Of all the songwriters of the 1960s, few captured the public’s imagination as powerfully as The Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson. In those days, music seemed to seep out of his every pore, leaving him no option but to dedicate his youth to crafting the perfect pop song. His success in this regard is clear from the simple fact that, despite looking more like a group of socially anxious chess champions, The Beach Boys successfully became the living embodiment of the West Coast’s sun-kissed and musically-fixated youth movement.
But it wasn’t to last. Eventually, the reality of life as a working musician caught up with Wilson. Buckling under the weight of his immense workload, the songwriter soon found himself in the suffocating grip of mental collapse. Between 1963 and 1965, Wilson wrote and produced no less than nine Beach Boys albums and 16 singles. In an attempt to accomplish even greater feats of creativity, he began taking doses of LCD. And while his propensity for crafting honey-sweet pop music did indeed increase, he overwhelmed his already-fragile psyche in the process.
Reflecting on his life and career back in 2011, Wilson opened up about some of the music that soundtracked his time as California’s golden boy. As well as revealing the first song that he ever learned to play (‘You Stepped Out Of A Dream’ by The Four Freshmen), the musician named his favourite lyric of all time, citing The Ronnettes’ Wall of Sound classic ‘Be My Baby’.
“The lyrics for that are fantastic,” Wilson began. “‘Be my little baby’ – it’s the way he describes everything. It starts and you just go, ‘What the hell?! That’s pretty cool!’ I really like lyrics in general – I listen first for them, and then I listen to the melody and the chorus.”
While Phil Spector’s name is the most commonly associated with ‘Be My Baby’, the lyrics were written by songwriting duo Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who were married at the time, which perhaps explains why the track is so delightfully direct. Had it been written by a songwriter in the throes of new love, ‘Be My Baby’ may have suffered from an over-abundance of metaphor, flowery imagery and poetic meanderings on the divine power of love.
Instead, we get a pragmatic declaration of the speaker’s intentions that could only have come from the pen of two people who have since outgrown youthful romance – and thank God, the strength of ‘Be My Baby’ is in its clarity and concision. The listener is liberated from ambiguity, allowing them the freedom to bask in Spector’s plush recording style. With its texture like crushed velvet, the recording quickly envelops the listener, plunging them into a mellow pool of deliberately oversaturated sonic bliss.