Click On Each Title Below For A Full Page Review of Each Track:
Arriving between Pet Sounds and (the anticipation of) Smile, "Good Vibrations" belongs to neither. It lacks the soulful adolescent introspection, formal song structure, and symphonic-rock instrumentation of Pet Sounds, and although appearing decades later as the closing track, does not share Smile's Finnegan's Wake like word play, American historical context, or long form musical themes. "Good Vibrations" stood and stands alone.
As a perfect single, perfectly defining a piece of the late middle sixties and the Beach Boys' place in it.
Optimistic, clever, ambitious in length and execution, modest but profound in expression and sentiment, "Good Vibrations" is the mountain top from which we can look down on the two sides of the Beach Boys' career. On the one side sit the first ten Brian-centric albums, culminating with Pet Sounds. On the other side, Smile and the lack of Smile, production and composing credits shared with the group as Brian fades in and out of involvement and the Boys fall out of and back in fashion.
Opening side two, GV sits as it should, in the middle of Smiley Smile. In the vinyl era that meant you could flip the record and start to listen there, which might have been experienced as too top heavy, like beginning side two of Sqt. Pepper with "A Day In The Life' or side two of Who's Next with "Won't Get Fooled Again." But here it works. Smiley Smile may be unusual in structure and peculiar or even unique in pop music aesthetic, but it is coherent.
"Good Vibrations" fits in the middle because although as long as "Heroes and Villains" it's not as dense. Matching the minimalist yet pleasingly weird, well, vibe of the rest of the record, while echoing the choirboy meets doo-wop vocals and motor driven rock beats of the group's history, GV contently gazes on the past and future.
If Chuck Berry's car songs are reformatted for outer and inner space here, the job is done with a theramin and cello triplets, not a symphony or a wall of sound. If the Boys' entire catalogue of falling in love lyrics are updated for the summer of love here, that's achieved with phrases as simple as the title or couplets like "I don't know where but she sends me there." If the classic two and a half minute pop single is stretched out here by an additional minute, it's done by beginning with the familiar verse, chorus, verse, chorus, achieving lift off, and flying up from there.
Brilliant, upbeat, effervescent, deep but not weighty. We're ready for the rest of the album.
Historical footnote: In the mid and late 1970s, when the Boys, largely minus Brian, were at the top of their game as a live touring group, they would open their shows with "Good Vibrations" as if to say "We want you to know we know we're so damn tight we can start with our closer." It was like Frank Sinatra opening with "My Way" or Tony Bennet opening with "I Left My Heart In San Fransisco."
This worked because they were that good, in control in concert of all the pieces of their career. It also worked because GV is that kind of song. It's not merely a summation, it pushes forward, it anticipates, it rises.