Thursday, February 17, 2011

Good Vibrations

On February 17th, 1966 (45 years ago today!), Brian Wilson of the American band, The Beach Boys, began recording the backing track for "Good Vibrations" with L.A. session musicians (The Wrecking Crew). Released later in October of that year, the song became the biggest hit for The Beach Boys, reaching #1 on the U.S. and U.K. charts, and since has been considered one of the best rock singles of all time. Composed and produced by the group's leader, Brian Wilson, with lyrics written by Wilson and Mike Love, "Good Vibrations" set a new standard for musicians and what could be achieved in the recording studio. The song has been referred to as "pocket symphony," as it has as many changes in mood as a half-hour piece of classical music would, and it features unique instruments for a pop song, including the cello and electro-theremin (think of that eerie, 1950's sci-fi movie sound).

Over a six-month period, this song was recorded in about seventeen sessions in numerous studios, using over 90 hours of magnetic recording tape, and ended up costing $50,000 to record. One of the most complex pop productions ever undertaken, Brian Wilson's method of recording became known as the modular approach: he broke the song into sections, intentionally taping several versions in studios for the different sound and ambiance within the studio, and then combined his favorite sections. Previously releasing generally pop and vocal surf rock tunes, The Beach Boys entered the realm of psychedelic rock with "Good Vibrations" (a genre derived from baroque pop, of course!), and this song greatly inspired The Beatles when writing "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day In The Life" the following year. As a child, Brian's mother told him that dogs could pick up vibrations from people, which he turned into the general idea for the song.

Although Brian Wilson was an innovative, musical genius, he had a mental illness that led to his phobia of playing in public, so he is not in the above video from 1967. Although this performance is lip-synced (as most TV performances were in the 1960's, with the exception of the Ed Sullivan Show), it's fun to see the other members of The Beach Boys in action: the adorable Carl Wilson on bass and Denny Wilson on drums (Brian's younger brothers), Mike Love playing the electro-theremin (the Wilson's cousin), and Al Jardin, a Wilson family-friend, on guitar. Playing piano/organ, Bruce Johnston (hardly seen in this video) was brought in to replace Brian Wilson when the band toured.
Next, here's a wacky promo video by the Boys.

When you have heard this song played numerous times throughout your life (as I have), it's sometimes hard to listen to this masterpiece with "fresh" ears. Well, I found this rare audio video on YouTube that includes the actual studio recording for the instrumental backing, and the ORIGINAL, unedited version of "Good Vibrations" with different lyrics. Not only is it too cool hearing the "new" sections within this recording, but it's wonderful to listen to the layers of instruments in the introduction as they record some of their first few takes in the studio. (EDITED 2/11/15: Original video posted has been removed from YouTube, so this is a pretty cool one with rare footage including those studio musicians of The Wrecking Crew).

It's no wonder "Good Vibrations" is the #6 song on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is also included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of songs that shaped rock 'n' roll!

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