3AM Eternal: The Beach Boys “The Little Girl I Once Knew” (1965)

The Beach Boys could do no wrong…until this single. Brian Wilson was changing as a songwriter, growing and maturing into a master–“genius” is simply overstating the case–who would go on to compose and arrange some enduring, tender classic pop songs. This single, released in 1965, was the first crack in the fragile Wilson ego, one that would culminate in Wilson’s total and utter self-destruction. It was the follow-up to the worldwide smash “California Girls”–itself a masterpiece that’s much more complex than its superficial subject matter would lead you to believe–and was the last original single before Wilson entered into creating his masterpiece, the equally misunderstood and underappreciated at the time) Pet Sounds.

In his autobiography, Wilson related that the failure of “The Little Girl I Once Knew” was so surprising for him, he simply couldn’t comprehend it, and it sent him into a funk. Yet it’s easy to understand why it wasn’t a grand hit. The arrangement is complex; it’s not a traditional sounding pop number, and because of its pause at the beginning, radio stations were hesitant to play it. Thus, it only sold modestly, and received little airplay. Yet its harmonies and arrangements are intriguing, and a sign of Wilson’s mind thinking of new and innovative sounds.

Sadly, Capitol Records followed this single with a release of “Barbara Ann,” taken from The Beach Boys Party!  album, and that song would be a hit. It would be the last for a while, and the beginning of Brian’s descent into madness and self-destruction, while Wilson’s moody and unhappy face on the single’s picture sleeve couldn’t possibly be prophetic….

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