Thursday, October 01, 2015

Help me Rhonda, or anybody

I’m not alone.

I’ve been hearing this song my entire life and have never figured out what the opening lyric meant. It’s from “Help Me Rhonda” by the Beach Boys. The thrust of the song is that a guy is hoping his new girlfriend Rhonda will help him forget about his old girlfriend who dumped him. (Or, some suggest “Rhonda” is actually his new car. Seems a big stretch. but the song is included in an album of their car songs so who knows? But that’s for another deep esoteric blog post.) For the moment let’s assume “Rhonda” is a girl. (It could also be a pet. STOP IT! It’s a girl!)

Here’s the first line of the song:

Well, since she put me down I’ve been out doin’ in my head

The second line is:

Come in late at night and in the mornin’ I just lay in bed.

Okay, I get line two, but explain line one.

Pat St. John, a great disc jockey, who hosts the midday show on the Sirius/XM ‘60s channel, also was confused and tried to get an answer. He went to Al Jardine, one of the original Beach Boys and he too was not completely certain. He gave Pat a vague explanation and Pat tried to communicate it on his show recently, but I’m still totally baffled. (This is like the original movie version of THE BIG SLEEP. I defy anyone, even Raymond Chandler who wrote the book, to explain the plot.)

So what’s your take? If you have an explanation I’d love to hear it (or read it in the comments). If I find one that’s really clear I’ll pass it on to Pat.

Thanks. And here’s the song itself.

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

I say, it's a phrase which is often used by young people:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/language/theenglishwespeak/2013/07/130709_tews_131_doing_my_head_in.shtml

Brule Eagan said...

I've been hearing it wrong all this time. I always thought it was "Well, since she put me down, there been owls pukin' in my bed."

John M said...

Yeah, "doing my head in" is a very common phrase in UK/Ireland. Meaning anything from "annoying me" to "driving me crazy". The lyric turns it around to "doin' in my head" and also has the protagonist as both the subject and the object, so it's a bit awkward, but I assume it means something similar. He's been driving himself nuts.

Kosmo13 said...

I always heard the line as "I've had odd doings in my head" as in "having strange thoughts" or "hearing voices." Given Brian Wilson's psychological history (as recently depicted in the 'Love and Mercy' movie), I figured the singer was implying that being "put down" by his ex was pushing him over the edge into mental instability.

And is Rhonda really his new girlfriend? Or a girl that he wishes was his new girlfriend and the thrust of the song is to convince her she should be?

Rock Golf said...

I took it to say "Since she put me down, I've been outdoin' in my head".

In other words, I've been trying to outdo her putdown with a better putdown of her. Like the times (and, Ken, I doubt you've ever experienced this) where you come up with the perfect retort to something said to you about three weeks too late.

The conflict is that he can find the retorts, but can't use them be he can't "get her out of my heart".

Bill Avena said...

Shut up and appreciate the music goddammit. You want complicated Beach Boys, check out "I'm in the great shape of the American agriculture" from SMILE.

Mike said...

What he's doing: The Damned - Drinkin' About My Baby
Or if you prefer: Happy Mondays - It's Twistin' His Melon, Man. Quick, nurse - the screens.

V. Anton Spraul said...

I've always just assumed the line meant he was out drinking, something they wouldn't have wanted to say explicitly.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I think I've always just substituted something else in my mind when I heard that part of that line. Besides, that song is all about the chorus and the fun harmonies, and the fact that poor Rhonda is just a distraction from his real love. There should have been a response song from Rhonda entitled "(Go Help Yourself), Asshole".

@Anonymous That's just another reminder if why I respect and appreciate the BBC more than I do PBS/NPR. The BBC's helping adult speakers of other languages learn idiomatic English. Also, they have Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time, which is one of the few human artifacts that justifies for the continuance of our species. Available through iTunes. It's not that PBS/NPR are devoid of informative shows, but I find them a bit too fluffy a bit too often.

Ken, have you watched BLACK-ISH? I'm really liking that show so far this season, and I admire that they've dealt with the use of the N-Word and the issue of gun ownership while making each funny and thoughtful.

B McMolo said...

What Mike et al. said. "Put me down" = break up, "out doin' in my head" = he's been drinking about it, is how I've always taken it.

While we're here, Smiley-Smiley (67), SMiLE (2004), or The Smile Sessions (2011)?

benson said...

I'm sorry, but the lyric is

"Hep me, Rhonda, Hep, Hep, me Rhonda..."

Ain't no "L" in hep.

Stephen Marks said...

It was actually Brian's line coded to refer to Mike Love as the biggest a-hole on the planet and making light of the fact that Mike wears hats so we don't suspect he's bald

Anonymous said...

Rhonda might refer to the Ronettes.. specifically Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, 1963, 32 bar form... Be My Baby

Wiki: "It is considered one of the best songs of the 1960s by Pitchfork Media, NME and Time. In 2004, the song was ranked 22 by Rolling Stone in its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and described as a "Rosetta stone for studio pioneers such as the Beatles and Brian Wilson," a notion supported by Allmusic who writes, "No less an authority than Brian Wilson has declared 'Be My Baby' the greatest pop record ever made — no arguments here."

da doo ron ron, da doo ron ron...

Howard Hoffman said...

Don't feel bad. Until a couple of years ago, I resolutely misplaced a period in the Guess Who's "Laughing." I always heard it as

"You took away everything. I had you put the hurt on me."

One I realized my punctuation dyslexia, the song stopped being an ode to masochism.

Douglas C Brown said...

I understood it the first time I heard it. Brian (sung by Al) just wants to get Rhonda to push the former steady out of his head/heart/life. FYI, the hit single is actually a remake. Brian originally produced a version that was a non-single album track from the "Today" lp. That version features a prominent harmonica and a fade out-fade in ending and has much in common with the Buster Brown hit song "Fannie Mae."

Gary Benz said...

I just always took it to mean that he's been spending time trying to figure the whole thing out. In other words, walking around in a haze continuing to roll this over in his mind as to why she put him down. You kind of have to like how he sees getting laid by a new girl as the answer to all his problems. If only Brian had taken his own advice

pumpkinhead said...

I thought that to "do something in" was to kill it, and in this case meant out drinking and doing damage to his head - headaches, dead brain cells, etc.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ringo said...

Ask Brian Wilson and/or Mike Love. They're the offenders!

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I can't find the Dave Barry column, but I remember that he mishears the line as "...gerbils barfing in my bed."

It's a fun song. Beach Boys music is my natural high...

Johnny Walker said...

I take it like this:

Since she dumped me I've been going out and drowning my sorrows/partaking in self-destructive behaviour

The line, taken literally, doesn't really make much sense, but surely that's the sentiment?

H Johnson said...

I'd always taken the line to mean that since he got dumped he was out drivin' around thinking, and being generally depressed until he meets another cutie named Rhonda. Part of his spiel to her is that she can take her place in his heart. Something I went through myself in college, so I could relate.

Thanks to your British readers for the distinct explanation of the "doing in my head" term. Nice to know I had the right idea.

Great post! You can never go wrong with the Beach Boys. By the way, what'd you think of Love & Mercy?

Aloha and Cheerio

Canda said...

Number one song at the beginning of June, 1965, for those who graduated that week. Should get a lot of play at this year's 50th Class Reunion.

John Hammes said...

Scott Shannon - longtime DJ, Hall Of Fame -er, creater, syndicator, host of "True Oldies Channel" - would no doubt at least have an interesting answer.

The man has been around, absorbing any and all rock and roll trivia from the sublime to the ridiculous, passing such info along on his broadcast.

Granted, though, some things just can never really be explained. The lyrics to "Louie Louie" for example?


(Even though, clearly, they are predicting the mass exodus following the fall of the Berlin Wall [ "oh, no, we gotta go..." ] and the expected celebratory atmosphere.)



Anonymous said...

Back in the day, when a poet wanted to write about a woman of easy virtue he used the common name, "Judy O'Grady." If a poet used that name, the reader knew what the poet was referring to. Historically, a "Judy O'Grady" was the gal or gals who used to follow union or rebel troops around during the civil war, hoping to make some money servicing their needs. Sometimes they did it for fun. They were well known at the time.

In the Beach Boys song, the common name, "Rhonda," was used for the same effect. The gals in high school who are always around to service the jocks when needed. The head cheerleader dumps you, there were always a few "Rhonda's" to sooth your broken heart. Poetically, it's a great name for a gal who's sexually always on the go.

For citations, Kipling wrote an epic poem, "The Ladies," regarding his take on women, using the "Judy O'Grady" moniker. Jack London also referred to it in his epic essay, "What Life Means to Me."

Hope this helps.

God Bless Rhonda

emily said...

I always thought it was "Well, since she put me down I’ve been ODD-doin’ in my head."

As some of you may know, I've done more than a little "odd-doin'" in my time...so it makes sense to me. As to going to the source for answers: Fifty years after the fact, who knows what an aging Beach Boy might be able to remember.

Kosmo13 said...

If Anonymous' analysis is correct:

"In the Beach Boys song, the common name, "Rhonda," was used for the same effect. The gals in high school who are always around to service the jocks when needed. The head cheerleader dumps you, there were always a few "Rhonda's" to sooth your broken heart. Poetically, it's a great name for a gal who's sexually always on the go."

that might explain the etymology of the musical expression "roundelay."

Maria said...

Maybe it could mean that his recent breakup has caused him to be in his own head most of the time? So he could be out late at night with his friends, but is not really present. So he goes out, and then comes home to just lay in bed and continue to brood. I have no idea really, lol.

GS in SF said...

Isn't it just a more roundabout, lyrical way of saying "since she dumped me I've been going out of mind?"

Weren't 60's musician's always looking to convey an otherwise simple thought with cooler sounding words.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Unrelated Friday question: In the Previously TV thread for the latest episode of NASHVILLE (S04e02), a poster indicates that they've been asked to be on an"ABC advisory panel" for the show, apparently to indicate what storylines they like/don't like etc. It sounds like a focus group, but they haven't given further details. Is this a new low for "network notes"? (I imagine something like, "The advisory panel doesn't like Juliette being so fucked up that she abandons her husband and new baby; can you get them back together pronto? Oh, and do something about Gunnar's hair. They don't like it.")

wg

John Nixon said...

"Out doin' in my head".....very much a Brian Wilson-ish line....like mentally or emotionally damaging himself...he was doin' himself in or destroying his mind by going out til late hours and drinking too much or being too depressed. I can hear it in my mind in an Edward G Robinson voice describing a suicide..."fella did himself in, see"

Anonymous said...

If it was written by Roger Christian, it was a car. He wrote most of the Beach Boy's car songs.

Buttermilk Sky said...

There's a Rhonda Valley in Wales. Perhaps the singer is planning a vacation.

DrBOP said...

Hangin' out in various places in mid-60s northern California, we took it as a sly nod from our SoCal surfer-bros as to exactly what he was "doing" as he was "doin' in my head" ;^)

Anonymous said...

Regarding Rhonda:
Don't know why they used that name but keep in mind the story about Paul Simon and Mickey Mantle.
Paul Simon told Mickey that he was his favorite ballplayer.
Mickey asked him why then he used Joe DiMaggio, who Mickey had a strained relationship with, as the subject of Mrs. Robinson.
Why didn't you use my name if I was your favorite ballplayer?

Simon looked at him and said, "Syllables, Mick, syllables."

Donald Benson said...

There's a Beatles song, "If I Fell in Love With You" that's about getting over and getting even ("And I hope that she / will cry / when she hears we are two"). And I used to have an LP by some Beatle wannabes that had a song beginning with "Everybody says that you're no good for me." Now there's a romantic opener.

In the Beatles' case, I wonder if the lyric was meant as an actual love song to a new girl or as an ironic song about NOT being over a previous girl. The Beach Boys were all about high school life and in that world, "Help Me, Rhonda" does work as a teenage boy basically pleading for pity titty. Although I do like the idea of Rhonda being his car.

thirteen said...

I think inserting a comma helps:

Well since she put me down I 've been out, doin' in my head
Come in late at night and in the mornin' I just lay in bed

He isn't outdoing anything or anybody. He's been going out ever since the breakup, and what he's been doing is wrecking his brain with various substances. This is enforced by the next line, which suggests long hours of dissipation followed by morning-after depression.

I once dated a Rhonda. I wound up pretty much in the same place, except I couldn't play a guitar for shit.

Don K. said...

It's really pretty simple.

"Well, since she put me down (broke up with him)

"I've been out doin' in my head" (partying, drinking, etc.)

"I come in late at night and in the mornin' I just lay in bed (hungover, no energy to do anything, depressed)

But then Rhonda catches his eye and she just might be the one to help him forget his troubles.

Typical Southern California (or anywhere, anytime, really) teen angst from the early 60's.

Pat Reeder said...

I don't understand most Beach Boys lyrics, but then, I never worked at Chief Auto Parts. Also, I always thought "Rhonda" started "I've been out drivin' in my head." Makes about as much sense as the right version; besides, they were always out driving somewhere, in their 409 or Little Deuce Coupe, whatever those are.

I do know a good story about "The Big Sleep." Director Howard Hawks loved the book but couldn't figure out who killed one of the murder victims. Clues pointed to a character who couldn't have done it because he'd already been killed. So he called Raymond Chandler to ask. Chandler was stumped, checked the book, then admitted he'd just forgotten he'd killed off that character already. Apparently, the later murder victim killed himself, possibly to get "Help Me Rhonda" out of his head.

VP81955 said...

I believe the single version of "Help Me Rhonda" actually was its second go-round. It first was "Help Me Ronda" (no 'h"), recorded in January 1965 and a track on that's March album "The Beach Boys Today!", the group decided to redo it as a single in February, making it considerably tighter, with "Wrecking Crew" members Hal Blaine on drums (who was on the first version) and Carol Kaye on bass (who apparently wasn't). I don't believe the lyrics were altered.

My information comes from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help_Me,_Rhonda -- so take it with a grain of salt if you want.

Rashad Khan said...

Frankly, I think you'd have an easier time figuring out what a "Stoney End" is.

Sue in Seattle said...

Ken, you know the phrase "he did himself in" as a callous way of saying he committed suicide? Brian is saying he was going out at night, getting trashed to avoid the pain.

H Johnson said...

To Anonymous said'

I don't know where or when you're from but Rhonda was never used as term for loose chicks. At least not in Hawaii or California. Betties' or Champs but never Rhonda.

But around her Anonymous is synonymous with asshole.

Rhonda's ex,

Auwe!

qrter said...

Yep, I'm with the other commenters - he's been out drinking and/or using other drugs every night, which combines nicely with staying in bed.

Gary Campbell said...

To "do in" means to kill. He has been out killing or destroying his head, presumably by getting drunk.

wordsmith said...

I've always thought that the lyrics were self-explanatory, since I used to be the type who would drink away the pain of my romantic fiascos into the wee hours, and then lie in bed avoiding the world all morning (I used to work second shift, as does, presumably, the speaker, since he doesn't seem to have a job, school, or parents to answer to; either that or he's independently wealthy from his lucrative Rock 'n' Roll career). The speaker believes that igniting a new relationship with a woman he knows named Rhonda will make him forget his most recent disaster.

Pumpkinhead said...

I don't think the Beatles lyrics quote in one of the comments above is accurate, btw. It didn't sound right and I looked up the lyric, and it doesn't say that.

Roger R. said...

New York City loves and misses Pat St. John!!

Roger Owen Green said...

I too thought the lyrics were pretty self-explanatory.
What I find fascinating is the different versions - one has the BOW, BOW, BOW BOW and one does not, but I don't know which was first, what aqlbums or singles, et al...

Jon Stebbins said...

Doing In My Head...so obvious. He's talking about getting wasted, drunk, fucked up, anything... so he's not thinking about the girl who put him down. "Doing In" is American slang for killing, ending, damaging.

Frank Black said...

Listen to what Jon says! Case closed.

blogward said...

Funny that. As above, 'Doin' in my head' doesn't sound a bit strange (though a bit clunky as a song line) to UK ears, though the more common usage would be 'stop it, you're doing my head in'. Well, I'm done in.