Little Ed is now eighteen months old and I have embarked on a program of musical education to broaden his horizons beyond the Top 40 radio and Wiggles CDs he subsists on.
While I am now a respectable, upstanding member of the community, much of my early twenties were spent working in a dingy secondhand record store, where I was paid each week with a crumpled handful of small bills and an armful of vinyl. The legacy of those years is thousands of albums cluttering up our apartment, arcanely filed and catalogued. Sounding familiar? High Fidelity stands as a cautionary tale of where, but for the grace of God, went I. To my small credit and the great relief of my wife, I have now reverted to amateur-status-collector scum, instead of professional know-it-all record-store clerk. You can take the boy out of the record store, but…
I’m standing staring at the shelves of vinyl lining the hallway thinking “Where to start?” Little Ed is a pretty happy kind of kid with a short attention span, so we won’t be spinning any of the angst-ridden miserablism or difficult-listening records that make up much of the collection. Or prog rock (hock, spit). What I’m after is pop, bright shiny pop music.
I don’t think it is too controversial to state that the greatest letter in the pop alphabet is “B”; the Beatles, Blondie, the Byrds, the B-52’s, not to mention Bowie, Beck, Beastie Boys, James Brown, etc., etc. And, of course, the Beach Boys. I select a compilation of their earlier singles (“20 Golden Greats”, a midseventies budget release on the Capitol label for those of you playing at home) for an overview of their greatest pop moments.
So we’re halfway through side one when a song started that I had never really noticed before? “Don’t Worry Baby.” It originally appeared as the flipside to the “I Get Around” single in 1964 and is a lesser song from Brian Wilson’s best pop year, which makes it twenty times better than most songs you’ll ever hear. It has a great falsetto verse, where the singer complains that he’s been bragging about his car and now he has to race some local hoodlums to prove he’s not a complete pussy. Real adolescent whining, tone perfect. But then there’s the chorus: he recounts how his girlfriend tells him “don’t worry baby, everything will turn out all right.” The phrasing is beautiful, flowing freely over the lush backing harmonies, which are mixed almost criminally low. The contrast between the pettiness of the verses and the calm reassurance of the chorus is staggering.
I’m lying on the floor playing with Little Ed, listening to this track, and tears come to my eyes. I can’t believe it. It has been years since a song has moved me to tears by its sheer beauty. I am whisked back to a conversation that I had with a friend during those angst-ridden early twenties. It was about 2:30 a.m., and we were drinking whiskey, playing Tom Waits records, and bemoaning the pitiful state of our respective love lives. She described her ideal vision of love. “I want to fall asleep each night with someone stroking my hair and whispering, ’Don’t worry, everything will be alright,’ and to really believe it.” I understood that longing, just as Brian Wilson obviously understood it.
It is a relief to realize that I have (mostly) outgrown being that whiny adolescent needing constant handholding. But even more, I realized that when Ed trips and bumps his head on the coffee table, as he inevitably will, I can hold him, whisper “Don’t worry baby,” and stroke his hair, and everything will indeed be all right.