‘Good Vibrations’: When The Beach Boys Gave Us Excitations

What do the Beach Boys have in common with the Dave Clark 5, Petula Clark, and BB King? They may not seem like the most obvious musical bedfellows, but the thing they shared in common was that they all had new entries on the Billboard Hot 100 in October of 1966. The Beach Boys’ song? It was only “Good Vibrations.”

In its October 15 issue that year, Billboard had predicted that the daringly unusual single had top 20 potential. “Penned by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, group has sure-fire hit in this off-beat and intriguing rhythm number,” said its review. “Should hit hard and fast.” They were right, if not immediately.

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The song would become one of the truly classic pop singles of all time, but of the 17 titles that made their first appearance on that new chart, “Good Vibrations” was only the fourth highest arrival, at No. 81. It was beaten by the Mamas and the Papas’ “Look Through My Window” at 65, Petula Clark’s “Who Am I” at 70 and the Sandpipers’ version of “Louie, Louie” at 74. Further down, the Dave Clark 5 took their bow with “Nineteen Days” and BB King with “Don’t Answer The Door.”

But a week later, “Good Vibrations” had overtaken all three of the singles that had debuted above it, racing to No. 38, then again at top speed to 17, 4, 2, then 2 again, then 2 again… and, on December 10, just as it looked as if the song might end in runner-up spot, it made that final vault to No. 1. By then, it had also topped the UK chart for a fortnight, starting on November 19.

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As American Songwriter wrote: “At first, ‘Good Vibrations’ was not well received by critics who expected more sunshine pop from the band, but those opinions quickly changed. Since then, outlets like Rolling Stone have gone on to say that ‘Good Vibrations’ is one of the best and most significant rock’n’roll songs of the 20th century.”

In an interview for that article, co-writer Love said: “We felt it was completely unique and avant garde. It was totally different. In fact, Cousin Brucey, who was the #1 DJ in America at the time on ABC in New York City said when he first heard ‘Good Vibrations’ he didn’t like it. But he got to like it. Because it was so unlike ‘California Girls’ and ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘Surfin’ USA’ and ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ and all that. So, it took some getting used to. But, it certainly caught on and it was appropriate for the time. It was our psychedelic anthem.”

Listen to “Good Vibrations” as you’ve never heard it before on The Beach Boys With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

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