52 GIRLS"Help Me Rhonda" / The Beach Boys
When this record came out, I only knew one Rhonda -- Rhonda Becker, who went to my grade school in Indianapolis. Rhonda was tall and thin, with a long blonde flip; she hung with the cool crowd, unlike me. She perfectly fit the image of this song.
You couldn't escape hearing this record in the spring and summer of '65. It was the Beach Boys' second #1 hit, after the previous year's "I Get Around" (which also struck home to me because it mentioned Indianapolis -- "she makes the Indy 500 looks like a Roman chariot race, now"). Refreshingly, the lead vocalist on "Help Me Rhonda" was neither nasal Mike Love nor angsty Brian Wilson, but -- surprise! -- guitarist Al Jardine, singing with a wholesome sincerity that made this uptempo love song really work.
We can dispense with the lyrics rather quickly. That first verse is classic Brian Wilson rueful self-pity and navel-gazing: "Well, since she put me down / I've been out doing in my head." (What "doing in my head" means, I haven't the faintest idea.) "Come in late at night, / And in the morning I just lay* in bed," an image that always makes me flash back to the great ballad "In My Room," from their 1963 album Surfer Girl. You know, the one where they're all carrying the surfboard?
But here, as soon as he's set up the morose teen context, Rhonda strolls in, on a promising chord change. "Well, Rhonda, you look so fine (look so fine) / And I know it wouldn't take much time / For you to / [chord finally resolves] Help me, Rhonda / Help me get her out of my heart."
Sure, he's flattering her, but it's an awkward moment, because he's still more concerned with forgetting the other girl. Personally I wouldn't be interested in applying for this job, but who knows, maybe a superfox like Rhonda enjoys just this kind of challenge. Never having been a superfox, I couldn't say.
Verse two fills in the story -- or rather the prequel, all about this other girl who is NOT Rhonda. "She was gonna be my wife / And I was gonna be her man / But she let another guy come between us / And it ruined our plan." Poor betrayed Beach Boy. But just when he was ready to give up, Rhonda "caught my eye (caught my eye)" and now he's got a new plan, to "give you lotsa reasons why / You gotta help me Rhonda / Help me get her out of my heart."
The chorus is simple lyrically -- it's basically "Help, help me, Rhonda" over and over, climaxing in an emphatic "Help me Rhonda, yeah," after which Al pleads/demands "Get her out of my heart." But who ever gets bored with these endless repetitions? I adore how the various voices -- Carl, Brian, Dennis, Mike -- overlap and interweave hypnotically, always building, infinite variations on a theme. (Already they were heading toward the magnificent aural tapestry that would be "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations.") And yet somehow it is a GREAT singalong song, as I can testify from years of belting it out with girlfriends in the car as we tooled around Indianapolis.
Is he in love with Rhonda yet? No way. He knows she's cute, and he's determined to move on from his heartbreak -- might as well be Rhonda as anybody else.
We know nothing about Rhonda except that she looks fine. I'm not surprised to learn that Brian Wilson has said, on the record, that there was no Rhonda -- but I'm betting there was a girl who dumped him for another guy. That's who the song is really about, and that part of the back story? It reads like real life.
* Hate to be the grammar police, but please, Brian, it should be "lie in bed." You don't even need "lay" for the rhyme.