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Editorial Wednesday 6 May 2015: Simon Stevens' 'Pet Sounds'

As some light relief after a heavy piece about NHS finances, I think it’s time to explain that Simon Stevens has a secret strategy for the NHS.

It’s not the Five-Year Forward View.

It’s not privatisation.

It’s Brian Wilson’s masterpiece ‘Pet Sounds’.

Written as an attempt to top The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’ [contestability in practice], Brian Wilson’s work with lyricist Tony Asher was released as a Beach Boys record despite much of the band, notably ironically-named Mike Love, wondering “who’s gonna hear this shit?".

‘Pet Sounds’ was a radical departure from the Beach Boys’ highly successful surfing ‘n’ girls ‘n’ cars formula. It’s widely regarded as perhaps the first rock and roll concept album, exploring Wilson’s mental state and world view.

‘Pet Sounds’ opens with the infectious, optimistic Wouldn’t It Be Nice? vision of a brighter future a few years ahead – so there’s the Five-Year Forward View, right there.

Track two is You Still Believe In Me: a summary of the rapturous, if not Messianic reception for the FYFV, which also nods in the opening lyric to the precarious financial and performance status of the service: “I know perfectly well I’m not where I should be”.

Track three, That’s Not Me, disabuses the view among sceptical system leaders that Simon Stevens is a one-man band, but a happy Tripartiter: “I wanted to show that I could make it alone, but that’s not me”.

Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) offers tender comfort after a lover’s tiff – the comfort of the voluntary tariff. The jaunty next song, I’m Waiting For The Day (When You Can Love Again) clearly refers to the unresolved row with providers of specialised commissioning. If anyone makes a movie called ‘Romancing The Shelfords’, what better theme song?

Tracks six, seven and eight are a mini-general election suite. The instrumental Let’s Go Away For A While refers to purdah; the traditional Sloop John B references the temporary loss of ministerial leadership (“call for the captain ashore”). And God Only Knows defines the result of the election, and compatibility and a warning should a new health secretary arrive (“I may not always love you… If you should ever leave me / Life would still go on, believe me”.

Once we’re beyond the election, I Know There’s An Answer gives a message to the next health secretary: ”I know so many people who think they can do it alone/Isolate their heads and stay in their safety zone. What can you tell them?/And what can you say that won’t make them defensive?”. (The alternative working title to this song was the wonderful Hang On To Your Ego, and it features a Kazoo solo, so it’s genius.)

Here Today warns the next health secretary to stay on his or her toes with their love for the NHS: ”you know you ought to take it slower … a brand new love affair is such a beautiful thing”.

The crystal ball gets a bit hazy for the last three tracks, I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ lyric ”when I get the inspiration to go change things around/No-one wants to help me look for places where new things might be found” suggests that Vanguards my have some challenging moments.

Title track Pet Sounds is an innovative instrumental integration of mariachi and psychedelia: a new model of delivery, without doubt.

And Caroline No is a sumptuous ballad about someone who’s grown up and changed from their younger self: it’s about becoming worldly, and getting older.