Caroline, No

Album: Pet Sounds (1966)
Charted: 32

Songfacts®:

  • This is a heartbreaking song about a girl who is moving on with her life, leaving the singer to wonder why she changed and what went wrong. Brian Wilson considers it one of his most successful ballads, along with "In My Room," "Surfer Girl" and "God Only Knows." He calls these ballads, "sweet, pretty, angelic songs that people liked."
  • Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson wrote this song with the lyricist Tony Asher, who also worked with him on "God Only Knows." It was a very personal song for both writers. Wilson married his first wife, Marilyn, in December 1964, and the couple were going through many changes in their relationship. In the notes for the reissued album, Wilson explained: "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."

    Wilson took his concept of lost innocence to Asher, who drew from his own personal experience to complete the lyrics. Asher had recently broken up with his girlfriend, Carol, who moved across the country to New York City. When Asher visited her, he was struck by how much she had changed - her new haircut inspired the first line in the song.

    Asher wrote a lyric in the song as "Carol, I Know," which Wilson interpreted as "Caroline, No," which both men agreed was a much more interesting title.
  • Brian Wilson put a variety of unusual instruments on this track, including harpsichord, ukulele and vibraphone. He used some of the top Los Angeles session players on the recording, including Hal Blaine on drums, Carol Kaye on bass and Glen Campbell on guitar. Blaine created a unique percussion sound by hitting an empty, upside-down water bottle, which is what you hear at the beginning of the track.
  • Brian Wilson recorded this without the rest of the group - on the single it's listed as "Brian Wilson," not "The Beach Boys." The released version was recorded a half step slower so that when played back, the vocal would sound a little higher in pitch. (The same technique McCartney used on "When I'm 64" - the acetate is in the original key of C major as opposed to C# on "Pepper".) It was supposed to give the vocal a more "youthful" sound. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Barry Kesten - Bellmore
  • This was the last song on the original version of the Pet Sounds album. At the end of the song, the sounds of a passing train and barking dogs come in. The train came from a sound effects reel, but the dogs were original: Brian Wilson brought his pooches Banana and Louie into the studio and recorded their barks. This was done to tie in the "Pet Sounds" concept.
  • This song was referenced in the third verse of Neil Young's "Long May You Run," which is addressed to his famous Pontiac hearse; "Maybe the Beach Boys have got you now, with those waves singing Caroline, oh Caroline, no." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Ekristheh - Halath

Comments: 16

  • Beach Guy from ChicagoGreat to hear more about Caroline,No. Amazing what Brian accomplished, and the fun he gave us while listening to Beach Boy songs. At a minimum, everyone should have Endless Summer and Pet Sounds in their music collection. Thanks for it all, Brian. Your songs will be cherished forever.
  • Ruth Woytsek from Greensburg InThe Kaiser Chiefs' "Caroline, Yes" was written as an answer to this song as per their Songfact song page.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaSteve you lucky person. Would love to meet him once just to say Thanks, and I would sound silly too because this is forever my fav song he wrote as well.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaStill my all time fav song Brian ever wrote and they recorded. Now the story behind the song (and have read this in several Beach Boys books) is different. The one I read is that it was about a girl Brian went to school with and had a crush on. She never knew tell after they had graduated. Her name was Carol.
  • Dt from Gulf Breeze, FlHaunting song, especially if back in HS you were in love with a girl named Caroline who had long golden hair.
  • George from Belleville, NjThis song is so beautiful and haunting that upon hearing it you know it is instantly a classic.Brian Wilson was at the top of his game when he wrote Pet Sounds and this could be the crowning achievement of the album.They just can't write songs like this anymore.This is a once in a lifetime listening experience.
  • Matt from Galway, IrelandAnthony, that's how Pet Sounds ends. It's just the way the album ends, and Caroline No being the last song on the album, those sounds come right after it.
  • Richie from Omaha, NeThe lyrics to "Caroline No," for example "How could you lose that happy glow?" and the reference to a female denying ever changing, are quite prophetic. Brian shares some important insight concerning women for the naive. Given all of the trendy self-analysis books focusing on relationships, I must wonder if anyone was listening. . .
  • Anthony from Park City, Uti have the version where at the end the song there's like a train rolling and it fades out anyone know what version i have?
  • Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, CaI once toldBrian that this was my favorite Beach Boy/BrianWilson 45...he looked at me with a puzzling look!
    lol
  • Charles Granata from Livingston, NjThe percussion sound was achieved by Hal Blaine striking the bottom of a plastic "Sparkletts" water jug (the kind you'd find on top of an office water cooler.) They definitely added a generous amount of reverb to get the effect that Brian wanted: on some of the raw session takes of the instrumental, it is "dry" and sounds very different.

    Tony Asher was the collaborator who had the girlfriend named Carol, and he hadn't seen her in a long time. When he did run into her again, he noticed that she'd cut her hair, and it was radically different. In writing the song, he and Brian discussed how people change, and how they view past loves. At some point early in the process, Tony sang a line that said, "Oh, Carol I know," and Brian thought he had sung, "Oh, Caroline, no." Afterward, they both realized that the mistake made for a better lyric line.

    Both stories were told to me by Hal Blaine and Tony Asher, respectively.

    Chuck Granata
  • Erik from Lund, SwedenAccording to the 1994 Brian Wilson documentary "I just wasn't made for these times" Marilyn Wilson stated that she at the time took the lyrics personally since she had recently cut her hair, but Mr. Wilson himself spoke of somebody else (his collaborator maybe) who "must have had a girlfriend who had cut her hair or something" and focused more on the change between a "sweet girl" (long hair) that had turned "hard and cold" after the haircut, hence the sad cry; Caroline, oh no, what have you done to yourself, sort of.
  • Will from Riverside, CaAce, you pretty much have it right. According to _Wouldn't It Be Nice_ by Charles Granata, Tony Asher was inspired by a girl named Carol in his past.

    When Asher visited his high school sweetheart after she had been living in New York, he found that she had made some radical changes (including - you guessed it! - cutting her hair). When he first sang the lyric to Brian, he said "Oh, Carol, I know," but Brian interpreted it as "Caroline No," which lent the song to take on a much deeper content.
  • Ace from Las Vegas, NvBefore the song was written, one member asked another about an old crush from high school. He said "Oh, Carol, I know." The writer mistook his words as "Caroline No" and ran to write the song.
  • Natasha from Chico, CaWas Caroline a real person? If so, who was she?
  • Vicki from Geneva, IlThey Might Be Giants released a version of this song on their 2004 EP "Indestructable Object."
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