Sunday, May 15, 2016

Track of the Week: Beach Boys "Hang On To Your Ego"

As readers of this blog know, changes in the seasons have a big effect on my emotional state. Here in mid-May we are in a time of year I've always loved: late spring. It's warm but not yet hot, baseball is starting to get serious, and school is almost out. There are albums that I never listen to other times of the year but spin incessantly in late spring. The most notable is probably the Beach Boys' magnum opus Pet Sounds. It's an album that's light years ahead of stuff like "Fun Fun Fun," famously inspiring the Beatles to try to top it on Sgt Pepper.

The music fits this time of year, since it's about life transitions. Beneath the sparkly, beautiful surface are words of doubt and sadness. Evidently on "Hang On To Your Ego" things got a little too real, and Mike Love forced a change in Brian Wilson's lyrics over the same backing track, which appears on the album as "I Know There's An Answer." "Hang On To Your Ego" is thus one of the great deleted tracks of all time, as far as I'm concerned.  Instead of bland words about self-discovery, it's a warning against losing yourself to outside forces. While people tend to focus on it as giving caution to those who use LSD, the lyrics are mostly about people and the social pressures they exert. Usually songs on that subject are too adolescent or simple-minded, but this one has an air of wisdom about it.

The best part, of course, is the music. The sounds are surreal and psychedelic without being tacky. Some are so fittingly odd, like the bumblebee hum of the giant bass harmonica paired with a banjo, that I can't listen to this song passively. More than once this week I've had the windows of my car open and this song on the stereo, breathing deep the fecund late spring air and enjoying a quiet moment of grace.

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