“The Little Girl I Once Knew”: Pop’s Pregnant Pause

Brian Wilson’s “The Little Girl I Once Knew” languished in relative pop obscurity (on 45 only) until included as a bonus track on the 2-albums-as-1-CD reissue of The Beach Boys Today! b/w Summer Days and Summer Nights released in 1990.  It might be a little challenging for today’s ears to appreciate just how radical it was — especially when considered within the context of 1960s AM pop radio and its non-stop aural barrage — to play a song that contained two (mostly) full measures of musical silence.  Not just once but twice within the same song.  Rather daring for 1965.

Check out the deep bottom in this mono mix:

Carol Kaye’s bass line in the walk-up to the second pregnant pause, in particular, slays me every time — masterful in design and execution.

“The Little Girl I Once Knew” also includes one of pop’s all-time great intros.  As David Leaf aptly observes in the CD liner notes, this single is “the record that’s clearly a bridge between ‘Let Him Run Wild’ and the Pet Sounds album.”  And yet, the song is perceived as a relative chart failure (“only” reached #20 on the pop chart) “coming on the heels of consecutive top-five singles.”  Radio programmers, according to David Leaf, did not appreciate the song’s it’s-the-notes-you-don’t-play aesthetic and were, to some degree, responsible for holding back the single’s performance in the marketplace.

Little Girl - US

                Germany                                    Denmark                                 Sweden

Little Girl - GermanyLittle Girl - DenmarkLittle Girl - Sweden

                       UK                                       France                                    Holland

Little Girl - UKLittle Girl - FranceyLittle Girl - Holland

                   Norway                                   Japan                                   New Zealand

Little Girl - NorwayLittle Girl - JapanLittle Girl - New Zealand

Paul Tanner: Musician-of-All-Trades & Oddball Instrumentalist

Paul Tanner, who just recently passed, lived to the ripe old age of 95.  I was delighted to learn that this one-time trombonist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra went on to play the pivotal theremin part on the Beach Boys’ worldwide 1966 hit, “Good Vibrations” – as well as on “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” from 1965’s Pet Sounds plus the title track from 1967’s Wild Honey.

According to Bruce Weber, Tanner went to California in the early 1950s to do film soundtracks, as well as live musical performances on ABC TV, and it was during this period in which he “became something of a musician-of-all-trades, taking up a variety of oddball instruments and performing on them when a quirky score called for them.”

Tanner became interested in the theremin – Leon Theremin’s self-named futuristic 1920s electronic musical instrument – as a result of having witnessed its effective implementation in the soundtracks of such 1950s science fiction films as The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing (From Another World) click here to hear a theremin recording session for The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Tanner, after noticing theremin performers struggling with the instrument to obtain correct intonation and dynamics, contracted with a TV repair shop owner and friend, Bob Whitsell, to construct for him an instrument that would replicate the sound of a theremin but include manual levers that would allow the player to have greater control over volume and pitch.  Thus was born the “electro-theremin” (also known as the Tannerin) and first employed on Tanner’s 1958 “ambient” album, Music for Heavenly Bodies.

Heavenly Bodies - Paul Tanner

Here is an early work-up of “Good Vibrations” that features Paul Tanner’s electro-theremin part more prominently in the mix than the 45 version released in October 1966:

Alternate Vibrations – The Beach Boys

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear Paul Tanner’s electro-theremin featured in an early mix of “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys.]

Incredibly, Tanner donated/sold his one-and-only prototype of the electro-theremin in the late 60s “to a hospital to use for audiology work, because he believed that newer keyboard synthesizers made it obsolete.”

Extra Credit:  memorize the chart listings for “Good Vibrations” for various countries outside the United States.

National Chart (1966–67)            Peak Position
Australian Singles Chart                  2
Belgian Singles Chart                     6
Canadian Singles Chart                    2
Dutch Singles Chart                       4
German Singles Chart                      8
Italian Singles Chart                    12
Malaysian Singles Chart                   1
New Zealand Singles Chart                 1
Norwegian Singles Chart                   2
Rhodesian Singles Chart                   1
UK Singles Chart                          1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100                    1