It’s an up-tempo duo of songs with “Little” in the title!
1963: Little Deuce Coupe
More than any other Beach Boys song, “Little Deuce Coupe” encapsulates that joyous Brian Wilson boogie-woogie beat. From the swinging opening drum fill to the quintessential counterpoint harmonies, this is the Boys polishing their early sound to near perfection. (“Fun Fun Fun” may be the better, more iconic car song, but I just love the swinging boogie woogie piano-and-drum rolls in this song. Love ’em!)
Also, if I was going to give Mike just one annoying, nasal whine of a vocal, then this is probably it… well this and the next song. Generally I’ve never been able to make peace with his vocal style, but I can stand one or two of his less grating efforts if the songs are good enough.
Roger Christian penned some mystifying (to British ears, at least,) lyrics about pimping a 1932 Ford Coupe (the result being not dissimilar to the yellow hot-rod that the cowboy drove in the film “American Graffiti”) and Brian added what seemed to be some sort of code referencing a pink slip! (a term used for the vehicle registration documents – means the guy owns his car and isn’t borrowing it from parents.)
Although known and imitated for their soaring harmonies, it is also worth noting how understated Brian was when he wrote and arranged these early Beach Boy vocal parts. He never overplayed his hand. This is something so blatantly lacking from some of the knock-off-groups that try to mimic, misunderstand or deliberately bastardise versions of Brian’s original sound for that Mike-Love-inspired-oldies-circuit-from-hell. Shame on them!
1964: Little Honda
Yes, yes, yes… “Don’t Worry Baby” is possibly the finest song to grace a B-Side. And “I Get Around” on the flip A-side of that monumental 45 is THE perfect pop bombshell (complete with an early appearance of the infamous and eventually ubiquitous LA Harpsichord that signalled a musical and lyrical desire to move to pastures new)
But I’m going with another song from that astoundingly wellformed 1964 “All Summer Long” album.
“Little Honda” is a gem that adds more subtle but essential elements to the Wilson cannon. (And it just may be the finest unprompted product placement of all time!)
The raucous backing track uses every single trick that you can muster in 1964 to shout POWER, like some sort of proto-Jeremy-Clarkson-set-to-music. There’s an early appearance from a driving fuzz bass that is complimented by some sustained harmonic hums from the vocals that mimic the engine drone. It’s all a bit avant garde really, but the song never wears its experimental and artistic credentials as an overblown badge of honour. Any experimenting is done purely to further the cause of the musical idea itself.
The chorus then takes off with enough power and gear changes to achieve near Earth orbit. Go Little Honda indeed. But the whole time we are talking about the tiny Honda Cub motorcycle and its minuscule 50cc engine. Wonderfully ridiculous.
“Little Honda”, more than almost any other song, shows Brian’s mix of epic sweeping production ideas mixed with a slightly silly sense of humour. What could be more Brian Wilson? The thing is that the joke or idea never actually overpowers the joy of the song. It not too knowing; it doesn’t try too hard. The whole song comes across as an affectionate and sincere tale about youthful exuberance and freedom. If it’s ridiculing anyone, it’s poking fun at the Beach Boys themselves (who were recording engine sounds and singing po-faced songs about massive engined cars only a year before).
Brian has an ability to tread this fine line between parody, joy and art like very few others (which must have scared the shit out of certain other band members). My good friend badhedgehog calls it “emotional honesty”, and that’s exactly what it is.
Note: They didn’t get a penny from Honda to write the song, making what must have been the best advertising jingle never written as an advertising jingle!