sex, love, hitchhiking, and other excitations

Estimated reading time is 9 minutes.

JUST AS LOVE AND SEX are not synonymous, neither is a great song synonymous with a great record. Hell’s Belles, in such genres as rock & roll and rhythm & blues and even country & western, a great song may actually impede the making of a great record! This is especially so if the artist and the producer focus too much on a pretty melody or a clever lyric and not on the actual making of the record. 1

Just as a great song does not ensure a great record, neither does a weak or just plain silly song mean an inconsequential recording. As one example, Hound Dog is one of the greatest and most famous rock & roll records ever made.

 

I hear the sound of a gentle word on the wind that lifts her perfume through the air. I’m picking up good vibrations—she’s giving me excitations.

 

Its melody is perfunctory and its lyrics are so dumb (d-u-m-b with the accent on the ‘b’) that they have been the butt of both good-natured satire and nasty condescension since its release.

Big Mama Thornton cut a mambo-ish rhythm & blues version of Hound Dog in 1952, making it sixty-three-years old; Elvis Presley’s balls-to-the-walls rock & roll interpretation of ’56 is almost sixty. Both have aged well: they remain landmark recordings and are almost as extraordinary a listening experience now as they were then! 2

But this essay is not about that song or those singers. It’s not even about rock & roll or records, although it’s going to seem that way.

 

Elvis_HoundDog_sheet

This is a cool piece of sheet music with a photo from the Presley’s appearance on the Steve Allen television show on July 1, 1956. This is one of rock & roll’s most famous moments as Allen was a detractor of the new music and insisted that the singer wear a tuxedo and sing to a real dog as a prop. Needless to say, Elvis handled it with aplomb.

The joy of hitchhiking

Flashback to yesterday: I had to walk a couple of bags of recyclable refuse to the dumpster. I took the shortcut through the green-belt, so I was walking on the grass surrounded by trees. It was in the high 40s and the sun was shining. I became aware that I actually had a bit of a spring in my step!

And I thought, Wow! I’m feeling the kind of excitations I used to feel decades ago when Spring was approaching and then I remembered the joy the thrill the trepidation of hitchhiking when the weather was nice and I was young and full of joie de vivre!

And that’s what kicked this off: I actually think in terms of excitations! I am amazed that fifty years after its release, a clever word in a song not noted for its lyrics still has meaning to me in my everyday life!

 

BeachBoys_GV_Sheet

All 45 rpm singles and most album releases credited Good Vibrations to Brian Wilson and Mike Love, as did the sheet music pictured above. Brian’s recent recordings of the song incorporate lyrics that Tony Asher had written for the song in early 1966 when it was being considered as part of the PET SOUNDS album. These new recordings credit Wilson, Asher, and Love.

Some kinda vibrations

In this case, the song is Good Vibrations and the writers credited for it were Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Mike Love. I attribute most of the lyrics to Love, along with coining excitation. I do this despite the fact that the song was originally written by Wilson with Tony Asher as part of the PET SOUNDS album. 

When it was pulled from the album and set aside as a single, Brian had Mike write new lyrics. So, what were Asher’s original lyrics? Tony had the following to say:

I would have been delighted to be asked to work with Brian again. But I assumed, given the disappointing sales of [PET SOUNDS] and the group’s unhappiness with the material, that my services were no longer needed. That assumption seemed to be confirmed when Good Vibrations came out without any of my lyrics. As this is a somewhat controversial and inflamed subject, which continues to fester despite my best efforts to put it behind me,

Perhaps I would do well merely to refer you to disc 5 of the 1993 Beach Boys boxed set which contains some of the lyrics I wrote. Some will conclude that if Mike Love gets writing credit for his ‘work’ on Wouldn’t It Be Nice, [then] I should surely get credit for mine on Good Vibrations. ‘Nuff said.” (Surfer Moon) 3

So, is it possible that Asher chose the word excitations for the song but Love got the credit? I don’t know. 4

 

This is not the original mono 45 rpm single mix of Good Vibrations. This is the same recording as the single but in new improved, full-dimensional stereo. Also, there are bits of the original session outtakes grafted on to the latter part of the recording (at 2:54).

Sensations and elations

Here are the lyrics to Good Vibrations in a more or less grammatically reasonable format. This is not necessarily how they were sung: I wrote “picking up” not “pickin’ up.” I also did not include the doo-woppy background sounds the guys were making, and I eliminated excessive redundancies.

I love the colorful clothes she wear
and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair.
I hear the sound of a gentle word
on the wind that lifts her perfume through the air.
I’m picking up good vibrations,
she’s giving me excitations.

I’m picking up good vibrations,
she’s giving me excitations.

Close my eyes, she’s somehow closer now.
Softly smile, I know she must be kind.
When I look in her eyes,
she goes with me to a blossom world.
I’m picking up good vibrations—
she’s giving me excitations.
I’m picking up good vibrations—
she’s giving me excitations.

I don’t know where but she sends me there.
My what a sensation.
My what an elation.
Got to keep those love good vibrations happening with her.

Everyone quotes the first line as ending with the plural “wears” because it makes grammatical sense, but Carl clearly sings the singular “wear.” That way it rhymes with “hair” in the second line. I don’t know why, but many sites on the Internet added a syllable to the final line so that it reads, “Gotta keep those lovin’ good vibrations happening with her.” But that’s not what they’re singing.

In the context of the rest of the lyrics to Good Vibrations, the word excitations are easily heard or read as being about the singer being attracted to a girl and picking up some good vibes from her. Consequently, I spent decades thinking of the word only in a sexual and romantic connotation. 5

 

SexLove_Toklas2

When I try to conjure up an idealized Sixties hippie-chick who just naturally gives off endless good vibrations, my mind often turns to Leigh Taylor-Young in the zany I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. When affluent-but-uptight attorney Peter Sellers meets this Zen-like child of nature, he picks up on her truly good good good vibrations and gets the excitations so bad that he turns his life upside-down to be with her.

Sex, aging, and other excitations

A few years ago, a neighbor remarked about the seemingly boundless energy that I displayed—especially for a man in his ’60s stuck in his apartment most of the time. (Not because I’m an invalid, but of choice, writing.) I told him that it was the excitations I get from too many cups of really good coffee.

The neighbor was my contemporary and immediately got the musical reference: “Coffee and excitations. Good vibrations. Never thought of it that way.”

And I told him it was only partially about the caffeine buzz: I drink the coffee because I’m writing all day and I get the excitations from the combination of the buzz of caffeination along with the joy of the writing and the research and the learning!

 

I am amazed that fifty years after its release, a clever word in a song not noted for its lyrics still has meaning to me in my everyday life!

 

So there was always the joy-of-girl-watching thing about the song and the word, then there was the joy-of-writing thing, and now I had the joy-of-Spring thing attached to that one word.

So the Wilson-Love excitations is now a regular part of my verbal lexicon. When I use it, few people fail to either recognize the word from the record, or they immediately grasp its meaning. And of course, I always use it in a very positive sense—as the writers intended.

So this essay is NOT about Good Vibrations the song or the record. It is about how that record turned people on to the use of the term ‘good vibrations,’ no doubt also encouraging them to recognize that there were such things and that they were emanating from their lovers and their friends and their brothers and their sisters and their pets and from the trees and the plants and the bloody rocks that roll or lie about them everywhere every day.

In fact, excitations may be my faverave word coined in the ’60s! 6

This essay is about the excitations that are all around you and me in this whole world that we are a part of. It’s about the coining of a great word that I use more now in MY 60s than I ever used in THE ‘60s.

Plus it’s an excuse to ramble on about sex love hitchhiking aging weather movies hippie-chicks rock & roll and other excitations.

I’m a senior citizen now and I still pick up on good vibrations and I actually think in terms of excitations! Click To Tweet

Toklas NancyTattoo 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken from the movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. When Peter Seller’s rigid, uptight character gazes on the sleeping form of the beautiful hippie-chick played by Leigh-Taylor Young, he is not just seeing the possibility of sex: he is seeing a world of sensuality and freedom that he had never considered possible before. And he was seeing the possibility of there being a place for him in that world.


FOOTNOTES:

1   If you are a virgin and reading this, listen up: anyone who tells you that sex without love is meaningless or some such caca is probably a closeted virgin and you shouldn’t listen to him/her. Sex alters your mind and changes your world can occur at any time for any reason or for no reason at all. It’s one of Wholly Grommett’s Great Mysteries Remember, with or without love, sex can be extraordinary! But love usually makes it even better.

2   Anyone who tells you one version of Hound Dog is better than the other probably has the emotional make-up of a 16-year old, and is probably composed of the same caca as the closeted virgin in footnote 1 above.

3   Asher is referring to Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys (Capitol C2 0777 7). It includes over fifteen minutes of outtakes from Good Vibrations cut in early 1966 with some of Asher’s lyrics intact. Also, the recent versions of Good Vibrations that were recorded by Brian Wilson and the Wondermints have lyrics from both sources and credit the song to Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, and Mike Love.

4   Actually, the word is older than 1966 and means “the disturbed or altered condition resulting from stimulation of an individual, organ, tissue, or cell.” Frank Daniels pointed out, “The word excitations goes back at least to 1790 in English. It was used mostly in medicine and science prior to the Beach Boys spreading it to the broader culture.”

5   Whether the girl in the song is intentionally beaming those good vibrations at the singer or she just naturally gives them off is not addressed in the song. The former is common, the latter rare. If you find one of those who just radiates them, find a way to fall in love with her as quickly as possible.

6   Regular readers will note that faverave is also a particularly cherished bit of idiom from the teenybopper fan magazines of the time. And nothing will ever top groovy. No one can ever take groovy the wrong way. So live long, prosper, and be groovy.

 

LTYoung_brownies

As a gift, Nancy mixes up a batch of brownies liberally laced with marijuana. The folks who partake of these goodies are straights with no idea of what is happening to them as they get stoneder and stoneder (pronounced “stone-dur”). This scene alone is worth the price of admission!

 

 

 

 

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