Beach Boys – God Only Knows

Simply a beautiful song written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher. Carl Wilson sings lead on this song and it is an incredible vocal performance…one of the best in my opinion. The song peaked at #39 in the Billboard 100 and #2 in the UK in 1966. I still have a hard time believing it only made it to #39.

The Beatles’ “Here, There And Everywhere” was inspired by this song. John Lennon and Paul McCartney heard Pet Sounds at a party and went back to Lennon’s house to write it. Paul McCartney once called “God Only Knows” “The greatest song ever written.”

“God Only Knows” was voted 25th in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,

From Songfacts

Brian Wilson wrote this song with Tony Asher, who was an advertising copyrighter and lyricist that Wilson worked with on songs for Pet Sounds. This song reflects Wilson’s interest in spirituality, and it was a big departure from previous Beach Boys songs that dealt with girls, cars and surfing. Wilson explained to Goldmine in 2011: “Tony Asher and I tried to write something very spiritually. It’s got a melody similar to the song (recites lyric to ‘The Sound Of Music’), ‘I hear the sound of music…’ (Sings lyrics to ‘God Only Knows’) ‘I may not always love you…’ It was similar to it. Tony came up with the title ‘God Only Knows.’ I was scared they’d ban playing it on the radio because of the title but they didn’t.”

This song is considered a Beach Boys classic, but it only managed to scrape the Top 40 in the United States. That’s because it was released as a B-side, partly because of fear that radio stations would refuse to play a song with “God” in the title. In the liner notes to the reissued Pet Sounds album, Tony Asher explained, “I really thought it was going to be everything it was, and yet we were taking some real chances with it. First of all, the lyric opens by saying, ‘I may not always love you,’ which is a very unusual way to start a love song.”

Carl Wilson handled lead vocals on this track. Not long after the song was released, he said, “At present our influences are of a religious nature. Not any specific religion but an idea based upon that of Universal Consciousness. The concept of spreading goodwill, good thoughts and happiness is nothing new. It is an idea which religious teachers and philosophers have been handing down for centuries, but it is also our hope. The spiritual concept of happiness and doing good to others is extremely important to the lyric of our songs, and the religious element of some of the better church music is also contained within some of our new work.”

The famous French horn on this song was played by Alan Robinson, who appeared on the scores for many films, including The Sound of Music and The Ten Commandments. He got the call for the session because he could play without music written out. Brian Wilson sang him the horn line he had in mind, and Robinson played it by ear using a glissando technique suggested by Wilson.

Brian Wilson would sometimes introduce this as “the first song in the world to have God in the title.” God is common in hymns and standards (“God Bless America,” “Nearer, My God, to Thee”), and was rare in pop songs, but not unprecedented; in 1961 Johnny Burnette made #18 US with “God, Country And My Baby.”

Brian Wilson planned to sing the lead vocal himself, but decided that his brother Carl was better suited for the track. “I was looking for a tenderness and a sweetness which I knew Carl had in himself as well as in his voice,” said Brian.

This was featured at the end of the 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually. It was also used in the films Boogie Nights (P.T. Anderson’s drama about the porn industry) and Saved (a 2004 drama about a Christian high school, where there are two versions, both covers). >>

This was the theme song for the first three seasons of the HBO television series Big Love, which ran 2006-2011.

Asked by The Guardian which Beach Boys song took the least effort to write, Brian Wilson replied: “I wrote ‘God Only Knows’ in 45 minutes. Me and Tony Asher.”

In Al Kooper’s tell-all autobiography Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, Kooper talks about his evening visiting Brian Wilson only a week before Pet Soundshit the streets: “Brian played a test-pressing of the record, jumping up and stopping cuts in the middle and starting them over to emphasize his points. He was very proud of his accomplishment, maybe even a little show-offish, but I wasn’t about to argue. Do you remember the first time you heard ‘God Only Knows’?”

A cover version of the song was broadcast simultaneously across BBC television and radio channels on October 7, 2014 to launch BBC Music. The new adaptation featured Brian Wilson himself as well as various guest stars including Pharrell Williams, Sir Elton John, Lorde, Chris Martin, Stevie Wonder, One Direction and Dave Grohl.

Brian Wilson first toyed with the idea of titling this “Fred Only Knows” before settling on “God Only Knows.”

John Legend and Cynthia Erivo played this to bookend the “In Memorium” segment at the Grammy Awards in 2017. There were an extraordinary number of musical passings that year, David Bowie, Prince and George Michael among them.

God Only Knows

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on, believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would livin’ do me
God only knows what I’d be without you

God only knows what I’d be without you

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on, believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would livin’ do me
God only knows what I’d be without you

God only knows what I’d be without you

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

33 thoughts on “Beach Boys – God Only Knows”

  1. Great song from a great album. It is interesting how at that time The Beatles and Brian Wilson were inspiring one another to even greater heights.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. DON’T!!! Bowie could always ruin a cover, but for this one he pulled out all the stops. Also try to find his cover of Penny Lane. The trumpet is half a bar out which makes it sound dreadful.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You were right! He should NOT have sung God Only Knows in his deep voice…it does not fit.

        You are right…it’s out of tune on Penny Lane. His voice is better than the other one but yea it sounds out of tune.


    1. I was thinking how I said Silent Night is nearly perfect…this one is with it.
      Yea with the production Brian was doing…nothing would have been slimmed down lol… I know what you mean though.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. He was such a visionary….he was let down by the tech of the day – one of few bands that I felt were diminished but the limitations but improved by them. This song recorded by him in his prime now…would be something to hear. He may take a few years to finish it though haha

        Liked by 1 person

      2. yes that band was a complicated affair…his controlling father on one side and Mike Love on another…

        Hey it just took 38 years for Smile lol.


      3. Smile is good…very good pop of course it could never live up to the reputation…. I can recommend a book about Brian that Hanspostcard recommended to me and I enjoyed it. “Catch a Wave” by Peter Ames Carlin


  2. A song has three parts: lyrics, melody and a chord progression. I am amazed that nowhere – from the original part of this post, the Songfacts excerpt, and through the many comments – does anyone mention the remarkable harmonies that Brian Wilson composed to accompany the melody and lyrics. The progression starts on a root position A major chord and, once the first verse begins, cycles through a sequence of inverted major chords, dominant 7 chords, minor 7 chords, diminished 7 chords and even a minor-7-flat-5 chord that is quite unlike the progression of any Pop/Rock song I’ve ever played. And if that wasn’t enough harmonic creativity, the counterpoint vocal bridge shifts into a different chord progression ending with a “God only knows…” vocal line in the key of D! As wonderful as it is to listen to this masterpiece, playing, singing and performing it is a whole other magical experience. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lately I’ve commented some about “perfect” songs if one exists. I always bring up Silent Night… this song is there also.

      Thanks for breaking it down. I’ve never tried this one… Love this period in pop… I’ve been mining from the mid sixties for a week or so…

      Today I posted a song heavily influence by Brian and Paul M… Zombies Care of Cell 44 that is very unusual to me… love the sound of the sixties when they stretched the medium

      Liked by 1 person

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