#215: Don’t Worry Baby by the Beach Boys
Brian Wilson was born in Inglewood, California, in 1942. In biographer Peter Ames Carlin’s book, Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, he relates that when Brian Wilson first heard George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” it had a huge emotional impact on him. As a youngster, Wilson learned to play a toy accordion and sang in children’s choirs. In his teens he started a group with his cousin, Mike Love and his brother, Carl. Mike was born in Los Angeles in 1941 and Carl was born in 1946 in Hawthorne, California. Brian Wilson named the group Carl and the Passions in order to convince his brother to join. They had a performance in the fall of 1960 at Hawthorne High School, where they attended. Their set included some songs by Dion and the Belmonts. Among the people in the audience was Al Jardine, another classmate. Jardine was born in Hawthorne in 1942. He was so impressed with the performance that he let the group know. Jardine would later be enlisted, along with Dennis Wilson to form the Pendletones in 1961. Dennis was born in Inglewood in 1944.
The first song Brian Wilson wrote would become “Surfer Girl.” A demo of the tune was made in February 1962 and would go on to be a Top Ten hit when it was released a year later in 1963. However, their first recording was a doo-wop-surf tune called “Surfin’” in October 1961. It was released in November ’61 on the Candix Enterprises Inc. label. The surprise for the group was that the record label had changed the group’s name from the Pendletones to the Beach Boys. Consequently, as each time the record was played by a DJ in America, radio listeners were being introduced to the Beach Boys. The name Pendletones was now history.
In 1962, neighbor David Marks joined the group for their first wave of hits with Capitol Records, leaving in late 1963. In 1965, Bruce Johnston joined the band when Brian Wilson retired from touring to focus on writing and producing for the group. The Beach Boys signed with Capitol Records in July 1962 and released their first album, Surfin’ Safari, later that year. The album spent 37 weeks on the Billboard album chart, launching the young group known for its shimmering vocal harmonies and relaxed California style into international stardom. The Wilson/Love collaboration resulted in many huge international chart hits. Under Brian Wilson’s musical leadership, the band’s initial surf-rock focus was soon broadened to include many other themes, helping make The Beach Boys one of America’s most successful bands of the 1960’s.
The Beach Boys charted 13 Top Ten hits into the Billboard Hot 100 in the ’60’s. This began with “Surfin’ USA” in 1963. The only American pop group in the 1960’s who had more songs chart into the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 was The Supremes, who had 18 singles reach that threshold. Though, in Vancouver, the Beach Boys had 23 songs chart into the Top Ten while The Supremes charted 18 songs into the Top Ten in Vancouver on either CKLG or CFUN, making The Beach Boys the top charting American band in Vancouver during the Sixties.
In 1964 the Beach Boys hits included “She Knows Me Too Well”, “Wendy”, “Fun, Fun, Fun”, “Dance, Dance, Dance”, “Little Honda“, Don’t Worry Baby” and “I Get Around” – a double-sided #3 hit in Vancouver (BC).
“Don’t Worry Baby” was cowritten by Brian Wilson and Roger Christian. Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1934, Out of high school, Roger Christian was hired as a DJ in Rochester, New York, at WSAY. In the mid-50s he was working as a lifeguard and saved a radio executive’s wife from drowning. He subsequently got hired at a radio station in Buffalo. In 1958 he moved to San Bernardino, California, to work at KFXM. Later he worked at Los Angeles radio stations KFWB, KRLA, KBLA and others. Brian Wilson’s dad, Murray, was impressed with Christian as a DJ and a poet of the airwaves. He sent Brian Wilson to meet Roger Christian. The result was a number of songs Brian Wilson and Roger Christian penned. These include “Shut Down” and “Little Deuce Coupe”.
Roger Christian also wrote songs for Jan & Dean, including “Dead Man’s Curve”, “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena”, “Honolulu Lulu” and “Drag City”. At the age of 57, Christian died of complications from kidney and liver failure in 1991.
“Don’t Worry Baby” is a song about a guy who has been challenged to a drag race:
I guess I should’ve kept my mouth shut when I started to brag about my car.
But I can’t back down now because I pushed the other guys too far.
Now he’s got second thoughts about the race, but he has a girlfriend who makes him “come alive,” and makes him “wanna drive.” He finds the courage, relating that his girlfriend told him “Baby when you race today just take along my love with you.” She’s certain everything will be just fine. And so he goes ahead with the race.
“Don’t Worry Baby” was ranked at #178 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs, and on list of Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock N’ Roll.
“Don’t Worry Baby” climbed to #1 in Halifax (NS), Kingston (ON), Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas, San Jose (CA), Winnipeg (MB), Fort Worth (TX), Cleveland, Montreal, Montgomery (AL), Springfield (MA), Kansas City (MO), Providence (RI), Grand Rapids (MI), Hamilton (ON), Honolulu, Louisville (KY), Wilmington (DL), Los Angeles, Vancouver (WA), Pittsburgh, Sacramento (CA), San Diego, Washington DC, San Bernardino (CA), Troy (NY), Buffalo, New Haven (CT), Erie (PA), Milwaukee, Baltimore, Denver, Des Moines (IA), and Akron (OH), #2 in Miami, Lansing (MI), Gallup (NM), Manchester (NH), Reading (PA), Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tulsa (OK), Boston, Hartford (CT), Niagara Falls (NY), Phoenix, and Toledo (OH), #3 in Vancouver (BC), Butte (MT), Toronto, Newport News (VA), Richmond (VA), Columbus (OH), Detroit, Houston, Dayton (OH), and Cincinnati, #4 in Chicago, #5 in Allentown (PA), #6 in Lakeland (FL), and Seattle, #7 in La Crosse (WI), Rapid City (SD), and Oklahoma City, #8 in Beaumont (TX), and Cedar Rapids (IA), #9 in Salem (OR), and Boise (ID). Across the USA, “Don’t Worry Baby” charted well in over 30 states, but was a marginal hit in at least 15 states. The record peaked at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1965 the Beach Boys had hits with “Help Me Rhonda”, “The Warmth Of The Sun“, “California Girls” and “The Little Girl I Once Knew“. And on both January 29th and September 24th, 1965, the Beach Boys gave concerts in Vancouver at the PNE Forum. The group began 1966 with a #2 hit titled “Barbara Ann”, followed with “Sloop John B” and “You’re So Good To Me”, another double-sided hit that also peaked at #2.
Other hits by the Beach Boys in 1966 were “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (#1), “Good Vibrations” (#1) . The B-side to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “God Only Knows,” peaked at #5 on CFUN. The Beach Boys were at the top of their popularity into the mid-60’s. They released their hit album, Pet Sounds, in May 1966, with the hits “God Only Knows,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B” all doing well on the pop charts, especially in Vancouver. It was their ninth of ten successive albums that made the Top Ten in the Billboard 200 Album charts. 1966 was also the year The Beach Boys had their #1 hit, “Good Vibrations,” which was their third #1 hit in three years. On August 16, 1966, the Beach Boys performed in concert in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. On February 3, 1968, and the following year on January 18, 1969, the Beach Boys gave concerts in Vancouver at the PNE Agrodome.
From 1967 onward, The Beach Boys chart successes were sporadic. However, they have continued to tour over the decades. Among their few Top Ten hits in Vancouver (BC) in the 1970s were “Rock And Roll Music” and in 1979 “Good Timin’“. Another single, “Sail On Sailor”, climbed to #12 on CKLG in May 1975. At the start of the 1970s, on February 27, 1970, and December 16, 1971, the Beach Boys appeared in concert at Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. On November 4, 1973, the Beach Boys performed in concert at the War Memorial Gym in Vancouver. On March 17th, December 11th and 14th, 1974; December 13th and 14th, 1975; December 21, 1976; December 11, 1977; and on December 15, 1980; the Beach Boys appeared in concert at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.
After “Good Timin'”, the Beach Boys had several more Top 20 hits. The first was titled “The Beach Boys Medley” which was a #12 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1981. The medley included a mix of the Beach Boys hit singles “Good Vibrations”, “Help Me Rhonda”, “I Get Around”, “Shut Down”, “Surfin’ Safari”, “Barbara Ann”, “Surfin’ U.S.A” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. In January 1982 the Beach Boys had their cover of the 1957 Del-Vikings hit “Come Go With Me” climb to #18 on the Hot 100.
On July 20, 1983, the Beach Boys gave a concert at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. Tragedy struck when Dennis Wilson, plagued with alcohol and drug addiction, drowned after he came out of rehab in December 1983. He was 39 years old. In 1986 the Beach Boys covered the Mamas & the Papas 1966 hit “California Dreamin’“, taking it to #9 in Vancouver (BC). On September 12, 1986, the Beach Boys gave a concert at the World Expo in Vancouver. Bookending this concert, the Beach Boys appeared in concert on August 21, 1985, and again on August 23, 1987, at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. In 1988, “Kokomo”, a song penned by John Philips (formerly of The Mamas & the Papas), Scott McKenzie (who had a #1 hit in Vancouver (BC) in June 1967 titled “San Francisco”), and the Beach Boys Mike Love, climbed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The Beach Boys achievement ended a 22-year drought in the number one spot for the group. On July 24, 1988, the Beach Boys gave a concert in Vancouver at the Expo Theatre.
The Beach Boys have had four singles – “Good Vibrations”, “California Girls”, “In My Room” and “I Get Around” – and one album, Pet Sounds, inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame between 1994 and 2017. On August 2, 1993, the Beach Boys appeared in concert in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby at Deer Lake Park. In 1997, Carl Wilson was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer. While on tour, and receiving chemotherapy, he sat on a stool while performing the Beach Boys hits. Carl Wilson died at the age of 51 in February 1998.
At the start of the 2000s, the Beach Boys gave a concert at the Plaza of Nations in Vancouver on August 12, 2001. On March 30, 2006, the Beach Boys appeared in concert in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and subsequently in the suburb or Richmond at the River Rock Casino on March 31st and April 1, 2006. On September 26th and 27th, 2008, the Beach Boys gave concerts at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, British Columbia. On April 20th and 21st, 2007, and two years later on both August 28th and 29th, 2009, the Beach Boys performed concerts in the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam at the Red Robinson Show Theatre.
Next, on August 21, 2010, the Beach Boys performed in concert in Vancouver on Empire Field. Earlier that spring the Beach Boys gave back-to-back concerts at the River Rock Casino in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond on May 14th and 15th. On August 23, 2013, and two years later on August 26, 2015, the Beach Boys gave concerts at the PNE Amphitheatre in Vancouver. In 2016 Mike Love published Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy, while Brian Wilson published his memoir, I Am Brian Wilson. And on November 9, 2016, the Beach Boys performed at the Orpheum in Vancouver.
Between November 30, 2019, and March 7, 2020, The Beach Boys have scheduled 30 concert dates across ten states in the USA. Their most recent concert in Vancouver (BC) was on September 1, 2019. The current lineup includes Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Christian Love, and John Cowsill (formerly of the Cowsills). Brian Wilson is touring separately with former Beach Boy, Al Jardine, and a backing band.
January 10, 2022
The Beach Boys – About, The Beach Boys.com
Jeff Slate, How Brian Wilson Found Inspiration in the Artists Working Beside Him, Esquire, New York, October 11, 2016
Tony Asher Interview, Surfer Moon.com April 4, 1996
Wilson, Brian with Greenman, Ben. I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir. DeCapo Press. Boson, MA, 2016
Lambert, Philip. Inside the Music of Brian Wilson: The Songs, Sounds, and Influences of the Beach Boys’ Founding Genius. Continuum International Publishing, New York, 2007.
The Beach Boys Concert Dates, The Beach Boys.com.
Cathy Nelson Price, “Second-generation Beach Boy Christian Love Shares the Stage with Dad Mike,” Midland Daily News, Midland, Michigan, July 30, 2010.
“Roger Christian: Disc Jockey, Songwriter,” Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1991.
“Beach Boys concerts Canada,” Setlist.fm.
“C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, June 27, 1964.
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