RaR21 – Good Vibrations
Listen to the recording of the tune by clicking the attached mp3 file. This will open the recording in a new window or tab. Listen and follow along with the listening guide in the book.
Read the liner notes below.
Read the information “What to Listen For”
Respond to the Rate-A-Record/Questions by clicking on the assignment link and then click on on the button “Write Submission” (to the right of Text Submission) to record your response. Do not use the comments field.
Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys
The United States of 1966 was in many ways very different from the country of 1960 when the Beach Boys were recording their first songs. The civil rights movement had brought attention to the inequities of American society and its legal codes; free speech movements were promoting widespread political change, and the Beat movement of the ’50s had given way to the nascent hippie counterculture. Pop music, too, had changed. Psychedelic art found a musical counterpart in the heavy washes of sound and virtuosic instrumental solos of groups like Cream and the Byrds, and the catchy, three-minute single was losing artistic ground to ambitious, highly produced songs and albums that expressed ideas of some depth.
Brian Wilson, in the studio preparing the Beach Boys’ next album, began exploring more and more elaborate production techniques. He was influenced by the Beatles’ mid-period albums Revolver and Rubber Soul, which reflected the influence of producer George Martin. The unorthodox instrumentation and production of these albums inspired Wilson to new heights of creativity. The groundbreaking album Pet Sounds (1966)—the first “concept” album in which all tracks were unified thematically—is considered by many to be his masterpiece; scores of studio musicians contributed unusual instrumentation and washes of Hollywood-style orchestration to a more introspective album than the Beach Boys had created previously. Paul McCartney was extremely impressed by Pet Sounds; the album inspired his ideas for the Beatles’ next project, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Wilson, sparked by a desire to make better records than the Beatles, undertook an ambitious plan for the next Beach Boys album, Smile. The first completed track was the sprawling masterpiece “Good Vibrations.” Wilson spent six months in the studio working on just this track, which required seventeen recording sessions in four different studios at the then astronomical cost of $50,000. The material was recorded for the rest of the album, but Wilson was unable to complete the project due to resistance from the other members of the group and his own increasingly erratic behavior; Wilson had a serious drug problem and was later diagnosed as schizophrenic. Several of the tracks would later surface on the compromise album Smiley Smile. The incomplete tracks for Smile were circulated for years among record collectors and fans; in 2004 Brian Wilson assembled and re-orchestrated the material, and the full album finally emerged in 2004 to favorable reviews.
WHAT TO LISTEN FOR:
The predominance of the backbeat from the drums
Unique timbres created by background vocal effects, production/studio technology, and interesting combinations of instruments
Refrain or hook – high level of “fear germ” effect – (i.e. tune/hook gets stuck in your head)
Influence of the organ on the sound
Slide theremin – strange sounds that work great in the recording
Trippy or psychedelic sounds in Section 1 and Section 2
RATE-A-RECORD/QUESTIONS TO ANSWER:
This song sounds so much different than the previous two Beach Boys tunes we listened to (Surfin’ USA, California Girls). It really takes you on a “ride”. What are some ways that it does this?
Give it a rating: 0 = Bad, 100 = Awesome. Defend your number.
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