One of the joys of listening to so much music is realizing what songs you revisit the most. Like any self-respecting music snob, I adore the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, that absurdly great record that proved that Brian Wilson was (and remains) some sort of hypercreative genius. It’s incredible, and with confections like “Sloop John B.” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” not inaccessible.
Yet the song I always go back to is “Don’t Worry Baby,” a three-minute, (mostly) three-chord song that, compared to the Pet Sounds and Smile songs, could not be more simple. Wilson originally conceived it as an answer song to the Ronettes’ “Don’t Worry Baby,” Wilson’s favorite song. Listening to the two songs back-to-back is a fun exercise, because you can identify the parts that Wilson wanted to replicate: that thump-ka-thump intro, the overall tempo, and, of course, that command of a refrain. Even reading the song names together is something like an intimate conversation.
One thing I love about “Don’t Worry Baby” is the guitar solo, which, admittedly, is barely a solo at al, but I think it’s perfect: like the girl in the song, it’s providing simplicity and consistently. The Beach Boys’s music became beloved for its complexity, but at any given moment, I find reassurance more appealing.
Man, this one is sad. The thing that gets to me most is that phrase in the intro and between verses, with the tympani and strings. It’s beautiful, but there’s one note throwing a slight wrench in the works, making it sound slightly “bluesy” in a way that’s absolutely heartbreaking. Then there’s the chorus, which contradicts Alfred Lord Tennyson’s statement that “‘Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.” Actually, say the Ronettes, ’tis better to have stayed indoors.
The Ronettes, as practitioners of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”, usually had more bells and baritone sax to their songs. To my ears, those are absent (though maybe there are some bells in there; that mono wall can be hard to pick apart). They’re more famous for songs like the incredible “Be My Baby”, more rock than what Spector supposedly called “little symphonies for the kids”, and it’s that grandness that makes this song work so well. I like to think of teenagers in 1965 sitting in their bedrooms, setting this one on the turntable or hearing it on the radio, thinking about their high school romances, thinking, “Yes, exactly!” (Alas, this definitely never happened: Though recorded in 1965, the song wasn’t released until 1974.)
Everything feels massively important in teenage years, and, purposely or not, I think this song nails that feeling exactly. Beth Orton covered this song in 1996, and it sounds just as dramatic in the hands of a person in her late 20s. I’d imagine it would sound the same sung by a person in their 70s; love is love, loss is loss. It’s amazing how that works.