Caroline, No

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"Caroline, No"
Single by Brian Wilson
B-side "Summer Means New Love"
Released March 7, 1966 (1966-03-07)
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded January 31, 1966 (1966-01-31), United Western Recorders, Hollywood
Genre Baroque pop[1]
Length 2:52
Label Capitol
Producer(s) Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson singles chronology
"Caroline, No"
"Gettin' Hungry"
Music sample
"Caroline, No"
Song by The Beach Boys from the album Pet Sounds
Released May 16, 1966 (1966-05-16)
  • 1963 (1963) (train noises)
  • January 31, 1966 (1966-01-31) (track/vocals)
  • March 22, 1966 (1966-03-22) (dog barking)
Length 2:51
Label Capitol
  • Brian Wilson
  • Tony Asher
Producer Brian Wilson
Pet Sounds track listing

"Caroline, No" is a song written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher recorded during the Pet Sounds sessions. It was released as a solo Brian Wilson single in March 1966 in advance of the album's release. The single was only a modest success, reaching number 32 in the US national chart and number 16 in Canada's RPM chart. Later in the year it appeared on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, although Brian Wilson was the only member of the band to appear on the track.[2]

It was named at #214 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[3]


The song was written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher with the latter handling the majority of its lyrics. It was written in the key of C major before being transposed up one semitone into D-flat major.[4] While it is commonly understood that Wilson composed the majority of the music on Pet Sounds, it has been claimed in Steven Gaines' book Heroes and Villains that "Caroline, No" was one of three songs in which Asher contributed musical ideas rather than acting solely as a co-lyricist; the other two being "That's Not Me" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times".[5]

It was initially written as "Carol, I Know". When spoken, however, Brian Wilson heard this as "Caroline, No." After the confusion was resolved, the pair decided to keep the new title, feeling that it brought a poignant earnestness to the song's sad melody. [6] Asher believes the song encapsulated "Brian's wish that he could go back to simpler days, his wish that the group could return to the days when the whole thing was a lot of fun and very little pressure."[7] Asher says his contributions were inspired by his former girlfriend, who had moved to New York and cut her hair: "I had recently broken up with my high school sweetheart who was a dancer and had moved to New York to make the big time on Broadway. When I went east to visit her a scant year after the move, she had changed radically. Yes, she had cut her hair. But she was a far more worldly person, not all for the worse. Anyway, her name was Carol."[7]

In 2005, Wilson stated: "That song to me is a real tear jerker, very like 'Hey Girl' by Freddie Scott. It wasn't written about anyone. I just used the name Caroline."[8] However, in high school, Wilson also became obsessed with Carol Mountain, a classmate and unrequited love interest. He said, "If I saw her today, I'd probably think, God, she's lost something, because growing up does that to people.' But the song was most influenced by the changes Marilyn and I had gone through. We were young, Marilyn nearing 20 and me closing in on 24, yet I thought we'd lost the innocence of our youth in the heavy seriousness of our lives. [Tony] took a tape home, embellished on my concept, and completed the words."[7]

Academic Philip Lambert suggested that the songs lyrics were a continuation on themes established by Wilson's previous compositions "You Still Believe in Me" and "The Little Girl I Once Knew".[9]


Both instrumental and vocal tracks were recorded on January 31, 1966 at United Western Recorders in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.[9] Wilson produced the session with Chuck Britz as the engineer. As with the rest of the Pet Sounds backing tracks, Wilson employed players from a select group of southern California session musicians, who were later nicknamed The Wrecking Crew. None of the other Beach Boys appeared on the record.[9]

For "Caroline, No", harpsichord and bass flutes accompany more typical pop/rock instrumentation in a sound that, like other compositions from this period, reflects a jazz influence.[9] The percussive exchange that opens the song features a tambourine and a large empty water bottle from the studio, played either by drummer Hal Blaine or percussionist Frankie Capp.[7] Brian later stated, "'Caroline, No' was my favorite on the album, the prettiest ballad I've ever sung. Awfully pretty song. The melody and the chords were like Glenn Miller...a Glenn Miller-type bridge. The fade-out was like a 1944 kind of record...Listen for the flutes in the fadeout."[10]

After Brian Wilson's double tracked vocals were overdubbed, the entire recording was sped up by a half step. This was done at the suggestion of Brian Wilson's father and erstwhile manager Murry.[9] Brian explained that he preferred the "sweeter" sound of the sped-up version.

On the Pet Sounds LP, the sound of a passing train can be heard at the end of "Caroline, No", accompanied by barking from Brian's dogs, Banana and Louie. In the late 1990s, it was "rediscovered" that the train sound effect came from a sound effects LP titled Mister D's Machine, recorded in 1963 by Brad Miller. The album featured contemporary recordings of various trains around the Southern Pacific system. The sounds that were lifted for the end of the Pet Sounds album were that of Train #58, "The Owl", speeding through at 70 mph through Edison, California. The sound effects, minus Banana and Louie, are in true stereo on the original effects album.[7]


Sourced from liner notes included with the 1999 mono/stereo reissue of Pet Sounds,[11] except where otherwise noted.

The Beach Boys
Additional musicians

Release history[edit]

"Caroline, No" was Brian Wilson's first solo single, released on Capitol Records as Capitol 5610 on March 7, 1966. Although Brian Wilson was the driving force behind The Beach Boys at the time, the solo release of "Caroline, No" was perhaps his first official recognition as an individual outside the band. Two months later, it was placed on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album, where it is credited as a Beach Boys recording, even though Wilson is the only Beach Boy performing on the record.


It later appeared in many different stages and formats on The Pet Sounds Sessions box set. In addition to containing the song as it appears on Pet Sounds, what is included are: the full track (excluding train noise) mixed in stereo for the first time, instrumental session highlights, the song's instrumental backing track, the song's isolated vocal stems, two brief radio advertisements recorded for the single, and both monaural and stereo versions of the tracks slowed to their original speed.

A live version of the song appears on the band's 1973 live album The Beach Boys in Concert, with younger brother and bandmate Carl Wilson taking lead vocals.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Velvet Underground allude to the song on their 1969 track "The Murder Mystery" from their self-titled 1969 album.
  • Neil Young mentions the song in the title track to the 1976 Stills-Young Band album Long May You Run.
  • A track titled “Does Caroline Know?” appears on Talk Talk’s 1984 album It’s My Life.
  • Yumiko Ohno of the Japanese group Buffalo Daughter is known in Japan for singing on several electronic avant-garde albums with Yann Tomita under the pseudonym Caroline Novac. Doopee Time by Tomita is a 1995 concept album which closes with Tomita's own cover version of the song.
  • In 2002, the British band Modesty Blaise released the sunshine-pop single "Carol Mountain," named for the girl who may have inspired "Caroline, No."
  • A song entitled "Caroline, Yes" appears on the Kaiser Chiefs' 2005 album Employment in reference to Brian Wilson's song.[13]
  • A track titled "Caroline, Please Kill Me" appears on Coma Cinema's 2011 album Blue Suicide.



  1. ^ "Jim Esch review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  2. ^ "The Rubberization of Soul". UNT Digital Library. Retrieved April 9, 2011. 
  3. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  4. ^ The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds Warner Bros Publications, ISBN 0-7692-6449-2
  5. ^ Gaines 1986, p. 145.
  6. ^ "Tony Asher Interview". Cabin. Retrieved 2011-11-24. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Elliott, Brad (August 31, 1999). "Pet Sounds Track Notes". Retrieved March 3, 2009. 
  8. ^ Sharp, Ken (January 2006). "Christmas with Brian Wilson". Record Collector (United Kingdom): 72–76. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Lambert 2007, p. 235.
  10. ^ Linett, Mark (2001). "Track-by-Track Notes". In Pet Sounds (p. 22) [CD booklet]. Hollywood: Capitol Records, Inc.
  11. ^ Pet Sounds (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 1999. 
  12. ^ Tunbridge 2010, p. 173.
  13. ^ "Employment review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 

External links[edit]