Friday, July 13, 2018

Beach Boys – "Good Vibrations" (1966)

I don’t know where
But she sends me there

The recording of Pet Sounds – the greatest pop album of all time – overlapped the recording of “Good Vibrations.”  But for some reason, “Good Vibrations” didn’t end up on the Pet Sounds album.  

“Good Vibrations” took longer and cost more to record than any other single of its era.  (It cost about as much to produce “Good Vibrations” as it cost to record the entire Pet Sounds album, which was one of the most expensive albums ever recorded.)

Brian Wilson in the recording studio
That’s in part because Brian Wilson didn’t seem to have a clear vision of what he wanted the song to be when he began to record it.

After more than a dozen recording sessions in several different studios, Wilson had 90 hours of tape.  He assembled the song by selecting six musical fragments from all that tape and splicing them together.  

Brian Wilson – who was 23 years old at the time – threw so much into “Good Vibrations” that it wouldn’t have been surprising if the final product had ended up being a big mess.

But there was method in Wilson’s madness.  “Good Vibrations” turned out to be the most sublime and mind-boggling three minutes of pop music ever recorded.

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“Good Vibrations” was the Beach Boys’ third #1 single, but their first to sell a million copies.

Recording the “Good Vibrations” vocals
While the public responded strongly to the record, some of Brian Wilson’s peers – including Phil Spector, Pete Townshend, and Paul McCartney – didn’t get it.  

McCartney said “Good Vibrations” was a great record, but went on to say that it didn't quite have the emotional thing that Pet Sounds had for me.”

Is “Good Vibrations” too cerebral?  Writing in Billboard on the 50th anniversary of the song’s release, Andrew Underberger argues that it’s not:

[W]riting off Wilson’s masterpiece of the mind as being fundamentally heartless is reductive and inaccurate.  The true brilliance of “Good Vibrations” comes in the juxtaposition of its architectural perfection with its absolute emotional incoherence.  Sonically, as orchestrated by Wilson, the thing is immaculate and considered enough that the term “pocket symphony” basically had to be invented for it.  Lyrically, as penned by Beach Boys lieutenant Mike Love, it’s almost total mush, with mumbled couplets you couldn't pick out of a lineup (“When I look in her eyes / She goes with me to a blossom world”) and notable overreliance on the is-that-really-even-a-word “excitations.” 

However, Wilson and Love do get head and heart to match up on one single occasion in “Good Vibrations,” and appropriately, it's saved for the clangorous mid-song climax: “I don't know where, but she sends me there.”  It's a simple line, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a much better one throughout pop's entire back catalog, at least when it comes to conveying how the emotional rush of young love exceeds the mental capacity for cognitive processing.  The Beach Boys don’t know what they’re feeling on “Good Vibrations,” but they certainly know that they’re feeling it . . . .

Bassist Carol Kaye and other members of the
 “Wrecking Crew” recording “Good Vibrations”
You could teach an entire college course on “Good Vibrations,” analyzing Wilson's many-sided jewel from a countless number of perspectives, but that one lyric is all you really need.  Some love songs try to write from the head, and some from the heart, but “Good Vibrations” is one of the only ones daring enough to do both simultaneously, attempting to reflect the human reality of never being able to totally turn off one or the other (or to cut off communication between the two).  That it does so successfully is the real reason we're still talking about it half a century later.

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There’s an almost infinite supply of articles and videos about “Good Vibration” on the Internet.

Click here to watch an excerpt from the 2014 movie, “Love & Mercy,” that shows Brian Wilson driving the other Beach Boys (especially Mike Love) and various studio musicians crazy during the recording of “Good Vibrations.”

Click here to watch an interesting video that breaks down the structure of “Good Vibrations.”

Click here to listen to “Good Vibrations.”

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon.

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