The three surviving original members of the Beach Boys--Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine--played their 1966 hit-song Good Vibrations at the 2012 Grammys. Source: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
The Beach Boys had already departed from their signature surf-pop sound by the time they released their single Good Vibrations onto the airwaves over forty years ago. The year was 1966, and a new subversive term was taking rock and roll and tie-dying it: psychedelic.
After half a century since the Beach Boys debuted in 1961, the band's three surviving original members took the stage at the Grammys on Sunday to play Good Vibrations, a song that revolutionized pop music in its experimentation, and signaled that the boys behind Surfin' USA and I Get Around had grown up and were getting groovy.
Founding members Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine officially announced late last year that they would be getting back together to record a new album and go on a 50th anniversary reunion tour in 2012, after not playing together since 2006. Years of legal battles and creative differences, beginning in the 1980s, had left a rift between lead vocalists and principal songwriters, Wilson and Love, in particular, which appears to have now been set aside.
With all the guys together we were supporting each other. It was a different experience, and it was a thrill for me, Wilson told reporters after performing at the Grammys. Just being on stage together gives us a chance to express ourselves vocally and instrumentally.
Wilson, had been instrumental in the band's transition from writing catchy, surf-themed hits to chart-topping psychedelic-pop songs in the sixties. The 1966 album Pet Sounds saw Wilson take over lead vocals from Love, and presented a distinct new sound--typified in popular tracks like Wouldn't it be nice and God only knows--of layered symphonic melodies that emphasized the band's unmatched vocal harmonies. Good Vibrations, penned by Wilson and Love, was also slated for the album, but as the most experimental track and challenging production-wise, it was withheld to perfect the vision that Wilson, in particular, had for it.
The song was released as a single in October, 1966, five months after Pet Sounds and it was clearly another step beyond the psychedelic-pop sound the band was already pioneering, one that would be showcased in their 1967 album Smiley Smile. Good Vibrations presented an expansive and rich musical landscape, eschewing typical verse-chorus structures, and featuring the electronic humming of the Theremin alongside newly heightened vibrations of cello strings. Two months after its release, it topped the Billboard charts at Number One and redefined what a pop song could achieve artistically.
It is perhaps fitting that the Beach Boys performed the technical masterpiece at the 2012 Grammys, reminding people how the recording studio should not be a place to over-produce and engineer non-existent talent, but one of creativity and exploration. Keep those good vibrations happening.