The Beach Boys were the first band that I can ever remember liking as a child. Part of it was the fact that they sing the best-known version of the song “Sloop John B,” a personal favorite for obvious reasons, but I think the real reason was that there’s something incredibly soothing in their harmonies. The Beatles may have had tighter, more precise harmonies, but for me the Beach Boys will always win—their harmonies had a rich, orchestral depth that the Beatles couldn’t match.
The harmonies are the centerpiece here on “Don’t Worry Baby,” a hit that I’d forgotten about until a friend reintroduced me to it a few weeks ago. The vocal parts do the most work here, and are responsible for the song’s harmonic structure—they’re outlining the chords and providing counterpoint and interest. But what’s remarkable about it is how much sonic space the harmonies fill. Apart from the voices, it’s a really simple track: drums, bass, and a really spare guitar part that’s drenched in glorious 60’s spring reverb (check 1:43).
Despite the soothing chorus, the lyrics are an ambiguous narrative in the best Brian Wilson tradition (see “In My Room”). We’re never really sure how the car race finishes, and the listener has only the girlfriend’s assurance that “everything will turn out all right.” When you just focus on the words the whole song is more than a little melancholy, but this multi-faceted quality further confirms it as a stellar example of the Beach Boys at their finest.