Friday, April 6, 2012

The Beach Boys: God Only Knows

According to most critics and musicologists, The Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds” LP was considered one of the most influential albums of the mid to late sixties. Even Paul McCartney was enamored by this LP which had somewhat of an impact upon another classic “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” One of the instruments used on “Pet Sounds” was a bass harmonica which shows up on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and was played by The Beatles’ road manager, Mal Evans.

Released in May 1966, “Pet Sounds” still remains Brian Wilson’s masterpiece and Rolling Stone ranked it at #2 in the Top 500 Albums of All Time. It was beat out of the number one slot by “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The session spawned four singles, with only three appearing on the album. They included Brian Wilson’s single “Caroline No” and two credited to The Beach Boys: “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Portions of “Good Vibrations” were recorded during the same sessions; however, it appeared initially as a non-album single, but eventually was placed on the “Smiley Smile” album in 1967.

“God Only Knows,” our Friday Flipside, is the “B” to the Top 10 single “Wouldn’t it be Nice” and this flip barely made the Top 40 charts peaking at 39. Brian Wilson originally sang the song, but switched out his vocals with his brother Carl whose voice was better suited for this particular number. His voice was double tracked – a technique their Capitol Records’ cousins, The Beatles, had been using. Carl’s voice worked and became one of his classic cuts. Brian and Bruce Johnston provided the harmony and backing vocals. Carl also played 12-string guitar on this tune.

The author with Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, & contest winner, 1986
The original record session had three bassists. Lyle Ritz played stand-up bass, Carole Kaye probably utilized a Fender Precision bass, while the session notes credit Ray Pohlman on Danelectro Bass – which may have been actually a Danelectro baritone guitar. I cannot swear to that, but I cannot see why the brand was utilized for his instrument without it having some distinction other than the company from Neptune, NJ producing the instruments.

Other instruments include drums, two accordions, piano, organ, clarinet, bass clarinet, percussion, flute, baritone saxophone, and a string quartet. While 23 musicians were utilized in the twenty takes of “God Only Knows,” only sixteen appeared on the final cut. Two Beach Boys, Al Jardine and Mike Love, were not on this record.

While some sources cite that a harpsichord was used in the song’s opening measures, I believe that it was actually the piano and organ. Harpischord is not listed in the session notes. The French horn, an instrument later used by The Rolling Stones on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” was used during the intro.

Brian Wilson and his co-writer, Tony Asher, debated at length on using “God” in the title fearing reprisal from the religious community as being sacrilegious. They went ahead and wrote the tune as we know it and it has become one The Beach Boys’ classic recordings – even though it was relegated to “B” side status.

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