Music Monday — Novel Pacing like The Beach Boys

Music Monday is back after a long hiatus and we’re going to go completely old school today circa 1966 or 67 with The Beach Boys.

As we quickly approach the end of summer, I thought it’d be nice to have one last hurrah. I’m fairly certain all of you have listened to the classic “Good Vibrations” at some point in your life. It’s catchy, upbeat, retro and perfect for summertime.

But how closely have you listened?

Because, it’s a much more complex song than it sounds on the surface, and in fact, that’s part of the genius of it.

I love the harmonies on this song—not only on the vocals, but also what is being done instrumentally.  It’s incredible the way Brian Wilson wove parts of this song together, which is what I aim for when writing. (I fall short, but aim for it, anyway.) While harmony could be a topic for its own post, I really want to talk about this song as a model for pacing.

“Good Vibrations” is a long song by the standards of the 1960s.  Three minutes was what musicians were supposed to shoot for and it’s over four, so it definitely broke some pre-conceived notion of what a song was supposed to be. Still, beyond its length, the the unusual way its paced is remarkable; sometimes happily upbeat, sometimes melancholy, sometimes building toward a climax.  After a quick listen I counted at least seven significant changes to pace and could probably argue for more if you include chorus or  transitions.  The ones I’m counting occur at 1:50, 2:18, 2:55, 3:09, 3:28, 3:46 and 4:00.

What’s amazing is that all of these distinctly different tunes blend into one practically perfect song.

If you look purely at timing, the changes occur at fairly regular intervals.  There are also two times where the song echoes the good vibrations rif  from the beginning:  it happens during the piece that begins at 2:18, and again at the piece that begins at 3:09. One thing is certain when you listen for pacing–the changes are not predictable.

When I think about trying to translate that kind of structure into writing, my brain feels like it might explode.

It’s not an exaggeration to say Brian Wilson is a genius. I think he took huge risks with this song, although we probably take them for granted because the song has become so familiar.

So, how does this help me or you—any writer or reader or music fan?  It helps me to think about looking at my novel holistically.  Can I take readers through a series of different emotions? Can I tell a story without it becoming too predictable? Can I look for places where an echo might unify things?

For readers or music fans I hope it provides some insight into the truly remarkable things that are possible when we create.

Now, I hope everyone enjoys this version of “Good Vibrations.”

September 17, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . music.

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