sex, love, hitchhiking, and other excitations

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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