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Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Good Vibrations"

The Beach Boys - "Good Vibrations" (1966)

According to Paul McCartney, this song inspired "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day in The Life". It did not inspire Marky Mark or his Funky Bunch.

I can't really pick this piece apart for you it's too big. At the time, its detractors and fans both claimed you had to listen to it multiple times to really get it. I can tell you that it has at least four distinct keyboard instruments including a tack piano and Hammond organ. It uses old instruments like the cello and cutting edge instruments like the Electro-Theremin at the same time. You can hear both of those instruments at the same time with no other distraction for a few seconds at ten seconds from the end of the song. The Electro-Theremin was a prototype instrument built to mimic the sound of the theremin, but with more precise control. It's the hum whistle you can hear throughout the song. It was used on two other tracks by The Beach Boys and the opening theme to My Favorite Martian. All together, six members of the band sang vocals, combing to form a layered nuanced pop masterpiece.

There's a lot of well known history associated with this track. in 1965 the Beatles released Rubber Soul, one of the most ambitious Pop albums of its time. Then in December of that year they released the double A side single "We Can Work it Out"/"Day Tripper" Brian Wilson, the driving force behind the Beach Boys song writing felt he was up to the challenge and wrote and performed on and produced the album Pet Sounds, released in May of 1966; universally recognized as the peak of the Beach Boys. Immediately people compared it to Rubber Soul, and for a while, The Beach Boys were considered the more creative band. It included the songs "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It be Nice". They were released summer of 1966 as singles off of the album. The Beatles had released "Paperback Writer" as a single not attached to any album just earlier. Wilson was spending months on the production and recording of a new track, he has missed the deadline for Pet Sounds but continued to work on it. He was known to be sinking into depression and alcohol and drug use during the time, but the work on this track is said to have helped and hurt that depression. Pet Sounds was The Beach Boys answer to Rubber Soul, Wilson wanted to pull ahead with this amazing song. Instead, in August of 1966, just four weeks after The Beach Boys most recent single, The Beatles released the "Elanor Rigby" single, and the Revolver album at the same time. It had been eight months since Rubber Soul. During that entire time Wilson had been crafting "Good Vibrations" and The Beatles had created fourteen tracks, and recorded an album that rose to the top of the charts and knocked Pet Sounds out of the 'Most Ambitious' slot it held onto for such a short time.

Wilson stopped working on "Good Vibrations" soon thereafter. When it was released in October, all the hard work was vindicated, the months of work recording almost 20 different performers on at least a dozen different instruments and six part harmony turned the song into a huge hit. The band's record label decided that the cost was justified and sent Wilson back into the studio to record a new album. Stressed out, strung out, and musically challenged led Wilson to begin recording Smile. During the first part of 1967 everything was going well, with the layered production looking like it was going to be a huge success. The 'summer of love' was burgeoning, and the new sound of this album, following in the footsteps of "Good Vibrations" was going to keep The Beach Boys relevant. Then in April, Paul McCartney played Wilson an early cut of "A Day in The Life" from The Beatles upcoming Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It broke him. The rest of the band wasn't interested in the experimental direction was going, tension with the record label was growing, and Wilson was burning out. In May he stopped production on the album. In June, Sgt. Pepper's was released to world wide acclaim. In September the heavily stripped down and re-recorded Beach Boys album Smiley Smile was released to confusion and disinterest. Wilson slowly lost control of the band, and the band slowly slipped from being considered at the forefront of music, to being a throwback/nostalgia band.

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