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Song IconBeach Boys "God Only Knows"

About "God Only Knows"

"God Only Knows" is a song by American rock band the Beach Boys from their 1966 album Pet Sounds. Written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, it is a Baroque-style love song distinguished for its harmonic innovation and complexity, its unusual instrumentation, and its subversion of typical popular song conventions, both lyrically and musically. It is often praised as one of the greatest songs of all time and as the Beach Boys' finest record.

The song's musical sophistication is demonstrated by its three contrapuntal vocal parts and weak tonal center (competing between the keys of E and A). Lyrically, the words are expressed from the perspective of a narrator who asserts that life without their lover could only be fathomed by God—an entity that had been considered taboo to name in the title or lyric of a pop song. It marked a departure for Wilson, who attributed the impetus for the song to Asher's affinity for standards such as "Stella by Starlight". Some commentators interpret "God Only Knows" as promoting suicidal ideations, although such an interpretation was not intended by the songwriters. Others have compared the song's deceptively advanced harmonic structure to the work of classical composers such as Delibes, Bach, and Stravinsky.

Wilson produced the record between March and April 1966, enlisting about 20 session musicians who variously played drums, sleigh bells, plastic orange juice cups, clarinets, flutes, strings, French horn, accordion, guitars, upright bass, harpsichord, and a tack piano with its strings taped. His brother Carl Wilson sang lead, a vocal performance that became regarded as Carl's best ever, with Brian himself and Bruce Johnston providing additional harmonies. The song ends with a series of repeating vocal rounds, another device that was uncommon for popular music of the era.

"God Only Knows" was issued as the B-side of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" in July 1966 and peaked at number 39 on the Billboard Hot 100. In other countries, it was the single's A-side, reaching the top 10 in the UK, Canada, Norway, and the Netherlands. Many songwriters, including Paul McCartney and Jimmy Webb, have cited "God Only Knows" as their favorite song of all time. In 2004, it was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". In 2021, it was ranked number 11 in Rolling Stone's list of the greatest songs in history.

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