Beach Boys – Good Vibrations

This song is a masterpiece by Brian Wilson.

This was recorded over a two-month period using top Los Angeles session musicians. The Beach Boys didn’t play any instruments on the track. About 90 hours of studio time and 70 hours of tape were used, and at least 12 musicians played on the sessions. It’s hard to know whose performances ended up on the record, but some of the musicians involved were Glen Campbell (lead guitar), Carol Kaye (Electric Bass), Lyle Ritz (Standup Bass), Hal Blaine (drums), Larry Knechtel (organ) and Al de Lory (piano).

Brian Wilson has said that Capital Records thought the song was too long at 3:35 and had psychedelic overtones. Brian had to plead with them to release it. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard 100, #1 in the UK, #2 in Canada, and #1 in New Zealand in 1966. The song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love.

Brian Wilson: “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, the word ‘vibrations’ – to think that invisible feelings existed. She also told me about dogs that would bark at some people, but wouldn’t bark at others, and so it came to pass that we talked about good vibrations.”

Ok… A Theremin was used in the song. I was always fascinated by this invention. This unique instrument was invented in 1920 by Russian  Léon Theremin. Jimmy Page would play one in the middle of Led Zeppelin concerts…Before we get to Good Vibrations lets see Léon Theremin play his invention.

 

From Songfacts

Brian Wilson called this song a “Pocket Symphony,” and experimented with it over the course of 17 recording sessions. At the time, it was the most expensive pop song ever recorded, costing about $50,000 to make.

Brian Wilson worked on this obsessively. At the time, he stayed home and wrote music while the rest of the band toured. Wilson was just starting a very bizarre phase of his life where he would spend long periods in bed and work in a sandbox. During this period, many considered him a genius because of the groundbreaking songs and recording techniques he came up with.

Brian Wilson played bass when the Beach Boys went on the road, but he brought in Carol Kaye to play bass guitar and Lyle Ritz to play upright bass on these sessions. Kaye recalled in a Songfacts interview, “He did the very first take on that with Ray Pohlman at Goldstar and scrapped that. And the other 12 dates I’m playing on – that’s 36 hours – he did not change that bass part all during that time. He changed all the rest of the music, he didn’t change the bass part. This is what he wrote. It was both bass players at that point – I’m playing the upper part and Lyle’s playing the lower part. If you listen to jazz, that’s the feel that he wrote.”

Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love wrote the lyrics for this song, which he told us were “basically a flowery poem.” The song seems to describe a really good acid trip, and while there is nothing specifically in the lyrics about drugs, Love admits that the psychedelic vibe was an influence on his words. Said Love: “It was this flowery power type of thing. Scott McKenzie wrote “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” and there were love-ins and all that kind of thing starting to go on.

So the track, the music of ‘Good Vibrations,’ was so unique and so psychedelic in itself. Just the instrumental part of it alone was such a departure from what we have done, like ‘Surfin’ USA’ and ‘California Girls’ and ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun,’ all of which I had a hand in writing. I wanted to do something that captured this feeling of the track and the times, but also could relate to people. Because I thought that the music was such a departure that who knows how well it would relate to Beach Boys fans at that time.

The one thing that I figured is an absolute perennial is the boy/girl relationship, the attraction between a guy and a girl. So I came up with that hook part at the chorus. It didn’t exist until I came up with that thought. Which is ‘I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, she’s giving me the excitations.’ ‘Excitations’ may or may not be in Webster’s Dictionary, however, it rhymes pretty well with ‘good vibrations.’ It was kind of a flower power poem to suit the times and complement the really amazingly unique track that Cousin Brian came up with.” (Here’s our full Mike Love interview.)

The unusual, high-pitched sound in this song was produced using an electro-theremin, which produces a similar sound to a traditional theremin, an instrument that uses electric current to produce sound (you don’t touch a theremin to play it, but move your hand across the electric field). The theremin was invented in 1919, but was very hard to play, and ended up being used mostly as a sound effects device.

Brian Wilson was familiar with the instrument, as it was used to create eerie sounds in low budget horror movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came from Outer Space. When he put cellos on “Good Vibrations,” he envisioned an unusual high frequency sound to go along with them, and he thought of the instrument. Wilson couldn’t track down a real theremin, but found an inventor named Paul Tanner who’d been a trombonist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra between 1938-’42. Tanner had developed a similar device with Bob Whitsell called an electro-theremin, which unlike a regular theremin, had no antennas. Tanner was brought in to play the device on the recording.

A huge challenge was re-creating the sound of the theremin for live performances. On the road, they used a modified synthesizer with a ribbon controller that Mike Love would play. In the ’90s, another inventor named Tom Polk created a device called a tannerin, which created a similar sound using a sliding knob and manual volume control. This was much easier to play, and Brian Wilson used it for his 1999 comeback tour.

When Wilson went back to work on the Smile album, he used the tannerin on his new version of “Good Vibrations,” which appeared on the 2004 album. The device was seen at the 2012 Grammy Awards when The Beach Boys performed the song.

Brian Wilson called this song “the summation of my musical vision. A harmonic convergence of imagination and talent, production values and craft, songwriting and spirituality.” He wrote it while on LSD, which explains why the song is the musical embodiment of a spectacular acid trip.

This was recorded in fragments – six different LA studios were used in the recording process, and tape from four of these studios was used in the final cut of the track. It was the first pop song pieced together from parts. In the next few years, The Beatles did a lot of this, as they took various unfinished songs they had written and combined them to make one. >>

Brian Wilson started writing this while recording The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. Once the album was finished, he focused on this song. Wilson was not happy about the poor reviews critics gave Pet Sounds, which today is considered a landmark record, so he worked even harder on this.

Most of The Beach Boys songs featured the vocals of either Mike Love or Brian Wilson, but Carl Wilson was the lead singer on this one. Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson was initially tagged to sing the lead vocal but eventually brother Carl was chosen. Dennis claimed to have played the organ on the “na na na na na na” build up. >>

This was the beginning of what was going to be an album called Smile. Wilson recorded the album in about 50 sessions, but it was never released. Considered a “lost album,” Wilson finally finished it in 2004. When he played the album on tour that year, “Good Vibrations” got a rousing response.

This was the last US #1 hit for The Beach Boys until “Kokomo” went to #1 22 years later, setting the record for longest gap between #1 hits on the Hot 100. This record was broken by Cher when “Believe” hit #1 in 1999, 25 years after her previous chart-topper,

In the ’80s, Sunkist used this song in popular commercials for their orange soda (“I’m drinking up good vibrations, Sunkist orange soda taste sensation…”). The vocalist on these spots was Jim Peterik, who was working as a jingle singer at the time but would later form Survivor and co-write all of their hits, including “Eye of the Tiger.” Peterik and Brian Wilson would later cross paths when they worked together on the Beach Boys comeback song “That’s Why God Made the Radio.”

In 2005, a Broadway musical called Good Vibrations opened. The show was based on Beach Boys songs, but failed to find an audience; it closed less than three months later.

Brian Wilson was the only songwriter credited on this track until a 1994 lawsuit awarded Mike Love composer credit for his contributions to the lyrics on this and 34 other Beach Boys songs. Love maintains that Murry Wilson (Brian’s father), handled the publishing details and screwed him out of the songwriting credits.

Todd Rundgren covered this in 1976 on his Faithful album. True to the album’s name, Todd went to great lengths to reproduce every vocal and instrumental aspect of the song (along with several other ’60s hits). Rundgren’s almost-exact copy was a minor hit single on its own, reaching #34 US

Good Vibrations

I-I love the colorful clothes she wears
And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair
I hear the sound of a gentle word
On the wind that lifts her perfume through the air

I’m pickin’ up good vibrations
She’s giving me the excitations (oom bop bop)
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations (good vibrations, oom bop bop)
She’s giving me the excitations (excitations, oom bop bop)
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations (oom bop bop)
She’s giving me the excitations (excitations, oom bop bop)
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations (oom bop bop)
She’s giving me the excitations (excitations)

Close my eyes, she’s somehow closer now
Softly smile, I know she must be kind
When I look in her eyes
She goes with me to a blossom world

I’m pickin’ up good vibrations
She’s giving me excitations (oom bop bop)
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations (good vibrations, oom bop bop)
She’s giving me excitations (excitations, oom bop bop)
Good, good, good, good vibrations (oom bop bop)
She’s giving me excitations (excitations, oom bop bop)
Good, good, good, good vibrations (oom bop bop)
She’s giving me excitations (excitations)

Ah, ah, my my, what elation
I don’t know where but she sends me there
Oh, my my, what a sensation
Oh, my my, what elation
Oh, my my, what

Gotta keep those lovin’ good vibrations a-happenin’ with her
Gotta keep those lovin’ good vibrations a-happenin’ with her
Gotta keep those lovin’ good vibrations a-happenin’

(Ahh)

Good, good, good, good vibrations (oom bop bop)
She’s giving me the excitations (excitations, oom bop bop)
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations

Na na na na na, na na na
Na na na na na, na na na (bop bop-bop-bop-bop, bop)
Do do do do do, do do do (bop bop-bop-bop-bop, bop)
Do do do do do, do do do (bop bop-bop-bop-bop, bop)

Songs That Would Be Pointless to Remake.

Some songs are so ingrained in our psyche that a cover version would not make us forget the original or improve it. Covering them in concert is one thing but remaking them is another. When you compete against a memory…the memory wins.  I know some will disagree but there are songs that in my opinion that are untouchable. That doesn’t mean I want to hear these songs over and over…some are worn out. I’m not saying the cover version would be bad…but it would not replace the original.

These are in no order. There are many more…any suggestions?

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen – I can’t even imagine someone seriously trying to pull this off…
  2. I Am The Walrus – Beatles -This bizarre piece of music would be hard to duplicate.
  3. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin – It’s been tried…even by Pat Boone…Mr Soul Sucker who can take the soul out of a room by simply walking in. Dolly Parton even took a stab at it.
  4. Freebird – Lynyrd Skynryd – I don’t think anyone would want to try.
  5. Won’t Get Fooled Again – How would you match the intensity and power of this recording?
  6. Good Vibrations – Beach Boys – Todd Rundgren remade this and copied it almost exactly…but what was the point? He did a fine job of copying it.
  7. Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones – I don’t see anyone matching the Stones version.
  8. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen – Bruce layered so many guitars (I’ve read up to 24) to make his own wall of sound…I don’t see this being topped.
  9. Band On The Run – This is basically three songs into one with McCartney’s style
  10. Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan – Maybe the best single ever released. Bob is one of the most covered artists but his voice just stings on this recording and it would be hard to match.

A few more I thought of… American Pie, A Day In The Life, Sounds of Silence

 

Good Vibrations by Todd Rundgren

Some songs you don’t expect to hear a cover of…this is one of them.

I bought this single in 1976 in a local record store we had in our small town called Sounds and Scenes (long gone but I love the name). I liked the song Good Vibrations and didn’t know at the time who did the original version.

He did an album called Faithful, full of covers and he performed them to the letter. I’ve listened to them and they are close but this one is really on it. He did Rain, Strawberry Fields, If Six Was Nine, and Bob Dylan’s Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine.

Todd Rundgren is very talented and I’m a fan of him and he did a great duplicate version of this song. My question now is why? He got so close…you have to wonder why he did it in the first place. But…who am I to question Todd Rundgren?

I usually don’t like when an artist covers a song and they change it so much you cannot tell what the song is… not a problem with this one…but I do like for an artist to put something of him or herself in it…Todd does exactly what he says in the album name… he was very faithful to these songs.