Song of the Week – Caroline, No, The Beach Boys; Caroline Says II, Lou Reed

Ignored            Obscured              Restored

This is the first of a new series I’ve created that I’m calling the Contrast Series.  The Contrast Series will compare and contrast songs with similar titles and/or themes.  To start I’ll discuss The Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No” with Lou Reed’s “Caroline Says II”.

“Caroline, No” is the final track on the Beach Boys’ seminal album, Pet Sounds (1966).  Pet Sounds was conceived by Brian Wilson as a “teenage symphony to God.”  The music was very technically complex, but lyricist Tony Asher said the words needed to be “topics that kids could relate to.”  “Caroline, No” is the perfect example.

It is unclear who inspired the lyrics.  Wikipedia says Asher wrote them about a former girlfriend named Carol Amen.  But other sources say that Wilson provided the inspiration as a combination of three different girls, including a high school friend named Carol Mountain.

In any case, it is a stunningly intimate song about lost innocence.

Where did your long hair go?
Where is the girl I used to know?
How could you lose that happy glow?
Oh, Caroline, no

Who took that look away?
I remember how you used to say
You’d never change, but that’s not true
Oh, Caroline, you

Break my heart
I want to go and cry
It’s so sad to watch a sweet thing die
Oh, Caroline, why

Could I ever find in you again
Things that made me love you so much then?
Could we ever bring ’em back once they have gone
Oh, Caroline, no

“Caroline Says II” was included on Lou Reed’s Berlin (1973), the follow up to his breakthrough TransformerBerlin was initially panned by the critics who were expecting (and wanted) more Transformer.  According to MOJO’s Gus Stewart:

“In Rolling Stone, Stephen Davis denounced the album as “a disaster” and “patently offensive,” declaring the end of “a once-promising career” with the kiss-off, “Goodbye, Lou.”

But in time the album has earned respect as a Reed classic due in part to songs like “Caroline Says II”.

The song begins as a simple, acoustic guitar number then adds piano and strings.  But this is no song about lost innocence.  It is a brutally realistic snapshot of domestic violence.

Caroline says
As she gets up off the floor
“Why is it that you beat me?
It isn’t any fun”
Caroline says
As she makes up her eyes
“You ought to learn more about yourself
Think more than just I”

But she’s not afraid to die
All of her friends call her “Alaska”
When she takes speed, they laugh and ask her
What is in her mind
What is in her mind

Caroline says
As she gets up from the floor
“You can hit me all you want to
But I don’t love you anymore”
Caroline says
While biting her lip
“Life is meant to be more than this
And this is a bum trip”

She put her fist through the window pane
It was such a funny feeling

It’s so cold in Alaska

Jordan Potter, of Far Out, describes the song’s finale – “As she puts her “fist through the window pane”, a shiver in the spine is palpable, as if the air of Alaska had entered the room.”  I can feel the chill!

Enjoy… until next week.