From The Sunday Times May 13, 2007
Going for a song
Natasha Desborough on Till I Die by the Beach Boys

I was introduced to the Beach Boys’ 1971 album Surf’s Up by a boy I fancied at sixth-form college. At the time, I was heavily into the Stone Roses, and thought the Beach Boys were a bunch of Californian beach bums who had an unhealthy obsession with surfing and cars, and sang like girls.

Anyway, in an effort to impress the boy in question, I agreed to listen to the album. I took Surf’s Up home with me and discovered a fabulous record, with tracks including the magical title track, the drug-influenced Feel Flows and Bruce Johnston’s Disney Girls.

But the track that really touched me was Till I Die, a poignant, heartbreaking song written by Brian Wilson some years before, when he was in the middle of a breakdown. The song has incredible richly layered harmonies, yet the melody remains humble. Band member Mike Love thought it was too depressing to be a Beach Boys song, and wouldn’t let it be featured on any earlier album. What a ninny. I fell head over heels in love – with the track, that is – and “accidentally” never gave the record back. I ended up avoiding the boy in question rather than return his album.

I was lucky enough to see Wilson perform live a few years ago at the Festival Hall, and was moved to tears. He looked so delicate perched behind his keyboard. His voice was fragile, but still held the emotion of an inconsolable romantic. And it was clear to every person in the audience that this was a man who was still battling relentless inner demons. I could blame my emotional state on the three glasses of chardonnay I’d drunk before the concert. But although that might have contributed, the fact remains that as Wilson began to perform Till I Die, I started crying hysterically, and didn’t stop until the end of the show.

I spend my working life playing music on the radio and, although I have a deep passion for my job, there aren’t many other songs that can move me to tears. Certain pieces of music, such as the Fanfare to the film Rocky and children’s choirs singing Away in a Manger at Christmas, can make me blub, but nothing gets my lip quivering like Till I Die. It captures perfectly that feeling of being small and insignificant in relation to the universe, something everyone can relate to: “I’m a cork on the ocean/ Floating over the raging sea / How deep is the ocean? / How deep is the ocean?”

Knowing the state of Wilson’s mind when he wrote the song makes the lyrics seem even more haunting. But I think everyone has felt like that at some time in their life. And, although the lyrics show a man dwarfed by the vastness of the world and obsessed with death, the melody is surprisingly hopeful and uplifting. I don’t find it a depressing song, though it’s certainly thought-provoking.

Natasha Desborough is the presenter of BBC 6 Music’s Weekend Breakfast Show

Article placed in The Sunday Times by Vikki Rimmer/Press Contact