Wrestling With The Angel, Chapter 5

If you’re a new visitor to this blog, the purpose of my Wrestling With The Angel series (or category) is to highlight and share individual songs that are on a list of mine entitled: Devastatingly Great Songs. The title phrase, “Wrestling With The Angel,” is my paraphrase of a line from a poem by Herman Melville called “Art.” You can read the complete poem in my archived post of November 4, 2011: “The Source.”

In 1965, in the Southeast corner of New Hampshire, a department store was about the only place a recently-music-obsessed boy could buy the latest hit records. So, one afternoon when my parents informed me that we were going over to Dover after dinner to do some shopping at Sawyer Mills (a sprawling,  smorgasbord of a store in an actual converted mill building), I knew that my chance had come again.

Upon arrival, I quickly located the record department on the second floor and carefully began searching the somewhat-meager singles selection. None the less, I soon found exactly what I was looking for: “Eve of Destruction” (b/w “What Exactly’s The Matter With Me”) by Barry McGuire and “California Girls” (b/w “Let Him Run Wild”) by The Beach Boys.

California Girls

 Driving home to Exeter that night along Rte.108, my mother asked me what records I had bought. Right after I’d finished telling her, the radio station we’d been listening to played “Eve of Destruction” and then… “California Girls.” Even my father was surprized.

“California Girls” was not the first or the last Beach Boys record I would add to my collection.

Little Deuce Coupe (1963), the fourth album by Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine had been getting and would continue to get a solid amount of playing time on my Magnavox record player.

                                       Little Deuce

It wasn’t until many years later that I came to realize just how much I must have listened to at least side 1 of that album. I’d picked up a CD copy of Little Deuce Coupe and listening to the first six songs – “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Ballad Of Ole’ Betsy,” “Be True To Your School,” “Car Crazy Cutie,” “Cherry, Cherry Coupe” and “409” – was like being at a reunion with a group of old friends. From “Shut Down,” the first song on side 2 of the LP, and on through the remaining five songs on the CD , I felt like I’d stepped into a room full of strangers.

In 1971, not long after my 18th birthday, I bought The Beach Boys’ newest album, Surf’s Up. I listened to this one all the way through both sides and it’s a very good thing I did. The last song on the second side, the title song, written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, was and still is, to me, absolutely spectacular.

                                       Surfs up

With piano, bass guitar, slight percussion and a brief trumpet for accompaniment, the singer starts the first verse: “A diamond necklace played the pawn, hand in hand some drummed along to a handsome man and baton” and finishes: “Columnated ruins domino” in a pure, soaring falsetto.

This is not the land of “Little Deuce Coupe” and “California Girls” any more.

“Canvas the town and brush the backdrop. Are you sleeping?” (Sung twice. The chorus?)

The last verse, with only the piano: “Surf’s up, aboard a tidal wave. Come about hard and join the young and often spring you gave. I heard the word, wonderful thing, a children’s song.”

And finally, the coda: “The child is father of the man.”

Take four minutes and listen. (My apologies for the ugly video graphics.)

Just listen.

John Bush, writing in The All Music Guide To Rock calls that recording: “a masterpiece of baroque psychedelia.”

What do you call it?

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2 Responses to Wrestling With The Angel, Chapter 5

  1. TPS says:

    For any of us who grew up in the 60’s, and didn’t live in a cave, the Beach Boys will always be a significant component of the soundtrack of our lives. We grew and matured as they did, and we appreciated where they took their music. The band as a whole, and Brian Wilson in particular, are and will always be American music icons. We are all blessed to have lived in this time, to have had the opportunity and the privilege of seeing and hearing their music the first time out.
    Surf’s Up still gives me chills. What a wonderful song….

  2. ADS says:

    In the mid 1960’s, in the northeastern corner of NJ, there was also a department store where a music-obsessed (or more accurately, a top-40 77WABC radio-listening-music-obsessed) girl could buy records. Actually, being NJ, there was more than one place — Woolworth’s and Valley Fair – where I would go through racks or cubbyholes of 45’s. I still have those 45’s – (no big surprise to those who know me) and among them are two by The Beach Boys: “Good Vibrations” (b/w “Let’s Go Away For Awhile”) and “Barbara Ann” (b/w “Girl Don’t Tell Me”). I played them constantly on my phonograph; singing along……oblivious to those who may have had to listen to me. The soundtrack of our lives? Absolutely! Who knew that about 17 years later I would again be singing “Barbara Ann” – but this time to my infant daughter…..over and over….to her delight. She joined me with big smiles, waving of arms, kicking of feet and attempts to sing along (of course!).
    It was eventually nicknamed the “Ba-Ba song” and the tradition continued 6 years later when our son was born. What a wonderful song….”a children’s song”….indeed!

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