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Friday, April 6, 2007

“God Only Knows”

posted by on April 6 at 10:00 AM

God Only Knows.jpg

It’s kind of a no-brainer in the best song ever department, but my first entry for Best Song Ever (This Week) is the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”. It could be because I’ve been rapturously caught up in the first season DVDs of HBO’s “Big Love”, which uses said song as it’s theme, but really my relationship with the Beach Boys runs way deeper than that. Let’s see:

Episode 1 - I’m seven or eight years old, my mom and dad are divorced, but my mom, my sister, and I still make the occasional trip down to Sacramento to visit my family on my dad’s side. On these trips, our aural input is a steady diet of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, and the Beach Boys (I have this suspicion that my mom set her musical tastes just by raiding the “B” section of a record store one day). My mom always liked the poppy surf-and-cars Beach Boys stuff, not the late-period loony Brian Wilson business, so it was mostly greatest hits cassettes, “409”, “Everybody’s Surfin’”, stuff like that. But every once in a while I must’ve heard “In My Room” and “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It be Nice”, slightly heavier Beach Boys material, because it’s all burned into my brain on a pre-conscious level.

Episode 2 – It’s the Puyallup fair, early 90s, and my mom has taken my sister and I to see Mike Love’s “Beach Boys”, a Brian Wilson-free travesty of Hawaiian shirts, “California Girls”, and John “Uncle Jesse” Stamos on drums. I’d like to say that my pre-teen self inherently knew what a sham I was seeing, but I think I was just genuinely excited about seeing someone from the TV.

Episode 3 – I’m 22, just returned from my obligatory post-collegiate backpack around Europe, and working the graveyard donut-frying shift at Top Pot Donuts on Summit. One of my coworkers there is Adam Miller from the Chromatics, and I quickly learn that one of the downsides of working with an aspiring musical genius is suffering through their highly refined record collection. Along with the Fall and Syd Barrett, Miller liked to play Brian Wilson’s “Smile” (this was before it was reissued, if anyone’s tallying cool points). I never went through a revelatory Pet Sounds phase, but I knew about crazy-ass Brian Wilson from an A&E biography in which he wades into the ocean only after getting a note from his psychiatrist saying that it would be ok. Wilson, of the Beach Boys, was afraid of the ocean, you see. Anyway, I had pretty much zero context for “Smile” and just filed it alongside Sid Barret and Mark E Smith as genius music that I just didn’t enjoy while working a deep fryer at 3am.

Which pretty much brings us to this week’s “Big Love” binge. I’m still not the kind of person who rants about Wilson’s musical genius, although I acknowledge it, and I still mostly think of the Beach Boys as childhood car-ride music. But damn if “God Only Knows” isn’t the best song ever. The production is amazing—the echoing horse trots, the ghostly strings and accordion, the vaguely psychedelic breakdown at the 1:05 minute mark, the rising drum rolls of the song’s crescendo, and, of course, those perfect vocal harmonies. Lyrically, it’s both a tentative love song and an existential lament for love and life’s inevitable fade into the unknown. It’s a must for any morbidly anxious romantic, such as myself, and it’s the Best Song Ever (This Week).

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Great post, "God Ony Knows" is my favorite Beach Boys tune.

From Wikipedia:
It was one of the first pop songs to use the word 'God' in its title. Paul MacCartney has saaid it's the greatest pop song ever written.

I like to think so too.

Posted by Whatevs | April 6, 2007 10:28 AM

Agreed: "God Only Knows" is indeed "a no-brainer in the best song ever department" and I enjoy few songs in the Beach Boys catalog. As you note, the vocal harmonies are splendid; what artists succeed in this respect today? And, may I add to the song's highlights the repetitive 4-tap staccato snare hits. Beautiful.

Posted by Jason | April 6, 2007 10:56 AM

They're not quite in the same league as the Beach Boys, but Archives are doing the vocal harmony thing quite nicely. Expect them to blow up huge in a minute.

Posted by Eric Grandy | April 6, 2007 11:05 AM

whoa! i was seriously just going to post that same fact! agreed- very good post!

ok, how about this for a fun beach boy fact and testament to the beach boys influence on the beatles:

before the release of pet sounds, john lennon and paul mccartney supposedly show up at a hotel that's hosting a listening party for the record. after the listening, they request that the piano from the lobby be wheeled in - everyone thinks they're going to be treated to a impromptu mini beatles jam session. allegedly all they do is talk about pet sounds and pick pieces of the album apart on the piano. then they politely announce that they have to be going- they're in the midst of recording and are heading into the studio that night. at the time they're working on "revolver".

the book "wouldn't it be nice" tells the story a little better...

not only is brian wilson a genius, but i think the beach boys had one of the most interesting and colorful backrounds in the history of rock and roll.

Posted by graig markel | April 6, 2007 11:06 AM

Brian Wilson on the Mike Douglas show 1976:

part 1
part 2

Posted by Sally Struthers Lawnchair | April 6, 2007 11:15 AM

4 - which is great, because apparently Rubber Soul was a big catalyst for Pet Sounds:

"I really wasn't quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs ... that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I said, 'That's it. I really am challenged to do a great album.'"

Ah, the circle of genius! And yeah, Wouldn't it be Nice is a great book. Very interesting read, despite the fact that it was written while he was under the spell of his svengali of a shrink/co-writer.

Posted by Levislade | April 6, 2007 11:18 AM

It should be noted that Brian admitted in court (under oath) that he had _nothing_ to do with authoring "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (his "autobiography", not the song). There are a number of obvious factual errors in the book as well as a number of scenes that strain credulity. There was lots in that book to build up psychiatrist Landy's reputation -- because it was pretty much him that wrote the book, along with a co-author.

Posted by TTop | April 6, 2007 1:24 PM

Thanks, TTop, I wasn't aware of the extent of Landy's involvement. What a creep!

Posted by Levislade | April 6, 2007 2:40 PM

Wouldn't it be nice if Syd Barrett's name were spelled correctly?

Posted by OC Gil | April 6, 2007 5:48 PM

Aw, fuck. Consider it done.

Posted by Eric Grandy | April 6, 2007 6:49 PM


did anyone read that 'catch a wave' book that came out last year? i did, and i liked it. does an ybody have an opinion?

Posted by ndrwmtsn | April 6, 2007 9:40 PM

Well said, Eric. One of my favorites, too. Up there with Badfinger's "Day After Day," Big Star's "I'm in Love With a Girl," and Cheap Trick's "Downed."

Posted by Kathy Fennessy | April 7, 2007 6:14 PM

It's Dennis on vocals. Kinda an oddity for that album. I love the song.

Posted by Dougsf | April 9, 2007 4:41 PM

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