Monday, May 12, 2014

Beach Blanket Baby

Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket BingoBikini Beach, and even How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. In just two years (1963-5) former Mickey Mouse Club member (aka Mouseketeer) Annette Funicello starred in all these movies. There were also the Gidget surfer movies (starting in 1959) and TV show ('65)... not to mention the music of the Beach Boys (first album, '62), and the whole surf-rock sound, grounded in Dick Dale's ringing surf guitar (first album, also '62).

But this song was on the first breaker of that, um, cultural tsunami.

First, we meet our resident object of desire: "She was sittin' underneath her beach umbrella/ in a teeny tight bikini, red and yella." The song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" came out in 1960.

Not surprisingly, "she was gettin' lots of whistles from the fellas," we are told, when one fella in particular (also not surprisingly, a musician) "began to play on his guitar."

He begins the mating call of the surfer: "Beach blanket baby, all alone on the sand/ Let me hold your hand," but then immediately decides that euphemisms are pointless. "We can love the night away beside the sea/ ...share your blanket with me."

At this quite forward move, "She was giving everyone the coldest shoulder." Interesting, how she somehow manifested her disinterest in general, when we have to presume that by this point the other bathing-suited suitors (not equipped with music-making equipment) backed off.

The musician was not, however, deterred by this reticence. If anything, "her teasin' only made the boy get bolder."

Her blanket, umbrella, and bikini were no match for his ardor. "It wasn't long before he got to hold her/ She cuddled up," accepting his advances as he continues to pitch his rhyming woo: "You're a beautiful sight/ Let me hold you tight."

This lasts for quite some time, because by "now the moon above is shining on the ocean."

Then, things take a turn, perhaps. Perhaps he is just continuing with his lines. But perhaps he actually falls in love with her. Because he stops simply hinting at sex and now "tells her of his love and his devotion."

She seems to have turned this corner with him: "for their hearts are beating wild with new emotion." (yes, the rhyme is "ocean/devotion/emotion." I was semi-expecting "suntan lotion," but then recalled that the Sun had already descended by this point...)

His words become less lustful and more romantic: "You're an angel to kiss/ I'm in heaven like this/ I will always love you till the end of time/ Beach blanket baby, be mine!"

What began as purely physical attraction seems to have, in the space of a day, evolved into something deeper. While the listener may or may not be surprised by this (it was still the 1950s, after all), it seems that both occupants of this beach blanket certainly were.

After all of the first-person songs about loneliness and fighting couples, it is nice to have a simple, silly-sweet romantic narrative. Even if it happens in the third person.

Next Song: The Greatest Story Ever Told

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