Mind of Brian 6: The Warmth Of The Sun

by Greg Panfile


One feels the urge to remove one's shoes before daring to write about this song, for this is holy ground we are treading on. Images abound: Aten, the Egyptian solar disk, Apollo the Greek god of the sun, Daedalus and Icarus, various Native American solar deities, Wordsworth's Romantic fusion of inner and outer landscapes, the Jungian archetypal sun as the symbol of self-realization and wholeness. Musically we have sounds from the Girl Group/Phil Spector era mixed in with surf and Four Freshmen light jazz. Underlying it all, the sadness of loss, mourning a young king cut down in his prime, somehow finding within oneself the center, the brightness, the energy to survive and go on. All in the context of an eerie timelessness, a "feel" that could easily blend into a collection of 1940's ballads yet teleport quite nicely into side two of the Beatles' Abbey Road. If I were forced to capture the essence of Brian's genius by choosing only a handful of songs, this would certainly be one of those five; it is completely central to the entire matter.


Structurally, there are many similarities between this song and Surfer Girl. The beginning is a falsetto vocal over the basic verse chord pattern, just as in Surfer Girl, and the pattern itself is a sophisticated variant on the standard Girl Group/Spector ballad. We start in the key of C, so that would be C Am F G or the familiar I vi IV V. But of course this is Brian, so we have a very interesting melody line in the falsetto, one that moves in and out of the key scale, and some jazzy side roads between Am and G...

C     Am   |  Eb           Cm   |  Dm          |G       G+
Ah    ah   |    ah ah      ah ah|  ah ah ah ah |ah ah   ah
E     C         Bb C       G  Bb   A  A  G  F   E  D    D#
The timing here is of interest, because like similar ballads including Surfer Girl, In My Room, and Girls on the Beach there is an underlying threeness, this is probably best viewed as being in 12/8 meter. This timing is interesting because the underlying arpeggios, based on triplets, are easily accompanied by a backbeat in the percussion section, creating a solid feeling of fours, made more prominent by bass notes on the first and seventh of those twelve eighth notes. It is thus very easy to hear this song happening fast in triplets and slowly in four beats, just by refocusing what you listen to... Notice too that the backing voices are scat, only oohs, no words, and as is so often the case fill a wide range of the EQ band from Mike very low to what sounds like another Brian up very high.

And those familiar with standard pop progressions will see that the harmony here goes far afield of the standard pattern, and does so even more radically than Surfer Girl. That E flat chord is absolutely out of left field, very modal yet not following any traditional modulation, yet it works. Having gotten there, the rest of the pattern unfolds in a more standard but unrelated genre, a jazzy feel that stands in testimony to Brian's Four Freshmen roots. The augmented chord as well has a sort of Forties feel to it, yet was often used in pop music, even by the Beatles more than once (From Me To You, It's Only Love).

As interesting as the timing and chords are, the most beautiful and haunting element is the lovely falsetto melody that sits atop them. I have always perceived Brian's main gift as a melodic one, and his genius is his ability to accompany that essential melodic idea with the appropriate harmonies from both intstruments and voices, and a variety of sounds in his arrangements. But it all begins with that melody, that one central hummable whistlable single line where the whole thing starts. This little piece is one of his best, and while we're here let's note that it's actually an alternate or variation of the verse melody. So while this is beautiful and quite interesting in how it moves across keys relentlessly, it's not even the only melody he wrote for this pattern in this song. Wow.

Let's also note that like most Brian ballads, there is no instrumental/solo/obbligado part or whatever you want to call it. And unlike the intro to Surfer Girl which only happens once, this falsetto melody occurs throughout, serving as both the intro, a transition between verses, and the outro. Also, the falsetto voice is actually the sort of lead instrument in this song, in that it is the only element that emerges and takes the foreground aside from the voices singing the lyrics.

The harmonic rhythm, how fast the chords change, is very interesting in this line. Overall it spans enough room for a less talented composer to go through the standard I-vi-IV-V pattern twice, but instead it has the interesting variant C Am Eb Cm as the first part, then lingers on Dm for twice as long, then stretches the G out and raises it at the end. The Dm's extra length to me invokes that logy feeling of slowed time that the bright sun can cause. The movement from Cm to a long Dm to the G and then G augmented is very typical of Brian's ascending approach, and songs about something way high up there are certainly appropriate candidates for melodies and patterns that rise. Special mention should be made of the journey from a "happy" C major to a "sad" C minor, then through the Dm and G back around to the major again: musically enacting a cycle of loss and recovery within a single line.

First Verse

"What good is the dawn that grows into day? The sunset at night, or living this way?"

Talk about your bummed out dude. The background voices disappear, leaving the stage to a solo lead voice. The feeling of despair that accompanied *both* Kennedy assassinations is well articulated here, all the moreso by not actually mentioning the event. I for one was very touched to discover that story, the JFK angle, behind this song... another interesting angle, picking up on the classical themes I mentioned earier, is the "rosy-fingered Dawn" of so many epic poems as an introductory theme here. If you're going to be Apollonian I guess it makes sense to be somewhat Homeric.

The melody contains beautiful leaps, and an interesting kind of symmetry. Each line has two half lines, each of which is sung with the same timing (which sort of resembles a bugle blowing reveille). Yet each half line has its own little melody to fit the underlying harmony:

G    E    F  E   C     Bb   Bb    Ab G F
What good is the dawn, that grows into day?
That G to E is a big leap, the octave B flats even bigger. There is a resemblance with the intro melody, the first big leap is in the same place, but the differences are significant. Note too the facility with which Brian follows his melody across the chords, unafraid to melodize on the fifth, seventh, or any note that sounds good, unanchored by the predictable roots and thirds that occur over and over again to lesser minds.

The musical accompaniment for both of these lines is essentially the intro repeated twice, with the exception of the very last chord; where there is a G+ in the intro, the second line of the verse make a quick pass at an E chord:

C     Am   |  Eb           Cm   |  Dm          |G       E
                                                        For I have the 

The Chorus

This passing chord gives the same rising feeling as the augmentation, in the latter case you have the D note going up to D# but in the change to E here you get the G note going up to G#. Definitely deep craft. A couple of other interesting things happen here, a little glissando on the chimes right over the key change, and the reentry of the backing vocals with their first foray into lyrics. The chimes evoke the sound that sun glistening on water would make, were it to make a sound. The shall we say Greek chorus of backing vocals plays an affirming role, not the social one found in Fun Fun Fun or the argumentative pose done so well by the ShangriLas or even the Beatles. They echo the lead vocal's content and attitude, playing perhaps the part of the subconscious or various personality components, all focused on the central, round, warming unity of the eternally archetypal Sun King.

The E chord's purpose was to set up a neat movement to what seems to be a very Lennonesque, chromatic meditation in the key of A. This chorus moves in a way very similar to the Beatle line "because the world is round...:"

Bass:    A             G#  G   F#       G
Chords:  Amaj7             C   D9       Gmaj7   G   G+
Words:   Warmth of the sun within me at night

Verse Two

The musical material here is a repeat of verse one. The new ingredient musically is that the backing vocals stay in from the previous chorus. And there is motion in the content, too:

The love of my life, she left me one day. I cried when she said, I don't feel the same way.

The death of JFK, assuming that is part of the motivation here as referenced in various books, is "sublimated" or assimilated as a form of lost love, here personified as a female significant other. There is something effective about using the same rhyming words as the first verse, and the ambiguity in the last phrase... is it that she does not feel the way he does, or does not feel how she used to? Of course, the two emotions are operationally identical: it's over. And the same movement, the quick passing E chord, occurs again to take us to the second chorus.

Chorus Two

Still I have the warmth of the sun within me tonight...

The musical material is again identical to the previous chorus. Well, it's almost all the same, but we'll get to that. The lyric variation is again subtle... the previous chorus described that inner warmth as being generally associated with the night, this one claims its presence on this specific night.

This chorus cooks along just like the previous one, until the very end. Where it used to repeat the G to G augmented transition to wrap around to the verse, we have something completely different:

Chords:  |G  Ebm7 Ab|
And this pulls the entire affair up a half step, a modulation, so that the third verse comes in that little bit higher and brighter than all previous material.

Now we have seen at least two other modulations in this series, Surfer Girl and God Only Knows. This one is more like Surfer Girl, going up a half step and staying there for the duration. And this is a pop music trick, actually stolen from classical music, used all the time. However this one is worthy of note for several reasons...

First of all, it is sneaky, for want of a better word. Normally these kind of lifts spend a moment or two on the new V chord (Ab in this case) to get the new key feel going, then go to the root. But not in this case, we barely touch the new key before we are off into a full verse. The movement is sudden, not telegraphed, evoking the suddenness of a cloud movement and the attendant quick increase in brightness.

Also this movement to a new key happens relatively early in the proceedings. With Surfer Girl we get only one verse in the new key, then a coda, and that is fairly typical. Here we are going to the new key not just for a verse, but also for the following chorus (which contains perhaps the summary lyric of the entire song) and an outro that uses the same relative melody and chords as the intro, but is in the new key. It is as if the new key were a new home, something permanent, a plane of ascent reached through pain.

Verse Three

C#     A#m   |  E           C#m   |  D#m          |G#       G#+
C#     A#m   |  E           C#m   |  D#m          |G#       F
                                                            My love's like the
That's the music for those of you playing along at home. Noteworthy too is a change in the arrangement here, namely the addition of some tinkling percussion on the threes, adding to the overall intensity, the heightened tension caused by the change of key. Contentwise, we have moved from real life into dreamland:

I'll dream of her arms, and though they're not real, just like she's still there, the way that I feel; my love's like the...

The semi-articulate yet touching sentiments are very similar to what will emerge years later in Pet Sounds...

Chorus Three

Again uncharacteristic of such material, we get a full chorus in the new key. The guitar players out there I'm sure are quite happy (we may notice a theme emerging in this series: Brian is a keyboard-based writer, his keys, his movements, the whole feel is informed by a keyboardist's view of the world. This links him more to the Brill Building/Girl Group compositional tradition, and much less to the Berry/Holly/Beatle line); the thing was nearly impossible for a guitarist to play before, and the new key makes it even more difficult. Like so:

Bass:   Bb             A   Ab   G       Ab
Chords: Bbmaj7             Db   Eb9     Abmaj7   Ab   Ab+

        Warmth of the sun, it won't ever die.
And this is the lyrical resolution of the piece, that the inner warmth is a form of transcendance, immortality. The closing fade is the intro repeated in the new key, essentially the same as verse three. By fading rather than ending, and returning albeit in a higher key to the exact same material as the intro, we have a circular feeling, the same vibrations but at a higher pitch. And the specter of Death lends a Shakespearean sonnet feel once again (My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun is another related lyric...).

Awkward but Gracious Exit Lines

Having passed through finally writing about this song, one is struck by how different this experience is from hearing it, how the discussion actually pales in comparison to the thing itself... which in itself is of course an effort at communicating an experience that can't be shared directly. Certainly one of the beauties of 20th century life is the availability of recordings, and even outtakes. Just as two examples, both Brian Wilson and John Lennon are major artists whose work can only be accessed by the use of some intervening technology. Anyone can read Blake, or look at a Picasso... and with a couple years' training, play decent Bach off of sheet music. But this form, like film, simply does not happen unless you have the technology to experience it. And because it so directly conveys the exact sensual impressions the artist meant to use, it has a depth and precision that can literally transport us away- to that inner space, that solar disk, the light within all of us.

And Now A Word

For those of you interested, my new solo CD, Earwig: Resignation, is now available. There'll be a URL soon for those who want to look at the homepage for it. For now it is available for ten bucks, email me if you want more details. It spirit is this: "such inspirations as Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, and Burt Bacharach in the quest for building the perfect orchestrated pop masterpieces." And of course:

"Brian Wilson is God, and we are all worshipping at his little altar hoping for a light touch."

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