Monday, July 15, 2013

World's Greatest Love Songs:  God Only Knows by the Beach Boys (1966)



Continuing Series:  "God Only Knows" was released by the Beach Boys in the summer of 1966, both as a part of their seminal Pet Sounds album, and as a single, the b-side of "Wouldn't it Be Nice". Brian Wilson wrote the music, arranged, and produced the recording. Tony Asher wrote the lyrics. In a sort of foreshadowing of how the Beach Boys would record their 2012 album, That's Why God Made the Radio, only three of the Beach Boys appear on "God Only Knows".

Carl Wilson sang lead vocals and played twelve string guitar. Brian and Bruce Johnston sang harmony and backing vocals. For the music, Brian used eighteen outside musicians, including strings, woodwinds, french horn, two accordians, Hammond organ, and both upright and electric basses. The Beatles used to cite Pet Sounds as competitive inspiration, as in they were trying to top it when they made Sgt. Pepper. Paul McCartney has often been quoted as saying that "God Only Knows" is his all time favorite song.

In Charles L. Granata's book, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times: Brian Wilson and the Making of Pet Sounds, Tony Asher talked about his inspiration for the lyrics of "God Only Knows". "This is the one [song] that I thought would be a hit record because it was so incredibly beautiful. I was concerned that maybe the lyrics weren't up to the same level as the music; how many love songs start off with the line, 'I may not always love you'? I liked that twist, and fought to start the song that way. Working with Brian, I didn't have a whole lot of fighting to do, but I was certainly willing to fight to the end for that. [...] 'God Only Knows' is, to me, one of the great songs of our time. I mean the great songs. Not because I wrote the lyrics, but because it is an amazing piece of music that we were able to write a very compelling lyric to. It's the simplicity—the inference that 'I am who I am because of you'—that makes it very personal and tender."

Listen to "God Only Knows"


I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
Ill make you so sure about it

God only knows what I'd be without you

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows what I'd be without you

If you should ever leave me
Well life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows

(repeat)


Bonus Track:  There have been many cover versions, everyone from Neil Diamond to David Bowie, the Captain & Tennille to Jonatha Brooke. We've always loved this version by Joss Stone for her soul drenched vocal and for the simple arrangement.

Listen to Joss Stone - "God Only Knows"



Photo courtesy of Joss Stone.










1 comment:

Charlie Ricci said...

Yes, this is a wonderful song. One of their best, love song or otherwise!!!