The Warmth Of The Sun

Album: Shut Down, Vol. 2 (1964)


  • This song was recorded shortly after the November 22, 1963 assassination of US president John F. Kennedy, an event that Chicago's Museum Of Broadcast Communications declared the most memorable political moment in American radio and television history (followed by the events of September 11, 2001 and the Nixon/Kennedy debate in 1960). While the song was written beforehand, the assassination set the mood in the studio. In our interview with Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love, he explained: "Brian (Wilson) and I wrote that together in November of 1963. And the reason I remember it was that we woke up in the morning to the news that President Kennedy had been shot and was on his way to Parkland Memorial Hospital. We all know the result of that incident.

    But it was such a haunting, melancholy, sad musical composition, the music was. And the only thing I could relate to in terms of lyrics was the loss of someone you love. In that lyrical treatment, it was about somebody who you were in love with, but they don't feel the same way anymore. So they fell out of love with you. And that's a loss of love, but not quite as dramatic as being shot and killed.

    We didn't change the lyrics to conform to the event, but because of that event, when we recorded that song just a day or two later, it was charged with emotion. There's no doubt about that. And I think you can feel it in the lyric and the music combined.

    But that was a case where I had written a poem about that experience of being enamored of somebody and they no longer felt that way. So that was The Warmth of the Sun. Leaves you of the feeling of having felt love, having felt the feeling of being in love at one time."
  • There is some debate as to exactly when and where the song was written, but Fred Vail, who was the manager and promoter for The Beach Boys, cleared things up in the Forgotten Hits newsletter. This from Fred:

    "Every generation has certain events that are 'forever' etched in their memory. They vividly remember exactly what they were doing, who they were with, and what was going on in their lives at that precise moment in history. For our parents - that event was December 7, 1941 - the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the USA was thrust into World War II. For today's generation that special day was Sept. 11, 2001 - the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and UA Flight 93 going down on a lonely Pennsylvania field; but for us 'baby boomers,' the events of November 22, 1963 still haunt us and remind us that much of our 'innocence' was lost that morning on the streets of Dallas.

    For me personally, November 22, 1963, started out like most other late fall days: school kids looking forward to the weekend off; mothers and fathers getting ready for Thanksgiving the following Thursday; retailers getting ready for the 'day after Thanksgiving' sales. Life was good. I was a nineteen year old college student and concert promoter - the kid with the 'deejay voice.' It was just another work day for me: putting the finishing touches on my Beach Boys 'dance and show' that night, fifty miles north of Sacramento, in Marysville, California. The 'boys' were the hottest American act... just beginning their touring success but already secure having had their first Top 10 single, 'Surfin' USA,' the previous spring. 'Surfer Girl' and 'Little Deuce Coupe' had achieved equal chart success and 'Be True To Your School' and 'In My Room,' which had been released in October, was already climbing the national charts.

    Our September 14 show at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium had 'sold out' - 5,200+ seats for the evening performance and nearly 2,000 for an afternoon 'pre-teeners' matinee. 'Beach Dad,' Murry Wilson, and I, had discussed doing a show in the agricultural communities of Marysville and Yuba City in an effort to hit some of the smaller secondary cities where radio spots and concert production costs were cheap and major acts seldom played those markets. So on that particular Friday morning I was up early, monitoring the local radio stations and getting ready to call the various ticket outlets to see how sales were going. There were no rip-offs like 'Ticketmaster' and 'Stub Hub' in those days.

    I made individual deals with area record stores and music shops who would sell my tickets in exchange for free advertising on our radio spots and posters. It was a 'win-win' for everyone. I was particularly fond of my relationship with KXOA Radio, one of two 'Top 40' stations in Sacramento, the other being KROY. I had worked as a 'gopher' at KXOA during my freshman and sophomore year at El Camino High School, and in 1961 when they split their AM/FM simulcast and went 'county' on the FM side, I worked at the station as a deejay and program director. I was seventeen years old at the time. So, while most of our radio advertising had been on the local KUBA Radio in Yuba City, we had taken out a small schedule of spots on KXOA to 'hedge our bet,' so to speak - knowing full well that a number of loyal Sacramento Beach Boys fans would also want to catch the 'boys' at the Marysville 'dance and show.' (Dancing was not allowed at our Sacramento Memorial Auditorium concerts).

    I was out in one of the KXOA news cars with Johnny Gunn, one of the jocks, when we first heard of the tragic event in Dallas. Without hesitation, we headed back to the radio station. By the time we entered the lobby, the whole place was in chaos. Secretaries were crying, salesmen and others were waiting anxiously for the latest news reports. Most of the staff were already in the master control room, right off the newsroom, as the Associated Press and United Press International teletypes were chattering away with the latest news coming out of Dallas. Word came down shortly after 10 AM west coast time: President John F. Kennedy, our nation's youngest elected president, had been Assassinated while his motorcade wound its way through the streets of Dallas, Texas, approaching Dealey Plaza. A stunned KXOA staff - as well as a stunned world - could not believe what they were hearing. 'Camelot,' the romantic name given to the new Kennedy Administration, had ended - barely three years after it had began.

    While as a high school sophomore, I had campaigned heavily for Richard Nixon in 1960, and had interviewed the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, Henry Cabot Lodge, on his visit to Sacramento, I was saddened that this type of tragedy could take place in the United States. Political assassinations were something you read about in history books or saw on a news broadcast from some Third World country. It just didn't happen in the United States of America.

    However, I also had other things on my mind. What about the 'boys' show in Marysville? Would the 'beach dad' still let the group perform that night? I hastily put in a call to Murry, who was just as much in shock as the rest of the world. 'How can we play the show tonight, Fred,' was his first question. I was eager to see the 'boys' and just as eager to 'go on with the show,' but several questions lingered in my mind: would the city of Marysville allow us to go ahead with the concert? Would parents allow their kids to go out on such a tragic day? What about ticket sales? Would there be any backlash if we played the gig? I told Murry: 'Let me make a few calls. It's still morning. We still have plenty of time for all of you to make the flight if we get a 'go ahead' from city officials and everything else checks out,' I said. Murry agreed to let me check out the situation and told me to get back to him within a couple of hours.

    I immediately began calling the different parties connected with the show: the local Marysville/Yuba City radio stations, local record shops, the police, and city administrative offices. The city government, including police and parks and recreation, had no problem letting us go ahead with the show. The local radio stations had been flooded with calls about our appearance since the death of the President had been announced. Local ticket outlets were already doing a brisk business in sales as all the schools had been let out early. Everyone agreed: we could 'go on with the show.' I realized - being a kid myself - that most junior high school and high school aged students - the 'core' audience of any Beach Boys concert - would be excited about The Beach Boys coming to their town. It was not that they did not respect President Kennedy, nor the tragedy that had befallen our nation, it was that they were kids, it was the weekend, they'd waited a month the see their favorite 'surfing band' and that was - at that moment in time - their priority. Also, there was not much else to do. All regular radio and television programming had been suspended. Recaps of the events of the day were played, replayed, and replayed again. Not too unlike a major story on CNN today! Most contemporary music stations either carried news reports or played only soft instrumental music out of respect to the president. For kids - particularly Beach Boys fans - it was all pretty boring, to say the least.

    I called Murry, passed along the information I'd compiled, and he said: 'Are you sure this is okay?' I told him that I honestly felt we should go on with the show. He agreed, and we made plans for me to meet the plane at the old Sacramento Municipal Field. Once again, I borrowed my folk's 1954 Chevy station wagon, and got ready to pick up 'the boys.' If I recall, they got in about 4:30 or 5:00 PM, we loaded all the gear into the back of the wagon, and along with one other car, driven by my dear friend and assistant, Mike Davidson, we headed toward Marysville. We did, however, stop long enough at the El Dorado Hotel in Sacramento for the group to check in and get freshened up from the flight. It made more sense to stay in Sacramento so that they'd be closer to the airport for the flight the next day. After a bit of a 'pit stop' we headed up to Marysville, less than an hour's drive away. We arrived at the Marysville Auditorium and headed backstage to see about setting up the gear. A local act, 'Freddy and the Statics,' were to open. We'd do a long set about 9:30 or so. The auditorium was set up for a 'dance and show' with folding chairs along the outer walls and a wide open wood floor for dancing. Much like the high school dances in the Boy's Gym that we all attended in our youth.

    When 'Freddy and the Statics' completed their set, and the curtain went down, we immediately began setting up for the 'boys' set. As always, I would introduce the group, but on this very special night, it was agreed that I would ask the audience for a 'moment of silence' in honor of our fallen President. I went out to the microphone, thanked the kids for coming, and asked them to be silent in tribute to the late President, John F. Kennedy. Since this was something none of us had ever done before, I didn't have any idea as to 'what amount of time' was appropriate for the audience to remain 'silent.' It seemed like hours standing out there, head bowed, while the audience was totally - and respectfully - quiet. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye as I glanced back at the curtain, I saw it shift a little, and I could see Mike's hand and face as he prepared to throw a towel at me! Just as it hit my back, I knew - right then and there - that it was time to bring on 'The Beach Boys!'

    The show was a huge success. It not only broke the existing hall attendance record, but there were absolutely no incidents. The kids were well behaved and very, very grateful that their favorite 'surfing band' had gone ahead with the show. I settled up with the box office manager, stuffing thousands of dollar bills and small change into grocery bags, which Murry and I carried to the cars. We headed back to the El Dorado Hotel, excited about the success of the evening's performance, but still very mindful of the tragic events that had happened just twelve or fourteen hours before in Dallas, Texas.

    It was probably about 1:00 AM when we got back to the rooms. Everyone 'doubled up' in those early days. No lavish suites. Sometimes there were three to a room. Murry and I dumped the bags of cash out on to one of the beds. I can vividly remember the bright turquoise bedspreads. The 'boys' were amazed, perhaps, 'shocked,' to see all the cash sitting on the bed. On a typical William Morris Agency contracted date, the local concert promoters would put up 50% of the 'guarantee' in advance, often writing a check the night of the performance for the other half. There were no 'percentage' type dates back then, or very, very few. So, seeing nearly $6,000 in 'cash,' was a bit unusual, even for The Beach Boys, as they were only getting $1,500 to $2,000 for their usual fee. However, this had not been a typical William Morris date. This had been a 'Frederick Vail Production,' a partnership (although NOT 50%) with Murry and the 'boys.'

    As we all began to wind down from the events of the day, I looked over at Brian and Mike as they began working on a song that they'd already started earlier that morning. They were in the corner of the small room, still tightening up lyrics, working on the melody, and humming and singing a few lines here and a few lines there. By about 2 AM or so, the song was nearly complete. It would be a special musical tribute to our nation's 35th President, the youngest president ever elected, and also, the youngest to die in office. The song was 'The Warmth of the Sun.' 'And now,' as Paul Harvey would say,' you know the rest of the story.'" (Thanks to Fred and the folks at Forgotten Hits.)
  • Most of the album contained much lighter fare, like "Fun, Fun, Fun" and a cover of "Louie Louie." The Beach Boys audience was very young, but over the next few years their music became more complex and they gained a much larger adult audience.
  • Mike Love in Uncut magazine March 2008: "The melody that Brian came up with was very melancholy. I'd had an experience where this girl I liked decided she didn't want to reciprocate, so I wrote the lyrics from the perspective of, 'Yes, things have changed and love is no longer there, but the memory of it is like the warmth of the sun.' It was looking for a silver lining in that cumulus nimbus, accentuating the positive. I wanted our music to provide a sonic oasis, a place where literally you could go, like in 'in My Room,' and tell your troubles to-or at least lose yourself in the music."

Comments: 21

  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaProbably some of the BEST HARMONIES they ever did was on this song. I remember where I was that day. My class was eating lunch outside in our lunch area and someone had their radio on, that was how I heard the news. we didn't have a TV yet so I've only seen the videos of the funeral ect second hand so to speak.
  • Martin from Fresno, CaUplifting song. It always reminds me that there is always something good like the sun.
  • Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationIn response to the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote “The Warmth of the Sun” the very next day.
  • Reed from New Ulm, MnMixMaster----i agree. it's hard to even describe how beautiful this song is. Truly, one of their best numbers.
  • John from Cincinnati, OhThe two most beautiful songs are both by The Beach Boys: This one and "Spirit of America".
  • Dan from Los Angeles, CaAlthough it was on the "Shut Down Vol. II" album released in early 1964, it didn't get alot of airplay until it was placed on the B-side of the single "Dance Dance Dance" at the end of the year.
  • Ginna from New Port Richey, Flsurf's up the beach boys - even better...hey Phil I like your taste in great music.
  • Ginna from New Port Richey, Fli think that's so great that you like the Beatles If I Fell !!! My girlfriends and I love that song !! (and we were'nt even born when Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote it!!)
  • Ginna from New Port Richey, FlMy mom always said that this song God Only Knows by the Beach Boys is the prettiest song she has ever heard and now that I know it too I agree!!!
  • Ginna from New Port Richey, FlOh ! I Love that song God Only Knows !! It's so pretty and such a beautiful song!! My girlfriends and I love that song!! :) That;s the opening song for Big Love isn't it?
  • Barry from Str, Njit was great to see Brian get "Smile" out of his past... also to see the appreciation and honors bestowed upon him.
  • Phil from New York, NyRE: "God Only Knows" : While Rolling Stone magazine recently named it #25 on its list of greatest songs of all-time, it only reached #39 on the US charts in 1966 (although it did reach #2 in the UK). Sir Paul McCartney has said that it is the greatest love song of all time. The song "God Only Knows" is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.[5] The song was also recognized by Pitchfork Media as the number one "greatest song of the 1960s" in their feature on the 200 Best Songs of the 1960s.[3]

    Paul McCartney has expressed on a number of occasions about his love for the song. In an interview with David Leaf in 1990 he stated that "It's a really, really great song---it's a big favorite of mine. I was asked recently to give my top ten favorite songs for a Japanese radio station...I didn't think long and hard on it, but I popped that [God Only Knows] on the top of my list. It's very deep. Very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. There are certain songs that just hit home with me, and they're the strangest collection of songs...but that is high on the list, I must say...God Only Knows' lyrics are great. Those do it to me every time."[2]

    Bono said in October 2006 during Brian Wilson's induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame that "the string arrangement on God Only Knows is fact and proof of angels.
  • Phil from New York, NyIt's also nice to see conformation of one's opinions!!
  • Phil from New York, NyWhoa. Even Paul McCartney loves "God Only Knows"! Right on and good call!
    Gary Forras, San Bernardino, CA
  • Keely from Bronx, NyMurry Wilson, Brian's dad, recorded an instrumental version of this song for his 1967 album "The Many Moods of Murry Wilson."
  • Niall from Dublin, Irelandgreat tune

    Long live brian wilson
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScUm Rona... That's not exactly right. If that were the only reason, the the Beatles wouldn't as popular as they still are 40 some odd years later.
  • Rona from West Pittston, PaThe Beatles got more number 1's so people must think they are better.
  • Bobodobo from Los Angeles, CaWhile most Beach Boys songs (and most other popular music, for that matter) have relatively familiar (chord progressions), this song is really unusual. Every time I show the chords to a guitar-playing buddy, their reaction is something like, "what? how can you make a song out of that?" But we're not Brian Wilson, are we? The combination of the strange chords, that never really stay in one key for more than a few measures, plus the Beach Boys trademark vocal harmonies, make for a swirling, ethereal feel, like the sounds that would go along with the patterns you see on your eyelids while looking at the (warm) sun with your eyes closed. I don't know if that's what Wilson and Love were trying for, but they certainly got it.

    A real masterpiece IMHO. Certainly the Beach Boys most under-rated song ever.
  • Gary from Auckland, New ZealandThis must be the highlight of the 'Good Morning Vietnam' soundtrack, with 'I Get Around' and 'Nowhere to Run'. Of course the Beach Boys are known for their upbeat attitude, but 'Don't Worry Baby' on the same album wasn't exactly lightweight either -- a lot deeper than the Beatles were at that time, until they met Bob Dylan.
  • Mix Master Wipe from Adelaide, AustraliaSuch a beautiful song, Brians voice is heaven sent!
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