The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations/Let’s Go Away for Awhile (1966)

Hello everyone, its time to read about a new record! But first:

Updates:
David Berkeley: The Fire in My Head (Straw Man): I still have yet to receive this; I have no idea where it is.

Simon & Garfunkel: Wednesday Morning, 3AM (Columbia): Still no word on this one. Hasn’t been shipped. I guess the guy legitimately can’t find it. I haven’t heard from him since last time, so my guess would be that it’s not coming. Time to find another one! David Berkeley:

 

The Beach Boys- Good Vibrations/Let’s Go Away for Awhile:

photo

“Good Vibrations” Side A, complete with Capitol’s 1960s swirl label

The origins of “Good Vibrations” can be traced back to the childhood of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys’ songwriter, producer & all around leader. His mother subscribed in the new age belief that all matter gives off energy, or vibrations & that dogs, in particular, are excellent receptors. She told a young Wilson that they tend bark & growl around bad vibrations & act happily & playful around the good ones. Whether he believed in it or not, the notion stuck & he played with the idea for a long time.

Jump to 1966.

Once Pet Sounds was released & met with indifference from the general population, but amazing acclaim from the music community, Wilson decided that he wanted to make an even better album. First, he had to start with a single. Thus, his new project began its extremely long & costly studio process.

“Good Vibrations” is beautifully crafted, with very unique instrumentation. For one, cellos were brought in to add almost a percussive sound to the chorus. Played under the vocals of singer, Mike Love, the quick, sharp triplets drive the song along. Another new addition to popular music was the electro-theremin, or tannerin, which involves turning knobs via an attached slider, to mimic the sound of an actual theremin.*

The recording technique was like the one used for recoding Pet Sounds, but to a much larger extent. The song took over eight months for Wilson to record, rerecord & mix his final product. In addition, multiple studios in five different complexes ran at the same time, with each one recording a different section of the song. It was a tiring process, with songwriter constantly running between studios & figuring out instruments’ arrangements. This multi-studio technique would eventually be adopted by The Beatles to record St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band & The Beatles (White Album).

It was also a costly endeavor, with Capitol Records shelling out $50,000 for the record’s completion. That’s $362,316.36 in today’s money. Remember, those are just recording costs. Promotion & distribution, the most expensive part of record-making, are not figured into the fifty grand. The price was, & still is unheard of.**

Unfortunately, the one place that Wilson didn’t get support was from the rest of The Beach Boys. They had met the idea of making Pet Sounds with a substantial level of ambivalence, so when the album failed to do as well as they’d have liked, they were even more reluctant to record “Good Vibrations” & Smile, the album which it was slated to support in advance. Some members also claimed the song was too long. ***

Ever the classy guy, Wilson never specified which band members opposed the record, but this excerpt Rolling Stone Article, written by David Felton gives a good sense of the opposition which fed the frustration that eventually played a role in his mental breakdown.

DAVID FELTON: Did everybody support what you were trying to do?
BRIAN WILSON: No, not everybody. There was a lot of “Oh you can’t do this, that’s too modern,” or, “That’s going to be too long a record.” I said “No, it’s not going to be too long a record, it’s going to be just right.”
DAVID FELTON: Who resisted you? Your manager? The record company?
BRIAN WILSON: No, people in the group, but I can’t tell ya who. We just had resisting ideas. They didn’t quite understand what this jumping from studio to studio was all about. And they couldn’t conceive of the record as I did. I saw the record as a totality piece.

 

Nonetheless, Wilson convinced his band to record the vocals & release the single, most likely with the, “Well, this is my masterpiece & I don’t see any of you writing anything anyway,” argument. The joke was on the rest of them, though, because “Good Vibrations,” backed with “Let’s Go Away for Awhile,” an instrumental off of Pet Sounds, smashed the charts, landing the number one spot in Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Rhodesia, the UK & the US.

photo 2

“Good Vibrations'” Side B, “Let’s Go Away for Awhile”

Visual inspection:
You’ll notice there’s no “Cover Art” section in this post. That’s because in the 1960s, singles normally didn’t come with cover art. Yes, there were picture sleeves, but those were relatively few in numbers. The vast majority of 45s came in regular seven inch paper sleeves, & that’s exactly how I received this one.

photo 1

A 7″ paper sleeve.

When inspecting records, 45s must be treated differently than LPs. Generally, the quality of the vinyl on a single won’t be as good & it’ll have much more wear. Remember, these things only came with two songs, & if it was a number one like this one, chances are, it saw a ton of play. When I looked at my new copy of “Good Vibrations,” it definitely looked loved, but I have no complaints. There are no major gouges or deep scratches on either side. The record has only a few scuffs, which I judged wouldn’t have much impact on the audio quality.

 

Sound:
When mixed properly, seven inch singles are supposed to sound superior to LPs. This is because the record is spinning at 45 RPM instead of 33 1/3. The faster spin of the record causes the recording stylus to cover more space over the same amount of time, meaning the analog audio is much less compressed. However, in the 1960s, there was an unfortunate trade off between quality & consumerism. Old singles were mixed to play on cheaper turntables because the biggest consumers were children & teenagers. Most didn’t own state-of-the-art stereo systems, but instead, had small, portable battery powered players, with internal speakers. I found that the sound was very mixed very flatly, because the engineers in no doubt mixed the music for small, tinny-sounding speakers. When I put it on, there were quite a few pops & hisses, but that’s what you’d expect. The record is forty-eight years old & has been played countless times. I’m not worried about it at all. I think it adds to the listening experience. Despite the loss of audio quality in the mix, the record seems to play louder than any of my albums do. I can hear it play louder when I turn the volume down. I need to do some more research on this, but I’m guessing it’s because the stylus vibrates more intensely with the faster spin.

 

Final Thoughts:
This record was given to me as a gift & I absolutely love it. It’s a song I’ve always wanted on vinyl & now I finally have it. The record is wonderfully complex & I can only continue to praise Brian Wilson for his genius efforts & for his contributions to modern music. If you want to pick up a vinyl copy of “Good Vibrations,” they’re all over eBay & in used record shops. Look carefully & make sure you get something in good shape. There are plenty that aren’t.

 

*They’re cool instruments. Seriously. You play them by waving your hands between two antennae, which changes the pitch & volume. See one in action.

** Take a look at the chart in this NPR article, taken from an episode of the “All Things Considered” radio show, which breaks down the costs of making a Rihanna record. NPR calculated that from brainstorming to promotion & release, it costs $1,078,000 to make a her hit single. Let’s say Rihanna record in 1966. Putting out a single would have cost about $148,700. Now, in order to compare the two recording costs, we need to subtract the cost of promotion, because Brian Wilson’s bill of $50,000 was for recording & musician fees, only. Rihanna’s promotion is about a million dollars in today’s money & in 1966, her promotion would’ve been $138,000. So after making the subtractions, we’re left with $10,800 in 1966 money. That’s about a fifth as much. Still, that’s assuming that Wilson used songwriters & producers. He didn’t; he did those things himself. Except for studio musicians, Capitol didn’t even need spend money to hire outside the company & they still spent FIVE times as much on recording. I’d say they were pretty invested in the project.

***The record’s run time is 3:39, which doesn’t seem too long now, but in those days, it was. Singles were about 1:30 to 2:30. It’s so long that the run-out groove is too short for my tone arm. I have to turn the auto-stop off because the tone arm hits its stop point just before the song starts its fadeout.

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