Good Vibrations Song Analysis Essays

"We're either gonna have the biggest hit in the world, or the Beach Boys' career is over." According to bandleader Brian Wilson's autobiography Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story, that's how Beach Boys guitarist Bruce Johnston reacted after hearing the tapes for the group's next single, "Good Vibrations," in August of 1966. In hindsight, Johnston needn't have worried about the song — it would shoot to No. 1 after its release that October — but Wilson himself was clearly approaching the end of his tether.

Wilson's "Good Vibrations" journey started early in 1966, while he was working on what would become the band's classic Pet Sounds LP. Intrigued by a conversation he'd had with his mother, who suggested the idea that people give off vibrations of energy that animals are more in tune with than humans, he sketched the musical outline of a song he initially called "Good, Good, Good Vibrations." Stuck for verses after coming up with a chorus, he scheduled songwriting sessions with lyricist Tony Asher, and briefly entertained the idea of making the song part of the Pet Sounds track listing before deciding it wasn't ready yet.

The Beach Boys, meanwhile, were constantly on the road, fulfilling live obligations that Wilson had given up after retiring from the road in 1964. The arrangement gave him the freedom to indulge any and all musical flights of fancy without interference from his bandmates, but it also made it more difficult for the group to match Wilson's ever-more-exacting standards.

"Brian was absolutely at his peak back then. God, he was just like a freight train," Beach Boy Al Jardine later told Uncut. "We were hanging on for dear life. The Beach Boys were in and out of the studio day and night."

Wilson might not have had to maintain the Beach Boys' travel schedule, but he worked at a punishing pace while they were on the road. Feeling like he was at the summit of a creative peak — and on the verge of an even bigger breakthrough — he approached "Good Vibrations" as what he later called "the summation of my musical vision, a harmonic convergence of imagination and talent, production values and craft, songwriting and spirituality."

Even for a songwriter increasingly hailed as one of the brightest musical minds of his generation, this was a tall order, and Wilson turned to increasingly desperate measures — musical as well as chemical — in order to achieve his dream. During 17 sessions spread over three months, he enlisted an array of top-shelf musicians to bring "Good Vibrations" to life, melding a disparate-sounding list of instruments that included everything from fuzz bass, strings and woodwinds to the Theremin. As the sessions mounted, so did the studio bills, eventually reaching $75,000 — the equivalent of $550,000 after being adjusted for inflation, and an ungodly amount of money to spend on the creation of a single song.

"It was like he was scoring a movie. But 12 dates on 'Good Vibrations' – at three hours a date – is a long, long time to spend on one song," bassist Carol Kaye told Uncut. "It was very unusual. But the way he kept changing the music around was interesting. We knew he was trying to perfect a great hit. And we knew it was gonna be big."

While acting as studio ringleader, Wilson turned to drugs to help induce his preferred creative state, which ultimately exacerbated the fear and paranoia always lurking at the margins of his increasingly fragile psyche. Enthralled with the idea of putting together a sort of comedy-infused Americana song cycle, Wilson hooked up with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, who refused to tinker with the "Good Vibrations" lyrics but started working with him on other songs tabbed for the Beach Boys' next album.

As the pair collaborated, Wilson's connection with reality grew worryingly tenuous — as did his efforts to get a handle on "Good Vibrations." By the summer, he'd begun to worry that he and the Beach Boys wouldn't be able to do the song justice, and contemplated giving it to another band, but when associate David Anderle pitched it to Three Dog Night singer Danny Hutton — raving about it in the process — it gave Wilson the emotional boost he needed to take his recording the rest of the way.

Even after he got past his own doubts, Wilson had to face the Beach Boys. He'd played a tape of the work in progress to his brother/bandmate Carl, who Brian remembered describing the song simply as "bizarre," and even after assembling what he was sure was the perfect mix, he encountered a mixture of confusion and indifference during that first playback session with the band.

"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,'" Wilson told Rolling Stone. "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."

Nevertheless, Wilson managed to wrangle his bandmates on board for their vocal sessions, which included an ethereal lead vocal from Carl — who subbed in at the last minute for another Wilson brother, drummer Dennis, due to a case of laryngitis — and a key lyrical contribution from the most musically conservative Beach Boy, Mike Love.

"I came up with the part that goes: 'I’m pickin’ up good vibrations / She’s giving me excitations.' That’s my musical contribution," Love told Uncut. "I felt 'Good Vibrations' was the Beach Boys’ psychedelic anthem or flower power offering. So I wrote it from that perspective. The track itself was already so avant-garde, especially with the Theremin, that I wondered how our fans were going to relate to it. How’s this going to go over in the Midwest or Birmingham? It was such a departure from 'Surfin’ USA' or 'Help Me Rhonda.'"

Love's concerns regarding Wilson's artistic instincts would come to a point during sessions for the group's next LP, Smile, and he'd ultimately help pull the band back from what he viewed as a creative abyss after Wilson suffered a breakdown, leaving the record shelved for decades. But in the short term, the balance between Wilson's increasingly esoteric musical explorations and Love's commercial instincts continued to hold — and in the case of "Good Vibrations," it held beautifully.

Released on Oct. 10, 1966, "Good Vibrations" was an immediate smash, selling nearly a quarter of a million copies during its first four days in stores while beginning a rapid ascent to the top of the charts. Ultimately, the song became the Beach Boys' first million-selling single, and at the time, it looked like the perfect appetizer for the Smile album. Instead, it ended up being one of the band's final major singles before a period of declining sales and increasingly erratic behavior on Wilson's part.

Tantalizingly close to perfecting a pioneering style of songwriting and recording, Wilson shattered in the late '60s, and took years to work his way back from the darkness.

Looking back on "Good Vibrations" for Uncut, he struck a justifiably proud note regarding the song — and what it meant in the larger context of his art and the pop music of the time in general. "We all wanted to do something different, make some music that would last forever. Not just surf songs and car songs," he mused. "It was all about creating lasting music. And that led to 'Good Vibrations.' It was one giant step forward."

See the Beach Boys and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the '60s

This article is about the 1966 song by the Beach Boys. For other uses, see Good Vibrations (disambiguation).

"Good Vibrations" is a song composed by Brian Wilson with words by Mike Love for the American rock band the Beach Boys, of which both were members. Released on October 10, 1966, the single was an immediate critical and commercial hit, topping record charts in several countries including the US and UK. Characterized by its complex soundscapes, episodic structure, and subversions of pop music formula, it was the costliest single ever recorded at the time of its release. "Good Vibrations" later became widely acclaimed as one of the greatest masterpieces of rock music.[13]

Produced by Wilson, the recording was initiated during the sessions for the 1966 album Pet Sounds, and was not originally issued as a track from an album, but rather as a stand-alone single, with the Pet Sounds instrumental "Let's Go Away for Awhile" as the B-side. "Good Vibrations" was envisioned for the unfinished album Smile, but instead appeared on the 1967 substitute LP Smiley Smile. Most of the song was developed as it was recorded. Its title derived from Wilson's fascination with cosmic vibrations, after his mother once told him as a child that dogs sometimes bark at people in response to their "bad vibrations". He used the concept to suggest extrasensory perception, while Love's lyrics were inspired by the Flower Power movement burgeoning in Southern California. Lead vocals were shared between Brian, his brother Carl, and their cousin Love.

The making of "Good Vibrations" was unprecedented for any kind of recording. Over 90 hours of tape was invested on its sessions with the total cost of production estimated to be $50,000 (equivalent to $380,000 in 2017). Building upon the multi-layered approach he had formulated with Pet Sounds, Brian recorded a surplus of short, interchangeable musical fragments with his bandmates and a host of session musicians at four different Hollywood studios from February to September 1966. Only six sections were ultimately culled from the dozen-plus session dates, which were assembled through tape splicing to create a composite backing track, and it is partly reflected in the song's several dramatic shifts in key, texture, instrumentation, and mood. Band publicist Derek Taylor dubbed the unusual work a "pocket symphony". It contained previously untried mixes of instruments, including jaw harp and Electro-Theremin, and was the first pop hit to have a cello playing juddering rhythms.

"Good Vibrations" is widely regarded as one of the most important compositions and recordings of the rock era, and it is regularly hailed as one of the finest pop productions of all time. It heralded a wave of pop experimentation and the onset of psychedelic and progressive rock, and helped develop the use of the recording studio as an instrument, revolutionizing rock music from live concert performances to studio productions which could only exist on record. Although it does not technically feature a theremin, it is frequently cited for having one, which revitalized interest and sales of theremins and synthesizers. The song's success earned the Beach Boys a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Group performance in 1966; the record was eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994.[16] "Good Vibrations" was voted number one in the Mojo's "Top 100 Records of All Time"[16] and number six on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time",[17] and it was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll".[18] In 1976, a cover version by Todd Rundgren was released as a single. It peaked at number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100.


The Beach Boys's leader, Brian Wilson, was responsible for the musical composition and virtually all of the arrangement for "Good Vibrations". His cousin and bandmate Mike Love contributed the song's lyrics and its bass vocalization in the chorus.[19][20] During the recording sessions for the 1966 album Pet Sounds, Wilson began changing his writing process. Rather than going to the studio with a completed song, he would record a track containing a series of chord changes he liked, take an acetate disc home, and then compose the song's melody and write its lyrics. For "Good Vibrations", Wilson said, "I had a lot of unfinished ideas, fragments of music I called 'feels.' Each feel represented a mood or an emotion I'd felt, and I planned to fit them together like a mosaic." Most of the song's structure and arrangement was written as it was recorded.[nb 1] Engineer Chuck Britz is quoted saying that Wilson considered the song to be "his whole life performance in one track". Wilson stated: "I was an energetic 23-year-old. ... I said: 'This is going to be better than [the Phil Spector production] "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."'"

Inspiration and lyricism[edit]

Brian said that the song was inspired by his mother: "[She] used to tell me about vibrations. I didn't really understand too much of what it meant when I was just a boy. It scared me, the word 'vibrations.' She told me about dogs that would bark at people and then not bark at others, that a dog would pick up vibrations from these people that you can't see, but you can feel." Brian first enlisted Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher for help in putting words to the idea. When Brian presented the song on piano, Asher thought that it had an interesting premise with the potential for hit status, but could not fathom the end result due to Brian's primitive piano playing style. Asher remembers: "Brian was playing what amounts to the hook of the song: 'Good, good, good, good vibrations.' He started telling me the story about his mother. ... He said he’d always thought that it would be fun to write a song about vibes and picking them up from other people. ... So as we started to work, he played this little rhythmic pattern—a riff on the piano, the thing that goes under the chorus." Brian wanted to call the song "Good Vibes", but Asher advised that it was "lightweight use of the language", suggesting that "Good Vibrations" would sound less "trendy". The two proceeded to write a lyric for the verses, later to be discarded, in what was then the most basic section of the song.

From the start, Wilson envisioned a theremin for the track.AllMusic reviewer John Bush pointed out: "Radio listeners could easily pick up the link between the title and the obviously electronic riffs sounding in the background of the chorus, but Wilson's use of the theremin added another delicious parallel—between the single's theme and its use of an instrument the player never even touched."[30] "Good Vibrations" does not technically feature a theremin, but rather an Electro-Theremin, which is physically controlled by a knob on the side of the instrument. It was dubbed a "theremin" simply for convenience. At that time, theremins were most often associated with the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock film Spellbound, but its most common presence was in the theme music for the television sitcomMy Favorite Martian, which ran from 1963 to 1966. Britz speculates: "He just walked in and said, 'I have this new sound for you.' I think he must have heard the sound somewhere and loved it, and built a song around it."[nb 2]

Brian has credited his brother and bandmate Carl for suggesting the cello as an instrument to use.[32] He also stated that its triplet beat on the chorus was his own idea,[32] and that it was based on the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" (1963), produced by Spector. Alternatively, multi-instrumentalist songwriter Van Dyke Parks says that he suggested having the celloist play triplets for Brian. Parks believes that having Brian exploit the cello "to such a hyperbolic degree" was what encouraged the duo to immediately collaborate on the ultimately unfinished album Smile. At some point, Brian asked Parks to pen lyrics for the song, although Parks declined.[nb 3]

Mike Love submitted the final lyrics for "Good Vibrations", claiming to have written them on the drive to the studio. Love reacted upon hearing the unfinished backing track: "[It] was already so avant-garde, especially with the theremin, I wondered how our fans were going to relate to it. How's this going to go over in the Midwest or Birmingham? It was such a departure from 'Surfin' U.S.A.' or 'Help Me, Rhonda.'"[39] Feeling that the song could be "the Beach Boys' psychedelic anthem or flower power offering",[39] he based the lyrics on the burgeoning psychedelic music and Flower Power movements occurring in San Francisco and some parts of the Los Angeles area. He described the lyrics as "just a flowery poem. Kind of almost like 'If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear flowers in your hair.'"[20] Writer Bruce Golden observed:

The new pastoral landscape suddenly being uncovered by the young generation provided a quiet, peaceful, harmonious trip into inner space. The hassles and frustrations of the external world were cast aside, and new visions put in their place. "Good Vibrations" succeeds in suggesting the healthy emanations that should result from psychic tranquility and inner peace. The word "vibrations" had been employed by students of Eastern philosophy and acid-heads for a variety of purposes, but Wilson uses it here to suggest a kind of extrasensory experience.

Capitol Records executives were worried that the lyrics contained psychedelic overtones, and Brian was accused of having based the song's production on his LSD experiences.[43] Brian clarified that the song was written under the influence of marijuana, not LSD.[39] He explained: "I made ‘Good Vibrations’ on drugs; I used drugs to make that. ... I learned how to function behind drugs, and it improved my brain ... it made me more rooted in my sanity."[44] In Steven Gaines's 1986 biography, Wilson is quoted on the lyrics: "We talked about good vibrations with the song and the idea, and we decided on one hand that you could say ... those are sensual things. And then you'd say, 'I'm picking up good vibrations,' which is a contrast against the sensual, the extrasensory perception that we have. That's what we're really talking about." Brian claimed in 2012 that the song's "gotta keep those good vibrations" bridge was inspired by Stephen Foster.[39] Bandmate Al Jardine compared that section to Foster and the Negro spiritual "Down by the Riverside".[39] According to Love, the lyric "'she goes with me to a blossom world' was originally meant to be followed by the words 'we find'", but Brian elected to cut off the line to highlight the bass track linking into the chorus.[46]

Recording and production[edit]

Modular approach[edit]

We got so into it that the more we created, the more we wanted to create ... there was no real set direction we were going in.

—Brian Wilson, quoted in 1997[47]

"Good Vibrations" established a new method of operation for Wilson. Instead of working on whole songs with clear large-scale syntactical structures, Wilson limited himself to recording short interchangeable fragments (or "modules"). Through the method of tape splicing, each fragment could then be assembled into a linear sequence, allowing any number of larger structures and divergent moods to be produced at a later time.[47] This was the same modular approach used during the sessions for Smile and Smiley Smile. To mask each tape edit, vast reverbdecays were added at the mixing and sub-mixing stages.[49]

For instrumentation, Wilson employed the services of "the Wrecking Crew", the nickname for a conglomerate of session musicians active in Los Angeles at that time. Production for "Good Vibrations" spanned more than a dozen recording sessions at four different Hollywood studios, at a time when most pop singles were typically recorded in a day or two.[nb 4] It was reported to have used over 90 hours of magnetic recording tape, with an eventual budget estimated between $50,000 and $75,000 (equivalent to $380,000 and $570,000 in 2017),[39] at that time the largest sum spent on a single. In comparison, the whole of Pet Sounds had cost $70,000 ($530,000), itself an unusually high cost for an album. It is said that Wilson was so puzzled by "Good Vibrations" that he would often arrive at a session, consider a few possibilities, and then leave without recording anything, which exacerbated costs.

In 2018, Wilson disputed the $50,000 figure for "Good Vibrations", saying that the overall expenses were closer to $25,000 ($190,000).[56] When asked in a 2005 interview if it was true that the Electro-Theremin work alone cost $100,000, he responded "No. $15,000."[57]


Brian came over to me and sang such and such a thing, and I said "Well, write it down and I'll play it," and he said "Write it down? We don't write anything down."

—Paul Tanner, recalling his first Pet Sounds session

The instrumental of the first version of the song was recorded on February 17, 1966, at Gold Star Studios and was logged as a Pet Sounds session.[nb 5] On that day's session log, it was given the name "#1 Untitled" or "Good, Good, Good Vibrations", but on its master tape, Wilson distinctly states: "'Good Vibrations' ... take one." After twenty-six takes, a rough mono mix completed the session. Some additional instruments and rough guide vocals were overdubbed on March 3.

The original version of "Good Vibrations" contained the characteristics of a "funky rhythm and blues number" and would not yet resemble a "pocket symphony". There was no cello at this juncture, but the Electro-Theremin was present, played by its inventor, Paul Tanner. It was Brian's second ever recorded use of the instrument, just three days after the Pet Sounds track "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times". Brian then placed "Good Vibrations" on hold in order to devote attention to the Pet Sounds album, which saw release on May 16. More instrumental sections for "Good Vibrations" were recorded between April and June.[nb 6] Brian then forewent additional instrumental tracking until early September, when it was decided to revisit the song's bridge section and apply Electro-Theremin overdubs.[51]

According to Brian's then-new friend David Anderle, during an early stage, Brian considered giving "Good Vibrations" to one of the black rhythm-and-blues groups signed with Warner Bros. Records such as Wilson Pickett, and then at Anderle's suggestion to singer Danny Hutton. He thought about abandoning the track, but after receiving encouragement from Anderle, eventually decided on it as the next Beach Boys single.[nb 7] In the meantime, he worked on writing and recording material for the group's forthcoming album, Smile.[nb 8]

The first Beach Boy to hear "Good Vibrations" in a semi-completed form was Carl Wilson, who had previously participated in rough guide vocals with Brian for the initial February mix. Following a performance with the touring group in North Dakota, he remembered: "I came back up into my hotel room one night and the phone rang. It was Brian on the other end. He called me from the recording studio and played this really bizarre sounding music over the phone. There were drums smashing, that kind of stuff, and then it refined itself and got into the cello. It was a real funky track."[nb 9] In 1976, Brian revealed that before the final mixdown, he had been confronted with resistance by members of the group, whom Brian declined to name.[66] The subject of their worries and complaints was the song's length and "modern" sound: "I said no, it's not going to be too long a record, it's going to be just right. ... 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."[66]

The vocals for "Good Vibrations" were recorded at CBS Columbia Square, starting on August 24 and continuing sporadically until the very last day of assembly on September 21.[51][nb 10] The episodic structure of the composition was continuously revised as the group experimented with different ideas. Brian remembers that he began recording the "bop bop good vibrations" parts first, and that he came up with "the high parts" a week later.[39] Mike Love recalled: "I can remember doing 25–30 vocal overdubs of the same part, and when I mean the same part, I mean same section of a record, maybe no more than two, three, four, five seconds long."Dennis Wilson was to have sung the lead vocal, but due to a bout of laryngitis, Carl replaced him at the last minute. In early September, the master tapes for "Good Vibrations" were stolen. Mysteriously, they reappeared inside Brian's home two days later.

On September 21, Brian completed the track after Tanner added a final Electro-Theremin overdub. In 1976 he elaborated on the event: "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 ... I remember saying, 'Oh my God. Sit back and listen to this!'"[66]

Composition and analysis[edit]

There are six unique sections to the piece, as labeled by music theoristDaniel Harrison:

  1. Verse
  2. Refrain (chorus)
  3. First episodic digression
  4. Second episodic digression
  5. Retro-refrain
  6. Coda

Each section has a distinct musical texture, partly due to the nature of the song's recording.[49] The track's instrumentation changes radically from section to section. Music journal Sound on Sound explains: "Typical pop songs of that era (or indeed any era) usually have a basic groove running throughout the track which doesn't change a great deal from start to finish ... pop records were either guitar, bass and drum combos or traditional orchestrated arrangements for vocalists ... The exotic instruments, the complex vocal arrangements, and the many dynamic crescendos and decrescendos all combine to set this record apart from most pop music. In short, if there's an instruction manual for writing and arranging pop songs, this one breaks every rule."[49] For the AM radio standards of late 1966, the song's final runtime (3 minutes 35 seconds) was considered a "very long" duration. Wilson is quoted in 1979:

It had a lot of riff changes ... movements ... It was a pocket symphony—changes, changes, changes, building harmonies here, drop this voice out, this comes in, bring this echo in, put the theremin here, bring the cello up a little louder here ... It was the biggest production of our lives.!

He characterized the song as "advanced rhythm and blues", while its theremin and cello has been called the song's "psychedelic ingredient". In his book discussing music of the counterculture era, James Perrone stated that the song represented a type of impressionistic psychedelia, in particular for its cello playing repeated bass notes and its theremin. Professor of American history John Robert Greene named "Good Vibrations" among examples of psychedelic or acid rock. Stebbins wrote that the song was "replete with sunshine [and] psychedelia".Uncut wrote that "Good Vibrations" was "three minutes and thirty-six seconds of avant-garde pop".[39]Mixdown described it as a "masterpiece of avant-pop".[8] Steve Valdez says that, like Pet Sounds, Brian was attempting a more experimental rock style. It has since been marketed as pop music, "possibly because it comes across relatively innocent compared with the hard-edged rock we have since come to know", according to historian Lorenzo Candelaria.[13]Sound on Sound argues that the song "has as many dramatic changes in mood as a piece of serious classical music lasting more than half an hour".[49] Tom Roland of American Songwriter described the piece as being "with its interlocking segments—a sort of pop version of the classical sonata, consisting of a series of musical movements".[79]New York Magazine compared it to "a fugue with a rhythmic beat".[80] John Bush compared the track's fragmented cut-and-paste style to 1960s experimentalists such as William S. Burroughs.[30]

According to academic Rikky Rooksby, "Good Vibrations" is an example of Brian Wilson's growing interest in musical development within a composition, something antithetical to popular music of the time. Suppressing tonic strength and cadential drive, the song makes use of descending harmonic motions through scale degrees controlled by a single tonic and "radical disjunctions" in key, texture, instrumentation, and mood while refusing to develop into a predictable formal pattern. It instead develops "under its own power" and "luxuriates in harmonic variety" exemplified by beginning and ending not only in different keys but also in different modes. Comparing "Good Vibrations" to Wilson's previous work Pet Sounds, biographer Andrew Hickey has said: "[T]he best way of thinking about [the song] is that it's taking the lowest common denominator of 'Here Today' and 'God Only Knows' and turned the result into an R&B track. We have the same minor-key change between verse and chorus we've seen throughout Pet Sounds, the same descending scalar chord sequences, the same mobile bass parts, but here, rather than to express melancholy, these things are used in a way that's as close as Brian Wilson ever got to funky." Author Jon Stebbins adds that "unlike Pet Sounds the chorus of 'Good Vibrations' projects a definite 'rock and roll' energy and feel."

Verses and refrains (0:00–1:40)[edit]

"Good Vibrations" begins without introduction in a traditional verse/refrain format, opening with Carl Wilson singing the word "I", a triplet quaver before the downbeat.[49] The sparse first verse contains a repetition of chords played on a Hammond organ filtered through a Leslie speaker; underneath is a two-bar Fender bass melody. This sequence repeats once (0:15), but with the addition of two piccolos sustaining over a falling flute line. For percussion, bongo drums double the bass rhythm and every fourth-beat is struck by either a tambourine or a bass-drum-and-snare combination, in alternation. The beat projects a triplet feel despite being in 4/4 time; this is sometimes called a "shuffle beat" or "threes over fours".[49] The chord progression used is i–♭VII–♭VI–V, also called an Andalusian cadence. Although the verses begin in the minor mode of E♭, the mode is not used to express sadness or drudgery. Occurring at the very end of these verses is a passing chord, D♭.

The refrain (0:25) begins in the newly tonicizedrelative major G♭, which suggests ♭III. Providing a backdrop to the Electro-Theremin is a cello and string bass playing a bowed tremolo triplet, a feature that was an exceedingly rare effect in pop music. The Fender bass is steady at one note per beat while tom drums and tambourine provide a backbeat. This time, the rhythm is stable, and is split into four 4-bar sections which gradually build its vocals.[49] The first section consists of only the couplet "I'm picking up good vibrations/she's giving me the excitation" sung by Mike Love in his bass register; the second repeats the lines and adds an "ooo bop bop" figure, sung in multiple-part harmony; the third time also adds a "good, good, good, good vibrations" in yet a higher harmony.[49] This type of polyphony (counterpoint) is also rare in contemporary popular styles. Each repeat of the vocal lines also transposes up by a whole step, ascending from G♭ to A♭ and then B♭. It then returns to the verse, thus making a perfect cadence back into E♭ minor. The verse and chorus then repeat without any changes to the patterns of its instrumentation and harmony. This is unusual, in that normally, a song's arrangement adds something once it reaches the second verse.[49]

Episodic digressions (1:41–2:56)[edit]

First episode (1:41–2:13)[edit]

The first episode (1:41+) begins disjunctively with an abrupt tape splice. The refrain's B♭, which had received a dominant (V) charge, is now maintained as a tonic (I). There is harmonic ambiguity, in that the chord progression may be either interpreted as I–IV–I (in B♭) or V–I–V (in G♭). Stebbins says that this section "might be called a bridge under normal circumstances, but the song's structure takes such an abstract route that traditional labels don't really apply." A new sound is created by tack piano, jaw harp, and bass relegated to strong beats which is subsequently (1:55) augmented by a new electric organ, bass harmonica, and sleigh bells shaken on every beat. The lone line of vocals (aside from non-lexical harmonies) is "I don't know where, but she sends me there" sung in Mike Love's upper-register baritone. This section lasts for ten measures (6 + 2 + 2), which is unexpectedly long in light of previous patterns.

Second episode (2:13–2:56)[edit]

Another tape splice occurs at 2:13, transitioning to an electric organ playing sustained chords set in the key of F accompanied by a maraca shaken on every beat.Sound on Sound highlights this change as the "most savage edit in the track ... most people would go straight into a big splash hook-line section. Brian Wilson decided to slow the track even further, moving into a 23-bar section of church organ ... Most arrangers would steer clear of this kind of drop in pace, on the grounds that it would be chart suicide, but not Brian."[49] Harrison says:

The appearance of episode 1 was unusual enough but could be explained as an extended break between verse and refrain sections. Episode 2 however, makes that interpretation untenable, and both listener and analyst must entertain the idea that "Good Vibrations" develops under its own power, as it were, without the guidance of overdetermined formal patterns. Brian’s [sic] own description of the song—a three-and-a-half-minute 'pocket symphony'—is a telling clue about his formal ambitions here.

The slowed pace is complemented by the lyric ("Gotta keep those loving good vibrations a-happening with her"), sung once first as a solo voice, with the melody repeated an octave higher the second time with an accompanying harmony. This two-part vocal fades as a solo harmonica plays a melody on top of the persistent quarter-note bass line and maraca that maintain the only rhythm throughout Episode 2. The section ends with a five-part harmony vocalizing a whole-note chord that is sustained by reverb for a further four beats. Lambert calls it the song's "wake-up chord at the end of the meditation that transports the concept into a whole new realm: it's an iconic moment among iconic moments. As it rouses us from a blissful dream and echoes into the silence leading into the chorus, it seems to capture every sound and message the song has to say."

Retro-refrain and coda (2:57–3:35)[edit]

A brief break at the end of the second musical digression creates tension which leads into the final sequence of the song. The refrain reappears for an additional five measures, marching through a transpositional structure that begins in B♭, repeats at A♭, and then ends at G♭ for an unexpectedly short single measure. The section uses a descending progression, which mirrors the ascending progression of the previous two refrains. There follows a short section of vocalizing in three-part counterpoint that references the original refrain by reproducing upward transposition. However, this time it settles on A♭, the concluding key of the song. By the end of "Good Vibrations," all seven scale degrees of the opening E♭-minor tonic are activated on some level.

Release and promotion[edit]

In a July 1966 advertisement for Pet Sounds in Billboard magazine, the band thanked the music industry for the sales of their album, and said that "We're moved over the fact that our Pet Sounds brought on nothing but Good Vibrations." This was the first public hint of the new single. Later in the year, Brian told journalist Tom Nolan that the new Beach Boys single was "about a guy who picks up good vibrations from a girl" and that it would be a "monster". He then suggested: "It's still sticking pretty close to that same boy-girl thing, you know, but with a difference. And it's a start, it's definitely a start."Derek Taylor, who had recently been engaged as the band's publicist, is credited for coining the term a "pocket symphony" to describe the song. In a press release for the single, he stated: "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."[89]

To promote the single, four different music videos were shot. The first of these—which had Caleb Deschanel as cameraman—features the group at a fire station, sliding down its pole, and roaming the streets of Los Angeles in a fashion comparable to The Monkees. The second features the group during vocal rehearsals at United Western Recorders. The third contains footage recorded during the making of The Beach Boys in London, a documentary by Peter Whitehead of their concert performances. The fourth clip is an alternative edit of the third. Brian also made a rare television appearance on local station KHJ-TV for its Teen Rock and Roll Dance Program, introducing the song to the show's in-studio audience and presenting an exclusive preview of the completed record.

Penned by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, group has a sure-fire hit in this off-beat and intriguing rhythm number. Should hit hard and fast.

Billboard, October 15, 1966[93]

On October 15, 1966, Billboard predicted that the single would reach the top 20 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart.[93] "Good Vibrations" was the Beach Boys' third US number one hit, after "I Get Around" and "Help Me, Rhonda", reaching the top of the Hot 100 in December. It was also their first number one in Britain. The single sold over 230,000 copies in the US within four days of its release and entered the Cash Box chart at number 61 on October 22.[95] In the UK, the song sold over 50,000 copies in the first 15 days of its release.[96] "Good Vibrations" quickly became the Beach Boys' first million-selling single.[97] In December 1966, the record was their first single certified gold by the RIAA for sales of one million copies. On March 30, 2016, the single was certified platinum by the RIAA for the same sales level.[99][nb 12]

In Britain, the single received favorable reviews from the New Musical Express and Melody Maker. Soon after, the Beach Boys were voted the number one band in the world in the NME readers' poll, ahead of the Beatles, the Walker Brothers, the Rolling Stones, and the Four Tops.Billboard said that this result was probably influenced by the success of "Good Vibrations" when the votes were cast, together with the band's recent tour, whereas the Beatles had neither a recent single nor had they toured the UK throughout 1966; the reporter added that "The sensational success of the Beach Boys, however, is being taken as a portent that the popularity of the top British groups of the last three years is past its peak."[101] In a readers' poll conducted by a Danish newspaper, Brian Wilson won the "best foreign-produced recording award", marking the first time that an American had won in that category.[102]

Influence and legacy[edit]

See also: Cultural impact of the Beach Boys

Historical reception[edit]

Virtually every pop music critic recognizes "Good Vibrations" as one of the most important compositions and recordings of the entire rock era. It is a regular fixture on "greatest of all-time" song lists[7] and is frequently hailed as one of the finest pop productions of all time. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked "Good Vibrations" at number 6 in "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", the highest position of seven Beach Boys songs cited in the list. In 2001, the song was voted 24th in the RIAA and NEA's Songs of the Century list.[103] As of 2016, "Good Vibrations" is ranked as the number four song of all time in an aggregation of critics' lists at Acclaimed Music.[7]

The song served as an anthem for the counterculture of the 1960s. According to Noel Murray of The A.V. Club, it also helped turn around the initially poor perception of Pet Sounds in the US, where the album's "un-hip orchestrations and pervasive sadness [had] baffled some longtime fans, who didn't immediately get what Wilson was trying to do."[105] Encouraged by the single's success, Wilson continued working on Smile, intending it as an entire album incorporating the writing and production techniques he had devised for "Good Vibrations". "Heroes and Villains", the Beach Boys' follow-up single, continued his modular recording practices, spanning nearly thirty recording sessions held between May 1966 and June 1967.

Formal and harmonic structure of "Good Vibrations"
Carl Wilson (pictured in 1970) sings lead during the song's verses.

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