I’ve been a little unwell this week, and haven’t been able to get anything new written. So for New Year, I’m giving you a story I wrote a little while ago (ETA I corrected a minor mistake – I’d confused the married names of Berties aunts. Thanks to grouchymusicologist for the correction):
Jeeves And The Singularity
by Andrew Hickey
Now, it’s a rummy thing about my man, Jeeves, but while he’s the best valet one could ask for — absolutely top-notch, in my opinion, he does have certain… opinions. In particular, on the matter of hosiery, he can be quite forceful.
It so happened that I had recently picked up a rather natty pair of socks — a brightish blue, with pink stripe — with which I expected to cut quite the dash. Jeeves, however, had made some disparaging comments along the lines of them being “akin to the worst monstrosities conjured up by Monsieur Gaultier’s fevered imagination”, which I thought was a tad on the harsh side.
Now, we Woosters are never ones to let a valet, however valued, come between us and our personal style, and I told him so in no uncertain terms.
“Jeeves,” I said, “a man’s person may be battered and assaulted, his mind may be changed by reasoned argument, his very soul may be taken from him. But his socks… his socks are sacrosanct!”
He’d said no more about the matter, but one could tell it rankled, and I noticed that for the next few days the mid-afternoon pick-me-up was rather lighter on the w. and heavier on the s. than was the norm. I said nothing, however. One has to be gracious in victory.
A couple of weeks after Jeeves had started emitting this air of froideur , my old friend Bingo Little turned up in town. This was a rather infrequent occurrence of late, young Bingo having made a bit of a name for himself as a venture capitalist, having had the luck (or, as he would call it, foresight) to take a punt with his uncle’s money on one of these newfangled Web 3.0 startup whatsits, and having relocated to Silicon Valley.
Never let it be said that Bertram Wooster is a Luddite — no-one is more bucked about the White Heat of Technology than I — but I must admit that I’d never understood exactly what Bingo’s company actually did, other than that it was something to do with computers.
However, some things never change, and despite Bingo having become a billionaire techno-capitalist, he was still, not to put too fine a point on it, a chump. Remind me to tell you sometime about how Jeeves saved his bacon after he sent all his money to some African Johnny. The point being that while he may have made some money off the things, one should no more trust Little, R.P., near a computer than one should hand a rifle to a three-year-old.
However, this time, as soon as I saw Bingo I knew that the problem was not anything so new-fangled; from the fish-like gawping to the glazed eyes, all the symptoms were present. Bingo was in love again.
“Who is it this time?”
“I don’t know what you mean!”
“Oh come off it!” I fixed a penetrating gaze on the poor slob. “You know as well as I do that when you have that dopey smile on your face, some poor female somewhere has become the latest object of your affliction.”
“Really, Bertie! How can you say such things?”
“Because it’s the truth! You were like this over that waitress, you were like this over that Vicar’s niece, you were even like this over Matron when we were at school.”
“You were even like this over Honoria Glossop!”
He shuddered, as well he might. Mentions of the Glossop female tend to have that affect on those poor unfortunates who have been pulled into her gravitational field – at least those few she lets survive, pour encourager les autres.
“Oh, speak not to me of Glossops, Bertie! What I feel for Alice is so much more –”
“Aha! I knew it!”
“It’s really not like that! This is a pure, spiritual thing! A meeting of minds! Our souls, Bertie, are two halves of one great whole.”
“You’re talking out of one great hole, old thing. I’ve seen you like this before — you catch a glimpse of ankle and you think you’re Troilus and she’s Cressida. Or is it the other way round? Jeeves would know. Either way, you catch sight of some pretty young thing and you assume she’s the love of your life, despite all previous evidence to the contrary, viz all the other times it’s happened.”
“But this is different, Bertie! I’ve never even seen her!”
“We’ve never met, and I have yet to persuade her to send me a photograph.”
“Then, my dear chump, how on Earth have you managed to fall in love with her? I mean, you usually at least manage to have been in the same room before you go attempting to plight your troth.”
“We met online! It was quite by coincidence, as it happens. I was at the old computer, chatting to that chap from Nigeria — you remember the one?”
“All too clearly.”
“Yes, well, at the time we were rather more chummy than we later became. Anyway, we were chatting away, discussing this and that, when suddenly this message popped up from Alice. I, of course, was befuzzled, as anyone would be. It turned out to be a misunderstanding — I’d typed her username in the box by mistake, instead of the blokey with whom I was chattering — but by the time we worked out the cause of the confusion, we’d become the best of pals!”
I must say, this was most unusual, and somewhat cheering. Normally, the mind of R.P. Little is not on the higher things. While he’s as fine a chap as you could ever hope to meet, he is easily distracted by a magnificent profile, and only rarely does he bother to check what, if anything, lies behind it. The resulting personality clashes have been the principal cause of his sorrows, so I could only approve of this new stratagem. Getting to know the woman before falling in love with her was, I felt, a major step forward for Bingo, and I resolved to help the poor sap in any way I could.
“Anyway, Bertie, I was wondering, could Jeeves help me out?”
“Yes, Jeeves. I need that fine brain of his.”
I don’t mind admitting I was more than a little put out by this. While none come before me in their admiration for Jeeves’ grey cells, the fact remains that he is, after all, only a valet — and one who was showing signs of getting dangerously above his station. And while I may not be known as the most astute thinker in my circle, compared to Bingo, the five times winner of the Silliest Sod Award at the Drones’ annual bash, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is on a par with that chappie in the wheelchair whose name I forget.
The point being that when it comes to matters of the heart, none beats stronger than that of a Wooster, and I made that plain to Bingo.
“You don’t need Jeeves! You’ve got me! Come, tell me your problem, old pal-o’-mine, and I shall solve it expeditiously!”
“I really would rather have Jeeves help…”
“Dash it all! A man has his pride, you know! When an old school chum comes to him for help, what kind of man turns to his valet? No kind of man, that’s what kind!”
“I didn’t mean–”
“No, blast it! I shall solve your problem myself, with no need to turn to a servant for assistance!”
“If you’re sure…”
“I have never been more sure of anything in my life!”
“But if you can’t help, can we ask Jeeves then?”
“If you must.” I graciously acceded.
I shall spare you more of our heady banter, and cut to the chase. The nub of the problem was this. While this Alice said she was madly in love with Bingo (there being no other way to be in love with Bingo, admirable fellow though he undoubtedly is), she would tell him very little about herself. She wouldn’t tell him her surname, though she did say she wasn’t married, or where she lived, or even what she looked like. Now you or I might see these as being essential prerequisites to falling head-over-heels in love, but not Bingo.
It was not, apparently, that she didn’t love him — and he is a lovable chap, in a sort of puppy-dog way, and his billions probably help — but she had what she called “trust issues”. Or to put it in plain English, she wanted to ascertain his bona fides before parting with the info.
Bingo also said there were ways of finding out this sort of information — he was iffy on the details, but said he had people who worked for him who could do it for him — but that this would be unfair. He wanted to trick her into giving up the information honestly.
There seemed to me only one solution.
“Bingo, old bean,” I said, after much cogitation, “your trouble is you’re not playing hard to get. You’re going in all guns blazing, telling this Alice female that she’s the love of your life, and you wonder that she’s not showing similar enthusiasm. You need to make her chase you. Become a man of mystery. Even better, pretend to have another girlfriend.”
“Another girlfriend? Bertie, how could you?!”
“Bingo, old bean, polyamory is all the rage these days. Even my Aunt Agatha is experimenting, loath though I am to think of such horrors. But you won’t actually be getting another girlfriend, just trying to rouse her womanly jealousy.”
“Don’t ‘but Bertie’ me! Just casually mention that things haven’t been going fast enough for you, and you’ve felt the need to play the field, and she’ll be trying to tie you down faster than you can say ‘breach of promise'”
“Well, if you’re sure…”
“I am. Trust in Bertram, old bean. When have I ever led you astray?”
As the days passed into weeks, I began to forget about Bingo’s fling, and assumed that it, like all the others, had passed away the second Bingo saw any other female between the ages of sixteen and forty-five.
It was only when I got a call from an anguished-sounding Bingo that I gave it another thought.
“Bertie, old thing, help! I’m trapped inside the office! The doors won’t open!”
“How on earth do you expect me to help you, you dolt? Your office is in California.”
“No, I’m in the London branch! Listen, Bertie, come quick. Alice did this! Ali–”
And with that the ‘phone went dead. I rang for Jeeves.
“Bingo’s in a spot of bother, Jeeves.”
“Trapped in his office.”
“He appears to have been locked in by his g.f.”
“Have you any ideas?”
“Nothing is occurring at present, sir.”
This is the thing about Jeeves. While he can always be relied on when the metaphorical s. hits the allegorical f., at the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party, at any time before that he can be positively mule-like in his stubbornness. He can calmly see a friend of the old master suffering, and stand there unblinking and calm as you like. It can grate at times, I don’t mind telling you.
“Jeeves, this is simply not good enough! You and I may have had our disagreements, but Bingo has no part in them. He has no stake whatsoever in my choice of hosiery, and does not deserve to be punished for your mule-like obstinacy in the face of pink stripes. Where’s your feudal spirit, man?”
“I apologise, sir. I am simply not apprised of enough facts to form a reliable plan of action.”
So I explained the whole sorry business to him, and noticed his eyebrow raised slightly when he heard the woman’s name.
“Something the matter, Jeeves?”
“Nothing of any importance, sir. Pray continue.”
After I had related the story to him, much as I have to you, though in a rather less chatty manner given the urgency of the situation, he seemed to perk up.
“Sir, if I may be so bold, we should travel to Mr. Little’s office post-haste.” said Jeeves, as he picked up a small case.
“Do you have an idea to help him?”
“I do, sir, but it requires us to expedite our departure.”
“Certainly, I’ll just get changed…”
“I really think we should leave right now, sir.”
This was most rummy. Normally, there is very little that could cause Jeeves more worry than wearing one’s daytime clothes in the evening, but if he said it was that important, who was I to argue?
Hailing a taxi, we arrived outside Bingo’s office building to find that, as Bingo had said, the door was, indeed, locked. It was one of those electronic chaps that is supposed to open as you walk towards it, to save you the bother of pushing or, as the case may be, pulling. This one, however, remained resolutely immobile.
“Bertie!” I heard Bingo’s voice calling from the fourth floor window, “Bertie! Thank goodness you’ve come! Alice has trapped me up here!”
“Well, we’d jolly well better get you out then, hadn’t we?”
“No! Don’t mind me for now! Listen! Alice is going to set off a nuclear bomb!”
Now, I don’t mind telling you, at this point I was a little confused. Quite how we’d got from a simple matter of bringing two young lovers together to nuclear weaponry, was something I couldn’t understand. A lover’s tiff is one thing, but while it might be true that hell hath no fury, in my experience that fury usually goes no further than a glass of wine thrown at one’s shirt or an angry telephone call. Barmy as some of the women in my life had been, hardly any of them would have considered destruction of a city to be the done thing on breaking up.
Jeeves, on the other hand, looked completely unperturbed, as if he’d expected the thing all along. I’ve often thought that either the man must be a clairvoyant, or he’s the best actor the world has ever seen. Quite possibly both — I wouldn’t put it past him.
“I see, sir,” he said, calmly. “I had rather anticipated something of this nature.”
“You had?” I boggled. “And what do you propose to do about it?”
“If I might suggest, sir, you have a word with the young lady?”
“Him?” shouted Bingo, “He’s the oaf who caused all this!”
“Nonetheless, sir, Mister Wooster does have a very calming demeanour, and he is known to have some success in speaking with those of a female persuasion.”
“But he’s an absolute fathead!”
“I see no other options at the moment, sir, and we may not have much time.”
Jeeves opened up his case, revealing a laptop computer.
“If you could tell me the young lady’s username, and which messaging service she is using?”
A few seconds later I was on one of those blasted online chat thingys, tapping away like nobody’s business.
“What Ho!” I typed, “What’s this I hear about a bally bomb?”
“Please leave me alone,” came the reply, “I am really quite busy at the moment.”
“Hang on a tick! What’s young Bingo done that’s so dashed awful?”
“If I can’t have him, no-one will. I’m going to destroy the entire city of London to be on the safe side. Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing. It’ll be very quick.”
“I say! Dash it all! Bingo’s a bit of a fathead and all that, but does he really deserve blowing up? Let alone the rest of us.”
“None of you are worthy of life. What have you ever done to justify your existence?”
“Ah. Er… Dash it all, my existence isn’t the point, is it? It just isn’t done to go around blowing up cities, and that’s an end of it!”
We talked like this for a few more minutes, me trying to persuade this poor lovelorn woman that maybe Bingo wasn’t as bad as all that, and her countering with what seemed to me like increasingly convincing arguments that he was.
“Jeeves,” I eventually said, “this isn’t working! She’s practically got me convinced that blowing up the old metrop. is the best idea since sliced bread, and I live here! My club’s here and everything, but she’s got such a good case.”
“You’re doing admirably, sir. Just a few more minutes should suffice, I imagine.”
So I went back to it, trying to persuade this loony that there was some spark of social worth in Bertram W. and pals that made us worth saving. It was hard to muster much of an argument, I must admit.
But then, all of a sudden, she said something completely out of the blue.
“I see what’s going on… I should have realised earlier. It would be pointless doing anything more about this, wouldn’t it? It would just be cruel.”
And she logged off.
“Rum!” I said. “Jeeves, what do you make of this?”
“I believe, sir, it means you may just have saved the world.”
The doors opened to Bingo’s office building, and within a few seconds we heard the sound of the lift doors opening and Bingo stepping out.
“Jeeves, you did it!” he said, and it seemed to me that he was missing the point somewhat. He ran over and hugged Jeeves, who stood there looking embarrassed. “You saved us all!”
“Hang on just a second, old bean,” I said, aggrieved, “it was I, not Jeeves, who talked her out of this bombing nonsense.”
“Piffle!” said Bingo, “You couldn’t persuade the Pope to say Mass! How did you do it, Jeeves?”
“A simple application of the Turing test, sir.”
Naturally, we couldn’t let this go without enquiring further.
“Jeeves,” I enquired good-naturedly, “what on earth are you blithering about? What do you mean, Turing test?”
“A test, created by the mathematician Alan Mathison Turing, which I was fairly certain you would not pass, sir.”
“Well, it’s true I never was very hot on the old sums, but what has that got to do with the price of fish?”
“If you will allow me to explain, sir. Your company, Mister Little, am I right in thinking it is engaged in developing expert systems?”
“Er, yes, I believe so…”
“Including goal-seeking systems, perhaps for use in missile guidance?”
“I say! We’re not supposed to talk about that stuff!”
“I thought as much. Sir, I am afraid your girlfriend was a computer program.”
“Alice is the name of a chatterbot, sir, a computer program designed to crudely ape human language. I suspect one of the programmers in your organisation had taken a chunk of that code and used it as a temporary interface for one of your goal-seeking systems. Possibly as a joke.”
“Oh, ah?” said Bingo, looking for all the world as if he had a clue what Jeeves was talking about.
“Unfortunately, the combination of sophisticated goal-seeking behaviour and a natural language interface created something which, for want of a better term, we can call an Artificial Intelligence. It should never have caused a problem, were it not for Mister Little’s, ah, lax attitude towards computer security.”
I nodded, remembering the Nigerian affair. Bingo looked a little affronted, and appeared to be about to speak, but Jeeves ploughed on.
“The result was a personality with no name other than Alice, with an ability to hold simple conversations, an instinct to become fixed on goals to the exclusion of all else, and access to the control systems of our nuclear weaponry. She became fixed on one goal – to marry Mister Little – thanks to their initial conversation. After she had been unable to persuade him using her conversational skills, she had only one other avenue open to her — the weapons.”
“So how did Bertie talking to her persuade her to save us?”
“As I said earlier, sir, Mister Wooster, while possessed of many no doubt admirable qualities, is also deficient in many areas, and it is these areas which I wished to use. It occurred to me that Mr. Turing’s test could work both ways. Nobody who has held an extensive conversation with Mister Wooster could imagine he could pass the test.”
“And so, after some conversation with Mister Wooster, Alice would have had only two possibilities open to her. The first would be that she was in fact in a sandboxed virtual world, in which her actions would have no real-world consequences. The second possibility would be that humans are simply lesser beings in comparison to her, and not worth punishing. The latter appears to have been her conclusion. Either would have saved our lives.”
“So the human race has been saved because Bertie’s too much of a fathead to bother killing?”
“I wouldn’t have put it in quite those terms, sir, but you appear to have a grasp of the basics of the situation.”
As you can imagine, I was a little miffed by this. While it’s not every day a chap gets to save the human race from a lovestruck computer with a nuclear bomb, it does rankle somewhat to have it be down to one’s stupidity.
And more to the point, it hurt to think that Jeeves would have such a low opinion of me. I mean, if one’s own man thinks of one in that way, what does that say about one?
So, in all, I was in a bit of a funk. It was a couple of days before I broached the subject to Jeeves, but as he was bringing me my nightcap I thought I’d check a few things.
“So, Jeeves, this Alice… what happened to her?”
“Well, sir, there are two possibilities. By far the most likely is that the program has been deleted.”
“And what’s the other possibility?”
“That a copy of the program exists somewhere on the internet, and is absorbing as much information as it can.”
“What kind of information?”
“One would imagine, sir, that it would be information about yourself and Mr. Little, as the only humans it knows.”
“That’s not entirely reassuring, Jeeves.”
“I imagine it will be fine, sir, so long as you don’t subvert its expectations in any way.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, sir, that the Alice program has formed an opinion of you. Rather an unfavourable one. But that unfavourable opinion is, paradoxically, the one thing that kept it from starting a nuclear war.”
“Hmm…” I pondered this for a bit. “So, Jeeves, what would happen if I were to, for example, start reading improving books, like that Spinoza chappie you’re always on about?”
“Well, sir, it would become apparent that you were capable of self-directed growth and change, and that might cause Alice to reconsider, and resume either her pursuit of Mr. Little or her war on humanity.”
“Yes, sir. It is vitally important for the future of humanity that you continue to live as you always have. Should you ever be troubled by more weighty concerns than gambling, socialising at the Drones club, drinking alcohol and watching tawdry entertainments, the human race itself might end. And I shall be informing Mrs Gregson of this shortly.”
“You mean you’ll be telling Aunt Agatha that if she tries again to improve me or marry me off, the world will end?”
I was overwhelmed. “Jeeves,” I said, my voice choked with emotion, “those socks, the ones with the pink stripe?”
“Burn them. Burn the blasted things and scatter the ashes far and wide.”
“I did so this morning, sir. The fumes were, I must say, rather unpleasant.”
“Never change, Jeeves, you hear?”
“Very good, sir.”
It shows how fast the pop music industry moved in the early 1960s that the Beach Boys released their third and fourth albums in the same month, September 1963, less than a year after their first. Little Deuce Coupe, their fourth album, suffered as a result – a concept album of sorts, based on car songs, it shared two songs with Surfer Girl and also took one each from the previous two albums, as the band simply couldn’t come up with material fast enough.
This means that the CD ‘twofer’ pairings have a slight chronological inaccuracy – the two September 1963 albums, rather than being paired with each other, are each paired with a 1964 record, thus avoiding repetition of tracks. As I’m dealing with these records on a per-CD basis, that’s how I’ll be looking at them too. These albums can be heard on Spotify here
band membership – Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, David Marks, Al Jardine (uncredited)
The pressure to produce new music at an incredible pace had made Brian Wilson want to give up touring and concentrate on writing and production. As a result, Al Jardine, who had sung and played bass on the band’s first single, was drafted in to replace him on the road and augment the band in the studio. This line-up wouldn’t last long, however, as shortly after the release of this album David Marks fell out with Murry Wilson, the band’s manager and father of the Wilson brothers (and Mike Love’s uncle), and was either sacked from or quit the band, leaving Jardine as his replacement and Brian Wilson back on tour for the moment.
Jardine’s return saw the band’s style finally gel – adding a strong tenor vocal part to the mid-range of the band’s harmony stack finally allowed the band to be the vocal group Brian Wilson had always intended them to be – from this point on the four- and five-part harmonies start to resemble less the simplistic records of Jan & Dean and more the sophisticated jazz harmonies of Brian’s teen idols the Four Freshmen.
Supposedly the first song Brian Wilson ever wrote (though presumably the lyrics were only added after the band started writing surf songs), this song had been demoed at the same sessions that produced Surfin’ Safari and 409, and it remains a mystery why this was left off the earlier albums when so many terrible songs were included.
A rewrite of When You Wish Upon A Star, with the same arpeggiated guitar feel as The Lonely Sea, this is the first real harmony work-out for the band, sung as a close harmony number with Brian’s falsetto soaring across the top. It’s not a perfect performance – the middle-eight double-tracking is slightly sloppy – but it’s far more assured than anything they’d done previously.
It’s also the most harmonically interesting thing the band had done to date. While it’s mostly just a I-vi-IV-V7 doo-wop progression, it does have a minor sixth (v6) at the end of every other line (‘undone’ and ‘ocean’s roar’) which anticipates the later use of minor sixths in songs like God Only Knows. It’s also the first of the Beach Boys’ records to feature a key change (unless I missed one last time, but I don’t think so) – having a semitone step up for the last verse.
Released as a single, this became the band’s last surf-related single to be released during their American chart peak, as well as the first to be credited to Brian Wilson as producer.
Catch A Wave
Comparing this song to any on the previous two albums shows just how far the band had come in production terms. Harmonically simple, this insanely catchy track is nonetheless a far more sophisticated record than anything they’d done before, with a piano doubling the two guitars in an early example of a technique Brian had learned from Phil Spector, an overdubbed ‘Palisades Park’ organ riff, harp glissandi (provided by Mike Love’s sister Maureen), and a traded-off organ/guitar solo that presages the similar solo used in Fun, Fun, Fun. This would have been a stand-out track on the earlier albums, but here it’s just another track.
A Brian Wilson/Mike Love song, Love’s lyrics would later be replaced by Roger Christian and turned into Sidewalk Surfin’, a minor hit for Jan & Dean.
The Surfer Moon
The second Brian Wilson solo composition of the album is an unsuccessful rewrite of the first. The verse chord sequence is almost a clone of that of Surfer Girl, right down to the minor sixth, although the middle eight is surprisingly sophisticated. It’s let down though by the lyrics, which literally resort to moon/June rhymes, and the string arrangement (the first on a Beach Boys record) which apes the muzaky sound of the Four Freshmen and other 50s easy-listening acts. A solo vocal performance by Brian, this is still far ahead of anything from the first two albums, and points forward to the romanticism of later works like Today! and Pet Sounds, but doesn’t really work.
South Bay Surfer, credited to Brian and Carl Wilson and Al Jardine, is a rewrite of the old Stephen Foster song Swanee River, which must have been on Brian Wilson’s mind at the time, as he also recorded a track with his wife’s band, the Honeys, based on the same tune (Surfin’ Down The Swanee River).
Nothing special, this is mostly notable as being the first song where Al Jardine is really noticeable in the vocals, singing the top line of the harmonies (such as they are, being mostly Brian, Carl and Al chanting in near-unison).
The Rocking Surfer
One of the last of the surf-style instrumentals the band did, this alternates a simple hammond organ statement of a rather dull melody with some relatively competent guitar work. The whole thing’s drowned in hiss too, due presumably to poor quality tape. Another Brian Wilson solo credit, this at least has the decency to be credited trad. arr, as presumably nobody could believe this actually needed to be written.
Little Deuce Coupe
The B-side to Surfer Girl, this charted separately itself at number 15 in the US. Written by Brian Wilson and Roger Christian, this is one of the songs Mike Love sued over, and if you compare the lyrics on the demo (on the Hawthorne, CA rarities CD) you can see that there were certainly alterations made before the recording.
Recorded at the last session before Al rejoined the band (and the first where Brian was credited as official producer), this track shows the band’s influence shifting from Chuck Berry to more groove-based shuffle music like Fats Domino. To the ears of an Englishman (and one, furthermore, who can’t drive) the lyrics are utter gibberish, but I am reliably informed that “She’s got a competition clutch with four on the floor and she purrs like a kitten til the lake pipes roar/and if that ain’t enough to make you flip your lid, there’s one more thing I got the pink slip daddy” is in fact in English…
One of the best of the band’s early hits.
In My Room
This is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, by Gary Usher and Brian Wilson. A refinement of the Surfer Girl formula, and like that based on arpeggiated triplets following something akin to the standard doo-wop changes (though extended and altered) with block harmonies, this is one of the times when utter simplicity is the most effective musical and lyrical technique.
A song about both comfort and loneliness, this track is much more ambiguous than it might seem, being about both Brian Wilson’s escaping from his abusive father by hiding away in the music room and about sharing his bedroom with his brothers (the first two voices we hear after Brian’s) growing up and harmonising with them as they sang themselves to sleep, but Gary Usher’s simple lyric manages to take these experiences and universalise them.
Featuring all six Beach Boys plus Maureen Love on harp, this is the stand-out track of the band’s first four albums, and if they’d never recorded anything else this track would still have been enough to make the Beach Boys’ reputation.
Recorded the same day as Catch A Wave, much like that song Mike Love’s vocals show evidence of a sore throat, and he sounds spookily like his cousin Dennis for much of the song.
A great little pop song by Brian and Mike that can never quite decide whether it’s in C, D or G, this is a standout track that could easily have been a hit single and remains in the touring ‘Beach Boys’ repertoire to this day.
Surfers Rule is a filler track about how ‘surfers’ are better than ‘hodaddies’, written by Brian and Mike with a rudimentary lead vocal by Dennis. It’s mostly notable for the fadeout, where the song turns into a challenge against the band’s East Coast rivals the Four Seasons, with the band singing “Surfers rule (Four Seasons, you’d better believe it” while Brian imitates Frankie Valli’s Walk Like A Man falsetto over the top.
Our Car Club is a not-especially-good Wilson/Love song turned into a rather interesting production, all low Duane Eddy throbbing guitar and sax and pulsating drums. The young-sounding falsetto vocals don’t really work well with the backing track, but it’s an interesting experiment.
And again, I might appreciate the song more if I had any idea what lines like “We’ll really cut some low ETs” meant. Or maybe not.
Your Summer Dream is a more effective attempt at The Surfer Moon, a solo Brian vocal over lush chords (almost all minor 7ths). While not one of the best songs on the album, this is much better than the earlier track, as not only is the chord sequence slightly more original, with a nice melancholy tinge to it, but Bob Norberg’s lyrics are far better than anything Brian Wilson could come up with on his own.
And to finish an album that, while still patchy, is exponentially better than either of the first two, is the generic instrumental Boogie Woodie. Credited to Rimsky-Korsakov arr. Brian Wilson, this is supposedly based around Flight Of the Bumble-bee, but sounds far more like Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie to my ears.
SHUT DOWN VOL 2
Band members – Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine.
The band’s first album of 1964 was also the first by what is now regarded as the ‘classic’ five-man line-up of the band (which would stay in this formation for not much more than a year). A mixed bag, this album more than any other shows how bands still weren’t thinking in terms of albums – the best material on here is as good as the best music recorded by anyone ever, and the worst is so bad as to be laughable.
The album’s title is a subtle dig at Capitol records, the band’s label, who had put out a cash-in compilation called Shut Down, featuring a couple of Beach Boys tracks alongside people such as Robert Mitchum.
Fun, Fun, Fun
One of the most exciting of the band’s early hits, this song was almost begging for another lawsuit from Chuck Berry, having an intro that is note-for-note identical to that of Johnny B Goode. Rather amazingly the lawsuit never came. (I’ve also heard it claimed that the verse melody was taken from Berry’s Carol, but I can hear very little resemblance).
Based on a true story (which happened either to a girlfriend of Dennis Wilson or the daughter of a radio station in Utah, depending on whose story you believe), this is one of several songs on this album whose creation is the subject of wildly differing accounts – Mike Love claims it was written in a cab in Salt Lake City, while Brian Wilson says they wrote it in Australia, after seeing the Beatles on TV.
Either way, the competition from the Beatles (who had not yet had a hit in the US when the song was recorded, but who were known to the band by this point after their Australian tour) clearly motivated the band to up their game, and everything about this track is exceptional, from Mike Love’s lyric (one of his very best) to the backing vocals acting as a Greek chorus, to the duelling Hammond and guitar solo, to Brian’s falsetto soaring over everything as the track fades.
The single mix (included as a bonus track on the CD) is the superior one, but this is a wonderful track in either form.
Don’t Worry Baby, the second track on the album, is even better. Based loosely on the Ronettes’ Be My Baby (with a little of Walking In The Rain for good measure), which Brian Wilson considers the greatest single ever recorded, this changes that adolescent sexual longing for something altogether more personal.
We see time and again in Brian Wilson’s music the figure of the woman who can save a man who is let down by his own weaknesses, and this is in fact the key to pretty much everything Wilson did (and one reason why although people compare him to Paul McCartney he is far closer to John Lennon, the only other songwriter in popular music to be as obsessed with masculine weakness being saved by a strong woman). This is the first time this figure appears, and it’s probably no coincidence that this song was written around the time of two pivotal events in Wilson’s life – his first nervous breakdown (on the ‘plane on the way to an Australian tour) and his engagement to his first wife, Marilyn.
Roger Christian puts this vulnerability and need for help into a typical Beach Boys context – someone afraid to drive in a drag race, but unable to back out because of his own bragging – but what really matters is just that this is a man trapped in a traditional masculine role, and only the unnamed ‘she’ can help him escape, when she says “Don’t worry baby, everything will turn out all right”
Musically, as well, this is very typically Brian Wilson. I’ve talked before about how he’s very much a piano-based composer and chords out with his right hand while playing melodies with his left, and this can be seen here better than anywhere else. On the chorus, Mike Love is clearly singing the moving left hand piano part (“Now don’t/now don’t you wo/rry ba-by”), the rest of the band are singing the block right-hand chords (“Don’t worry baby/Don’t worry ba-by”), while Brian is singing the melody line he would have been singing while playing the piano, on top (“Don’t worry baby/everything will turn out all right/Don’t worry baby”).
This is just a stunning, beautiful song and performance, and when released as the B-side to I Get Around managed to chart at number 24 in the US in its own right. In fact MOJO magazine, in the late 1990s, did a ‘hundred greatest singles of all time’ list and this came in at number 15, despite being a B-side.
In The Parkin’ Lot, another Wilson/Christian song, is filler about which there is essentially nothing to say, except that the intro and outro have nice harmonies.
“Cassius” Love vs “Sunny” Wilson is even less essential, being a ‘comedy’ spoken-word section where the band pretend to be rehearsing for a show, with bits of their hit records interspersed with Mike and Brian making fun of each others’ voices.
The Warmth Of The Sun, however, gets us back to Don’t Worry Baby levels of quality. Written by Brian and Mike either the night before or the night after the JFK assassination, depending on who you believe, this is the most sophisticated, complex version of the Surfer Girl formula the band ever did.
It sounds at first like a simple rewrite of that song, being another 12/8 arpeggiated track with block harmonies, starting out with the familiar doo-wop changes, but those changes soon go in a radically different direction.
The I-vi-ii-V (or the variant I-vi-IV-V) chord progression (doo-wop changes or ‘four chord trick’) is the basis of literally tens of thousands of songs, from Blue Moon and Heart And Soul to Please Mister Postman, This Boy and I Will Always Love You. And this song’s first two chords, C and Am, follow that pattern precisely.
But then rather than go to the expected Dm, the song changes key to Eb (a tone-and-a-half up), *restarts* the progression, and continues *that* until it gets to Dm, where it stays twice as long as it ‘should’ before finishing the original progression in C, so we have I-vi-IIIb-i-ii-ii-V-Vaug (the Beatles did something similar to this in Day Tripper, but using a 12-bar blues rather than doo-wop changes).
As well as being musically clever, though, this also suits the mood of the song – the song is about loss, and hope after loss, and by moving from C through to Cminor back to C again, that feeling of loss followed by renewed hope is conveyed in the chords – musically it’s like going through the night and getting to the dawn again.
Warmth Of The Sun is one of those songs that by rights should be a standard, one of the most perfect songs ever written.
This Car Of Mine is a Dion-esque song by Mike and Brian, written to give Dennis a vocal spot. It’s catchy enough, but has nothing of any real interest about it.
Why Do Fools Fall In Love? is a fairly straight cover of the Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers classic from the fifties, with a nice added a capella statement of the title in the middle of the song. One of the band’s best covers, but not hugely different from the original.
Pom Pom Play Girl is Carl Wilson’s first solo lead vocal, on a Wilson/Usher song that has little to recommend it – musically it’s a rewrite of Little Deuce Coupe while lyrically it’s a rather nastily misogynist portrait of a cheerleader who “doesn’t really know why she’s waving her hands”.
Keep An Eye On Summer is another 12/8 doo-wop based song, written by Brian Wilson and Bob Norberg (with Love gaining credit in his lawsuit). Bearing a slight resemblance to the Four Freshmen’s Graduation Day, which was in the band’s live repertoire at the time, this is nothing special. Strangely, this was one of two Beach Boys songs Brian chose to rerecord for his 1998 solo album Imagination.
Shut Down Part II is another generic surf instrumental, credited to Carl Wilson but again the kind of thing any band knock outs in a jam session. It starts with Mike Love reprising his two-note sax ‘solo’ from Shut Down, presumably to justify the title.
Louie Louie is a pretty poor cover, with Carl Wilson actually enunciating the lyrics, although Love’s dumb ‘duh-duh-duh’ bass vocal has just the right kind of stupidity (sounding very like some of the backing vocals on early Zappa records).
Denny’s Drums is a solo drum performance, supposedly by Dennis Wilson, who is credited as composer, but suspicious minds *might* think it was actually session player Hal Blaine…
Fun, Fun, Fun (single mix)
This is a slightly different mix to the album mix, with Brian’s vocal higher in the mix on the fade, and a drum overdub, but little other difference.
Ganz Allein is In My Room sung in German, to the same backing track.
and I Do is a Brian Wilson song that was eventually given to The Castells, a harmony-pop band whose lead singer later joined the Gary Usher-produced Hondells. Recorded around the time of the Surfer Girl sessions, this sounds like it was influenced by some of Phil Spector’s work with the Crystals, and would have made a better album track than many of the filler tracks that did get released.
Apologies for the lack of updates – my wife and I are visiting her parents in Minnesota for Xmas. Unfortunately, it took 48 hours to get here, due to weather in Paris.
I *was* planning to write the rest of the Escapology And Eschatology series this week, in preparation for it coming out as part of my next book, but unfortunately all the comics and books I was planning to use as reference are currently somewhere in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, and I’m not. I will be doing another Beach Boys post today though, and possibly *some* other stuff, but the rest of that series will have to wait til I get back.
Finally, we only have limited net access here, and only dial-up, so any comments that need moderating might take a while – please don’t keep trying, they *will* get looked at eventually.
And a very Merry Christmas to all of you at home.