Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beach Boys -- "Caroline, No" (1966)

I remember how you used to say
You'd never change
But that's not true

"Caroline, No" is the 100th song to be featured on "2 or 3 lines."  As my regular readers know, I take anniversaries and other milestones VERY seriously.  

I recently read a review of a new edition of Mark Twain's autobiography, and learned that Twain said this about the "system" of autobiography that he developed:

"[T]he law of the system is that I shall talk about the matter which for the moment interests me, and cast it aside and talk about something else the moment its interest for me is exhausted.  It is a system which follows no charted course and is not going to follow any such course.  It is a system which is a complete and purported jumble -- a course which begins nowhere, follows no specific route, and can never reach an end while I am alive."  

Mark Twain
I think Twain has written an excellent description of 2 or 3 lines

This what the reviewer had to say about Twain's system:

"[T]his discursive ramble through his life proves nothing so much as that what interested him at any given moment is not necessarily of interest to anyone else.  Reading [Twain's autobiography] is like being trapped in a locked room with a garrulous old coot . . . who loves the sound of his own voice and hasn't the slightest inclination to turn it off.  The best passages are funny or thoughtful or touching or outspoken, sometimes all at once, but others are merely buzzes, hums and drones."

This is also an excellent description of "2 or 3 lines," n'est-ce pas?

Why did I choose "Caroline, No" as the 100th song to be featured on "2 or 3 lines"?  There are several reasons.  For one thing, when I was given my first CD player on Christmas 1991, I was also given my first two CDs -- Pet Sounds and one other.  

The last wish of Andy Lippincott, a gay character in Doonesbury who was dying of AIDS, was to live long enough to hear Pet Sounds on CD -- a wish that came true just in time for him:

I bought the Pet Sounds LP in 1967 or '68, I think -- so I was already very familiar with it when I was given the CD.

Pet Sounds is the album that I most associate with my teenage angst.  I had a pretty bad case of it, and when the symptoms were at their most severe, I would often put Pet Sounds on my parents' Magnavox console stereo and lie on the floor with my head directly under it.

My putative reason for doing this was to maximize the stereo effect -- I'd hear the two channels very sharply separated that way.  But it was more my way of hiding from the world -- literally (by physically putting my head into a confined space and hiding my face from view) and figuratively (by drowning out all my mental anxiety and apprehension with the sounds of the Beach Boys).

I don't have my Pet Sounds LP any more.  I gave it to my high-school girlfriend when I left for college.  This is still one of my most characteristic moves -- I often attempt to communicate my feelings by quoting from songs or books.  (Other people's words articulate what I'm thinking so much better than I can.)

I can't really explain why Pet Sounds is so good.  If you have the album and feel like I do about it, I don't need to explain it -- you get it.

If you have it and don't think it's anything special, I have nothing to say to you.

If you're not familiar with it, PLEASE buy it or download it or get it from your local library or listen to all the songs on YouTube or whatever.  

There's no other album that affects me like Pet Sounds does.  It immediately transforms me into the 16-year-old version of myself.  That's both good and bad.  And even if it's more bad than good, I can't resist listening to it every so often.

"Caroline, No" is the final song on the album, which has been praised by Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Elton John, and many others.  Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the #2 album of all time (behind only Sgt. Pepper, which Beatles' producer George Martin said was the Beatles' attempt to equal Pet Sounds).

Several other music magazines have ranked it as the #1 album of all time, and  a panel of top musicians, songwriter, and producers assembled by the British music magazine Mojo in 1995 -- 30 years after it was recorded -- voted it the greatest album ever made. 

Brian Wilson, who wrote "Caroline, No" with the help of Tony Asher, said it was his favorite song on the album and "the prettiest ballad I've ever sung."  The song was released as a Brian Wilson single -- not a Beach Boys single.  Although Pet Sounds is a Beach Boys album, the other members of the group had a very limited role in creating it.  Wilson and Asher wrote virtually all of the words and music to the album's songs, and the backing tracks were recorded by a group of very skilled and prolific studio musicians (known collectively as "The Wrecking Crew").

Brian Wilson in 1966
Asher's former girlfriend was named Carol, and Wilson had an unrequited romantic interest in a Carol he had gone to high school with, and the song was originally written by Asher as "Carol, I Know."  Wilson misheard him and thought the title was "Caroline, No," and he and Asher decided they liked that better.  

I loved "Caroline, No" long before I had a daughter named Caroline.  (As far as I recall, the song had nothing to do with our naming her that.  I think my wife liked the name and, therefore, so did I.)  Before my other three children get all bent out of shape, let me assure them that this song is equally about all of them in my mind.

The song is clearly about a girl who no longer is in love with the singer -- her feelings have changed, leaving the singer (who is still in love with her) to pine for the good old days.

For me, it's about Caroline -- and all my children -- growing up all too quickly.  And once your children have grown up, you're not young any more -- maybe that's the real issue here, at least for me.

My youngest is only 16, and a sophomore in high school -- so at least I have him for a couple of more years.  After he leaves, I have to wait for grandchildren, and who knows how long that will take.

Here's "Caroline, No."  You'll have to excuse me if I don't stay around and keep you company while you listen to it.  (I'd probably embarrass us both.)

Here's a link to use to buy the song from Amazon:

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