Paul McCartney has been asked on numerous occasions about the music that means the most to him and, in 2007, he revealed that the track that is dearest to his heart. Somewhat surprisingly, the iconic musician didn’t select a number by The Beatles but instead one by his fellow 1960s pioneers The Beach Boys.
Pet Sounds is undoubtedly in the conversation alongside albums that McCartney made with The Fab Four as the definitive sound of the ’60s, one which would go on to shape not only music but culture as a whole for decades. There is one track that stands out to McCartney the most from the almost faultless 1966 record and that is ‘God Only Knows’ which the Beatle has talked up in interviews on numerous occasions.
Speaking in a past interview, McCartney explained that having the opportunity to perform The Beach Boys classic alongside Brian Wilson was a pinch yourself moment even for the former Beatle: “‘God Only Knows’ is one of the few songs that reduces me to tears every time I hear it. It’s really just a love song, but it’s brilliantly done. It shows the genius of Brian.”
Macca continued to heap praise on the song and shared his personal connection to the track, “I’ve actually performed it with him and I’m afraid to say that during the soundcheck I broke down. It was just too much to stand there singing this song that does my head in and to stand there singing it with Brian.”
In 1990, whilst touring in Japan, McCartney spoke at great length in an interview with David Leaf about his love for Pet Sounds in which he revealed what memories he has of first stumbling across the band and how that record changed everything: “The early surf records…I was aware of them as a musical act, and I used to like all that, but I didn’t get deeply interested in it—it was just a real nice sound,” he said.
“We used to admire the singing, the high falsetto really and the very sort of ‘California’ lyrics. It was later… it was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian’s writing. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life—I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album. I was into the writing and the songs.”
McCartney also discussed how the record influenced him when he made ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, revealing: “It’s actually just the introduction that’s influenced… John and I used to be interested in what the old fashioned writers used to call the verse, which we nowadays would call the intro… this whole preamble to a song and I wanted to have one of those on the front of ‘Here, There and Everywhere.'”
He added: “John and I were quite into those from the old-fashioned songs that used to have them, and inputting that [sings “To lead a better life”] on the front of ‘Here, There and Everywhere,’ we were doing harmonies, and the inspiration for that was the Beach Boys. We had that in our minds during the introduction to ‘Here, There and Everywhere.’
“I don’t think anyone unless I told them, would even notice, but we’d often do that, get something off an artist or artists that you really liked and have them in your mind while you were recording things, to give you the inspiration and give you the direction… nearly always, it ended up sounding more like us than them anyway.”
In a separate interview with The Rolling Stones legend Ronnie Wood on the former’s YouTube page from 2013, McCartney also spoke the track, stating: “Brian Wilson proved himself to be a really amazing composer and I was into chords and harmonies at that time and we ended up kind of in a rivalry.”
He added: “We’d put a song out then Brian would hear it then do one, which is nice. It’s kind of like me and John, you’d try and top each other all the time. He eventually came out with ‘God Only Knows’ on Pet Sounds, I just think it’s a great song, it’s got the melody, harmonies, words, it’s just a great song and I love it.”
Paul McCartney’s favourite song of all time:
- ‘God Only Knows’ – The Beach Boys
Listen to McCartney performing the track in question with Brian Wilson, below.