Compte Rendu on “God Only Know”

There is one thing that i noticed when i watched the trailer of the latest Toy Story Movie, which was the song that backed the video at the last minute of the trailer.

Sounds Familiar ?

You might heard it from another movie scenes, like 2003’s Love Actually, My Life Without Me (The Live Adaptation of Scooby Doo), and etc.

This everlasting masterpiece titled God Only Know

This Song were originally performed by The Beach Boys, frienemies of The Fabulous Four, The Beatles. God Only Know was written by Brian Wilson & Tony Asher, also produced by Brian Wilson himself. It was 2 min and 55 secs track, and released in the 18 of July 1966 as the eight track of the eleventh album from The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds.

Do you know ?

The 60’s are one of the most ambiguous time in the US’ music industry. Back then, It’s hard to find a song that could contain the word “God” in it. Then you might wondering, Why was that ?

Censorship of music.

Yup, it all down to that. To put in the same perspective, in those years, songs that contain sensitive materials *that could knock off the balance of moral, politic or religion stabilization (behalf government point of view), less likely hit the television or radio. Except you had the enormous amount of fans, you can have your songs played with beep in it, or some exchanging words. But if you don’t, well your song would not be played .

With that put in mind, Brian Wilson initially didn’t want to put the G-word on the title, because he scared if the song couldn’t be aired on the radio (because the sensitive issue), but the co-writer, Tony Asher convinced Brian to name it as God Only Know (not, Fred Only Know, as Brian initially purposed). And, with many consideration, Brian did name it as what we’re know it now. The reason ? because (1) God was a spiritual word, and (2) because Brian and The Beach Boys would “be breaking ground.”

Paul McCartney once said that God Only Know, was his Favorite song. He stated that this is the best song ever written. Paul took some inspiration from this song, and put it on The Beatles’ Here, There and Everywhere.

But, why does McCartney said that ?

Let’s break it down, shall we ?

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it

It’s rarely to see a song being opened with an unusual bold statement, but it just show you how powerful the song is, even from the first line. The Lyrics “I may not always love you” as an opening of a love-kinda song was complex. It’s hard to see or hear a love song that opens with a contrary line, because many artist tend to open their love-kinda song straight to the confession of love.

Asher, equally insistent, said: “Consider the next line.” In Wilson’s autobiography, he remembers this as: “But long as the stars are above you, you’ll never need to doubt me.”

This is understatement of something enormous — I’ll only love you until the end of time. If you were feeling technical, you might call it “litotes” and Milton pulls a similar trick in his line: “Love, not the lowest end of human life”. So does Raymond Chandler: “He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck.” — BBC News

And as the song goes on, you would find how the writer express his’ love elegantly. He sounds like making a promise to keep the love between them, and with the rest of the verse 1 part, that contrary-opening line sounds even better.

God only knows what I’d be without you

This chorus means a lot.

The expression of not knowing what will happen if the one go really become a big part of this song. Maybe we could make this chorus part more longer, or we could replace it with many good words or anything that aesthetic. But, there are no one who knows better what would happen next, if it’s not The God himself, so with this simple-looking line, it just show you how complex the song is.

If you should ever leave me
Well, life would still go on, believe me

The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me?

The second verse took us more deeper. we can see the depression that the writer had. It really sounds poetic but not at the same time. These lines were sounds normal, like everyday english, but when you hear the songs, you somewhat feel like it’s really poetic, and only a genius that can make the balance out of the two.

Well, the rest of the song is the music, there are some lyrics that being sang, but it just the chorus that being repeated until the end of the song. By now you may probably think that Brian Wilson is one of the greatest songwriter at the time (or maybe all time).

*little fact : he wrote the song in just 45 minutes

So on to the next part, The Music

If there is one word that can describe the music, it should be ambiguous.

This Song, musically speaking, play in 2 different Key, E and A major, and most of the chords being inverted. To make it easier, imagine you eat ice cream with 2 flavors that east-west, you just see that the ice cream would taste strange, but the moment you eat the ice cream, it actually pretty good, and that’s the same thing happened with God Only know.

That’s the Key, where the song is played.

About Melodies and Harmonies.

The music really fit the lyrics. No Doubt. It’s only because, technically, the phrasing of the lines is kinda short, so it gave a huge impact. When you have the short phrasing of the lyrics, it tends to reduce the energy of the song, and give more bluesy mood. These kinda methods is rarely being seen in the era of this song being released. But, when We hear the song as a whole, we get that it should be treated like this, musically.

One thing that really makes this song outstanding is about how melodious the song is. There are songs that really ear-catchy, so by the first or second heard, we could easily remembered the song. But, the problem with these music is that it’s barely deeper.It’s not necessarily means that every earcatchy song are not frivolous, but it tends to be just reps around the same thing without diving more onto it. But God Only Know, offer a big melodious music, so we still get the catchiness and a message in a way that many songs couldn’t do.

God Only Know, Is also somewhat of what we called as a revolution. In that Era, songs are played, recorded, and performed as what it is, By mean, Instrument just making the sound as the way it should sound, it’s rarely to see instrument that being an icon of one genre appeared in other. The Beach boys using varies instrument to get their sound. So you might be aware of the tiny-detail sounds, that makes God Only Know, the song we hear today.

The instrumental section of the song was recorded on March 10, 1966, at United Western Recorders, Hollywood, California, with the session engineered by Chuck Britz and produced by Brian Wilson. The instrumental part of the song took 20 takes to achieve what is the master take of the song. Present on the day of the instrumental recording was band member Carl Wilson on twelve string guitar amongst other session musicians collectively known as The Wrecking Crew.

According to Brian, many of the musicians who were present at the ‘God Only Knows’ sessions claim that those sessions were some of “the most magical, beautiful musical experiences they’ve ever heard.” According to Brian there were 23 musicians present during the ‘God Only Knows’ sessions, though only 16 are credited as being present on the actual take that was used for the final song. At the time, 23 musicians was an astounding number of musicians for a pop record. All the musicians played simultaneously, creating “a rich, heavenly blanket of music.” — Popular Music Wiki

The Last but not least, The Vocal

Brian Wilson initially wanted to take the vocal. But, he thought that his vocal is just not enough to deliver the messages of the song. So, instead of he took the lead, he asked his brother, Carl Wilson to took it. Carl was chosen because of the tenderness of his voice, and that tenderness was something that Brian seek for the song.

Another part of the vocal was taken by Brian, Terry Melcher, and Brian wife’s Marilyn and her sister Diane, It was overloaded. So you might notice how full is the vocal, right from the interlude until the end of the song.

These Vocals, really gave the listener a wholesome moment. Hearing how good the vocal is taken and mastered, we can clearly hear the tenderness of Carl’s, and how harmonics the backs are. And we should appreciate the work of Brian Wilson, who really are making this song to a brand new level.

Brian reflected in October 1966, “I gave the song to Carl because I was looking for a tenderness and a sweetness which I knew Carl had in himself as well as in his voice. He brought dignity to the song and the words, through him, became not a lyric, but words.”

Carl Wilson later described how lucky he felt being given the opportunity to sing “God Only Knows”: “I was honored to be able to sing that one. It is so beautifully written, it sings itself. Brian said something like, ‘Don’t do anything with it. Just sing it real straight. No effort. Take in a breath. Let it go real easy.’ I was really grateful to be the one to sing that song. I felt extremely lucky.”

Bruce Johnston explains that “Brian really worked a lot on ‘God Only Knows’, and at one point, he had all the Beach Boys, Terry Melcher and two of the Rovell sisters [Brian’s wife Marilyn and her sister Diane] on it. It just got so overloaded; it was nuts. So he was smart enough to peel it all back, and he held voices back to the bridge, me at the top end, Carl in the middle and Brian on the bottom. At that point, Brian’s right move was to get subtler. He had a very tender track here. ‘God Only Knows’ is a very small masterpiece with a major heartbeat, and he was right to peel everybody back and wind up with the three parts. In fact, it’s probably the only well-known Beach Boys track that has just three voices on it.”

The final vocal track was recorded between March and April 1966 at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, California, with the session engineered by Ralph Balantin and produced by Brian Wilson. The song features three voices on the track. Carl Wilson is featured on lead vocals, with Brian Wilson and Bruce Johnston backing him. Bruce Johnston explained that, “The really cute thing is that at the end of the session, Carl was really tired, and he went home. So Brian … remember, this was 8-track, so, he now has these extra tracks at his disposal. But there were just the two of us. So in the fade, he’s singing two of the three parts. He sang the top and the bottom part and I sang in the middle.” Brian used the production technique of double-tracking Carl’s voice, so that his voice is simultaneously singing the same part twice, to give the vocal a fuller and richer sound; Brian Wilson used this technique often during the recording of Pet Sounds. — Popular Music Wiki

At last, you may seem that i overly praise the song. Well, i just can’t stand when i hear a stunning song to be honest. This song really, always got me in tears, and i don’t know what kind of tears was that.

At first i appreciate the simplicity of the song, but as i dig deeper of the song, i found, just how complicated things are. the deeper i dig, the more i understand how hard and complex the song, with many instrumentals, arrangements, and vocal tracks.

I suggest you to hear the the best written song ever, God Only Know


basically just the track of so-called journal