The Beach Boys

Good Vibrations

Song Review by John Bush

"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 / EMI Records
Good Vibrations [Single] 1966 Capitol
Smiley Smile 1967 Capitol / EMI 3:39
The Best of the Beach Boys, Vol. 3 1968 Capitol
Oldies But Goodies, Vol. 8 196?
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 3:36
Their Twenty-Two Greatest Hits 1973 Axis / Capitol
Endless Summer 1974 Capitol / EMI Records / DCC Compact Classics 3:36
20 Golden Greats 1976 Capitol
Oldies But Goodies: Legendary Hits 1979
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 3:35
Disque D'or 1983 EMI Music Distribution
Cool Cats: 25 Years of Rock 'N' Roll Style 1984
Various Artists
MGM / UA
An American Band [Video] 1985 Pioneer
Made in U.S.A. 1986 Capitol 0:00
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: The Beach Boys - 1962-1967 1988 3:38
Smiley Smile/Wild Honey 1990 Capitol / EMI Records 6:54
Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys 1993 Capitol / EMI Records 15:18
Billboard Top Rock & Roll Hits: 1966 [1993] 1993
Various Artists
Rhino 3:38
100% Summer 1994
Various Artists
Telstar
Greatest Hits [Hollywood] 1994 Hollywood / IMG 0:00
All-Time Greatest Beach Party Hits 1994 Madacy Distribution / CEMA Special Markets
Psychedelia [Import] 1994
Various Artists
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
3:36
Wonderful World [Dino] 1995
Various Artists
Peter Pan (ISP) 3:36
All Summer Long [Compilation] 1997 EMI Music Distribution 3:36
Perfect Harmony 1997 Capitol 3:35
The Pet Sounds Sessions 1997 Capitol / EMI Records 3:15
The Number Ones: The 60's 1998
Various Artists
Simitar Distribution 3:35
Party Time, Vol. 3 1998
Various Artists
SPG 3:32
Rarities 1998 Capitol 3:35
Endless Harmony [Soundtrack] 1998 Capitol / EMI Records 3:42
Dutch Singles Collection 1998 EMI Music Distribution 3:37
Vietnam: A Musical Retrospective 1998
Various Artists
Universal Distribution / Uptown / Universal 4:27
Classic 60's: The Beat Goes On 1998
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:36
Millennium: Forty Hits 1965-1969 1998
Various Artists
Disky 3:40
Capitol Years 1999 EMI Music Distribution 3:38
Rock -N- Roll's Greatest Hits of All Time Early 60s, Vol. 2 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:35
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 Distribution / Madacy 3:37
Original Gold [2 CD Set] 1999 Original Gold (Netherlands) 3:36
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
The Original Gold [Disc #1] 1999 Disky 3:36
Wow! That Was the 60's [UK Import] 1999
Various Artists
Disky
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. 7-9 2000
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 3:35
Greatest Hits of the 60's [Disky Box 2] 2000
Various Artists
Disky 3:36
The Woodstock Generation: All the Love in the World 2001
Various Artists
Woodstock Records 3:37
Greatest Number 1's Ever 2001 EMI Music Distribution 3:34
Beat Boom 2001
Various Artists
Disky / Disky Communications 3:36
I Love You 2001 EMI Music Distribution 3:38
Vietnam: Songs from the Divided House 2001
Various Artists
Q Records 3:36
Hawthorne, CA 2001 Capitol 4:09
Teenage Idols [4 Discs] 2001
Various Artists
Disky Communications 3:37
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
Dick Clark's #1's: 50's to 70's "When AM Radio Was King" 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 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
A Year in Your Life: 1966, Vol. 1 2001
Various Artists
Definitive 3:36
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 3:39
California Dreaming 2002 B.R. 3:38
California Feelin': Best of the Beach Boys 2002 Japanese Import 3:37
Sunsplashin 2002
Various Artists
Madacy 3:37
Capitol Records 1942-2002 [Deluxe Box Set] 2002
Various Artists
Capitol / EMI Records 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
BBQ Party 2002
Various Artists
Madacy
Best of the Beach Boys [Collectables] 2003 Collectables 3:37
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
Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys 2003 Capitol / EMI Records 3:39
Great Surfin' Songs [3CD] 2003 Platinum Disc 3:35
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
Empire Triples 3:37
I Love You [Japanese] 2004 Toshiba 3:38
Great Men of Rock and Roll 2004
Various Artists
Collectables 3:37
Everyone's A Winner: 20 Original No. 1's [CD1] 2004
Various Artists
Disky 3:37
Great Men of Rock & Roll: The 60s 2005
Various Artists
Collectables 3:38
Rock N Roll's Greatest Hits of All Time 60's, Vol. 7-8 2005
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:39
Best of the Beach Boys: 10 Best Series 2005 Capitol / EMI Records 3:37
Ultimate 16: American Classics 2005
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:41
Pet Sounds/Smiley Smile/Wild Honey 2005 EMI Music Distribution 6:54
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 6:56
Summer Crush: Songs We Love to Love 2006 Hear Music 3:39
Summer of Love: Gold 2007
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:36
Legends Informercial Set 2007
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:38
Hits of the Beach Boys 2007 EMI 0:00
Top of the Pops: 1966 2007
Various Artists
BBC Music / EMI 3:36
Playlist: Summer 2008
Various Artists
EMD Int'l 3:37
Pure Driving Rock [3 Discs] 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:37
100 Essential Tracks: No. 1 Hits 2009
Various Artists
Sony Music 3:36
The Best Sixties Album in the World...Ever! [2009] 2009
Various Artists
EMI 3:34
10 Great Songs 2010 Capitol 3:38
The Sound of the Westcoast: 1965-1979 2010
Various Artists
3:38
Paul McCartney's Jukebox 2011
Various Artists
Chrome Dreams / United States of Distribution 4:56
Best of the Best [Universal] 2011
Various Artists
Universal Music Group 3:42
'60s Music Revolution 2012
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:38
Fifty Big Ones: Greatest Hits 2012 Capitol / EMI 3:37
Icon 2013 Capitol 3:37
Made in California 2013 Capitol / Universal 3:49
20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection - 10 Great Songs: The Beach Boys: 2014 Capitol 3:38
1967: Sunshine Tomorrow 2017 Capitol / Virgin EMI 4:13
1967: LIVE Sunshine 2017 Capitol / Universal 8:27
Lonely Return 2018 Left Field Media 4:23
'60s Summer of Love [UMOD]
Various Artists
UMOD / Universal 3:35
20 #1's: Party Hits
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:36
4 All Ages: Summer Fun Music
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
4th of July Party
Various Artists
Universal 3:39
60's Nostalgia
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
60s Baby
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
60s, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
70s Rock Essentials
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
All Time Classics [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
All Time Hits-2008/09
Various Artists
Columbia
BBQ Bangers
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
BBQ Hits
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
BBQ Summer 2021
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
BBQ Summer [Universal] [2019]
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
BBQ Summer [Universal] [2020]
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Baladas Románticas Viejas y Lindas
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Bar Music 2020
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Best Bass Guitar Riffs
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Best Drummers
Various Artists
Universal 4:15
Best of 60's [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 4:13
Camping Music
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Cheerful Tunes
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Clasicos 70' 80' 90' en Ingles
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Classic Rock Hits [2020]
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Concept Albums
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Cooking & Drinking
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
De Pré Historie: De Jaren '60
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Don't Worry
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Easy Listening Office
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Everybody Loves…The 60'S, Vol. 2
Various Artists
EMI 3:37
Feel Good Hits
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Feel Good Music
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Feel Good Songs
Various Artists
EMI
Feelgood Classics 2021
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Global Viral Hits
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Going Viral 2020
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Golden Sixties [2020]
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Greatest Hits Ever
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Greatest Hits: The Danish Collection Capitol
Grillfest
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Happy Hits 2020
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Happy Hits [2020]
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Have a Great Day!
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Here Comes the Sun
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Hits From the Past
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
I Springtime at Last!
Various Artists
Universal 3:33
Icon: The Beach Boys Spectrum Music
Jackie: The Annual 2010
Various Artists
EMI 3:34
Jukebox Jams
Various Artists
UMG Recordings 3:38
Legends of Pop
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Los Sultanes del Pop  & Rock 60's/70s
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Mood Lifters
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Music Icons
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Music from Love & Mercy EMI / Virgin 3:37
Música para manejar animado
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Old But Gold 60's
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Old School Classics
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Oldies But Goldies [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 3:39
Party Soul
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:11
Pop Band Bangers
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Pop Supergroups
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Positive Vibes Only
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Psychedelic Songs
Various Artists
Universal 3:36
Road Trip 2019
Various Artists
Universal 3:37
Road Trip Bangers
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Road Trip Tunes
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Rock Icons
Various Artists
Universal 3:36
Rock Now
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Rock Para Contemplar El Mar
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Rock que te mueve
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Starship: Psychedelic Compilation
Various Artists
Mercury
Summer Holiday
Various Artists
Universal 4:15
Summer in the City
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Summer of Love [2020]
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Sun and Surf
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Sunny Day
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Surf Songs
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Surfing Music
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Tailgate Party [2020]
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
The Fabulous 60's, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Cayenne Records / Zebralution
The Very Best of the Beach Boys: Fun, Fun, Fun EMI 3:37
Trending Classic Hits
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Trending Global Hits
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Trending Now, Vol. 11
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Uplifting Music
Various Artists
Universal 4:15
Viral Beats
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Viral Hits, Vol. 3
Various Artists
Universal 3:35
Wake Up Get It Done
Various Artists
Universal 3:38
Wedding Party [2019]
Various Artists
Universal 3:39