3AM Eternal: Eric Matthews on “The Lonely Sea” (2000)


In 2000, an excellent compilation appeared, called Caroline Now!i I could have used the entire album for this month’s theme–it’s that good. In fact, at the bottom, there’s a Spotify link to check it out.

It’s a different sort of thing; instead of going for the “greatest hits,” the compilers went for obscure, later period works, and even a handful of unreleased numbers from Brian’s less well decade, the 1970s. One of the best numbers is from my friend Eric Matthews, a take on the 1963 ballad, “The Lonely Sea.” So we’ve asked him to talk about that song and share some thoughts about Brian.

How did you happen upon “The Lonely Sea?” It’s one of Brian’s more obscure numbers.

Caroline Now was being lined up, and the label contacted my manager and sent along a message that they wanted me to record a lesser known Beach Boys song.  I agreed, and so they sent along a list, and while there were some great songs on it, I quickly notice that no one had chosen anything from Brian’s formative years.  When you explore The Beach Boys’ early years, it’s hard to find a truly great song. I knew what I wanted to do, and so I had to convince them to let me do “The Lonely Sea,” which is a deep track from their second album, 1963s Surfin’ USA.  That album is dominated by up-tempo bull-crap about cars and surfing and various boy/girl situations, but hidden underneath the disposable teen pop is “The Lonely Sea,” right there on side one, hidden in plain sight.  It’s the first real evidence to suggest that Brian Wilson might be an Earth-changing composer, if not at the least that he was pop guy with a serious side. It’s as good or better as “In My Room,” and that song’s perfect. To this day there are Beach Boys fans who don’t know that song and I find that tragic. Brian was in the lead in 1963 and I assume Paul and John were shitting their pants, years before Brian changed music history with Today.   

I was one of those Beach Boys nerds who loved what I loved and knew what I know of their catalog and I think in 1990 or so purchased my own first vinyl copy of Surfin’USA and I immediately wondered why I hadn’t known it my whole life.   My parents didn’t have that album.   And then I kind of forgot about the song until one late night on AMC, the cable tv network had this marathon of 60’s beach movies, those bikini romps with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.  I recorded those movies onto VHS and watched the “live” musical performances over and over again.   The Beach Boys had “The Lonely Sea” as a back drop to a romantic conversation between some Tab Hunter look-a-like and some hot chick.

And interestingly, in the movie credits the Beach Boys weren’t credited for “The Lonely Sea.”   

Caroline Now is a good comp, so many good song choices.  Brian said my cover was his favorite.  It’s only too bad we couldn’t have had that quote prior to the liner notes being printed. It’s enough that the liner notes start with an overly long paragraph about my entry.   


Have you ever met Brian?

Yeah, on his book tour for Wouldn’t It Be Nice.I brought my vinyl copy of Today, and asked him to sign it. I handed it to him and he said, “Wow, this is an old one, I remember this one! I haven’t seen it in years!”.  I told him that it was his finest collection of songs.  He smiled big out of his strange, brainwashed and hypnotized gaze and said it was his first great statement before Pet Sounds and that he was proud of it. As I walked away,he said he’d been to a lot of cities on his trip and I was the only one who had brought that album.  It was a quick exchange but it ties into my choosing “The Lonely Sea.” I pretend to know something about Brian’s music that others may not.


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