God Only Knows
7 October 2014
Seven things you might not know about The Beach Boys' original
- The lyrics were written by a young British advertising copywriter named Tony Asher, who worked for the Carson-Roberts agency in Los Angeles. A chance meeting with Brian Wilson at the United Western Recorders studio, where Asher was working on ad jingles, led to the Beach Boys leader inviting him to collaborate on the Pet Sounds album in 1966, when he was just 26 years old.
- It was one of the first pop songs with the word ‘God’ in the title – a decision considered daring at the time of its release. Wilson had initially feared the record wouldn’t get any airplay if it was perceived as religious.
- Brian Wilson had originally planned to sing the lead vocal but it ended up being voiced by his brother Carl. Brian explained at the time: "I gave the song to Carl because I was looking for a tenderness and a sweetness which I knew Carl had in himself as well as in his voice. He brought dignity to the song."
- It was first released as the B-side to Wouldn’t It Be Nice and only scraped into the top 40 in the US. But it performed much better in Europe, where it was released as the A-side and reached No2 in the UK, No3 in Ireland, No4 in the Netherlands and Belgium, and No6 in Norway.
- It’s Paul McCartney’s favourite song of all time. The Beatles legend told BBC Radio 1 in 2007: “God Only Knows is one of the few songs that reduces me to tears every time I hear it. It's really just a love song, but it's brilliantly done. It shows the genius of Brian. I've actually performed it with him and I'm afraid to say that during the sound check I broke down.”
- It’s been used for memorable montages in hit films including Love Actually and Boogie Nights, but it also had an unusual role in 2013 video game sensation Bioshock Infinite. Early in the game’s plot, a barbershop quartet, voiced by A Mighty Wind, sing the first verse while floating past the player on an airship.
- The distinctive French horn part was played by Alan Robinson, the youngest member of the 20th Century Fox orchestra, who played on film scores including The King And I and The Sound Of Music. The track also features accordions, violins and cellos in an arrangement that was highly unorthodox for the time.
From the archive
Brian Wilson and George Martin remix God Only Knows: In this 1997 clip, legendary Beatles producer George Martin visits Brian Wilson in California to dissect one of the Beach Boys’ most famous songs.
God Only Knows featured on the Pet Sounds album
Brian Wilson at the Pet Sounds recording sessions, 1966 (Getty)