On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
We are staying on in the US today, dear reader, but we’re over in California where there is sunshine, golden beaches and a spot of the old surfing, if that’s your thing. I’ll stick with the shade and watch the California girls go by. Given that it is the 1960s who better to enjoy the sun and sea with than The Beach Boys. One of the great American groups, The Beach Boys challenged The Beatles for a time, led by the songwriting genius that is Brian Wilson. There were two other Wilsons in the group too, those being Carl and Dennis, as well as Mike Love and Al Jardine to form a memorable quintet. So many great songs can be found in The Beach Boys’ back catalogue but today they have opted for God Only Knows which featured on the Pet Sounds album.
In God Only Knows, Carl Wilson takes on the vocals with the narrator being someone singing of an individual who makes their life better, someone that completes them if you will. They consider what life would be like without them and it ain’t pretty. They reassure themselves that they could go on and life would continue but it wouldn’t be the same without this person, it would seem pretty pointless in fact. The song’s title was eyebrow raising at the time with the mention of “God” in a song considered taboo but it’s not specific to any particular god, more to a higher divine force and it hammers home the message of how much the narrator loves this other person. Their life is simply better because of them.
God Only Knows is, for me, better than Good Vibrations which is often cited as the greatest song by The Beach Boys. Carl Wilson’s vocals are simply beautiful and the music – owing to an intricate arrangement of instruments by Brian Wilson – supports the singing perfectly. God Only Knows was the result of Brian Wilson hearing The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album and wanting to surpass it. That drove him to create both God Only Knows and with it the Pet Sounds album, which was more than a match for The Beatles, and considered by Rolling Stone magazine to be the second greatest album in history. Wilson gave every fibre of his being to make Pet Sounds, he had nothing left afterwards. Paul McCartney, in turn, was impressed and inspired by Pet Sounds, accepting the gauntlet Wilson threw down and after Revolver, The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Rolling Stone magazine consider THE greatest album ever made. When Brian Wilson heard Sgt Pepper, its superiority to Pet Sounds broke his heart and he sadly descended into a difficult period of mental illness. Such is the heavy price that so many minds seem to pay for their genius.
Favourite songs so far:
Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)
Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin’ (1965)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody (1965)
The Who – Substitute (1966)
The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon (1966)
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)