The godlike genius of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys’ sublime “God Only Knows” takes the number two slot as my favourite songs countdown nears its conclusion.
There’s obviously a tidal wave of Beach Boys songs to choose just one favourite from, but the sheer spectral beauty of “God Only Knows” sees it edge out “Good Vibrations”, “Surf’s Up”, “Don’t Worry Baby”, “Heroes and Villains”, “California Girls”, “Wild Honey”, etc etc. “God Only Knows” is a truly magical, perfect record that sounds like it’s been effortlessly beamed in from another world, with Carl Wilson’s angelic voice providing one of the most charmingly affecting vocal performances ever. It’s not exactly unique to salute the sheer wonder of “God Only Knows” and it may be also be a cliché to crown parent album “Pet Sounds” the greatest of all time, but then clichés usually emanate from a position of truth. Just because it’s not particularly original to say that “Pet Sounds” is the best LP ever made doesn’t mean it’s not correct.
“God Only Knows” did reach number two in the UK singles chart in 1966, making it the Beach Boys’ biggest hit until “Good Vibrations” hit the top spot later that year. However, in the USA, “God Only Knows” was instead the flipside to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” as a single, with fears that mentioning “God” in the song’s title would severely limit radio play and mass appeal, hard to believe these days. Indeed, it was the UK that initially embraced “Pet Sounds” much more than the USA where the album amazingly peaked at only #10 in the LP chart. By contrast, their UK popularity at this time saw the Beach Boys even edging out the Beatles as best group in the 1966 NME readers poll. Shortly after, “Good Vibrations” was however a chart topper on both sides of the Atlantic, while the enduring influence of “God Only Knows” has seen Pitchfork name it as the best track of the 1960s.
One heart-warming story of recent years has been Brian Wilson’s return to touring in front of adoring crowds, far away from the dark, depressing Eugene Landy days of the 1970s and 1980s, as also skilfully dramatised in the 2014 biopic “Love & Mercy”. Masterminded by musician and longtime fan Darian Sahanaja of Wondermints, Brian Wilson’s live comeback started in early 2002 when he presented “Pet Sounds” at the Royal Festival Hall. Although very tempted, I decided not to attend for fear of disappointment, not wanting to sully my love for the album and Brian himself, a decision I regretted after reading mainly rapturous reviews. I therefore went along to see Brian Wilson in 2004 when he played the Royal Festival Hall again but this time “debuting” the lost album of all lost albums “Smile”, plus all the hits too of course. I’ve caught Brian Wilson a few times here and there since, but the absolute highlight has to be seeing him play “Pet Sounds” as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations at the London Palladium in 2016. Great seats and a suitably ornate venue helped to build the sense of occasion and hearing these songs flawlessly presented, coupled with an ecstatic audience outpouring of love for Brian Wilson, made this a truly memorable event.
VIDEOS AND OTHER STUFF
- “God Only Knows” on YouTube (audio only)
- Other great Beach Boys songs that just missed out include: Good Vibrations, Surf’s Up, Don’t Worry Baby, Heroes and Villains, California Girls, Wild Honey, Darlin’, I Get Around, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Caroline No, I Know There’s An Answer.
- “God Only Knows” is featured on my 379 to 50: 1 to 25 Spotify playlist
- Also featured on my 379: Pop Spotify playlist
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