"Good Vibrations" is a song by American rock band the Beach Boys, released as a single in October 1966. The song was composed and produced by Brian Wilson with lyrics by Mike Love.
Released as a single on October 10, 1966 (backed with the Pet Sounds instrumental "Let's Go Away For Awhile"), it was the Beach Boys' third US number one hit after "I Get Around" and "Help Me, Rhonda", reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1966, as well as being their first British chart-topper. Initiated during the sessions for the Pet Sounds album, it was not taken from or issued as a lead single for an album, but as a stand-alone single, although it would be later considered for the aborted Smile project. It would ultimately be placed on the album Smiley Smile eleven months after its release and was part of Wilson's complete recording of Smile in 2004.
Publicist for the band, Derek Taylor, described "Good Vibrations" as a "pocket symphony". It featured instruments unusual for a pop song, including prominent use of the cello and an electro-theremin. The song was recorded by Wilson in sections at different studios in order to capture the sound he heard in his head. Building upon the layered production approach he had begun to use with the Pet Sounds album, he devoted months of effort to this single track. For "Good Vibrations", Wilson is credited with further developing the use of the recording studio as an instrument.
It is number six on Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." The song "Good Vibrations" is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.
Wilson has recounted the genesis of the title "Good Vibrations" numerous times over the years. When he was a child, his mother Audrey told him that dogs could pick up "vibrations" from people, meaning that the dog would bark at "bad vibrations". Wilson turned this into the general idea of limbic resonance and developed the song around it.
Musically, Wilson was largely responsible for the track's composition. Wilson himself has also stated that the triplet cello beat on the chorus was based on the Phil Spector-produced song "Da Doo Ron Ron". Other reports suggest that it was actually either Van Dyke Parks or Carl Wilson that had suggested the idea of a cello to Brian. Brian did the majority of the vocal arrangements for the song, with band mate Mike Love contributing the "I'm picking up good vibrations / she's giving me excitations" vocal riff in the chorus.
In early 1966, Wilson first enlisted Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher for help in putting words to the idea. Several months later, Wilson asked his then-new writing partner Van Dyke Parks to pen lyrics for the song, although Parks declined. Ultimately Mike Love submitted the final lyrics for "Good Vibrations", claiming to have written the final lyrics on the drive to the studio in August 1966. According to Love, the lyrics were inspired by the impending flower power movement occurring in San Francisco and some parts of the Los Angeles area. A version with only Asher's lyrics can be heard as a bonus track on the "twofer" CD which pairs Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.
The recording and production style used on the "Good Vibrations" single established Wilson's new method of operation: the recording and re-recording of specific sections of music, followed by rough mixes of the sections edited together, further recording as required, and the construction of the final mix from the component elements. This was the modular approach to recording that was used during the sessions for Smile.
The instrumental of the first version of the song was recorded on February 17, 1966. It was described in the session log as "#1 Untitled" (or as "Good, Good, Good Vibrations"), though on the tape Brian Wilson distinctly says "Good Vibrations, Take One". After 26 takes, a rough mono mix completed the session. Rough guide vocals were recorded the following day. By February 25, Wilson had placed the recording on hold in order to devote attention to the Pet Sounds album. The track was revisited on May 24, and worked on until June 18, at which time he put it aside again until August 24. The various sections of the song were edited together in a sort of musical collage. According to Paul McCartney, this technique was borrowed for the Beatles' later "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day in the Life" records, both inspired by the works of Brian Wilson.
The distinctive high-pitched sliding electronic sound in the choruses and at the end of the track was created with an Electro-Theremin, played by Paul Tanner, and first used by Wilson on the Pet Sounds track "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times". The production of the song spanned seventeen recording sessions at four different recording studios. The recording is reported to have used over 90 hours of magnetic recording tape, with an eventual budget of $50,000. According to Wilson, the Electro-Theremin work alone cost $15,000.
Recording of the vocals for "Good Vibrations" took place at Columbia studio between August 24 and September 1. The lead vocal in the verses is largely sung by Carl Wilson with Brian taking over for the "...I hear the sound of a..." and "...when I look in her eyes..." falsetto parts. The two bridges and chorus bass vocal are sung by Mike Love with Brian on top of the harmony stack during the "good, good, good vibrations" part of the chorus. Speaking to Rolling Stone's David Felton, in 1976, Brian elaborated on the group's participation and the track's final mixdown.
FELTON: Did everybody support what you were trying to do?
BRIAN: No, not everybody. There was a lot of "oh you can't do this, that's too modern" or "that's going to be too long a record." I said no, it's not going to be too long a record, it's going to be just right.
FELTON: Who resisted you? Your manager? The record company?
BRIAN: No, people in the group, but I can't tell ya who. We just had resisting ideas. They didn't quite understand what this jumping from studio to studio was all about. And they couldn't conceive of the record as I did. I saw the record as a totality piece.
FELTON: Do you remember the time you realized you finally had it?
BRIAN: I remember the time that we had it. It was at Columbia. I remember I had it right in the sack. I could just feel it when I dubbed it down, made the final mix from the 16 track down to mono. It was a feeling of power, it was a rush. A feeling of exaltation. Artistic beauty. It was everything.
FELTON: Do you remember saying anything?
BRIAN: I remember saying, "Oh my God. Sit back and listen to this!"
Encouraged by the success of the song, Wilson continued working on the Smile project, intended as an entire album using the writing and production techniques devised for "Good Vibrations." When that album was shelved as Wilson descended into depression, drug use, and paranoia; several tracks salvaged from those sessions were re-recorded for the Smiley Smile album instead, on which the previously completed 1966 "Good Vibrations" made its first album appearance.
The song was also published in 1993 on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys box set, and in extended form in 2011 on The Smile Sessions box set. Both box sets include extracts and highlights from the "Good Vibrations" sessions.
40th anniversary single:
In celebration of its 40th year, the Good Vibrations: 40th Anniversary Edition single was released. The single includes five versions of "Good Vibrations" including:
the original single version,
various session takes,
an alternate take (previously released on the Beach Boys' Rarities album),
instrumental track in stereo,
a live concert rehearsal (from Hawaii 08/1967).,
also included is the original B-side of the single, "Let's Go Away for Awhile" (stereo-mix).,
Except as indicated, all tracks are in mono.
There had never been an official true stereo release of the final track until the 2012 remastered version of Smiley Smile, although numerous fan-created stereo mixes have been attempted over the Internet. In 2002 DSP (Disky Special Products) released in the Netherlands a various artist compilation CD named Radio 192 - The Radio's on - 40 Echte radio hits which contains a stereo mix of this song, possibly using the stereo instrumental track mixed with the mono vocals. It has been said that not enough stems exist to actually create a new stereo mix, something echoed by Mark Linett's 1988 rough mixes of the Smile material. This is due to the vocal tracks being currently missing. Bruce Johnston has stated that he believes they were accidentally destroyed in 1967 during a "spring cleaning" of the Columbia studio. However, a stereo version of the instrumental backing track was issued in 2006 on the 40th anniversary "Good Vibrations" EP.
The 2012 stereo mix was made possible by newly invented digital technology by Derry Fitzgerald, with the blessings of Brian Wilson and Mark Linett. This software extracted individual instrumental and vocal stems from the original mono master -- as the multi-track vocals remained missing -- to construct the stereo version that now appears on the re-issue of Smiley Smile.
The song was also recorded and released by Jan & Dean on their 1982 album, One Summer Night/Live.
Wilson's instinctive talents for mixing sounds could most nearly equate to those of the old painters whose special secret was in the blending of their oils. And what is most amazing about all outstanding creative artists is that they are using only those basic materials which are freely available to everyone else.
--Derek Taylor, Hit Parader, October 1967
According to Badman, the single sold over 230,000 copies in the US during its first four days of its release, and entered the Cash Box chart at number 61 on October 22. It eventually became their first "million-selling single" topping the Billboard charts in 1966. In the UK, the song sold over 50,000 copies in the first 15 days of its release according to EMI. The record later reached number-one on the British charts.
Both the New Musical Express and Melody Maker gave positive reviews at the time of the single's release. David Leaf, author of The Beach Boys and The California Myth, said of the song, "Nothing but perfection here. The Beach Boys' first million-selling #1 hit... was a major technical breakthrough;... the record that showed that anything was possible in the studio."
Praise was not universal, however, and Pete Townshend of the Who was quoted at the time as saying "'Good Vibrations' was probably a good record but who's to know? You had to play it about 90 bloody times to even hear what they were singing about", and feared that the single would lead to over-produced records in general.
"Good Vibrations" earned The Beach Boys a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Group performance in 1966 and the song was eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994. It has featured highly in many 'Top 100 Records of All Time' charts and was voted number one in the Mojo Top 100 Records of All Time chart in 1997. Rolling Stone magazine ranked "Good Vibrations" at No. 6 in "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", the highest position of seven Beach Boys songs cited in the list. It outranked The Beatles's highest ranking song, "Hey Jude", which was placed at number eight. The song was also voted number 24 in the RIAA and NEA's listing of Songs of the Century. "Good Vibrations" is currently ranked as the number three song of all time in an aggregation of critics' lists at acclaimedmusic.net.
Year of publication
500 Greatest Songs of All Time
500 Songs That Shaped Rock
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
365 Songs of the Century
100 Greatest Rock Songs
Australia (Kent Music Report)
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)
Canadian RPM Top Singles
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)
Germany (Media Control AG)
Irish Singles Chart
Malaysian Singles Chart
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)
Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)
New Zealand (RIANZ)
Rhodesian Singles Chart
Singaporean Singles Chart
South African Chart
UK (Official Charts Company)
U.S. Billboard Hot 100
UK (Official Charts Company)
The Beach Boys
Al Jardine - harmony and backing vocals,
Bruce Johnston - harmony and backing vocals,
Mike Love - lead, harmony and backing vocals,
Brian Wilson - lead, harmony and backing vocals; organ,
Carl Wilson - lead, harmony and backing vocals; bass guitar; percussion,
Dennis Wilson - harmony and backing vocals; Hammond organ,
Additional musicians and production staff
Hal Blaine - drums, percussion,
Jimmy Bond - double bass,
Al De Lory - tack piano,
Jesse Ehrlich - cello,
Jim Gordon - drums,
Larry Knechtel - Hammond organ,
Tommy Morgan - harmonica,
Bill Pitman - guitar,
Ray Pohlman - bass guitar,
Don Randi - harpsichord,
Lyle Ritz - double bass,
Paul Tanner - Electro-Theremin,
Solo Brian Wilson version:
In 2004, a re-recorded version of Smile was finally completed by Wilson, Parks, and Darian Sahanaja, with Wilson's touring band in place of the other Beach Boys and studio musicians. It was released in September of that year, to widespread critical acclaim. "Good Vibrations" was released as a single prior to the album, also featuring a live version of the song.
According to Wilson, when he re-recorded "Good Vibrations", his wife, Melinda, suggested he use the original lyrics written by Tony Asher. However, it was necessary to augment Asher's lyrics with Mike Love's, which include the opening line ("I, I love the colorful clothes she wears,") the chorus couplet ("I'm pickin' up good vibrations / She's givin' me the excitations") and the two bridges (the "I don't know where but she sends me there" section, and the "Gotta keep those lovin'-good vibrations happenin' with her" section.) Accordingly, Love was also credited on the 2004 album version, along with Asher.
In addition to incorporating most of the original Tony Asher lyrics, the Smile version also includes the "Hum-Be-Dum" harmony section not included in the 1966 release.