The Beach Boys

Good Vibrations

Composed by Brian Wilson / Mike Love

Song Review by

"Good Vibrations," the Beach Boys' 1966 entry into the best-single-of-all-time sweepstakes, announced the coming era of pop experimentation with a rush of riff changes, echo-chamber effects, and intricate harmonies, plus the very first theremin ever heard on a pop record. The natural grace of the song belied the months of recording and mountain of tape reels it required, however. Though Brian Wilson's self-described "pocket symphony" was his masterpiece, its creation effectively put the coda on his production career and he was never the same again.

"Good Vibrations" began its long journey through popular culture in February 1966, more than ten months before it was released. It was originally slated for the Beach Boys' brilliant 1966 LP Pet Sounds, though, by April, Wilson realized that he couldn't possibly devote the time he needed to finish the song for the album deadline. After Pet Sounds appeared in May 1966, the Beach Boys were praised around the world as the ambassadors of truly intelligent pop music. American record-buyers virtually ignored the album, though, leaving Wilson no choice but to prove to everyone that the Beach Boys -- not the Beatles -- were the most forward-thinking rock & roll band on the planet. He worked feverishly during the summer and fall, recording dozens of takes to create hundreds of individual musical snippets that eventually resulted in 15 to 20 different versions of the song. Wilson moved from studio to studio -- Western, RCA, Goldstar, Columbia, then back to Western -- searching for the right sound, and used more than 90 hours of recording tape. In the end, "Good Vibrations" cost over 50,000 dollars to produce, making it one of the most expensive singles recorded up to that point.

Finally released in October, "Good Vibrations" immediately stormed to the number one slot, driven by sales reported to have reached almost 100,000 records per day in the first week (with an additional tens of thousands back-ordered). It eventually sold over 1,000,000 copies. The single is so catchy it's no wonder radio stations played it to death, but "Good Vibrations" is an amazingly free-form song. It's just barely connected to the verse-chorus-verse standard for pop songs, continually switching from section to section -- all of them just partially related -- in a fragmented style that allies it with the cut-and-paste efforts of '60s experimentalists like William Burroughs. It utilized every one of the session-master instrumentalists Wilson had collected during the previous few years, plus a few unlikely instruments including cellos and a theremin. The latter, an electric instrument whose invention dated to 1919, produced an eerie, high-pitched tone that modulated its pitch and volume based on the player's hand movements above and next to the instrument. 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. Though its influence has been lasting, "Good Vibrations" was rarely reprised by other acts, even during the cover-happy '60s. Its fragmented style made it essentially cover-proof, and artists attempting to try have usually stamped their own style on the song -- from Groove Holmes to the Troggs and Charlie McCoy to Todd Rundgren and Psychic TV. Also, Wilson himself revisited it in April 2004 when recording a new version of SMiLE.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Pet Sounds 1966 Capitol
No Image 1966 Capitol
Smiley Smile 1967 Simply Vinyl 3:35
No Image 1968 Capitol
Oldies But Goodies, Vol. 8 196?
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 3:36
Live in London 1970 Capitol/EMI Records
In Concert 1973 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 4:49
No Image 1973 Axis/Capitol
Endless Summer 1974 DCC Compact Classics 3:45
Beach Boys '69 1976 EMI Music Distribution
Oldies But Goodies: Legendary Hits 1979
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 3:35
No Image 1983 EMI Music Distribution
Made in U.S.A. 1986 Capitol
Legends [DCC] 1986
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: The Beach Boys - 1962-1967 1988 3:38
No Image 1989
Various Artists
Rhino
Our Generation 1989
Various Artists
Telly Disc 3:36
Smiley Smile/Wild Honey 1990 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:39
Summer Dreams [1990] 1990 EMI
The Absolute Best, Vol. 2 1991 Capitol/EMI Records
Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys 1993 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:38
Billboard Top Rock & Roll Hits: 1966 [1993] 1993
Various Artists
Rhino 3:38
100% Summer 1994
Various Artists
Telstar
Greatest Hits [Hollywood] 1994 EMI Music Distribution 3:36
All-Time Greatest Beach Party Hits 1994 Madacy Distribution / CEMA Special Markets
Psychedelia [Import] 1994
Various Artists
Alex
Live. Le Concert du Siecle 1994
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:54
The Greatest Classic Rock Hits 1995
Various Artists
Universal Special Products 3:37
Sunny Afternoons [Polygram] 1995
Various Artists
Polygram 3:36
Best Sixties Album in the World Ever 1995
Various Artists
Alex 3:36
Wonderful World [Dino] 1995
Various Artists
Peter Pan (ISP) 3:36
The Best Sixties Album in the World...Ever! [1996] 1996
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:36
1966: 20 Original Chart Hits 1997
Various Artists
A Time To Remember
Perfect Harmony 1997 EMI Music Distribution / Capitol 3:35
The Pet Sounds Sessions 1997 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:15
The Ultimate Rock Collection Gold and Platinum, Vol. 1: 1964-1970 1997
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:38
The Number Ones: The 60's 1998
Various Artists
Simitar Distribution 3:35
Party Time, Vol. 3 1998
Various Artists
SPG 3:32
All Summer Long [Compilation] 1998 EMI Music Distribution 3:36
Endless Harmony [Soundtrack] 1998 Capitol 3:42
Vietnam: A Musical Retrospective 1998
Various Artists
Universal Distribution / Uptown/Universal 4:27
Originals 1998 EMI-Capitol Entertainment Prop. / Capitol 3:35
Classic 60's: The Beat Goes On 1998
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:36
No Image 1998
Various Artists
SME US Latin LLC
The Live Box (1965-1968) 1998 Sea of Tunes 4:21
Capitol Years 1999 EMI Music Distribution 3:38
The 60's, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:36
40 Hits: 1965-1969 1999
Various Artists
Millennium Hits (Netherlands) 3:40
The All Time Greatest Pop Album 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:36
Bikini.Com: More Summer Groovin' 1999
Various Artists
Madacy 3:38
Original Gold [2 CD Set] 1999 Original Gold (Netherlands)
Millennium Box Set 1999
Various Artists
Disky 3:37
The Ultimate Grammy Box: From the Recording Academy's Collection 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:37
Music of the Millennium, Vol. 1 [Universal] 1999
Various Artists
Universal International 3:36
Classic '60s [Time Life] 1999
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:36
No Image 1999 Disky 3:36
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Disky
No Image 2000 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol
20 Great Love Songs 2000 Disky 3:38
Hits at Planet Earth 2000
Various Artists
Planet Earth Recordings 3:37
Party Time [SPG] 2000
Various Artists
SPG 3:32
Oldies But Goodies, Vol. 8 & 9 2000
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 3:35
Music Men 2000
Various Artists
WEA
No Image 2000
Various Artists
Disky 3:36
Beat Boom 2001
Various Artists
Disky / Disky Communications 3:36
I Love You 2001 EMI Music Distribution 3:38
Hawthorne, CA 2001 Capitol 4:09
Non-Stop 60's Party 2001
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:29
Capital Gold Legends 2001
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:35
Instant Party: Summer Sizzle 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 3:35
The Very Best of the Beach Boys 2001 Capitol 3:37
Complete Collection 2001
Various Artists
Disky 3:37
Flower Power Generation: Let's Go to San Francisco 2001
Various Artists
Simply The Best (Netherlands) 3:37
Sounds of the Sixties: Superhits 2001
Various Artists
Time/Life Music
Q Anthems 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:35
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Another Helping of Celebrating Life 2002
Various Artists
Rhino 3:38
Classics: Selected by Brian Wilson 2002 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:39
California Dreaming 2002 B.R. 3:38
Sunsplashin 2002
Various Artists
Madacy 3:37
Capitol Records 1942-2002 [Deluxe Box Set] 2002
Various Artists
Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:38
The Beach Boys and Other Summer Favorites 2002 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:37
Greatest Singers Greatest Songs 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:37
I Can Hear Music 2002 Capitol 18:44
Best of the Beach Boys [Collectables] 2003 Collectables 3:37
No Image 2003
Various Artists
Disky
Top Hits of the Sixties: Absolute Hits 2003
Various Artists
Collectables 3:37
The Sixties [Platinum Disc] 2003
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:36
Peace Protest: 20 Sixties Classics 2003
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:37
Sixties Number 1's 2003
Various Artists
EMI
Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys 2003 Toshiba EMI
Great Surfin' Songs [3CD] 2003 Platinum Disc 3:35
Simply the Best 60's 2003
Various Artists
Warner Music
Pottery Barn: Summer Vibes 2003
Various Artists
Rock River Records
Summers of Love: Hot Latin [Bonus CD] 2004
Various Artists
Disky 3:37
Good Vibes 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:36
Their Greatest Hits 2004 Fuel 2000 3:37
Casey Kasem: The 60's #1 Pop Hits 2004
Various Artists
Top Sail Productions 3:37
Everyone's a Winner: 60 Original No. 1's 2004
Various Artists
Disky
I Love You [Japanese] 2004 Toshiba 3:38
Great Men of Rock and Roll 2004
Various Artists
Collectables 3:37
UK Music Hall of Fame 2004
Various Artists
Universal International 3:35
Great Men of Rock & Roll: The 60s 2005
Various Artists
Collectables 3:38
Best #1 Singles in the World Ever 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:34
Full Speed 2005
Various Artists
Disky
Happy Songs [Virgin 2005] 2005
Various Artists
Virgin 3:35
Best of the Beach Boys: 10 Best Series 2005 Capitol/EMI Records 3:37
Full Throttle 2005
Various Artists
Disky
It's All Gone Pete Tong 2005
Original Soundtrack
EMI Music Distribution
I Love Music 1965-1969: Good Vibrations 2005
Various Artists
Disky 3:36
Ultimate 16: American Classics 2005
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:41
Pet Sounds/Smiley Smile/Wild Honey 2005 EMI Music Distribution 3:03
Platinum Collection: Sounds of Summer Edition 2005 EMI Music Distribution 3:37
The Wedding Collection: Classical/Party/Love 2006
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:34
Original 60's Number 1's Album 2006
Various Artists
EMI 3:36
Greatest Hits of the 60's 2006
Various Artists
Disky 3:37
Good Vibrations: 40th Anniversary Edition 2006 Capitol 3:34
Live at Knebworth 2006 Eagle Records 6:03
Summer Crush: Songs We Love to Love 2006 Hear Music 3:39
Very Best of Heartbeat 2006
Various Artists
EMI/Virgin TV
Songs from Here & Back 2006 Hallmark Recordings
Le Bar: Plaza Athenee, Paris 2007
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:26
#1 Pop 60s Hits 2007
Various Artists
Madacy 3:37
Essential 60s 2007
Various Artists
EMI 3:36
Summer Sunshine Party 2007
Various Artists
EMI 3:35
Summer of Love: Gold 2007
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:36
Prime 17: Ultimate Feel Good Hits 2007
Various Artists
Direct Source 3:37
Legends Informercial Set 2007
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:38
Hits of the Beach Boys 2007 EMI / EMI Music Distribution 3:36
Forever Beach Boys 2007 Madacy 3:37
Die Hit Giganten, Vol. 23 2007
Various Artists
Sbm Records / Sony BMG 3:37
No Image 2007
Various Artists
EMI
Rock & Roll Highway [Somerset] 2007
Various Artists
Somerset Entertainment 3:36
Where Were You: 1966 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:37
The Best of the Beach Boys [Green Series] 2008 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:37
Playlist: Summer 2008
Various Artists
EMD Int'l 3:37
Top of the Pops Collection [43 CD] 2008
Various Artists
EMI
This Is 1966 2008
Various Artists
EMD Int'l 3:37
Pure Driving Rock [3 Discs] 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:37
Music Ages 2008 Music Ages / Proper Music Distribution 3:34
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Sony BMG 3:34
Forever 2008 Edge / Immortal
They Sold a Million [EMI] 2009
Various Artists
Virgin 3:34
Original Hits: Number 1's 2009
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:37
De Pre Historie: 1967, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Eva 3:36
No Image Murry Wilson
No Image
Various Artists
Disky
No Image
Various Artists
Phantom Records (England) / Membran
Party Time
Various Artists
SPG
No Image
Various Artists
Mercury
No Image
Various Artists
Time/Life Music
Vol. 1-Capital Gold Legends
Various Artists
Virgin
No Image
Various Artists
WSM
blue highlight denotes editor's pick