Monday, December 21, 2009

God Only Knows by The Beach Boys

Very few songs in the canon of popular music are about love. Yes, there are countless songs that talk about circumstances of falling in love and celebrate how great it feels to be in love. However more than often than, these songs are not so much about love but the idea of love. This magical thing that we will find with a person the first time we see them and perfect relationships that will withstand the challenges of life.

Unfortunately, this idea of love, is just that, an idea. People fall in love every day but they also fall out of love. “True love” isn’t true forever and unlike in the movies, the story is far from over when you fall in love with someone.

Through all the pain of divorce, and break-ups our belief in love takes a beating but we never give up. Do we keep trying because it’s just what we are suppose to do as humans? Is there something biological involved or something more? Really, if love is just about procreation, then love is quite an inefficient way to get from point A to point B, so I refuse to believe it’s just about survival. It’s about what it means to be human.

Being human means that we doubt, “I may not always love you.” It means that we wonder about the effect we have on the world, “If you should ever leave me though life would still go on, believe me.” It means that we wonder: “God only knows what I'd be without you.”

With only two verses and a simple chorus, The Beach Boys created with “God Only Knows,” one of the most beautiful love songs in popular music. When Brian Wilson literally went crazy and secluded himself in the studio what he emerged with was the songs that would make up Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys greatest album, considered by many to be as influential and important as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

The Beach Boys were establishes as the masters of reflecting teenage love but Brian Wilson with “God Only Knows” raised it to another level. The main phrase of this song “God only knows what I’d be without you,” is devotional but also fearful. It’s a feeling of doubt mixed with uncertainty. In eight words, this line speaks deeper to the conditions of the human heart more than many novels.

The musical invention in this song is mind blowing. “God Only Knows” is a wedding march with a faster tempo than most loves songs. Wilson utilizes a wide arrange of orchestra instruments rarely used in popular music creating unique colors and flourishes. The subtle peaks and valleys in the melody capture the aching and longing of love so well that if there were no lyrics we would we still know exactly what this song is about.

Then there’s the epic layering of the line “God only knows” in the last fifty seconds of this song. The voice swirl around each other, haunting our thoughts, slowly taking us to place that our thoughts and dreams disappear when they leave our mind and become pure emotion.

“God Only Knows” is a true love song. It is honest and revealing describing the conflict of the mind and the human heart. Through it all, it reminds us that the reason we keep trying for love, that we hang onto what we have is because we can’t imagine life without it.

What it means to be human is to know love, have love and share love. Because a life without love is not much of a life at all.


  1. Have you heard the cover of this song as performed by Mandy Moore & Michael Stipe which features in the film Saved?

  2. No I hadn't heard of it (even though I did see Saved). I found if on ( It's nice, not a pairing that I would expect but it definitely works as a duet. Mandy Moore really broke out of her teen pop phase nicely and Stipe is a an artist is an amazing artist, thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Yeah, I've always loved that song and the point you make about the layering at the end was always my favorite part. It's like the best part of a well-done choir, gives the song an ethereal quality.