though not revolutionary in its message or story, this is a song that sounds ten years ahead of its time. Brian Wilson’s production is note perfect, the Beach Boys harmonies beautifully seep into every moment of the song, and the song plays to our most basic of human desires. Don’t worry baby, everything’s going to be alright.
An incredibly awkward TV performance for your enjoyment.
“Don’t Worry Baby”
Written by Brian Wilson and Roger Christian
Recorded by The Beach Boys
Released May 11, 1964