It’s the coldest day of the year so far in the UK, so on the train this morning, to counteract the frost I’d had to scrape off my car windscreen, I put on The Beach Boys, specifically their 2009 Summer Love Songs compilation which I reviewed on the Rocks Back Pages website when it first came out. Here’s what I wrote, but being as how ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is reputed to have been Keith Moon’s all-time favourite song, I’ve tacked on a bit on the end from Tony Fletcher’s Moon biography Dear Boy.
If, like me, you still get a shiver down the spine when the you hear the words ‘Well it’s been building up inside of me for, oh, I don’t know how long’, then allow me to draw your attention to the ‘2009 New Stereo Remix’ of ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ which opens a new Beach Boys compilation entitled Summer Love Songs.
Aside from a general improvement in clarity, the changes are not immediately noticeable in the intro and first two lines of the opening verse but thereafter and when the first chorus kicks in – and the group’s sublime choral harmonies compete with Brian’s lead – nirvana beckons in such a way that to these ears it trumps the original (which for longer than I care to remember has been one of my all-time favourite songs). The other Messrs Wilson (Dennis & Carl), Love and Jardine serve up ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and ‘now don’ts’ with a freshness that I’ve never heard before, especially those in a lower register that are largely inaudible on earlier versions of the song. There’s no change in the mix of that absurdly simple plucked guitar solo, but I think someone has tweaked the volume of the harmonies slightly on the third verse so the competition between Brain and his men is even more pronounced. Wonderful.
For Beach Boys nuts this is worth the price of the CD. For the record, it also contains seven other very well-known romantic Beach Boys songs, songs like ‘Surfer Girl’ and ‘God Only Knows’, and a dozen or so lesser known songs, including some covers of doo-wop hits, all plucked from their early albums. I didn’t hear such pronounced differences in any other songs as I heard in ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ but at the end of the selection, after ‘Girls On The Beach’, its vocal harmonies only are reprised, a bit like the vocal only tracks on that fifth CD in the Good Vibrations: 30 Years… Beach Boys box set.
‘Don’t Worry Baby’, of course, has been widely cited as Keith Moon’s all-time favourite song, though in his book Dear Boy Tony Fletcher is unconvinced, believing that Moon was just as fond of many more up-tempo Beach Boys favourites. Nevertheless, Tony writes about ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ with the same flair he brought to everything else this top-rate biography: “‘Don’t Worry, Baby’ was a direct musical response to Spector’s epic production of The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’: it opened with a resounding bass drum motif similar to that of its inspiration and while its vocal harmonies were clearly those of Wilson’s own invention, the overall production qualities and song structure owed much to his fellow boy-wonder. Sung by Brian himself, and co-written with hot-rod enthusiast Roger Christian, the lyrics were, unusually for its era and genre, buried beneath the production, so that the hopelessly vacuous verses in which a car enthusiast brags about his latest hot-rod were cast aside for the universally acceptable chorus (as sung by his reassuring girlfriend), “Don’t worry, baby, everything will turn out alright.”
“Keith Moon, a non-driver and non-surfer who nonetheless identified totally with songs about both subjects, took the chorus to heart; in its simple promise of redemption, there lay justification for every act of madness, selfishness, generosity and individuality he would muster over the coming years, reassurance that his actions, however bizarre and unjustified they seemed at the time, could always conclude with a positive ending.
“That was in the long run. In the short term ‘Don’t Worry, Baby’ was a beautiful ballad that served as an alternative to the upbeat surfing/hot-rod anthems he adored, and as respite from the aggressive music of the High Numbers. But it also highlighted a painful absence in his life: he had no ‘baby’ with whom to worry, no one to whisper the reassurance he needed to hear at the end of every hard-fought night as he embarked on his journey into uncharted waters.”
That, of course, would change when he met Kim, and before long she would have plenty to worry about.