This song was almost immediately a critical and commercial hit, topping record charts in several countries including the United States and the UK. It received a Grammy® in 1967 for Best Vocal Group performance and in 1994, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It still sits near the top of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”. Brian Wilson worked on it obsessively and is considered a musical genius because of the incredible amount of time and effort that he put into it. On its 53rd anniversary, let’s learn a few more fun facts about the legendary track.
The making of “Good Vibrations” was unprecedented for any kind of recording. Brian Wilson called this song a “Pocket Symphony,” and experimented with it over the course of 17 recording sessions. The recordings ended up taking up 90 hours of studio time and over 70 hours of tape. Ultimately, this made it the most expensive pop recording at the time, costing around $50,000 to make.
Brian Wilson told Rolling Stone magazine, “My mother used to tell me about vibrations. I didn’t really understand too much of what she meant when I was a boy. It scared me, the word ‘vibrations’ – to think that invisible feelings existed. She also told me about dogs that would bark at some people, but wouldn’t bark at others, and so it came to pass that we talked about good vibrations.”
According to Wilson, Capitol Records didn’t want to release this as a single because they thought it was too long at 3:35. He pleaded with them to put it out and thankfully it worked. We’re sure seeing the song top the charts after the release felt pretty vindicating.
This was the last US #1 hit for The Beach Boys until “Kokomo” went to #1 22 years later, setting the record for longest gap between #1 hits on the Hot 100. This record was broken by Cher when “Believe” hit #1 in 1999, 25 years after her previous chart-topper, “Dark Lady”.
The unusual, high-pitched sound in this song was produced using an electro-theremin, which produces a similar sound to a traditional theremin, an instrument that uses electric current to produce sound. The theremin was invented in 1919, but was very hard to play, and ended up being used mostly as a sound effects device. Brian Wilson was familiar with the instrument, as it was used to create eerie sounds in low budget horror movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came from Outer Space. When he put cellos on “Good Vibrations,” he envisioned an unusual high frequency sound to go along with them, and he thought of the instrument. Wilson couldn’t track down a real theremin, but found an inventor named Paul Tanner who’d been a trombonist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra to create and play the electro-teremin that was used on the recording.
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