Monday, November 29, 2010

"Good Vibrations" (1966)

29. Beach Boys, "Good Vibrations" (Oct. 29, 1966, #1)

At the time it was new, I liked this about as much as any Beach Boys hit (yes, even "Barbara Ann")—it sparkled and moved and I enjoyed it when it came on, though I wasn't ever switching around stations to pick it up like I would with others. If anything, in fact, I was a little suspicious of the falling-over-themselves acclaim this so regularly received from all quarters, even after it had faded from the airwaves and, later, become a fixture on oldies stations. Call it my reflexively contrarian nature, that unique curse. Slowly, however—talking decades now—the thing started to nag at me. Particularly when I saw the way it was used in movies, the hard core of its eternal beauties began to disclose. Most memorable for me, perhaps oddly, was in the documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, where it flew off the screen in an unusually apt transition, embracing and engulfing. Now I wonder how I ever could have been the least bit indifferent to it. It sneaks in so soft-footed, adds simple elements, takes off like a speedboat on the chorus. The organ is impossibly soulful in its light touch, when you manage to notice it; ditto the sawing cellos, which are thrilling. Oh yeah, they can sing some too. The use of theremin is absolutely perfect, taking this strange instrument out of the realm of '50s science fiction movies yet retaining its disquieting sense from those movies. The song inhabits and roams its strange structure easily and at will, almost randomly, and has enough going for it that it could easily triple or quadruple or more the 3:38 duration of the single release and would no doubt hold interest. As it is, I'm happy now and then simply to play it over and over.

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