Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s and 70’s. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
The Beach Boys Good VibrationsBrian Wilson told Rolling Stone magazine: “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.”
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.
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), Hal Blaine (drums), Larry Knechtel (organ) and Al de Lory (piano).
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 an 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.”
According to Wilson, Capitol Records didn’t want to release this as a single because they thought it was too long at 3:35. He pleaded with them to put it out, and felt vindicated when it shot to the top of the charts.
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.
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.
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.