This is the song I want played at my funeral. It is, to me, the most sublime, spiritual pop song ever recorded and, whenever I hear it, it takes me back to ‘that time’ – you know, the time when you are seventeen and everything is intense and overwhelming and, sometimes, almost unbearable.
A bit of serendipity. I was listening to my favourite podcast a couple of days ago, Kermode and Mayo’s film reviews on the BBC and they (or rather Mark Kermode) was talking about the new Brian Wilson biopic, Love and Mercy. One of the things he talked about was God Only Knows and how, after he had finished recording it, Brian took it to play to his dad, Murray Wilson who, on hearing it, said, according to Mark Kermode, that it sounded less like a love song and more like a suicide song – this is the man who thought he knew better than Brian how to arrange and record music!
So, the first time I can remember hearing this was in the Summer of 1966 on Morecambe fairground. Morecambe had two fairgrounds then, one on the prom, which eventually became Frontierland, and the other behind the Winter Gardens theatre, an area which is now mainly an open market and a carpark.
The centre of the Winter Gardens fairground was the Waltzer. Why? Because this was where girls tended to hang out, to get free rides from the fairground attendants who would spin the cars really fast to make the girls scream. I envied them – the attendants I mean, not the girls. They were cool and confident and looked hard as nails, whereas I was uncool (I must have a photo somewhere showing just how uncool), extremely shy and always nervous in situations where I thought I might get beaten up. And I wanted to impress girls….. desperately!
Really I wanted that feeling I got from listening to God Only Knows, but with a girl rather than a record. I spent a lot of time on the fairground, and parading up and down the prom with mates from the estate, trying to meet girls. I had one friend in particular at that time and he was my opposite in nearly every way. Where I could hardly string two words together when trying to talk to a girl, he didn’t give a damn. If he fancied a girl he would tell her and, I think because he didn’t seem to care, he usually got the girls he went after.
I can remember one excruciating afternoon in particular when he had managed to chat up this girl and, of course, she had a friend. Well, we ended up sitting on the rocks on Stone JettyIn my memory he was having a great time with the girl he was with – and I was sitting there with her friend, not saying a word, feeling more and more uncomfortable, until she eventually just got up and went. And I don’t blame her.
Listening to the song now, what is striking, apart from the overall beauty of the record, is the complexity of the arrangement and the skill with which Brian Wilson orchestrates the, apparently, 23 musicians who took part in the sessions. According to Wikipedia, some of them referred to these sessions as:
“the most magical, beautiful musical experiences they’ve ever heard.”
Give it a listen. And try to imagine you’re 17 again.