On May 16, 1966, Capitol Records released the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds. This collection of songs was a total departure from the landscape the Beach Boys sold to people all around the world. Gone were surfing, surfer girls, fast cars, and memories about growing up in southern California.
The instrumentation for this recording expanded well beyond bass, guitars, and drums. Bass harmonica, theremin, all sorts of percussion, bicycle horn, woodwinds, strings, keyboards, horns, and more are all in the mix.
For Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson collaborated with Tony Asher to carve out the lyrics. Tony Asher worked in advertising. Additionally, Brian recorded the album with a group of top notch studio musicians in Los Angeles known as the Wrecking Crew.
The pattern worked like this.
Brian wrote the music for the songs at his piano, while Tony was close by writing the lyrics.
Brian went to the recording studio, recorded the instrumental tracks for each song with the Wrecking Crew.
The Beach Boys would come off the road from touring, and spend countless hours over endless days recording the vocal tracks.
Brian would oversee the mixing of the tracks, and would deliver the final product to Capitol Records.
If a song from the album made the charts as a single, then Brian’s youngest brother Carl, would work out the arrangements for concert performances and teach the song to his fellow Beach Boys.
Of the 13 tracks on Pet Sounds, my guess is you are most familiar with “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and “God Only Knows.” Initially, Pet Sounds was not a huge hit like the band’s previous recordings. In fact, a few years after the album was released, it was out of print, not available.
But, Pet Sounds, for many musicians then and now was the album that changed how pop songwriters wrote, crafted, and recorded songs. Even today, the legacy of Pet Sounds and its impact remains intact.
As sure as the instruments used in recording the album were different, so were the lyrics.
Brian pushed Tony Asher into an entirely different direction, far away from surfing and cars. The lyrics were introspective, probing. The boy/girl relationships of the teenage years were gone. Now, the observations and questions asked in the relationship were a step up— man and woman.
Pet Sounds has songs of exuberance “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Here Today.” But, the album also contains the opposite of such joyfulness—“You Still Believe In Me” and “Caroline No.”
I will admit, it took years for my ears to appreciate Pet Sounds. And, I have listened to the album, and its outtakes many, many times, and for some reason, I keep being drawn back to one song—“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”
I think I am drawn to this song for several reasons. But, here is the main one—I believe the lyrics capture how we all might feel or have felt at some point in our lives. And at those points, we most likely have never made those feelings public. Here are the lyrics:
I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times
Written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher from the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds Capitol Records All lyrics Irving Music copyright 1966
I keep looking for a place to fit in where I can speak my mind.
I’ve been trying hard to find the people that I won’t leave behind.
They say I got brains, but they ain’t doing me no good, I wish they could. Each time things start to happen again, I think I got something good going for myself, but what goes wrong?
Sometimes, I feel very sad. Sometimes, I feel very sad. (Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into)
Sometimes, I feel very sad.(Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into)
I guess, I just wasn’t made for these times.
Every time I get the inspiration to go change things around; no one wants to help me look for places where new things might be found.
Where can I turn when my fair weather friends cop out? What’s it all about?
Each time things start to happen again, I think I got something good going for myself, but what goes wrong?
Sometimes, I feel very sad. Sometimes, I feel very sad. (Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into) Sometimes, I feel very sad. (Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into)
I guess I just wasn’t made for these times, I guess I just wasn’t made for these times, I guess I just wasn’t made for these times
I wonder at this very moment how many people who we think we really know feel like they weren’t made for these times?
At times in my life, I felt like the lyrics captured me. I didn’t fit in, my brain was useless, and disappointment consumed me when the anticipation of something good happening failed.
My guess is that COVID-19 has pushed many people to think—I just wasn’t made for these times.
When I read this virus has killed more Americans than the troops we lost in the Vietnam War (58,220), I am saddened. Those troops we lost over a period of almost two decades. COVID-19 has taken at this point in America 82,246 lives (this figure changes daily) in almost four months.
The scars of war are never forgotten, and I imagine the same will be said about COVID-19.
Maybe your heart sank like mine did when I read about the New York City doctor who took her own life related to her work helping COVID-19 patients. I wonder if she had reached the point of feeling like she wasn’t made for these times?
There isn’t much doubt in my mind that Brian Wilson has thought and felt at moments in his life that he wasn’t made for these times. And yet, somehow, Brian with help pushed back his demons and worked to overcome them. While I love his music, I also admire that Brian is a survivor.
Yes, it is very likely that many people in the past, now, and in the future will feel like in life’s certain moments— they weren’t made for these times.
For these people, be they family, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or stranger, when they feel like they weren’t made for these times, we need to be the gentle pivot point.
What is a gentle pivot point? What does that mean?
I think a gentle pivot point is simply this—listening.
If you ears listen carefully to the chorus for “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” you will hear the following counter melody: (Ain’t found the right thing I can put my heart and soul into.)
That counter melody has always resonated with me.
Well, I think our hearts and souls are always searching for something to grab, something to hold us up, something to get us through the challenges of the moment.
And perhaps that is the very heart of the story found in “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”
The narrator is seeking a very basic human need—hear me, listen to me.
Right now, in this upside down world, maybe you, me, we can be the “right thing” for that person whose heart and soul just needs to be heard.