1966 was the Year of LSD in Rock and Roll. The Byrds released “8 Miles High” earlier in the year heralding the Age of Psychedelia, and John Lennon one upped them with “Tomorrow Never Knows” just after. The Beatles joined in and followed it up with their album “Revolver”. They were so whacked out Ringo doesn’t remember recording “Eleanor Rigby” (probably for the best), and they literally phoned in their parts to the animated movie Yellow Submarine (not the origin of the phrase, but probably the first actual use in filming). The Beach Boys also took up John Lennon’s psychedelic gauntlet. But the Beach Boys were far from the fresh faced bubble gum surfers they were a few years earlier and were themselves deep into drugs. Lead singer and song writer Brian Wilson, easily the heart and soul of the band, knew the end was near: like the Beatles, the individual Beach Boys rarely spent time in the studio together and relied on session musicians for recording.
Wilson knew this would be the last opportunity for the Beach Boys to release a great album, and used the drug fueled challenge to explore some musical avenues he couldn’t convince anyone to get on board with earlier. With legendary producer Phil Specter and an army of session artists, he wrote, produced, and recorded the album “Pet Sounds” over four months. The other members of the band, his two brothers, cousin and childhood friend, only came in to record their singing parts (for all their failings, the Beach Boys are unequaled vocally). From the greatest opening song on an album ever, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to Wilson’s first solo hit, “Caroline, No”, Pet Sounds, the first concept album, is Wilson’s magnum opus, and duly earned its rightful place as #2 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums.
And this despite leaving his best song off the album.
Brian Wilson took another four months and an unheard $70,000 to perfect his greatest creation, “Good Vibes”, which he was eventually convinced to change to “Good Vibrations” late in recording. The final 3:37 minute song was edited/mixed over nine laborious days from 3 ½ hours of finished recorded music. Good Vibrations was released on 10 October 1966 and would earn the Beach Boys an instant Emmy, bring Psychedelic Rock mainstream, give the burgeoning antiwar counterculture its anthem, and launch the sub-genre of Progressive Rock. Finally, it convinced the Beatles to forego the upcoming Monterey Pop Festival and that the future of music was not in live performance but increasing complexity in the studio. They started to record Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (the first pop album and #1 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums) less than two weeks later.
Admit it: you’re singing “Good Goood Good, Good Vib…” right now.