In my previous post I briefly talked about the great bassist, Carol Kaye. In a career of over 50 years and over 10,000 recording, spanning artists from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to The Monkees to practically every TV show theme music from the seventies, the high point must surely be playing on The Beach Boy’s Good Vibrations.
Although started during the sessions for the classic 1966 album Pet Sounds, Good Vibrations, (music by Brian Wilson, lyrics by Mike Love) was not issued as a track from that album, instead being released as a stand-alone single. “Good Vibrations” was envisioned for the unfinished album Smile, but after an infamous meltdown in a recording studio, Brian Wilson abandoned large portions of music recorded over a ten-month period and the band substituted its release with Smiley Smile (1967), an album containing stripped-down remakes of some Smile material.
“Good Vibrations” established a new method of operation for Wilson that would serve as the template for the entire Smile album. Instead of working on whole songs with clear large-scale structures, Wilson recorded short interchangeable fragments that through the method of tape splicing, could then be assembled into a linear sequence with the tape edit masked by reverb and decays that were added during mixing. This new approach to constructing music was incredibly prescient for the time. Nowadays, with digital audio editing tools having replaced tape splicing, this method is much more the norm but in the late sixties it was pretty avant-garde.
Below is an excellent video essay from the You Tube channel Polyphonic discussing “Good Vibrations”. The video gives some background on it’s creation, an analysis of it’s structure, it’s use of unconventional instrumentation like the Theremin and the melodic bass line in the verses (a call back to the amazing Carol Kaye) and it’s place in history.
Good Vibrations: The Beach Boys’ Pop Masterpiece –
For the instrumental backing tracks for Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations, Brian Wilson employed the services of “the Wrecking Crew”, the nickname for the group of first call 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, unheard of at the time for a pop single. Below is a short video clip from a documentary on the Wrecking Crew where they are talking about working on Good Vibrations.
The Wrecking Crew – Making of Good Vibrations