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.