In 1965 Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys spent seven months producing 'Good Vibrations." Despite the record-setting time and expense
for a single, the euphoric flower-power love song with density layered instrumentals and vocal harmonies set new standards for rock
recording and studio experimentation.
Released on October 10, 1966, "Good Vibrations" reached #1 on Billboard's pop chart. The song, co-written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, was
inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994.Recently the song's key collaborators talked about how "Good Vibrations" came to be . . .
Brian Wilson: When I was 14, a neighbor's dog barked at my mom. I couldn't figure out why.
My mom said, "Brian, sometimes dogs pick up vibrations from people, and if they feel threatened,
they bark." About nine years later, in 1965, I was at home at my piano in L.A. After smoking a
joint, I wrote a chord pattern for a song based on what my mom had said about vibrations.
Mike Love: At the end of 1964, Brian no longer wanted to tour with the Beach Boys. The stress
of the planes, airports and screaming fans at concerts was too much for him. So when the band
went on tour in '65, Brian stayed in L.A, and wrote, arranged and produced songs for us. We'd
add our vocals when we returned from the road.
Brian Wilson: When rehearsals began for "Good Vibrations" at Western Recorders in
February 1966, I used many of the same great studio musicians who had worked with Phil
Spector. I had watched Phil produce in the early '60's. He combined guitars and pianos to create
brand new sounds. That's what I wanted to do on "Good Vibrations" - but much bigger and better.
Combining a cello and electro-theremin on the song's chorus was my brother Carl's idea.
When I put the two instruments together in the studio, we wound up with the cool vibrating sound,
like a humming sonic wave.
Al Jardine: At the time, we were recording a lot of material for our "Pet Sounds" album, due for release in May. But Brian wanted to hold "Good
Vibrations" for 'Smile", our next scheduled album. We begged Brian to put "Good Vibrations" on "Pet Sounds", but he felt the song was too far-out for
the album. Capitol insisted on a hit single and inserted "Sloop John B." This gave Brian the entire summer of '66 to work on "Good Vibrations."
Brian Wilson: Eventually, I needed lyrics for the song. By then I was writing with Tony Asher, who I met months earlier at Western Recorders.
Tony Asher: Brian asked me write lyrics for a song called 'Good Vibes." He gave me a tape to take home. I felt that "vibes" was a cheap word and
trivialized the song. I suggested "vibrations."
My lyrics in the first verse and chorus were: "She's already working on my brain./I only looked in her eyes/But I picked up something I just can't
explain/I picked up good, good, good, good vibrations, yeah." But it wasn't quite selling, and we set it aside.
Brian Wilson: I later asked Mike Love for lyrics, but that had nothing to do with Tony's. I just wanted to see what Mike had. In the end, I liked Mike;s
better. They were more poetic for a song about good vibrations. And "excitations" was very off the wall.
Mike Love: Brian called me in the summer of '66. He never mentioned that Tony had written lyrics or that he wasn't satisfied with them or why. All I
knew is that the song was called "Good Vibrations."
While playing an acetate of the instrumental at home, my ear went to the walking bass line. I wrote the chorus: "I'm pickin' up good vibrations/She's
giving me excitations." I knew it sounded like "excitement" and "vibrations" squeezed together. By then the drug culture had emerged with hippies
and flower power. All of this created an image of a girl in a field of flowers, bathed in sunlight, who was into peace and love.
That's what was on my mind when Suzanne, my then wife, and I drove to the studio on August 24th to record the vocal tracks with the guys. I still
hadn't written the song's versus. I should have worked on them sooner, but I was the prince of procrastination then. As I drove the half hour, I dictated
lyrics to Suzanne. In the spirit of a flower-power poem, I said "I, I love the colorful clothes she wears/and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair." The
double "I" was purposeful. The first "I" is there to grab your attention. It's almost like an ecstatic sigh - "Ahhh."
The rest of the verse was, "I head the sound of a gentle word/On the wind that lifts her perfume through the air." I wanted to use "incense" instead of
"perfume" but I thought that would be a little much for Middle America. The second verse went like this: "Close my eyes/She's somehow closer
now/Softly smile, I know she must be kind/When I look in her eyes/she foes with me to a blossom world we find."
At the studio, I copied Suzanne's notes and wrote out the lyrics for Carl, Dennis and Brian, Al , Bruce (Johnston) and me. Brian arranged the vocals.
The only change Brian made was dropping the words "we find" from the end of my second verse so the bass and drums came through. I thought it was
weird at first, but i came to appreciate the missing words, since it made the rest seem like a haiku.
Brian Wilson: Listening back to the vocals, the song needed a contrast. So Mike and I sang a ballad duet inspired by Stephen Foster's songs. I
added it as a bridge to the final chorus. It was pure an ethereal: "Gotta keep those lovin'/good vibrations a happenin' with her." My brother Dennis
played the organ chords, and Tommy Morgan played the harmonica solo.
Tommy Morgan: Brian let me do what I felt was right there. I played high on my chromatic harmonica and bent the notes. It created this unusual
sound that he liked.
Mike Love: On a later session on September 21st., Briabn decided Carl should record the lead vocal, since it was in his range, His voice had this
Brian Wilson: Producing "Good Vibrations" took a long time because I didn't want to copy anybody. I wanted the song to sound totally original. The
night I heard everything together on September 21st. was one of the highlights of my life. The guys kept saying it was going to be a #1 hit. I said"I
know, I know."
What does a rock masterpiece sound like? Re-live the moment you first heard the far-out sound of "Good Vibrations"