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Good Vibrations

by

The Beach Boys



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Brian Wilson told Rolling Stone magazine: "My mother used to tell me about vibrations. I didn't really understand too much of what she meant when I was a boy. It scared me, the word 'vibrations' - to think that invisible feelings existed. She also told me about dogs that would bark at some people, but wouldn't bark at others, and so it came to pass that we talked about good vibrations."
Brian Wilson called this song a "Pocket Symphony," and experimented with it over the course of 17 recording sessions. At the time, it was the most expensive pop song ever recorded, costing about $50,000 to make.
Brian Wilson worked on this obsessively. At the time, he stayed home and wrote music while the rest of the band toured. Wilson was just starting a very bizarre phase of his life where he would spend long periods in bed and work in a sandbox. During this period, many considered him a genius because of the groundbreaking songs and recording techniques he came up with.
This was recorded over a two month period using top Los Angeles session musicians - the Beach Boys didn't play any instruments on the track. About 90 hours of studio time and 70 hours of tape were used, and at least 12 musicians played on the sessions. It's hard to know whose performances ended up on the record, but some of the musicians involved were Glen Campbell (lead guitar), Hal Blaine (drums), Larry Knechtel (organ) and Al de Lory (piano). Brian Wilson played bass when the Beach Boys went on the road, but he brought in Carol Kaye to play bass guitar and Lyle Ritz to play upright bass on these sessions. Kaye recalls, "He did the very first take on that with Ray Pohlman at Goldstar and scrapped that. And the other 12 dates I'm playing on - that's 36 hours - he did not change that bass part all during that time. He changed all the rest of the music, he didn't change the bass part. This is what he wrote. It was both bass players at that point - I'm playing the upper part and Lyle's playing the lower part. If you listen to Jazz, that's the feel that he wrote."
Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love wrote the lyrics for this song, which he told us were "basically a flowery poem." The song seems to describe a really good acid trip, and while there is nothing specifically in the lyrics about drugs, Love admits that the psychedelic vibe was an influence on his words. Said Love: "It was this flowery power type of thing. Scott MacKenzie wrote "If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair," and there were love-ins and all that kind of thing starting to go on.

So the track, the music of 'Good Vibrations,' was so unique and so psychedelic in itself. Just the instrumental part of it alone was such a departure from what we have done, like 'Surfin' USA' and 'California Girls' and 'I Get Around' and 'Fun, Fun, Fun,' all of which I had a hand in writing. I wanted to do something that captured this feeling of the track and the times, but also could relate to people. Because I thought that the music was such a departure that who knows how well it would relate to Beach Boys fans at that time.

The one thing that I figured is an absolute perennial is the boy/girl relationship, the attraction between a guy and a girl. So I came up with that hook part at the chorus. It didn't exist until I came up with that thought. Which is 'I'm pickin' up good vibrations, she's giving me the excitations.' 'Excitations' may or may not be in Webster's Dictionary, however, it rhymes pretty well with 'good vibrations.' It was kind of a flower power poem to suit the times and complement the really amazingly unique track that Cousin Brian came up with." (Here's our full Mike Love interview.)
The unusual, high-pitched sound in this song was produced using a theremin, which uses electric current to produce sound. You don't touch a theremin to play it, but move your hand across the electric field. The instrument was invented in 1919, but was very hard to play, and ended up being used mostly as a sound effects device. Brian Wilson was familiar with the instrument, as it was used to create eerie sounds in low budget horror movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came from Outer Space. When he put cellos on "Good Vibrations," he envisioned an unusual high frequency sound to go along with them, and he thought of the theramin. Wilson couldn't track down a real theremin, but found an inventor named Paul Tanner who'd been a trombonist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra between 1938-42. He had developed a similar device with Bob Whitsell called an Electro-Theremin, which had just one antenna instead of two. Tanner was brought in to play the device on the recording.

A huge challenge was recreating the sound of the theramin for live performances. On the road, they used a modified synthesizer with a ribbon controller that Mike Love would play. In the '90s, another inventor named Top Polk created a device called a tannerin, which created a similar sound using a sliding knob and manual volume control. This was much easier to play, and Brian Wilson used it for his 1999 comeback tour. When Wilson went back to work on the Smile album, he used the tannerin on his new version of "Good Vibrations," which appeared on the 2004 album. The device was seen at the 2012 Grammy Awards when The Beach Boys performed the song.
Brian Wilson called this song "the summation of my musical vision. A harmonic convergence of imagination and talent, production values and craft, songwriting and spirituality." He wrote it while on LSD, which explains why the song is the musical embodiment of a spectacular acid trip.
According to Wilson, Capitol Records didn't want to release this as a single because they thought it was too long at 3:35. He pleaded with them to put it out, and felt vindicated when it shot to the top of the charts.
This was recorded in fragments - six different LA studios were used in the recording process, and tape from four of these studios was used in the final cut of the track. It was the first pop song pieced together from parts. In the next few years, The Beatles did a lot of this, as they took various unfinished songs they had written and combined them to make one. (thanks, Gary - Auckland, New Zealand)
Brian Wilson started writing this while recording The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album. Once the album was finished, he focused on this song. Wilson was not happy about the poor reviews critics gave Pet Sounds, which today is considered a landmark record, so he worked even harder on this.
Most of The Beach Boys songs featured the vocals of either Mike Love or Brian Wilson, but Carl Wilson was the lead singer on this one. Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson was initially tagged to sing the lead vocal but eventually brother Carl was chosen. Dennis claimed to have played the organ on the "na na na na na na" build up. (thanks, Neil - raleigh, NC)
This was the beginning of what was going to be an album called Smile. Wilson recorded the album in about 50 sessions, but it was never released. Considered a "lost album," Wilson finally finished it in 2004. When he played the album on tour that year, "Good Vibrations" got a rousing response.
This was the last US #1 hit for The Beach Boys until "Kokomo" went to #1 22 years later. This is the longest anyone has gone between #1 hits.
Sunkist orange soda used this in popular commercials in the '80s.
Todd Rundgren covered this in 1977 on his Faithful album. True to the album's name, Todd went to great lengths to reproduce every vocal and instrumental aspect of the song (along with several other '60s hits). Rundgren's almost-exact copy was a minor hit single on its own. (thanks, Tom - Buffalo, NY)
In 2005, a Broadway musical called "Good Vibrations" opened. The show was based on Beach Boys songs, but failed to find an audience; it closed less than 3 months later.
Brian Wilson was the only songwriter credited on this track until a 1994 lawsuit awarded Mike Love composer credit for his contributions to the lyrics on this and 34 other Beach Boys songs. Love maintains that Murry Wilson (Brian's father), handled the publishing details and screwed him out of the songwriting credits.
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Comments (53):

SD, the line is NOT "She's giving me egg-citations", but "She's giving me EXCITATIONS!". Personally, it's about groovy sex.
- Steve, Whittier, CA
A technical masterpiece. Everyone of the beach boys was talented.
- Martin, Fresno, CA
Glen Campbell played bass on the tours, so BRIAN COULD DO THE KEYS !!!
- Joe, Grants Pass, OR
Somebody thinks this song is 'overrated'... had to go and lie down when I read that one! Not possible! It's a remarkable record, for many reasons, not the least of them being that Brian constructed it in a 'modular' fashion, pre-dating today's digital studio techniques.
- Carl, Oshawa, ON
On the original record, Mike Love used the Theremin in order to make the strange high pitch sounds. When the Beach Boys performed the song during concerts in the Seventies, Dennis Wilson played the Minimoog Synthesizer.
- Barry, New York, NC
On December 10th, 1966 "Good Vibrations" reached No. 1 & stayed there for one week. The record it bumped out of the top spot was "Winchester Cathedral" by The New Vaudeville Band, and what record knocked them from No. 1; well it was "Winchester Cathedral" by The New Vaudeville Band!!!
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
No actually this song wasn't about a "really good acid trip" Brian Wilson had only been on two acid trips, and he didn't like it. If you readhis autobiography, it tells you what its really written about.
- kelsey, Toms River, NJ
My school plaied this one day before the anouncements not knowing it was a drug song and I don't think they have to this day.
- Breanna, Henderson, NV
I saw the Beachboys do this live in Indianapolis in '68, I think it was. I was amazed that the live performance was so close to the recorded version. And the solo part was done on a theramin. I'm not sure, but I think Mike Love played it. I could be wrong.
- Dave, Cullman, AL
The instrument on the recording is NOT a Theramin or a Tannerin....read below:

Paul Tanner's recollection of his relationship with Brian Wilson in the early '60s highlighted the evening, both of their genius and humor were revealed. The Beach Boys hired Paul Tanner and "The Box" for the fascinating theremin like sound in classic 1966 "Good Vibrations". The normal recording sessions began after midnight at Brian's home. When Paul asked Brian for the sheet music, Brian laughed because he could not write music, it was all in his head. The original "Good Vibrations" was recorded on a 4 track recorder with everyone doing what they hope is correct; Paul Tanner adlibs the theremin sound as they all play along.

Paul Tanner built only one instrument which he called "The Box" (Not a Theremin) with the help of friend Robert Whitsell. After about two weeks of construction time he completed it just hours before it was called into use. "The Box" was used on several Hollywood productions where it became known as "Paul's Box" this included the 1960's TV show "My Favorite Martian", the sound of Martins antennas raising. With the synthesizer on the horizon, Bob Moog a well known engineer in the theremin community visited Paul in search of new ideas (circa 1970). Both agreed that "The Box" was just a Tinker Toy. Soon after their get together Paul felt it was time to retire "The Box". He gave it to a hospital in Santa Monica, California where they were interested in using it for hearing tests. The box had a range of tones that would extend outside of the upper and lower limits of human hearing. Year's later Dr. Tanner checked back with the hospital to find out what happened to "The Box", only to find it had been destroyed in one of those California earthquakes! (The Quake of 1971)

The next time you hear the "original" recording of "Good Vibrations", instead of just saying "that's not a Theremin" also mention "it's not a Tannerin", an instrument that came later to be used as a substitute on Beach Boy recordings. What you do hear in the original "Good Vibrations" is called "The Box" a design that came about by Paul Tanner's observation of Thereminist Samuel Hoffman in Hollywood having difficulty in setting up his theremin. The internet is full of myth and misinformation, why not give credit to the fine work of one musician, Dr. Paul Tanner who captured the voice of the theremin and put it in his box. This has brought more worldwide awareness to the theremin instrument than anything had before. Dr. Paul Tanner is a true theremin success story!
- Zippy, San Diego, CA
I would love to ask Brian Wilson if the tambourine part in last line of the second verse ("She goes with me to a blossom world") is off meter accidentally or on purpose. In every other line of the song it's played on the count of 4, but during that line it's played on the count of 3. Does this bother anyone else?
- John, Cincinnati, OH
Big fan of the Beach Boys and I realize this song probably their most famous but of all their material its my least favourite. I simply just never liked it that much.
- Alan, Sault Ste. Marie, ON
One thing I'll never understand. If this girl is such an inspiration to the narrator, what's the deal with her, right in the middle of it all, giving him a ticket, and on top of that, writing it on an egg?! He never mentions she's a traffic cop or a meter maid, but all of a sudden she's giving him an "egg citation." What's that all about?
- S.D., Denver, CO
One thing I'll never understand. If this girl is such an inspiration to the narrator, what's the deal with her, right in the middle of it all, giving him a ticket, and on top of that, writing it on an egg?! He never mentions she's a traffic cop or a meter maid, but all of a sudden she's giving him an "egg citation." What's that all about?
- S.D., Denver, CO
As a 14 year old when this song came out, I sat transfixed in my dining room, reading an encyclopedia for a homework project and the radio was playing. At the time, for you wannabee 60's youngsters, you can't understand the "weirdness" of the sounds and harmonies this song busted out. In context with what else was out there, this song blew the windows out of your brain.

It wasn't until Sgt Pepper and Iron Butterfly (In-a-gadda-da-vida) were released that we knew that the music scene was truly ours. No more Patty Page "How Much is The Doggie In the Window".
- bloodaxe, Lincoln, NE
The song's backing track pieces were written by Brian wilson, The verses were written by Mike Love, from a boy/girl perspective. The chorus was written by Brian wilson. This song will never be offically mixed into stereo, because all of the vocal master tapes are lost, until they can be located!
- Mario, Esky, MI
PJ, this song has nothing to do with drugs. Read above. It's about picking up vibrations from people kind of like how bats sense where they are by vibrations.
- Scott, Boston, MA
the lead vocals were performed not only by Carl Wilson but also by Mike Love ("I'm picking up good vibrations/She's giving me exaltations") and also very distinctive backing vocals by Brian himself ("good, good, good vibrations!")
- Przemek, Warsaw, Poland
Easily the Beach Boy's best song
- Mike, Hueytown , AL
An amazing piece of sixties pop.Every time I hear it I marvel at how intricate it is.For some reason The line "I don't know where but she sends me there" never fails to amuse me.
- Liz, The Berkshires, MA
An Amazing piece of 6o's pop.Every time I listen to it I always marvel at how intricate it is.For some reason the line "I don't know where,but she sends me there" never fails to amuse me.
- Liz, The Berkshires, MA
You could tell they were experimenting with drugs and singing about all the vibes, smell, and sounds around them. This was there version of a psycedelic song for the times.
- PJ, okc, OK
A timeless pop classic - and one of the songs that woke me up to Top 40 music when I was a kid. Can't hear it often enough.
- Clarke, Pittsburgh, PA
This really is one of the best popsongs ever written, but je must understand it, as the most songs. Interesting is that when you hear it often, you start hearing more things instead of getting bored. something John lennon also had. And the middle to that song (middle eight of bridge, however it may be called), is the best part I thing, exchanging with the other parts.
- Bram, Zoetermeer, Netherlands
theremin kicks ass. led zeppelin's theremin was better...
- Eric, Warwick, RI
Good song, but greatly overated. I mean #6 of the Rolling Stones 500 greatest songs; WOW, YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. "Sloop John B" is the Beach Boys #1 best.
- Jon, Oakridge, OR
Good God. This song is AWESOME. Apparently it was recorded at many different studios and had to go through countless hours of tape before Brian Wilson was satisfied. What a mad genius he was.
- Nathan, Manchester, England
This song was rated #6 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs. Wow
- Evan, flower mound, TX
This song kinda does describe an acid trip because when ur on acid u see things so differently than you would in real life your seses are just overwhelmed which in a lot of ways brian wilson seemed to be describing and he sure as hell did a ton with goin to a mental institution and all
- Kyle, Eglewood, CO
i dont understand why everyone keeps saying that the beatles were influencing or doing things before the beach boys. they were influencing brian wilson to write better songs through competition, not through innovation. the beatles are amazing, it doesnt mean the bealtes arent good because brian wilson was breaking ground no one else had.
- matt, boston, MA
Dont you wish that the song would end after the creepy keyboards? I think that it would make the song so much better, it doesnt need another chorous of GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD VIBRATIONS!!!
- Ryan, Brentwood, CA
60's and early 70's...the best times ever
- Nelle, Lima, Peru
Come on Wes the 60's rocked I can't believe your putting the best musical decade of all time down.
- Dan, Lee, NH
This tune was played at the Beach Boys' October 1970 appearance at the Monterey Fairgrounds, the place where they failed to show up three years earlier for the Monterey International Pop Festival.
- Barry, New York, NC
From zak: "i wish i lived in the sixties." I did, and have mixed feelings about it. While the early to mid Sixties were pretty neat, the latter part of the decade was just plain depressing. The drugged-out letdown from the Summer of Love, I guess. 1968 and 1969 were especially dire. When 1970 arrived I recall there was a general feeling of, "Whew, I'm glad *that's* over!" There's a good documentary out there about the Theremin and its inventor, by the way.
- Wes, Springfield, VA
What an awesome song.
- Ross, Independence, MO
This is #6 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.
- Ross, Independence, MO
Because of the name "Good Vibrations", I cann see why the song was about acid. But if you listen to mostof the lyrics, the song seems to be about a girl that wilson Met, or maybe about his wife... I don't know. What I'm tryong to say is, it wasn't as succestive and overt about LSD as other songs, by the Beatles, for instance, were.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
This song was actually adapted for use in the commercial of an australian company called "the good guys." It is sad to think that the only reason this song is well known among the younger generation, here in melbourne anyway, is because of an extremely corny commercial. Ahhh, The 60's... wish i was there
- Justin, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
It's doubtful that the song is about "a good acid trip" as Wilson rarely did it as he became terrified by it after he had a certain flashback.
He was however experiancing with other drugs at the time.
The song is simply about the protagonist feeling a strong attraction to a girl he has meerly laid eyes on. The "SMiLE" version's lyrics tell this in more detail. (they should also be posted)

Read Wilson's autobiography "Wouldn't it Be Nice" for more information.
- Chris, Auckland, New Zealand
I disagree Phill. "Tommorow Never Knows" and "She Said, She Said", et al, do indeed pre-date Good Vibrations/Pet Sounds. But the references to the Beatles "copying" the Beach Boys techniques refer to Sgt. Peppers, not Revolver. You don't need to take my word for it, Paul McCartney has credited Pet Sounds countless times as an inspiration for Sgt. Pepper.
- Tom, Newark, DE
Sorry but in this article you say the Beatles started to use this method a year or two later than the Beach Boys, actually the Beatles used it first

Tomorrow never knows(Lennon)
Recorded: April 6-7 and 20, 1966, Abbey Road Studios, London
- Phill, Liverpool, England
good vibrations actually uses a tannerin, which is very similar to the theremin, but it is played by moving a slide with some sort of marking showing where different notes are. it also has a different waveform from a theremin
- dave, baltimore, MA
Moog, according to a recent article in Entertainment Weekly about him and his synthesizers, at first constructed theremins.
- Alan, City, MI
ya, i agree, i wish i lived in the past too, like 18 y.o. in every decade, that'd be awesome:), and the album Smile is now released. You get lost in it with quite different songs from the beach boy norm. Good vibrations is the only widespread popular song on the album. you have to be in the right mood to listen to it.
- Natasha, Chico, CA
dose anyone know where the good charlotte songs are??????
- Ted, Los Angeles, NY
Brian Wilson re-recorded the SMiLE album and he is releasing it on September 28th 2004. I'm really excited to hear the "lost album"
- MAx, Ottawa, Canada
truly one of the greatest songs ever written...i wish i lived in the sixties
- zak, Ganisville, FL
The theremin was actually invented as a serious instrument by electronics genius Lev Termin. In the early part of this century there was music written specifically for this instrument and there were classical musicians trained to play it. Search it on the web, there is a lot of info.
- Nick, Detroit, MI
Veteran session drummer Hal Blaine remembers playing tire chains as part of the percussion.
- Steve, San Jose, CA
This is without a doubt the best Beach Boys song ever! It was recently voted one of the best ever #1s by a British radio station. It's not hard to see why!
- Tom, Trowbridge, England
Studio bassist and session player Carol Kaye played bass guitar on this and many other Beach Boys songs.
- Gene, Hammond, IN
The Theramin used to create the eery sounds at the end of this song was originally developed many years earlier to be used as a sound effect in Sci-Fi and Horror movies. It was found in a studio prop room by one of the 'Boys.
- Ken, Boise, ID
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