The Beach Boys

I Can Hear Music

Song Review by

"I Can Hear Music" was about the last of the old-school style Phil Spector productions to be released before he virtually retired from the music business. Unusually, it's sometimes thought of as a surf music song rather than a Wall of Sound or Brill Building one, because it took a cover version by the Beach Boys to make it into a substantial hit. Originally the song was released by the Ronettes, making a mere number 100 in late 1966. Melodically and lyrically, it was about as strong as some other Phil Spector-produced songs the Ronettes had much bigger hits with, like "Walking in the Rain" and "Do I Love You." The trio of ace Brill Building songwriters Spector, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich devised a typically joyous, buoyant ode to young love; Ronnie Spector gave a characteristically strong catch-in-the-voice performance; and the backing rumbled along with a subdued thunder. The chorus was real catchy, and the metaphor for the girl hearing such a strong swell of music when she was in love that the sounds of the city disappeared was a good one. There was also an odd turnaround sort of bridge in which the tone became more reflective and the vocal harmonies got more in a doo wop frame of mind. So why wasn't it a hit? Maybe this kind of stuff was starting to seem a little passé by late 1966; maybe Spector's accumulated business and distribution problems prevented it from getting the airplay it should have; maybe he didn't pull out quite as many stops as he could have with the production; or maybe it was a combination of all of those factors. So the song was virtually unknown until rescued by the Beach Boys a couple of years later. At that time, the Beach Boys were struggling commercially, in large part because their leader Brian Wilson had withdrawn from the world much as Spector had. So it made sense for them to look for quality outside material and also for them to pick a forgotten, quality Spector production, as Spector and the Ronettes had always been a big influence on the Beach Boys' arrangements. It could be fairly argued that the Beach Boys did a better job with the song than the Ronettes did, putting a little more fresh energy into the arrangement while sticking fairly close to the original. Carl Wilson, an underrated excellent lead vocalist, did a fine high lead vocal; the Beach Boys helped make the song their own with their special brand of vocal harmonies; and they made the turnaround bridge much stronger by doing it in rousing a cappella, semi-call-and-response style. "I Can Hear Music" became a Top 30 hit for the Beach Boys at a time when they really needed one and, in fact, would be their last Top 40 hit for more than five years.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
20/20 1969 Capitol 2:38
No Image 1973 Axis / Capitol
Spirit of America 1975 DCC Compact Classics 2:38
20 Golden Greats 1976 Capitol
No Image 1983 EMI Music Distribution
No Image 1985 Pioneer
Friends/20/20 1990 Capitol / EMI Records 2:37
Flower Power Hits of the 60's 1992
Various Artists
Capitol 2:40
Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys 1993 Capitol / EMI Records 2:38
Greatest Hits [Hollywood] 1994 Hollywood / IMG 0:00
1969: 20 Original Chart Hits 1997
Various Artists
A Time To Remember 2:38
Perfect Harmony 1997 EMI Music Distribution / Capitol 2:39
Dutch Singles Collection 1998 EMI Music Distribution 2:37
Millennium: Forty Hits 1965-1969 1998
Various Artists
Disky 2:39
Nashville Sounds: Making of Stars & Stripes [Intersound Video] 1998 Intersound
Capitol Years 1999 EMI Music Distribution 2:35
40 Hits: 1965-1969 1999
Various Artists
Millennium Hits (Netherlands) 2:39
The Greatest Hits, Vol. 2: 20 More Good Vibrations 1999 Capitol / EMI Records 2:38
Unsurpassed Masters, Vol. 20 (1968-1969) 1999 Sea of Tunes 4:16
20 Great Love Songs 2000 Disky 2:38
I Love You 2001 EMI Music Distribution 2:38
The Very Best of the Beach Boys 2001 Capitol 2:37
California Dreaming 2002 B.R. 2:34
I Can Hear Music 2002 Capitol 2:38
Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys 2003 Capitol / EMI Records 2:39
Rock on 1969 2004
Various Artists
Madacy 2:37
Platinum Collection: Sounds of Summer Edition 2005 EMI Music Distribution 2:37
Summer Crush: Songs We Love to Love 2006 Hear Music 2:37
Hits of the Beach Boys 2007 EMI 2:36
Top Of The Pops 1969 2007
Various Artists
EMI 2:38
Where Were You: 1969 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:38
This Is 1969 2008
Various Artists
EMD Int'l 2:37
Do-Wah-Diddy: Words and Music by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry 2008
Various Artists
Ace 2:37
Tour of Duty: Top 100 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:39
Fifty Big Ones: Greatest Hits 2012 Capitol / EMI 2:37
Made in California 2013 Capitol / Universal 3:04
I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions 2018 Capitol 2:42
Greatest Hits: The Danish Collection Capitol