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IN-DEPTH
SONG HOME COVER VERSIONS YOUR VIEWS
God Only Knows
The Beach Boys
Carl Wilson

Until the summer of 1966 the Beach Boys were primarily known as a surf’n’hot-rod band, but ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Good Vibrations’ and the Pet Sounds album changed all that - and, by the end of the year, they had deposed The Beatles as Best Group in the prestigious Melody Maker poll.
‘God Only Knows’, the Beach Boys’ third hit single of 1966, demonstrated just how far, and how fast, the group had progressed since ‘Barbara Ann’ and ‘Sloop John B’.
Brian Wilson was now hearing whole symphonies in his head, but he still needed a lyricist. He recruited advertising executive Tony Asher, who worried “that the lyric might not be up to the quality of the music” - but when the Beach Boys came to cut the track everything gelled.

Brian WIlson
Brian Wilson talks about his love of God Only Knows


Brian Wilson’s talent is nowhere better displayed than in this gorgeous verse, which moves flowingly through two keys and four sweeping phrases, with the bass on fifths and thirds, gaining a sense of romantic reassurance as it progresses to the chorus. The outro canon is Beach Boys’ Heaven, the voices crossing in a tapestry of parts, saved from excessive sentimentality by the nifty use of the barber’s shop flat seventh. Dominic King

Carl, the youngest of the three Wilson brothers, took a rare lead vocal on ‘God Only Knows’, a performance which Elvis Costello rates as one of the finest ever recorded. Carl died in 1998, but he always remembered that historic session: “It was on a Sunday afternoon at Columbia Records studios… I was honoured to be able to sing that one. It is so beautifully written it sings itself.”
On its release, New Musical Express found ‘God Only Knows’ to be “a delightful mid-tempo ballad with a big orchestral opening, settling into an irresistible jog-trotting beat.” But over the years the song, and its parent-album Pet Sounds, have taken on almost mythic status - and there is a case to be made that ‘God Only Knows’ might just be the most perfectly constructed song in pop history.
Elvis Costello and David Bowie are fans - and both have covered the song. While, to this day, Paul McCartney - who knows a thing or two about these things - maintains that ‘God Only Knows’ is “the best song ever written.”

Your comments. Brian Wilson is a genius. Make no mistake about that


Dominic

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