Between 1965 and 1967 a recording rivalry developed between Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys (Great American Things, May 16, 2009) in the U.S. and the Beatles in the U.K. The Boys had things their way before the Beatles wave swept over them. Even so, the two groups were frequently in the top 10 together – and then the Beatles released Rubber Soul.
Brian Wilson recognized the album’s groundbreaking production, which he tried to top with Pet Sounds. Lennon and McCartney then released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which inspired Wilson to create Smile. In the midst of this deluge of great music, studio recording changed forever. And “Good Vibrations” played a huge role.
The song came into being through 17 recording sessions at four different studios. Wilson recorded elements of the song, then edited them together in a musical collage. Tony Asher wrote the original lyrics, but very little of his words made the final version (though he did come up with the words, “I’m picking up good vibrations”). Mike Love of the Beach Boys tried to turn the strange sound into a more accessible romance by adding “She’s giving me excitations.”
“Good Vibrations” is acclaimed as one of the top songs of the rock era. It made number six on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and made the top spot in Mojo’s Top 100 Records of All Time. The RIAA rated it number 24 in its list of Top Songs of the Century.