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God Only Knows by The Beach Boys

Album: Pet SoundsReleased: 1966Charted:
39
2
  • Brian Wilson wrote this song with Tony Asher, who was an advertising copyrighter and lyricist that Wilson worked with on songs for Pet Sounds. This song reflects Wilson's interest in spirituality, and it was a big departure from previous Beach Boys songs that dealt with girls, cars and surfing. Wilson explained to Goldmine in 2011: "Tony Asher and I tried to write something very spiritually. It's got a melody similar to the song (recites lyric to 'The Sound Of Music'), 'I hear the sound of music…' (Sings lyrics to 'God Only Knows') 'I may not always love you…' It was similar to it. Tony came up with the title 'God Only Knows.' I was scared they'd ban playing it on the radio because of the title but they didn't."
  • This song is considered a Beach Boys classic, but it only managed to scrape the Top-40 in the United States. That's because it was released as a B-side, partly because of fear that radio stations would refuse to play a song with "God" in the title. In the liner notes to the reissued Pet Sounds album, Tony Asher explained, "I really thought it was going to be everything it was, and yet we were taking some real chances with it. First of all, the lyric opens by saying, 'I may not always love you,' which is a very unusual way to start a love song."
  • Carl Wilson handled lead vocals on this track. Not long after the song was released he said, "At present our influences are of a religious nature. Not any specific religion but an idea based upon that of Universal Consciousness. The concept of spreading goodwill, good thoughts and happiness is nothing new. It is an idea which religious teachers and philosophers have been handing down for centuries, but it is also our hope. The spiritual concept of happiness and doing good to others is extremely important to the lyric of our songs, and the religious element of some of the better church music is also contained within some of our new work."
  • The Beatles' "Here, There And Everywhere" was inspired by this song. John Lennon and Paul McCartney heard Pet Sounds at a party and went back to Lennon's house to write it. Paul McCartney once called "God Only Knows" "The greatest song ever written."
  • The famous French horn on this song was played by Alan Robinson, who appeared on the scores for many films, including The Sound of Music and The Ten Commandments. He got the call for the session because he could play without music written out. Brian Wilson sang him the horn line he had in mind, and Robinson played it by ear using a glissando technique suggested by Wilson.
  • Brian Wilson planned to sing the lead vocal himself, but decided that his brother Carl was better suited for the track. "I was looking for a tenderness and a sweetness which I knew Carl had in himself as well as in his voice," said Brian.
  • This was featured at the end of the 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually. It was also used in the films Boogie Nights (P.T. Anderson's drama about the porn industry) and Saved (a 2004 drama about a Christian high school, where there are two versions, both covers). (thanks, David - Roseville, MN)
  • This was the theme song for the first three seasons of the HBO television series Big Love, which ran 2006-2011.
  • According to The Guardian's 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear, Brian Wilson and Tony Asher took only 15 minutes to compose this number.
  • In Al Kooper's tell-all autobiography Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, Kooper talks about his evening visiting Brian Wilson only a week before Pet Sounds hit the streets: "Brian played a test-pressing of the record, jumping up and stopping cuts in the middle and starting them over to emphasize his points. He was very proud of his accomplishment, maybe even a little show-offish, but I wasn't about to argue. Do you remember the first time you heard 'God Only Knows'?"
  • A cover version of the song was broadcast simultaneously across BBC television and radio channels on October 7, 2014 to launch BBC Music. The new adaptation featured Brian Wilson himself as well as various guest stars including Pharrell Williams, Sir Elton John, Lorde, Chris Martin, Stevie Wonder, One Direction and Dave Grohl.
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Comments: 66

It may be just the chord progression, but parts of this song remind me of The Zombies' "A Rose for Emily." Does anyone else hear that???Kathleen - Clinton, Md
What a beautiful song. I think this and 'In my Life' by the Beatles, would be in my top ten songs of all time. Both are touching moving and timeless.
Genius!
Grant - Essex, United Kingdom
Not only did Paul McCartney love this song, so did George Martin. Martin called it his favorite non-Beatles pop song of the 60's, because of its technical brilliance and use of instruments. In the 1990's, Martin hosted a British TV series about pop music and in one episode he went to LA to interview Brian Wilson about this song. They got the original master tape and broke down the mix. Martin tried his hand at mixing it and Brian said "Hey! I like YOUR mix better than my original!" Martin graciously demurred, saying "No way, your's was the best."Ken - Louisville, Ky
There are 2 reasons why this song didn't chart well .The first was mentioned ,the word God was banned.The second reason was the A side was also banned .Wouldn't it be Nice was banned because the were going to sleep together or it suggested this .Mark - Topeka, Ks
This is my favourite non-Beatles song...ever!Pattie - Orlando, Fl
No, Mark. PS preceeded SPLHCBCerph - Earth, Fl
I heard that Scott Weiland loved this song so much that he wishes that he had written it. I think the influence goes into STP's "A Song For Sleeping."

Sure to turn any Beach Boy's Hater into a believer.
Aki - Sunrise, Fl
This was used as a sign-off song on one of the stations I worked at. It replaced Hendrix' Star Spangled Banner.Ekristheh - Halath, United States
It was said that when Paul McCartney first heard this song he cried-Connie,Burleson,TxConnie - Alvarado, Tx
This is the recording they played at the beginning of the memorial service for the mother of the Wilson boys, Audree. It's long been among my favorites of Brian's compositions, but ever since that day in 1997 it reminds me mostly of her.Barry - Ventura, Ca
This is by far my favorite Beach Boys song. Joss Stone did a slow, soulful version of this song that is phenomenal. It's on her Mind, Body, & Soul CD and was featured on Gap commercials a few years ago.Christina - Bowling Green, Ky
There is a version of this on the "I just wasnt made for times documentary with brian at the piano and Carl singing it. Its very close to carls death and is really haunting. Brian hums the french horn part.Adrian - Crossville, Tn
There is and always will be a lot of discussion as to the greatest band ever with the Beatles and Stones in the mix. To me however its the Beach Boys. If Brian Wilson had just written "Don't Worry Baby" and "God Only Knows" I would have given him the genius label. Their beautiful harmony and the time and place they captured make them to me something special. I was fortunate enough to see them twice I concert once with Brian Wilson and the second time around with Glen Campbell on bass. They were fabulous. I realize I'm in the minority with this opinion but we all have our favourites for various reasons. In closing I consider "Pet Sounds" a very special and classic collection and the Beach Boys a very special band.Alan - Sault Ste. Marie, On
This song is used as the theme song to the HBO series "Big Love" about modern day Mormon polygamy.Pattie - Orlando, Fl
What does it matter who was influenced by who ( the Beatles or the Beach boys)? Or whose album came out first or anything? I think it was good healthy competition and when you listen to their songs you should be glad that they did not settle for less.I like both bands. God only knows is one of my favourite Beach Boys songs. And I do remember that episode of The Wonder Years as well,that was a great show too.Hanny - Roden, Netherlands
The music was inspired in part by the Symphony #5 of Jean Sibelius.Alex - Madison, Wi
Brian Wilson's comment about this song listed on his "Celebrity Playlist" at iTunes: "What stands out to me is the very loving lead voice of my late brother, Carl. The song is so spiritual and special. I really miss him especially when I hear the song."Camille - Toronto, Oh
Does anyone else besides me remember a version of this song from the mid-70's sung by B.J. Thomas of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" fame?Michael - Pasadena, Tx
This was the second song played at my wedding, I just love it, the depth of the metaphors are what really drive it home. I can't believe my wife actually wanted Forever Tonight by Peter Cetera with Crystal ...something... for "our song" but she got her way, just like with everything else.Dan - Toronto, On
I was born in Santa Monica in 1952 and grew up with the Beach Boys. I have have played guitar and written songs from 1965 through today. It is my professional song writing opinion that this song is one of the best songs I have every heard. Brian Wilson is a real song writing genius and his best work is right here.

Thank you Brian with God's Rich Blessings,

Chuck
Chuck - Santa Monica, In
To clear up a few things: Paul McCartney has been quoted widely as saying "Pet Sounds" was his main influence for Sgt. Peppers. He's also said that he made it required listening for his kids.
Also, as the tracks were done in the period when Brian no longer toured, some of the vocal dubs were actually done by other singers in the Beach Boys extended family. I.E. Brian's wife Marilyn and her sister from the girl group "The Honeys" and Terry Melcher (co-writer of "Kokomo") from The Rip Chords and Bruce and Terry (Bruce Johnston, Brian's 2nd touring replacement after Glenn Campbell and BB since'65.)
There is a track from the Good Vibrations Box Set Bonus Sessions CD titled God Only Knows (tracking session). Among the revealing items, there's a version with Brian on lead as a "guide vocal" for Carl. And it ends with an alternate version of God Only Knows with an acapella tag(simply amazing), this is where the "extended family singers" are utilized to give it a bigger, choir-like sound.
Brian would use the other singers more out of practicalit; to test out arrangements, because these folks were available in L.A. and the 'Boys were on the road, etc.
Billy - St. Louis, Mo
Awesome song.The stereo version is the best.If this song was released today ( nov-2007 ) it would hit #1.James - Yucaipa, Ca
This is a very enjoyable song. I think I heard once that it was the first pop song that made the top 40 with the word "God" in it. I've heard some very nice covers of this song, such as by Toni Tennille, but nothing beats the original.Sabrina - Corvallis, Or
You can find a rare version of this song on youtube.com where Brian sang the vocals. Because the song was written about his brother, he just let his brother sing it himself. Just type in the song title in the search block on youtube.com and youll find it. My opinion, I like Carls singing better, but Brian does good, See for your self.David - Wilson, Ny
I don't see how it is possible that this song only hit #39. All through my growing up this song has been such a staple on the radio that I would have thought it was a #1 hit. It should have been, it's that great!Ron - Auburndale, Fl
The album Pet Sounds is in response to the Beatles Rubber Soul Album. Revolver was out after Pet Sounds even came out. Therefore, Here there and everywhere also wasnt in response to God Only Knows. It was written by Paul..it is explained in "The Beatles Anthology" great song thoughAlex - Gaithersburg, Md
John Wetton also played in King Crimson in the mid-70s of course...just some unrelated info in response to a previous post.Paul - Cincinnati, Oh
Agreed, The Wonder Years was an awesome show...oh yeah, and it's a given that this song is great...I Just Wasn't Made For These Times is another great song on Pet Sounds, but sadly it doesnt have a SongFacts page as of yetPaul - Cincinnati, Oh
One of the best all time pop songs.It is amazing
that this song never went higher on the charts.
Another example of Brian Wilson being one of the
greatest Composer/Songwriter of all times.
Rich,Wall,N.J.
Rich - Spring Lake Hgts, Nj
This is played in one of the last episodes of The Wonder Years when Kevin sees Winnie found another guy. What an awesome show and song.Mb - Newburgh, Ny
This is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. I have played this for people who don't like the Beach Boys or "oldies" for that matter and they absolutely LOVE this song.Adam - Yorba Linda, Ca
The most beautiful and complex harmonies I have ever heard.These guys were way ahead of there time.Beautiful stuff .Michael - Montreal,que., Canada
Trivia question for Beach Boys fans: This is one of only three Top 40 BB fans with Christmas bells. Can you name the other two?David - Youngstown, Oh
This is one of my favourite songs of all time. It's one of the greatest songs ever written. I love it.Maggie - London, England
But about God Only Knows, a very good song! One of Beach Boys' best, and I can't understand that it peaked at #39 in the US. Perhaps it tells us that many people don't understand music yet.Bram - Zoetermeer, Netherlands
John Wetton, bass player and lead vocalist in the band ASIA, from a 1996 interview: "That song has got everything! There's harmony, melody, feeling, arrangement, it is simply divine! It was like everything before had only happened in black and white and suddenly it all turned to color. I also think it was one of the first songs with the word "God" in the title without being a religious song; a very courageous thing to do at that time! "God only knows" was and is the ultimate song for me. If you listen to how the bass is played in that song, it's pure magic. "God only knows" to me meant that there was a future in rock music, things could be done differently."Steve - Torrance, Ca
probably the greatest love song everDavid - Atlanta, Ga
Officially, Pet Sounds was the result of Brian Wilson's brief but extremely influential experience with Phil Spector and love of Spector's music. Wilson worked on a song which was never finished, with Spector, who taught Wilson some of his techniques. Wilson later applied these techniques as well as using Phil Spector's core session musicians to create Pet Sounds. There was a competition between Phil Spector and Wilson in the early to mid 60s before the British Invasion was in full force in the USA. Sgt. Pepper's was a response to the musical intricacys of Pet Sounds and John Lennon's love of Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." Phil Spector would later produce the album Let it Be and several of John Lennon's solo projects; songs including, Imagine, So This is Christmas, Jealous Guy, etc.. In conclusion, both Sgt. Pepper's and Pet Sounds are the result of the direct influence of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.Michael Martarano - New Haven, Ct
This is the theme song of the new HBO television series "Big Love".Seda - Long Island, Ny
Why would anyone care where a band is from, as long as you enjoyed the music?Rob - Vancouver, Canada
Brian Wilson did't have a nervous breakdown due to hearing sgt. peppers!He was working on the SMiLE project which was very avant garde at that time and he feared it wouldn't be very well received.He was facing a huge amount of pressure from Mike Love who said the music was rubbish calling it acid alliteration("Stick to the formula,Brian".Mike Love).Also, his paranoia was beginning to take over due to heavy drug use.This was the reason for Brian's breakdown and the subsequent shelving of the smile project.Brendan - Dublin, Ireland
This song is actually written about Brian's brother!Glynn - England, United States
Hey "Jono"...The Doors are the quintessential American rock band...

I dont know how you could even wonder they were from anywhere else than America (more specifically, California)?

The Doors and Beach Boys are just as good as the Beatles or Led Zeppelin...if not better...

You should start to listen to The Doors A LOT to realize they are truely great. These are all great bands frankly...differnt flavors...like comparing Vanilla to Chocolate or Strawberry...

"Mr. Mojo Risin'...Mr. Mojo Risin'....Mojo Risin'...Gotta keep on Risin'..." - LA Woman
Shane - San Francisco, Ca
Is It true that all of the beach boys were born on the beach?Ginny Fred - Westward Ho!, England
wait a minute, i thought pet sounds was a reaction to revolver then sgt. peppers was influenced by pet sounds. I have to disagree matt from boston, george martin is the best composer out of the two bands, even tho he is the producer of the beatles i still think he counts. Are the doors american? i thought they were british for some reason, possibly caz they are to good to be american.Jono - Auckland, New Zealand
To me this song is like heaven,i could hear it 2,or 3 times a day.I am not really a Beach Boy fan at all,but this is just a beautiful song.Kevin - Cincinnati, Oh
The top chart position that God Only Knows reached was #39.Jeremy - Nyc, Ny
vaughn from new york. u are pretty wrong, almost laughable. the beach boys and the beatles were in direct competition and brian wilson is reguarded by all of them as the best composer of both groups, and he was working on smile at the time which musically is ahead of sgt pepper. brian wilson had a breakdown because he wanted to release his album before sgt peppers. in fact pet sounds is what influenced sgt pepper. well at least according to the beatles, george martin, and the studio musicians that were around them. maybe u know something they dont.Matt - Boston, Ma
Interesting how radio stations refused to play this because it mentioned "God," while nowadays anyone can put out a song with "God" in the title, yet obviously American society was much more conservative back in the mid '60s.Elson - Los Angeles, Ca
Brian Wilson said that he purposely made the chord progression in the verses ascend to give the impression as though one was going up towards heaven.Elson - Los Angeles, Ca
This is #25 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.Ross - Independence, Mo
In college, I once asked my roomate who he thought was the best American rock group of all time. He replied, "The Doors." When I said "What about the Beach Boys?" He retracted his original answer. God Only Knows why!Robert - Trumbull, Ct
Paul McCartney once said, that this song is his all time most favorite song.Arne - Gent, Belgium
I watched a special called 20 years ago today that was about when Sgt pepper came out. One of the beach boys said that they were at a party and feeling really good about how well they had done and how they were the top of rock music at the time....someone came in with the sgt pepper album and he said the party got real quiet and all the beach boys just looked at each other and they realized that the beatles were just so far ahead of them musically, the party broke up and they were very sad..LOL OUCH!!Vaughn - New York, Ny
Mike. You got it backwards I heard from other sources that "Sgt. Peppers" was a reaction to "Pet Sounds". Anyway, I think that this particular song is a beautiful song, and I here it a lot on "Oldies" sations. I didn't know that it wasn't a hit. As far as banning it because of the God reference, I think the radio people didn't know what htey were talking about. I'm not particularly religious though.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
A gorgeous song that should've been a bigger hit than it was. As far as i'm concerned, the Beach Boys are definitely the greatest American rock-pop group.Joe - West Creek, Nj
Paul McCartney said that he was scared to death when they heard "Pet Sounds," as he thought it was the greatest album of all time. Of course, The Beatles one-upped the Beach Boys when they released "Sgt. Pepper" in '67. To me, 'God Only Knows' is the greatest love song of all time, played by the greatest American rock band of all time.Todd - Charlotte, Nc
Brian Wilson heard Rubber Soul, which inspired pet sounds. Pet sounds was released in May of 1966, and Revolver followed soon after in August. Wilson then started on the "Smile" poject in late 66' after hearing Revolver. Smile was started off by "Good Vibrations". Once Wilson heard Sgt. Pepper's, he had a nervous breakdown and the "Smile" project was abortedRobb - Hamburg, Ny
I thought 'Revolver' was inspired by 'Pet Sounds'Rohan - Canberra, Australia
Joseph's right, if anything 'Sgt Pepper' was a reaction to 'Pet Sounds'.Ben - Essex, England
Paul McCartney has said that this is the greatest song ever writtenCheryl - Melbourne, Australia
"Pet Sounds" was not a reaction to Sgt. Pepper, but 'inspired' by 'Rubber Soul.' ("Pet Sounds" was released in April 1966 and "Sgt. Pepper" in June 1967.)Joseph - Tucson, Az
The Beach Boy's album "Pet Sounds" was written as a reaction to the Beatles "Seargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.Mike - Boston, Ma
I am not a big Beach Boys fan but I loved this song from the first time I heard it. Beautiful melody and Carl was perfect as lead singer.Charles - Charlotte, Nc
This is one of my very favourite Beach Boys tracks... Carl's vocal is just beautiful.Matthew - Shrewsbury, England
The track was recorded 9th March 1966. The vocal was recorded 10th-11th March 1966.Matthew - Shrewsbury, England