About the Song:
“In the early sixties, the Beach Boys were a shimmering vision of American prosperity: five bright, handsome, presentable young men singing in pinched, nasal harmony about sun and surf and cars and girls.” BR They “presented an overwhelmingly white version of rock ‘n’ roll” BR modeling their “glee-club harmonies” BR after the vocal group the Four Freshmen. With the arrival of the Beatles in American in February 1964, the Beach Boys saw them as a threat and composer Brian Wilson stopped writing songs about surfing. BR He became enamored with the kinds of studio techniques producer Phil Spector employed in his famous “Wall of Sound” approach to recording.
In his obsession to outdo the Beatles artistically, Brian Wilson threw everything into the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds, which would see the Beach Boys begin “ to throw off their striped shirt surfer image.” LW Wilson became especially intent on making the song “Good Vibrations” into a “masterpiece, greater than anything he’d done before.” LW He was so determined “to make it perfect” SS that he pushed back against his bandmates and the record company who wanted it finished for inclusion on the album.
After suffering from nervous breakdowns, Wilson opted to stay home while the rest of the band toured. This allowed him “to pour all his creative energies into this one song.” SS He went wild in the studio using “an array of exotic instruments including sleigh bells, Jews harp, wind chimes, harpsichord, flutes, organ and a theremin.” LW The latter is a keyboard instrument best known for its use in soundtracks to horror films. HL Mike Love wrote the lyrics, Carl Wilson provides the “warm, tremulous lead vocal,” BR and the rest of the Beach Boys served up backing vocals, but none of them actually played on the song. KL
At the time of its release, “Good Vibrations” was the most expensive single ever released FB with one claim putting the total recording cost as high as a million dollars. DJ It was pieced together from hundreds of recording sessions NPR and more than seventy hours of tape TC generated in four studios over seventh months time. RS500 The result was “one of the most universally acknowledged classic pop records of the 1960s.” SS The “symphony in miniature” SS is the “crowning achievement” RS500 for Brian Wilson, who has been called “rock and roll’s finest composer ever.” PW
As for the term “good vibrations,” Wilson said, “my mother used to tell me about vibrations. I didn’t really understand too much of what she meant when I was a boy. It scared me…to think that invisible feelings existed.” DT He told Rolling Stone that his mother had explained how dogs barked at some people, but not at others. “A dog would pick up vibrations from some people that you can’t see, but you can feel. And the same thing happened with people.” FB
Wilson was convinced of the song’s good vibe, saying it would be better than the Righteous Brothers‘ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.’” RS500 Beach Boy Bruce Johnston was a little more nervous, saying, “’we’re either going to have the biggest hit in the world – or the Beach Boys’ career is over.’” HL It turned out the public appreciated the song‘s vibe as well; it met with instant success, selling 400,000 in four days SJ and becoming the group’s first million-seller TB and third #1.
- BR Tom Breihan (2022). The Number Ones. Hachete Books: New York, NY. Pages 83-97.
- FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 215.
- TC Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Page 779.
- HL Michael Heatley and Spencer Leigh (1998).
Behind the Song: The Stories of 100 Great Pop & Rock Classics. Blandford Books: London, UK. Page 24.
- DJ David Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 66.
- KL Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 127.
- LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 127.
- NPR National Public Radio (1999). “The Most Important American Musical Works of the 20th Century”
- RS500 Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” (12/04).
- SJ Bob Shannon and John Javna (1986). Behind the Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll. Warner Books, Inc.: New York, NY. Page 193.
- SS Steve Sullivan (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (Volumes I & II). Scarecrow Press: Lanham, Maryland. Pages 226-7.
- DT Dave Thompson (2011). 1000 Songs That Rock Your World. Krause Publications: Iola, WI. Pag 69.
- TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 83.
- PW Paul Williams (1993). Rock and Roll: The Best 100 Singles. Page 105. Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.: New York, NY
First posted 10/22/2011; last updated 4/12/2023.