|By Mike Callahan||Wednesday, 12 Aug 2009|
“Good-Evil; The Soundtrack” is a weekly feature that showcases an editor’s song pick complete with a small write-up and a YouTube video or streaming version of the song. This week’s selection by Mike Callahan is “The Beach Boys – Never Learn Not To Love”.
Never Learn Not To Love is a song by the Beach Boys off of their 1969 album 20/20. Lead vocals are taken by Dennis WIlson, who had comparatively few lead vocals next to his two brothers, Brian and Carl, and the other two Beach Boys members, Mike Love and Al Jardine. For reference, Carl sang the lead on God Only Knows, Good Vibrations and many others; Mike Love commandeered many of the early surfin’ hits like Surfin’ Safari, Fun Fun Fun, I Get Around and Good Vibrations. Even Al Jardine, the rhythm guitarist, is handed the reigns on Help Me, Rhonda and Vegetables.
20/20 was in the transitory period of the Beach Boys that followed the release and defeat of Pet Sounds, the seminal (and worthy of far more examination and appreciation than I can put down here) album overshadowed by the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This period was characterized by a folksy, acoustic, lighter, more relaxing side of Americana sounding songs that Never Learn Not To Love is a good example of.
Dennis’s voice brings a nice bit of grit on the louder bits, and a pleasantly mellow, laid-back kind of delivery that is engaging without being overwhelming.
Rather appropriate. For me, this is a song perfect for a windy, cloudy day outside in early or late summer, lying in an open field of soft grain, staring at the sky and melting into the earth. The musical production is crisp and excellently layered courtesy of the always brilliant Brian, and the rest of the group’s background harmonies soar over Dennis’s pleading.
Perhaps the most interesting bit about the song is that it was originally written by Charles Manson. Yes, the one that carved a swastika into his forehead and orchestrated the murders committed by his “Family.” Manson was an outside player in the southern California and briefly met Dennis once, leading to Dennis covering the same, albeit with an altered title and modified lyrics, not to mention an entirely different musical slant. Manson’s original idea was to create a lilting, typical southern Californian album of sunshine and lazy days, portraying the innocence of youth. However, he wanted to include a sinister vein in it that would slowly corrupt its listeners and drive them to wild, manic, senseless acts.
In this light, Manson’s original lyrics are a little scary. They lay out a scenario where the narrator wants his female love to “cease to exist,” seemingly saying that if they only give up who they are and what they know, they will learn to live and love. The narrator urges her submit, and says, “I never had a lesson I ever learned/Never learned not to love you” which certainly gives off a little bit of a stalking, psychopathic serial killer feel.
Yet, add some vocal harmonies, perfectly placed brass and string backings and a slightly distorted guitar over a jaunty drum beat and you’ve got a Beach Boys classic.
Here’s the Manson+Family original. I only recommend it for those who like atonal, arrhythmic stuff, or for those of who us who enjoy expanding their minds: