Stories Behind Classic Songs, Part 9

1) Brian Wilson wrote California Girls during his first LSD trip

California is one of those places that I’ve always felt I visited without ever actually doing so. I can only attribute this to the numerous times its colorful and sunny atmosphere has been captured and immortalized; be it on record, film or paper. There’s the classic, summer-of-love flavored California Dreamin’. Woody Allen’s portrayal of it in opposition with the coldness and neuroticism of New York in Annie Hall. Heck, there’s a seemingly endless list of the songs written about it over the years presented on Wikipedia. But I still feel there is no better place to get that feeling than The Beach Boys’ early discography. The themes on those songs vary from surfing, to beaches, to cars or to girls; but what unites them all is the feeling that they all happen in the same physical area. They all come together in forming a land that feels care-free and where having a good time is guaranteed.

 

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Brian Wilson in 1965 – outtake from the Summer Days album photo shoot

California Girls is definitely a product of that Beach Boys era, written before the heartbreak and angst started to replace the fun. But it was also conceived after Brian Wilson’s decision to quit touring, making it a “studio product” with eclectic instrumentation and meticulous construction. In fact, my favorite part is neither the anthemic chorus nor the Mike Love-sung verses leading to it, but the orchestrated intro. It seems to be taking the listener on a short journey to a fantasy land and when it’s over, you open your eyes to find that California was that destination all along. I was not surprised to learn that Brian wrote that opening during his first ever LSD trip: “I was thinking about the music from cowboy movies. And I sat down and started playing it, bum-buhdeeda, bum-buhdeeda. I did that for about an hour. I got these chords going. Then I got this melody, it came pretty fast after that. And the rest was history, right?” Say what you will about drugs, but clearly they had a hand in helping Brian write this song as well as future masterpiece, a hand in opening the gates of creativity to even broader horizons.

2) Comfortably Numb was inspired by Roger Waters being sedated

Yet another drug-inspired song. But this time around the experience was not recreational as much as medical – Roger Waters was sick with stomach cramps from an undiagnosed case of hepatitis before a show to the point where he wasn’t able to go on stage. A doctor came to the rescue with a shot of tranquilizers that according to Roger would’ve killed a fucking elephant, hence the lyric “That’ll keep you going through the show”. In fact, it’s not just that single lyric. Everything that the character Pink is portrayed feeling in the song mirrors Waters’ real-life experience: both become numb to the pain at first, then start hallucinating and recalling childhood memories, and finally are able to go on stage. Now I know what you’re gonna say – their paths split next with Pink either becoming or imagining himself become a full-blown fascist dictator in The Wall’s plot-twist, whereas Waters only went on to perform the planned concert (a bad one apparently, because he wasn’t able to properly play the bass, but the fans didn’t care anyway).

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David Gilmour joining Roger Waters for Comfortably Numb during The Wall tour in 2011

But that only goes to show how rooted in reality The Wall really is, at least up to this song. And I know I’ve said this before, but Pink Floyd always had a way of resonating with the listener that most prog rock bands of the time lacked. Comfortably Numb is indeed great musically with its suitable dreamy and hazy atmosphere and Gilmour’s guitar solos that many have written about, but re-listening to it now made me appreciate just how well the story is told. That attention to detail can only come from having been in that situation yourself.

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Categories: Stories Behind Classic Songs

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25 replies

  1. thanks so much, i always love to learn the stories behind the songs, and these two are classics!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thanks for posting, that was an interesting read. I frequently wonder what tripping would do for my inspirations. The world is weird enough to me already, without the drugs. Hm. Maybe I should write something that a drugged me might write, that would be an interesting challenge.

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  3. The Beach Boys always sounded so sun-drenched but of course there was darkness lurking there too…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. two great songs from two sides of “the pond” thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Listen to a Red Hot Chili Peppers album, you’ll definitely feel like you’ve been to California!
    Nice call on the excellence of the California girls intro

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting post – thank-you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Two great stories from talented song writers. Brian Wilson is an American and global treasure with his words and music. Pet Sounds, alone, is a masterpiece which would be included in many people’s top ten.

    Since Waters songs were often listened to with black light and some form of mind altering substance, the origins would not surprise me. It would be a circle of life nirvana.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yeah, I get what you mean about the California references. Brian paints a visual picture of the Golden State with many of his songs. I’ll be there next week for a vacation…San Diego for 10 days is the perfect place to recharge the batteries after working without a break for a long time.

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  9. Great information. If you have ever watched the Gilmour documentary called “Wider Horizons” from 2015 at the 55:35 mark David talks about how he original wrote Comfortably Numb for his first solo record but ran out of time to do anything with it. They even play a demo of it. Yes on “The Wall” all the lyrics for Comfortably Numb were Waters but the song just might have been a David Gilmour tune. Just thought your readers should be aware of that fact also. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X51wNrEKLjk

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  10. Well written and informative. The Beach Boys were popular in my house. Another star was, and still remains, James Taylor.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As a born and raised California girl and a long-time Pink Floyd nut, this post was just all around awesome for me 🙂 The Wall in its entirety really is a masterpiece but “Comfortably Numb” is just as strong on its own as it is as a chapter in Pink’s storyline. Gilmour’s guitar solo is pure magic, his playing is just so expressive. His solo in “Comfortably Numb” is tied with “Echoes” on my list of top David Gilmour guitar solos.

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  12. I’ve been to many of their concerts back in the day and spoken with a few of the band members as well.. Thanking you kindly for bringing back the sweetest memories of the Seventies.. This was a time in history that can never be repeated in this day in age. I suppose each decade holds its own special ingredients that when spoken about people will say, ” Oh I remember when….”

    Take care, from Laura 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’d known the story behind “Comfortably Numb,” being a rabid Pink Floyd fan. I wasn’t much into the Beach Boys, so wasn’t aware of the story behind “California Girls.” Interesting!
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. its interest to see a post like this

    Liked by 1 person

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