Mind of Brian 5: Fun, Fun, Fun

by Greg Panfile


Previous forays into this realm have tended to concentrate on more sophisticated, later pieces and early ballads. It's time, then, to sally forth into a heretofore unmined vein, the uptempo, blues-based car song and major top 40 blockbuster.

Not that it matters, but if you ever want to rankle my musical sensibility, refer to this little number as a "simple, three chord song." It is not simple, it is quite complex in its own way. And it does not have three chords, it has four, and the fourth chord is arguably the most important of all, one without which this song simply would not be itself. To the hunt!

Intro The intro is probably responsible for the oversimplified views often taken of this song, because it is indeed a completely vanilla three-chord blues progression in E flat, accompanied by fairly generic surf-guitar lead noodles in a Chuck Berry vein, though considerably more, shall we say, Caucausian in feel with fewer bent and flatted (blue) notes than Mr. Berry would normally choose. This portion concludes in a predictable fashion with a quick flash downward to the dominant seventh, B flat, a tension that is resolved in cliched fashion by beginning the first verse on the chord of key, E flat (measures are four beats each):

Eb (4x)      Ab (2x)      Eb (2x)     Bb  Ab  Eb  Bb
While there's an argument to be made that Brian chose this opening as a "default" or as something easy and obvious, something more subtle seems to be involved. One thing that happens in this particular song, and indeed in none its predecessors in this series, is a full-flown plot line involving some very interesting social issues. There's a feeling I get that Brian instinctively felt a need to get some sort of atmosphere and structure established before getting the plot going, to set the stage and establish an uptempo, driving atmosphere (pun totally intended) without verbal or vocal distractions.

Besides creating a necessary delay, this intro also serves to create a structure in the mind of the listener, to establish a pattern of sorts, and a very familiar one at that. It's totally reasonable at this point in the song to expect nothing but more of the same, or would be if this were not Brian Wilson: that is, another 409 or similar straight blues-based car song. Instead, we get a verse pattern that works off of the standard 12-bar but is not that, and I contend that the raising of that expectation followed by the failure to meet same is one reason why this song is so "catchy."

First Two Verses

Both of these have the same exact musical structure, and the first leads directly into the second. They are differentiated from one another in at least three significant ways: first, they are entered by different means, the first verse is reached via the intro whereas the second is reached via the first. Since the intro and verse are musically different, especially at the end, the two verses have different "feels" as they each begin. Secondly, the first verse has no backing vocals until the little "fun fun fun till her daddy takes her T-bird away" hook line; the second verse has backing vocals throughout. Lastly, of course, they have different lyrics; the first verse sets a stage and sets up a conflict, the second develops that plot further.

         Eb    (2x)                                           Ab (2x)
Well she got her daddy's car and she cruised to the hamburger stand now
             Eb (2x)                                         Bb (2x)
Seems she forgot all about the library like she told her old man now
             Eb (2x)                                          Ab (2x)
And with the radio blasting goes cruising just as fast as she can now
               |Eb      Bb           |Ab             Bb                 \

And she'll have fun fun fun till her daddy takes her T-bird away.
|Eb      Ab          |Eb             Bb|
fun fun fun till her daddy takes her T-bird a-
In the above, 2x means two measures of four beats each; the chords within vertical lines share a measure and cover two beats each.

There is just so much to talk about here! Notice how all the vocal lines start with a pickup, that is a couple/three notes in the previous measure before the actual verse material begins. "Well she" actually comes over the last part of the final Bb of the intro, and so forth. It is as if after the delay caused by the intro, Brian can't wait to get started. The pickups are used throughout, so that while each line ends with breathing room on the word "now," the next line starts before the actual musical material it accompanies. This contributes a feeling of, shall we say, acceleration, zooming, taking off, hitting the gas pedal. This is accentuated by what happens on the last line of all, (the "turnaround" that sets up each new beginning in the song from here on in) where a very even harmonic rhythm of two measures per chord all of a sudden quadruples to two chords per measure with a very Buddy Hollyesque turnaround still based on the 1-4-5 12-bar but different. The backing vocals enter on the last note of the lead vocal, leaving no space but instead overlapping, contributing again to the feeling of speed, acceleration, etc. The tail end of the backing vocal overlaps the pickup of the first line of the second verse, so there is a feeling of really taking off for a moment with no rest, then settling back in to hear how the story develops further...

And what a story it is. If the music hasn't convinced you yet that there's a lot more happening here than in your average car song, the words certainly should. The hero is *female* and drives a T-bird; also, there is a mythological Electra thing happening between her and her father. She listens to loud rock and roll and drives fast; one is tempted to think of her as a female equivalent of the Spector/Crystals "He's A Rebel." The Foster's Freeze is of course totemic in its implications, the birth of the drive through fast food joint in the womb of Southern California postwar Kar Kulture. If the gun equalized all men in fights, the car equalizes males and females in terms of mobility... And the generational conflict echoes similar themes in the Beach Party movies of the time, and certainly relates to issues later covered in somewhat more bombastic fashion by the Shangri-Las.

Then we have the famous exchange between Murry and Dennis about this person, the father stating that she should be shunned for her duplicity and lack of scholarly work ethic, Dennis emphasizing that there's another point of view from which her merits could be considered. And note that unlike many BB songs, this one comes lyrically straight from Pop Lyric Tech Writing 101: a clearly set scene, and a brewing conflict. This *is* "the formula."

Given that, it's no surprise that the second verse elaborates on the plot started in the first, and elaborates on the desirability of this young lady on the physical level and more. The jealousy she evokes, and the inability of the pursuing males to catch her, develop the empowerment theme of the first verse in a social context ( a point seemingly lost on the cockrocking sourpussed feminist critics of the Seventies, who missed so much of the point of songs like this and similar girl group material... if you look at this and Surfer Girl, Brian seems ahead of his time and highly respectful of women, especially in comparison to the likes of Mick Jagger). It is therefore no accident that the backing vocals (which seem to play the role of social peers, a Greek chorus, rather than mere instruments or inner psychological voices) run throughout, creating differentiation since we are after all repeating the musical material of the first verse ALMOST totally; but not quite; there IS a fourth chord, and it appears for the first time where perhaps one might least expect it:

         Eb    (2x)                                                     Ab (2x) 
Well the world can't stand her cause she walks looks and drives like an ace now
              Eb (2x)                            Bb (2x)

She makes the Indy 500 look like a Roman chariot race now
         Eb    (2x)                                              Ab (2x)

Alot of guys try to catch her but she leads them on a wild goose chase now
                |Eb      Bb           |Ab             Bb             
And she'll have fun fun fun till her daddy takes her T-bird away.
|Eb      Ab          |Eb             F|
fun fun fun till her daddy takes her T-bird a-
The words use specific, interesting images, just like you're supposed to: ace, chariot race, wild goose chase: no cliches, or at least not many. They're hip and different enough to completely distract us from the stupid "now" at the end of every line. Mike does deserve *some* money...

The Instrumental

Those of you with sharp eyes probably caught it: that little F at the end of the turnaround. Previously, at the end of the first verse, we went to the predictable place, the Bb, the fifth, setting up a return to the root. That's what you'd expect to see here, followed by an instrumental break in one of two forms: a straight twelve-bar like the intro, or using the verse chord pattern. Nope! We get this F instead, the famous fourth chord (in enumerative terms; actually its the major of the second, or the ninth, also referred to as the V-of-V or the fifth of the fifth chord). Now it's actually pretty common in rock and roll; Chuck Berry used it a lot, and so did the Beatles. It tends to occur in bridge sections, to help provide variety, and to set up a return to the fifth chord and then to the root. It's effective because it tends to provide a lifting feel (by both being major where the standard ninth chord is minor, and by being exactly the same shape triad as the root but a full step higher). The movement from the ninth to the fifth to the root then contains a double lift, tension created and released twice, setting things up for a one-more-time bring-it-on-home final verse.

But not here; or more precisely, not just yet. Instead, it's used to introduce some new and unique material that won't recur, the instrumental. The color of this part is interesting in itself, it's a sort of alternating, blended solo where what sounds like a heavily Leslied Hammond or Lowry organ does some sixth-seventh-chromatic noodling *very* characteristic of BW in alternation with a riffing surfy Chuck Berry style guitar that tends to answer it and fill out the phrases. The feeling is actually that we've modulated to B flat, and that that is the root chord of this break. Note also that it seems to have two halves; and that the first half of both halves is exactly the same. It's in the second half of the second half (fourth quarter for you football fans:-) that we get the V-of-V feel in moving from F to B flat to E flat:

Bb (2x)   Eb (2x)
Bb (2x)   F   Bb
The magic in this case works; for some reason, that last B flat sounds completely different than the one before it, and it's that intervening major ninth chord that does it. Brian is making great use of limited resources here; the very same F chord that is used to get us OUT of E flat also serves as a way station for getting us back. And he's not done yet, though we have a plot to resolve first:

         Eb    (2x)                                       Ab (2x)
Well you knew all along that your dad was getting wise to you now
             Eb (2x)
Bb (2x)
And since he took your set of keys you've been thinking that your fun is all
through now
            Eb    (2x)                                         Ab (2x)
But you can come along with me cause we got a lot of things to do now
               |Eb      Bb          |Ab             Bb             
And we'll have fun fun fun now that daddy took your T-bird away.
|Eb      Ab          |Eb             Bb|
fun fun fun now that daddy your T-bird a-
So the plot resolves; Electra's father can punish her, but the rising young male can provide a ride, and things will be fine. What looked like a setback is actually an opportunity. Interestingly we don't even know what kind of car our hero drives, nor how fast or well equipped it is, nor how it compares to that of the other males competing for dominance. What counts is that he's empowered too, and as long as there's a set of wheels available, off they go to pursue the mobile California vision of unlimited opportunities.

Musically what we have is a total repeat of the first verse, which makes sense since we're not going to go to the break again. But jeez, the story is over so we can't do another verse, so where do we go? Two places: first off, that little turnaround on the title is pretty neat, so let's repeat it, not forgetting to preserve our feeling of takeoff by overlapping the first word of the second repeat with the last word of the first:

               |Eb      Bb          |Ab             Bb              
And we'll have fun fun fun now that daddy took your T-bird away.
|Eb      Ab          |Eb        F|
fun fun fun now that daddy your T-bird a-
This worked quite nicely, since the Bb that concludes verse ending #1 circles back nicely to the Eb at the beginning of the turnaround. But notice what happens at the end: we have our mystical F chord again, as if to go to another repeat of the instrumental break. Fat chance of that happening: instead we're heading toward one of those unforgettable Brian moments, that falsetto phrase on the coda, repeating, that just drills right through everything and in this case makes you want to speed off in a convertible hooting at the top of your lungs. This very moment is so compelling that the Beatles chose it as a major element of their Brian tribute, Back in the USSR:

     Bb   (2x)                Eb       Ab
oo-  Wooooh, ooo-woo-oo-oo-oo ooh, fun fun
This new material, which feels like a modulation but stays technically in the key of E flat (alternatively, you could say it modulates and uses the VII chord on Ab which is in itself out of that key), with the falsetto accompanying the background singers who echo the turnaround hook phrase (but sung over this different chord pattern), repeats ad lib until fade. This marks the third different chord pattern over which the words "fun fun fun ... daddy took her t-bird" etc. are sung, getting the most out of limited harmonic resources, reminiscent of the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" which phrase is sung over four or five different harmonic backgrounds, I forget which.

Much as the turnaround itself acted to give us a feeling of acceleration at the end of each verse, as if the entire song were a car picking up speed, the combination of the modulation/new chord pattern, plus the soaring falsetto, plus the stacked, perfect voices repeating the hook line, gets us to warp speed. The song just disappears into the sunset at high speed, headed for the beach or other nearest faraway place. It's an exhilarating moment of youthful transcendance. One thinks that for Brian it is the studio that is the vehicle he drives, and just as our hero and heroine escape the mundane constrictions of a dying patriarchy in their automobile, Brian and his song and voice drive out of this (Murry's) world in the vehicle of the studio, in parallel, at exactly this moment.

Having recently done some recording myself, I can attest to how liberating it can feel to let out that high pitched falsetto yell, reminiscent of that in the Eagles' Already Gone or in countless Native American war chants. There is something for a male in allowing oneself to attack that upper register with reckless abandon, to get up as high as you possibly can as loud as you possibly can. Call it letting out your female side or your vulnerability or your inner savage warrior, there is something cool, of compelling value here. Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh!

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