8
Feb 06

THE BEACH BOYS – “Good Vibrations”

Popular34 comments • 3,261 views

#226, 19th November 1966

A couple of years ago, I was in a karaoke pub. “Good Vibrations” flashed up on the screen and a confident, 40-ish businessman stepped up to sing it. He was immediately nonplussed by the intro, and as the song continued it became obvious that he knew nothing except the chorus, which he sang with brio and the help of many friends. “Good, good, good, good vibrations!”

“Good Vibrations” has a really, really, great chorus. A chorus so fine and memorable that some people – like our businessman – forget how tricksy the rest of the song is. It’s turned what might have been a beloved curio into public pop property.

In a way, the chorus affects me like it affects the businessman – when I come to “Good Vibrations” I’m almost always surprised again at its oddness, how sudden some of its second-half cuts are, like the jump at 2’13” between the “my, my, my” bit and the light brushes that intro the “gotta keep those” section. The chorus distracts me from the detail, stops it from overwhelming, entices me back to explore it again.

So why this much detail in the first place? What’s it all for? Of course the novel structure is its own reward, and so is the prettiness, and the attention paid to making exotic instruments sound so intimate, like you’re next to Brian Wilson in his workshop. But the structure also serves the theme of the song: “Good Vibrations” is a meditation on a beloved other, a meditation interrupted by surges of joy, and which in its second half breaks down into a whirl of delightful themes, scenes, ideas, each of which is so pretty it cuts its predecessor off. So the record succeeds as a sound-impression of a mind giddily in love, restless with beauty and unable to finish its thoughts, and each thought leading anyhow to the same wonderful place.

9

Comments

  1. 1
    Kat on 9 Feb 2006 #

    It’s true – no matter how many times I listen to the song I always forget about the quiet bit, that starts off *extreeeemly* quietly, and think the song has finished innit. Doh!

    Is a Bosh Vibrations in existence?

  2. 2
    Tom on 9 Feb 2006 #

    Oddly enough I’m not sure there is, at least my researches into the world of bosh haven’t turned one up.

  3. 3
    p^nk s on 9 Feb 2006 #

    it is bosh already! ur-bosh!

  4. 4
    Steve Mannion on 9 Feb 2006 #

    i do recall a mash-up of GV and bashy junglism a couple of years ago but dunno who dunnit.

  5. 5
    Anonymous on 9 Feb 2006 #

    On some days, this is my favourite single ever (boring, I know, but true).

    On this occasion, I have a completely different take from yourself (and that businessman) though. It’s always been the verses and the “I’m pickin’ up…” bit that I considered the hookiest bits. The “Good, good, good…” sections have always seemed to me to be incidental to the song, the LEAST important part. just a bit of mortar to hold all the bricks together.

    The overall ‘oddness’ and novelty feel of the song you identify stems I guess mainly from the fact that the final master is a mosaic, pieced together from numerous sessions and takes. Listening to Wilson’s very first studio run through of the song (it’s on the “Smiley Smile”/”Wild Honey” CD) reveals that the structure was in place long before he “got to work on it” the track with his splicing block and razor.

    Jeff W

  6. 6
    Tom on 9 Feb 2006 #

    I’m sort of counting “I’m picking up…” as part of the chorus.

    And I don’t fully disagree with you – the chorus is the mortar and other bits are just as hooky, but it’s doing an essential job AS mortar.

  7. 7
    Marcello on 9 Feb 2006 #

    This post has been removed by the author.

  8. 8
    bza on 9 Feb 2006 #

    I think the thing I love about this song is the piecemeal quality some people seem to malign. Maybe it’s the fact that you can follow up even the most depressing song with this one and it is like coming out into the sun for the first time. The up and down is the singer convincing themselves of their happiness, and yet, somehow, it doesn’t make that happiness any less real. A lot of songs are built up as “pinnacles” and “revolutionary,” but I think this is one of those rare cases where the hype holds true. It’s the sound of ecstacy after the darkest of depression. Maybe what’s so amazing about the song, and why it can bring you out of that depression, is that it still has a darkness to it. Of all the songs you’ve reviewed so far, this, “I’ll Be There,” and “Paint it Black” would be my only 10s.

  9. 9
    Lena on 9 Feb 2006 #

    A question: what is ‘bosh’?

    As a native Californian, Angeleno to be precise, I can’t help but be happy and surprised that this got to #1, weird as it is. I remember watching a documentary on the theremin and Brian Wilson was so happy remembering his getting it on the song and it doing so well, kind of like a madman whose idea worked; I agree with Tom that this is a digressive and jumpy happy mess of a song. I don’t know if this means anything, but my father, who hated most rock/pop music altogether, liked this song a lot, and I grew up on Smiley Smile and Wild Honey and yet had to catch up to Pet Sounds many many years later.

    And this also reminds me a bit of a druggier, deliberately weirder Sufjan Stevens, somewhat.

  10. 10
    Chris Brown on 9 Feb 2006 #

    Apparently Capitol did contemplate a double-CD collection of takes from this one song.

    It’s a slightly strange thing because it’s a song that I hear so much of that it’s almost impossible to have an opinion on at all – I too have never known a time without it. Remarkably, though, I’ve never not enjoyed it – at worst I’ve been mildly disappointed that they’re not playing something less obvious on the radio.

    I think I’m still noticing things in it too. I also like the jumps; the fact that it’s so unashamed. For those interested, Keith Badman’s book dissects exactly where the cuts are.

  11. 11
    Anonymous on 9 Feb 2006 #

    It’s beautiful. Probably my favourite band of all time. I’ll tell you what though – I don’t know anyone who’s favourite Beach Boys song is Good Vibrations…

    Tommy Mack

  12. 12
    Anonymous on 10 Feb 2006 #

    Bloody Hell, I just looked up a list of #1s to see what was coming up… the charts get pretty rum for a few years, a really odd mix of classics, curios, suprise hits from the underground (two reggae #1s in the within a year!) and gurningly piss poor tosh.

    Also I reckon we’ve had the last truly great Beatles #1 (except maybe Hey Jude – Strawberry Fields famously stalling at #2)

  13. 13
    Anonymous on 10 Feb 2006 #

    This single encapsulates everything a pop single should be – it imagines it’s own world and for 2-3 mins we are drawn into it. It isn’t a ‘song’ in the conventional sense (try playing it live) much more a painting – the dramatic cuts are akin to an artist throwing paint at the canvas. As has been already pointed out Wilson produced each ‘movement’ of the song separately knowing this would allow him to craft his final masterpiece. Yes he could have cut it a million different ways (and he probably did) but his final cut is a stroke of genius. The experimental avant-garde nature of this can’t be underestimated but more than this though the ethereal vapid quality of it’s whole is far more shocking. It almost isn’t there, which for a song that is so familiar is very unnerving.

  14. 14
    Frank Kogan on 10 Feb 2006 #

    the total is not short of two-and-a-half hours – enough to fill a 2CD Now That’s What I Call Good Vibrations compilation, if anyone’s a mind.

    Not to mention the good vibration dancehall comp that would follow (incl. special remix f. Willie Nelson, Busta Rhymes, and Elephant Man), and the reggaeton video prod. by Lil Jon, featuring Fat Joe.

  15. 15
    Frank Kogan on 10 Feb 2006 #

    The chorus is the only part of the song that actually signifies “sounds like the Beach Boys” (not that the rest isn’t Beach Boys, it just doesn’t connect you to fun fun fun and I’ll get around). And oddly, that makes the chorus something I can almost take for granted.

    It is of course impossible to estimate what this must have sounded like on the 1966 radio; for those who lived in a world where “Good Vibrations” once did not exist, it must have sounded astonishing and ecstatic.

    No, because all of 1966 sounded astonishing (though I’d insert “terrifying” in place of “ecstatic”), and “Good Vibrations” was just another song mixed in there with “When I Was Young” and “Sunshine Superman” and “96 Tears” and “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Turned Down Day” and “Steppin’ Stone” and “I Got Rhythm” and “Hanky Panky,” all of which had way more impact on me than “Good Vibrations” did. Believe it or not, I barely noticed “Good Vibrations.”

  16. 16
    Mark Gamon on 14 Feb 2006 #

    I LOVED this when it came out. I was a monster for the Beach Boys. Sucked up everything they produced until it dawned on me that Brian Wilson wasn’t really with us any more. If you’d asked me just a few days ago, I’d have said this was a definite ten.

    Then I saw what was number 1 the previous week: Reach Out I’ll Be There.

    I dunno about Marvel comics, I really don’t. What I do know is that the more I listen to late 60s Motown, the more marvellous it becomes. And Reach Out is pretty much the most marvellous of all, give or take a couple of others. I can still picture the Four Tops on Top of the Pops, and thinking then (as I still think know) that this was a truly awesome piece of popular music. Turns out it was more than that. It was a kind of art we’d never thought of as art before.

    So there you go, Tom. I’m not gonna quibble with your 9 for Good Vibrations. But if you’re asking me TODAY, at nearly forty years’ distance, which one I think has the most legs, I’d have to insist on the Four Tops getting up there among the 10s.

  17. 17
    Dadaismus on 25 Mar 2006 #

    Well done Mike Love for coming up for that chorus everyone remembers!

  18. 18
    Crimson Cheeked King on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I have spent many happy hours listening to Good Vibrations outtakes and rehearsals.

    For all this, the record’s astonishing opening – Oh, I love the colorful clothes she wears – the beautiful Carl Wilson verse – seems to have arrived fully formed on the final mix. I’ve never heard so much as a run through on the bootlegs.

  19. 19
    Waldo on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re Tom’s write-up. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to karaoke to this for the very reason Tom mentions. Great though it undoubtedly is, GV is two songs stuck together in so obvious a fashion that it resembles a car one would purchase from Arthur Daley. The intro is also foxing “I hear the sound of the Churchill rooms…?” and yet…and yet it goes without saying that it is a great record. And it also goes without saying that “Pet Sounds” (which didn’t include GV) is one of the stand-out albums of this or any other period. Just a shame that BW is a wibble now.

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 28 May 2010 #

    Good Vibrations, for me stands out as one of the most significant moments in music. Nothing really sounded like it before and nothing really sounded like it after. Brian Wilson, unhinged genius. But wait, aren’t we hearing Wilson’s nods of thanks to Stockhausen and Ligeti? Is the use of theremin part of a desire to “play” with sound? (Did the Earth Stand Still for Wilson also?) To mould it and remould it like plastiscene. How many versions, reworked rejigged until that final piece goes where it absolutely had to? Who else could afford the studio time? Was Wilson unwilling (unable?) to compromise…is this what drove him mad?
    The end result is sublime and totally different from anything within the pop/rock sphere. But at what cost?

  21. 21
    vinylscot on 28 May 2010 #

    It stands out for me, for personal reasons. In my later years, I have been immensely grateful that this was the first (proper) single I owned.

    Good as they are in their own way, I am glad that my parents refused to buy me “Bobbie’s Girl”, “My Boy Lollipop”, and “The Clapping Song”, which had all been early favourites of mine.

    …but when the conversation comes up in the pub, as it always does, nobody actually believes me, as 1) they all admit to “Simon Says” or “Yummy Yummy Yummy” or even “Two Little Boys” and 2) I was not quite six when GV topped the chart.

    But it’s true!!!!!!!!!! It is!!!!!!

  22. 22
    almondslice on 3 Feb 2011 #

    Thinking of it today this song seems far less joyous than it normally does. Perhaps as for the karaoke businessman the chorus dominates in the memory, not just lyrically but emotionally. Of course, this would be intentional – the song doesn’t have much of a narrative and struggles to have less – only two short verses before the all-engulfing chorus.

    Still it’s tempting to read a lot into it. There’s a girl, she dresses nicely and looks good in the sunshine. Classic Beach Boys subject matter, and the kind of thing we are told the Mike Love faction of the group prefered to the more emotionally literate Pet Sounds material. But it’s hard to go back there after PS and is it satisfying anymore? Her perfume is attractive, but in the same sensory breath there’s something else, some music from a church with all the connotations of guilt, morality, abstemiousness or even just higher and more universal love that are associated with religion. The girl is real, but is she a distraction? Can she hear that music too?

    Of course, this is where the chorus comes in, a reassuring voice that also chides and says ‘Hey, don’t worry about that stuff! You like the look of her, right? And isn’t it exciting imagining what could happen?’

    And so that’s what our narrator does, closes his eyes and imagines going up to her, making contact. Smiling as he thinks that her outer beauty will be reflected in her character – she must be kind, surely? And the unspoken understanding that would come as he looks into her eyes, and she into his, and she sees in him the same potential. ‘She goes with me to a blossom world’ – blossom, youth, the potential of spring, not the fruits of summer (the Beach Boy season!) but magnified and expanded into everything, the whole world.

    And it still feels good, the vibrations are still good, it still feels like it might happen. And the song gets lost in that moment of hope and excitement, implicitly holding out against finding out. There’s no third verse where thought becomes action. Instead the exploration of possibilities becomes everything, the non-commital ‘what about this way?’ arrangements and reconfigurations of the song (all of which sound wonderful) that would become even more pronounced in the non-commital arrangements and running order of Smile. The girl won’t be a disappointment like Wendy, or the-girl-before-Rhonda, and in the imagination she won’t change like Caroline. But here she’s allowed to be little more than an idealised ghost, and even as the narrator tries to hold on to the feeling that something good could happen again, there’s a sense of withdrawal and disengagement, and what seems today to be a desperate sadness being denied underneath.

  23. 23
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Jude Kelly, theatre director(2002)

    Tracey Emin, artist (2004)

    Paul Abbot,writer(2007)

    Sandie Shaw, singer(2010).

  24. 25
    Lena on 23 Sep 2011 #

    Last dance (for now) – http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/09/going-out-on-top-spencer-davis-group.html Merci for reading everybody!

  25. 26
    lonepilgrim on 17 Apr 2013 #

    just as the Beach Boys hit the top un the UK there was a new number 1 hanging on in the USA – as celebrated here.

  26. 27
    Rory on 18 Apr 2013 #

    As this happens to be in Recent Comments, allow me to recommend the film of the same name doing the rounds of UK cinemas at the moment. I saw it in Belfast a couple of weeks ago, and it was the perfect complement to a short visit to Northern Ireland. Not a perfect film (I wanted more Dylan Moran, for a start), but it has some great moments about what it’s like to fall in love with a new kind of music, and given its focus on the late ’70s it should resonate with many Popular readers.

  27. 28
    mapman132 on 15 Feb 2014 #

    Good grief! “Reach Out” and “Good Vibrations” as back-to-back number ones. I’ll point out these classics were also number ones in the US, but not back to back. GV was actually held to just a single week at US#1 by an unfortunately timed novelty record that’s gotten a bad name because of it (although I like it – just not as much as GV).

    Obviously a very ambitious and complex record, this. Not quite a 10 for me, but I’ll give it a 9, and still barely budge the overall score!

  28. 29
    punctum on 11 Mar 2014 #

    The child is indeed father to the music and its times and its light: Then Play Long is back.

  29. 30
    hectorthebat on 2 May 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Barnes & Noble.com (USA) – The Best Music of the 20th Century (1999)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 10
    Gary Pig Gold (Canada) – The 40 Most Influental Records of the 20th Century (1999)
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    NPR (USA) – The 300 Most Important American Records of the 20th Century (1999)
    Paul Williams (USA) – Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1993)
    Pause & Play (USA) – 10 Songs of the 60’s (2003)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Songs of the 60s (2006) 21
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 24
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 70
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 11
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 6
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 6
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 8
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 31
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1960s (2008)
    BBC Radio2 (UK) – Sold on Song, a Celebration of Great Songs and Songwriting
    Colin Larkin (UK) – The All-Time Top 100 Singles (2000) 21
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 1
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (1976) 8
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 13
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 150 Singles of All Time (1987) 28
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 11
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 30
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Sounds (UK) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1986) 35
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Nerikes Allehanda (Sweden) – The 50 Best Rock Songs of All Time (1992) 46
    Nils Hansson, Dagens Nyheter (Sweden) – The 48 Best Rock Songs (1998) 12
    Pophandboek (Netherlands) – Errit Petersma’s Top 20 Singles from the 60s (1970)
    Pophandboek (Netherlands) – Henk Bergsma’s Top 20 Singles from the 60s (1970)
    Berlin Media (Germany) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1998) 5
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Zounds (Germany) – The Top 30 Songs of All Time + Top 10 by Decade (1992) 14
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 2
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 27
    Rocks Musiczine (Spain) – The 100 Best Rock Songs in History (1995) 11
    Peter Holmes, The Sun-Herald (Australia) – 100 Best Songs of All Time (2003) 18
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Blow Up (Italy) – 100 Songs to Remember (2006) 48
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  30. 31
    thefatgit on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Looks like there’s a very strong possibility we’ll get to talk about “God Only Knows” on Popular after all.

  31. 32
    Lazarus on 7 Oct 2014 #

    Indeed, you were watching at 8 too I take it? I was going to post as much on the Perfect Day thread.

    I think I only recognised about half of the acts this time.

  32. 33
    lonepilgrim on 7 Sep 2015 #

    I find listening to ‘Good Vibrations’ the aural equivalent of looking at some extraordinary piece of architecture such as Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. It’s an awe inspiring experience but I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the scale and vision of the creation.

  33. 34
    Phil on 8 Sep 2015 #

    10! 10, 10, 10. If this isn’t a 10, for goodness’ sake, what is?

    Ahem. In my considered opinion this is one of the greatest pieces of recorded music ever, and really (re)defined what it was possible to do with a single. For the full second of tape decay at 2:57 alone it has to be a 10. Said not in a chin-strokey way, but because the humanity of the voices and the engulfing immediacy of the sound suddenly collide with the artifice of the process, and survive. This single works a magic that can only be worked in a recording studio, and shows you how it’s done – and it still works.

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