The Beach Boys’ epitome of a darker Californian sound, ‘Don’t Worry Baby’, was the surf rock band’s answer to The Ronettes track ‘Be My Baby’, the latter of which Brian Wilson called “the greatest pop song ever written.” The Ronnettes number was also called “Rosetta stone for studio pioneers such as The Beatles and Brian Wilson,” and would lay the groundwork for ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ a year later.
It is no surprise, then, that Brian Wilson wanted to create his equivalent of the ‘greatest pop song ever written’. The two tracks are very similar in style and melody; the drums are identical at the beginning of the track. On the similarities between the two songs, Phil Lambert who is the author of Inside The Music of Brian Wilson, wrote: “They’re in the same key – E Major – and they start the same. The phrase structure is the same, the chord progressions are almost the same, the melodies are almost the same.”
It took Wilson two days to write the music for the song, while radio DJ, Roger Christian wrote the lyrics.
Wilson told Goldmine in 2011: “I wrote that with Roger Christian and it took me two days to write it. I started out with the verse idea and then wrote the chorus. It was a very simple and beautiful song. It’s a really heart and soul song, I really did feel that in my heart. Some say it’s about a car and others say it’s about a girl, who’s right? It’s both. It’s about a car and a woman.”
It was released as the B-side to the single containing ‘I Get Around’, which was described as the quintessential song of the Californian sound; interestingly so, ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ – while the more romantic song of the two – was described as having a darker quality to it and perhaps it would be more accurate to call this undertone ‘melancholic’.
‘Don’t Worry Baby’ was recorded in two eight-hour sessions on January 7th in 1964 at United Western Recorders, in Los Angeles. For a lot of Brian Wilson’s material, he used professional Californian session players to record the studio versions of his songs, however, on this particularly heartfelt number, Wilson wanted to create a truly genuine feeling; the Beach Boy mastermind wanted to keep it in the family. Brian played bass and piano, while Carl Wilson played the guitar, and Dennis Wilson played the drums.
Beach Boys member Al Jardine told Mojo magazine in 2012 that it was his favourite recording session with the band: “Engineer Chuck Britz got such a great sound on that song; the drums, the singing, the clicky sound on the Fender Precision bass,” he explained. “There’s something about the way the track sat. Just about everything about it was an era-change for us.”
The Beach Boys’ quintessential romantic summer song has been covered by a slew of different styles of artists since its release. Rivers Cuomo covered a version of it for his solo record, Alone II – The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo. He said about the track, “I love the big harmonies in the chorus – actually five-part vocal harmonies – and I carefully transcribed them in my bedroom on my tape player.”
Beyond the song’s influence on Weezer, the track has had a far-reaching influence on others, including Garbage’s 1998’s single, ‘Push It’; the chorus of the song references the chorus’ lyric and melody of the Beach Boys track.
Along with The Ronettes track, ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is considered to be one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs from the 1960s. Listen to them both, below.