The follow-up single for Brian Wilson’s acclaimed album for The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, would need to be a showstopper. Wilson and his group may well have created one of the most critically revered albums of but the record company needed a hit single too.
Rather than compromise himself by reverting back to the California Girls days of old, Wilson, working with Mike love, decided instead to marry to the two paths together. He would make a hit record but he’d do it using his preferred technique. The song in question? ‘Good Vibrations’.
A number one hit is all well and good but you only really know you have a timeless classic when it’s allowed to age—gracefully or otherwise. It’s fair to say that The Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’ is certainly in that category. Not only is it a cheery pop song but also a subversive piece of artistic prowess.
Wilson created the song following his interest in what his mother once determined as “cosmic vibrations” and how dogs would bark at people with bad vibrations. It was enough to spark some of the most well-known lyrics of all time. But while the lyrics were all well and good, it was in the production that Wilson really shone.
Backed by his band The Wrecking Crew, Wilson was at the peak of his creative powers. “By that time, Brian was showing a lot of genius writing,” says Carol Kaye, a Wrecking Crew bassist. “He was growing all the time and we didn’t know where it would end. I didn’t know about the drugs until later on, but he did start doing things in a piecemeal fashion. It was like he was scoring a movie. But 12 dates on ‘Good Vibrations’ – at three hours a date – is a long, long time to spend on one song. It was very unusual.”
Rather than dig deep into the construction of the track, and it’s such a richly dense piece of music we really do mean dig, we thought we’d bring you one of the shining lights of the song, the beautiful vocals in this isolated track.
Wilson, at this time one of the world’s most cutting edge songwriters and composers, was enamoured with the track. It may have been the most costly single recording of all time when it was released but it was worth it. But aside from the complex arrangements and gyrating sonic landscapes Wilson was creating, the real moment of joy came from the vocals of Carl Wilson, Mike Love and Brian himself.
It’s hard to get a flawless isolated vocal track, Wilson recorded the vocals in three different studios, always seeking his layered wall of sound. But what we do have is a glimpse into the soaring heights the Wilsons and Love possessed in their singing voices.
Their vocal harmonies guide us through this new strange world and allow us to flourish within the vibrating setting Wilson provided. It’s a shining example of whjy The Beach Boys remain to this day as one of the most influential acts of all time. They may have begun as purely the voices of the West Coast but soon enough those vocals changed with the times and then began to dictate the pace.
Below, listen to The Beach Boys isolated vocals on ‘Good Vibrations’.