“Good Vibrations” is a song composed and produced by Brian Wilson with words by Mike Love for the Beach Boys. Released as a single in October 1966, it was an immediate critical and commercial hit, topping record charts in several countries including the US and UK. Characterized by its complex soundscapes, episodic structure, and subversions of pop music formula, it was the most costly single ever recorded at the time of its release. “Good Vibrations” later became widely acclaimed as one of the greatest masterpieces of rock music.
Initiated during the sessions for the album Pet Sounds (1966), it was not taken from or issued as a lead single for an album, but rather as a stand-alone single, with the Pet Sounds instrumental “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” as a B-side. It was considered for the Smile project, but instead appeared on the album Smiley Smile (1967). Most of the song was developed as it was recorded. Its title derived from Wilson’s fascination with cosmic vibrations, after his mother once told him as a child that dogs sometimes bark at people in response to their “bad vibrations”. He used the concept to suggest extrasensory perception, while Love’s lyrics were inspired by the Flower Power movement that was then burgeoning in Southern California.
The making of “Good Vibrations” was unprecedented for any kind of recording, with a total production cost estimated between $50,000 and $75,000 (equivalent to $360,000 and $550,000 in 2015). Building upon the multi-layered approach he had formulated with Pet Sounds, Wilson recorded the song in different sections at four Hollywood studios from February to September 1966, resulting in a cut-up mosaic of several musical episodes marked by disjunctive key and modal shifts. Band publicist Derek Taylor dubbed the unusual work a “pocket symphony”. It contained previously untried mixes of instruments, including jaw harp and Electro-Theremin, and was the first pop hit to have a cello playing juddering rhythms.
For “Good Vibrations”, Wilson is credited with further developing the use of the recording studio as an instrument. The single revolutionized rock music from live concert performances to studio productions which could only exist on record, heralding a wave of pop experimentation and the onset of psychedelic and progressive rock. It is also frequently cited for its use of theremin, which led to the instrument’s revival and to an increased interest in analog synthesizers. Its success earned the Beach Boys a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Group performance in 1966; the song was eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994. It has featured highly in many charts, being voted number one in the Mojo “Top 100 Records of All Time” chart in 1997 and number six on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included “Good Vibrations” in its list of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”.