You knew this was going to be a Beach Boys song, didn’t you? I realize you probably hate surf rock, so here’s Billy Joel playing it.
The song “Don’t Worry Baby” is nominally about drag racing, but they don’t even mention cars until the second verse. You’d think they’d start the exposition sooner. There’s only three lines in the whole song about cars.
My theory is that Brian Wilson wanted to write a song about his bubbling depression. After all, it was about half a year later in December 1964 that he had his paranoid meltdown on an airplane.
Well its been building up inside of me
For oh I don’t know how long
I don’t know why
But I keep thinking
Something’s bound to go wrong
Something did clearly go wrong after building up for years.
But the song was either too depressing or the record company wanted them to stay with the lyrical theme that had been bringing in the money. Or perhaps he wrote it on purpose as a thinly veiled metaphor. Whichever is the case, the upbeat music doesn’t fit at all with the lyrics
Part of the beauty in the song is that it can fit in so many different life contexts, whether that be something as parallel as mental illness or something as pedestrian as money troubles.
The man is worried about something, and the woman tries to comfort him. It really highlights a certain companionship that a woman can offer—something largely lost in today’s women. The woman in the song is concerned about his best interest, not about pasting him into her life. The modern woman would dump him at the first sign of trouble, but the woman in the song gives him the strength to continue instead of kicking him down.
She makes me come alive
And makes me wanna drive
When she says “Don’t worry baby”
Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Everything will turn out alright
I like to think this is one of the songs that reflected how Brian was instead of the alpha player he wanted to be. That’s all just conjecture, or course, but I get the impression the songs about cruising to the hamburger stand and being the coolest kid in school was the childhood he wished he had. He’s said in interviews that they chose the surfer theme in part because it seemed like a club for the cool kids only. How else do you explain songs like “Surfers Rule” when Dennis was the only one of the group who actually surfed?
“Don’t Worry Baby” closely overlaid his own life. Of course, you couldn’t write about mental illness at a time like that, so he found a metaphor. Instead of opening his mouth to brag about his car, Brian opened his mouth to sing, and now his family and friends are all depending on him to keep going.
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
And what’s the resolution? To keep soldiering on. You can’t take back your boast. You can’t quit the music business. Because that’s too much a part of you. That’s what makes you who you are. Brian couldn’t quit music anymore than Charles Manson could quit murdering.
Contrary to common platitudes, every great man does not have a great woman pushing him on. But women can offer a certain comfort we as men innately need—a comfort having become so rare that many men have sworn it off altogether, perhaps not unwisely. But that comfort, that feminine support, is what gives a man a unique drive to continue pushing forward. We all need our purposes in life. We all need accountability and community.
She told me “Baby, when you race today
Just take along my love with you
And if you knew how much I loved you
Baby nothing could go wrong with you”
Oh what she does to me
When she makes love to me
And she says “Don’t worry baby”
Don’t worry baby
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