Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Good Vibrations, Beach Boys (1966)

When it came to bands of the 60's, the Beach Boys were America's sweethearts. Everything they produced seemed to touch the right nerve. If I remember correctly, the very first single I bought with my own money was Dance, Dance, Dance. But one song was the show-stopper out of all those released before Brian Wilson's various psychoses led him to withdraw from society. Anyone hearing Good Vibrations that very first time was stopped dead in his or her tracks. "I don't know where, but she sends me there." I still remember the moment we crossed into this new frontier.

Good Vibrations hit the airwaves about six months before Strawberry Fields Forever and, while the two are often compared, I have always vastly preferred the former. It was an extravaganza of sound that was both simple and insanely complex - developed, according to some reports, over 17 separate recording sessions. It broke all the rules that had up to that point been observed in producing pop songs and, with its separate movements, has been described as a pocket symphony. At 3:37, it seems much longer.

One of the many instruments featured in the song was an electronic version of an old instrument known as a theremin. Playing a real theremin involved controlling sound by moving the hands through the air varying distances from two antennas, thus altering the resulting electronic fields. The modification Wilson used, a cross between the original instrument and the later synthesizer and better suited to a musician who knew how to play a guitar, created one of the many signature "good vibrations" of this groundbreaking song.


cornbread hell said...

i love what you've done with your blog, wendy.

btw, your mention of the theremin reminded me of a "this american life" episode. if you have never heard the one where they advertise for band members and create a band, complete with a theremin player, you really should check this out: http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=223.
scroll down to "the classifieds."

keep up the great work. i'll check back later.


Mombi said...

Growing up in a strictly Beatles and Motown household, it always seemed that Elvis and The Beach Boys were viewed as the Walmart/white bread music and thus to be avoided.

It's interesting that as I've gotten older and actually listened to The Beach Boys a little more closely that I can appreciate the 'pocket orchestra' that you described. While sometimes the lyrics seem to juvenile for my liking, the actual music created is quite outstanding.

Whenever you want to master the theremin, stop on over at Mom and Harvey's. Harv got one for his birthday a year or two ago.