"The Little Girl I Once Knew" is a song written by Brian Wilson for the American rock band the Beach Boys, released as a non-album single in 1965.
AllMusic called the song "a virtual link between the slightly progressive work on songs such as 'California Girls' and the then-quantum leap taken by Wilson on Pet Sounds and 'Good Vibrations'". Unified by an opening hook which intertwines keyboards with guitars, the song is eccentric for using stop-start melody sections along with a few dramatic periods of silence lasting several seconds each.
"The Little Girl I Once" follows familiar territory as the Beach Boys' 1964 outtake "All Dressed Up for School", telling the story of a guy who reacquaints with a girl from his past who has now grown up and catches his eye. According to Mark Dillon, some speculate that the song was written about Brian's then-wife Marilyn Wilson. Mike Love reportedly had a hand in the lyrics. In the 1990s, his lawsuit for officially-recognized writing contributions failed to include "The Little Girl I Once Knew".
The song was recorded shortly after Brian completed Beach Boys' Party! in between sessions for the Pet Sounds tracks "Sloop John B" and "You Still Believe in Me". It was initially labelled "Carol K" on its session tape box, a reference to the song's bassist, Carol Kaye. The track has drawn comparisons with the work of contemporary Burt Bacharach, whom Wilson admired. In 1995, Wilson expressed, "It was a fine song, except the intro is the only good part of it, and the rest didn't sound so good. I thought the song in itself sucked. I didn't like the harmonies, I thought they were sour and off-key." Despite this, he later said that the song "should've" gotten more attention than it did. Its verses are "low-key" and hard-shift into a "blaring chorus", which Dillon writes, "foreshadows the Smile track 'Cabin Essence'".
It was released in November 1965 as a single 45 rpm, backed by "There's No Other (Like My Baby)", and reached #15 on the Cash Box chart, #20 on Billboard. On the UPI (United Press International) chart, quoted by newspapers across the United States, it placed at #4—the same position it peaked at the 'pirate' station Radio London serving the UK. In Canada, it was #7 on the national chart cited by Billboard and #10 on the RPM chart. Across North America, of major markets, it was highly popular only in Minneapolis and Vancouver (both #3), Washington DC (#5), Boston (#8), Baltimore and Pittsburgh (both #9); also top ten across the South in Birmingham, Louisville, Orlando and St Joseph.
As radio stations preferred to avoid dead air time, the song was poorly received by them, which may account for its relatively low chart rating among their other singles of the period, including "California Girls" and "Barbara Ann". Capitol Records' rushed release of "Barbara Ann" in December ruined any chance "The Little Girl I Once Knew" had of continuing up the charts. Just after its release, John Lennon gave it a favorable review:
"This is the greatest! Turn it up, turn it right up. It's GOT to be a hit. It's the greatest record I've heard for weeks. It's fantastic. I hope it will be a hit. It's all Brian Wilson. He just uses the voices as instruments. He never tours or anything. He just sits at home thinking up fantastic arrangements out of his head. Doesn't even read music. You keep waiting for the fabulous breaks. Great arrangement. It goes on and on with all different things. I hope it's a hit so I can hear it all the time."
It is the last new original song the group released before the album Pet Sounds, and was not included on any mainline Beach Boys album, but has since been collected on several anthologies (its first LP appearance being volume 3 of the group's Best Of series) and as a bonus track on reissues of Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!).
An alternate take of the song was released in 2001 on the rarities collection Hawthorne, CA, along with session highlights.The Beach Boys
Mike Love – lead vocals
Brian Wilson – lead vocals
Carl Wilson – lead vocals
Frank Capp – percussion
Carol Kaye – bass
Don Randi – organ