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“God Only Knows”
God Only Knows
Information
Album

Pet Sounds

Released

July 11, 1966

Format

7" vinyl

Recorded

March 10 – April 11, 1966

Length

2:55

Writers

Brian Wilson, Tony Asher

Producer

Brian Wilson

God Only Knows is a song written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher for American rock band the Beach Boys, released in May 1966 as the eighth track on the group's album Pet Sounds. Two months later, it was released as the B-side of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" in the United States. In other countries, "God Only Knows" was the single's A-side, peaking at number 2 on the UK Singles Chart. According to historian John Robert Greene, "God Only Knows" led to the reinvention of the popular love song.

Background

The song names God in its title and lyrics, unusual for a pop single of its time, as Asher recalled: "Unless you were Kate Smith and you were singing ''God Bless America'', no one [in 1966] thought you could say 'God' in a song." The sentiments expressed in its lyric were not specific to any God, and could be addressed to any higher force, being a song about moving forward after loss. Wilson explained that his and Asher's intention was to create the feeling of "being blind but in being blind, you can see more".

Sung by his younger brother Carl Wilson, the Beach Boys' recording was produced and arranged by Brian using an unorthodox selection of instruments, including French horn, accordions, sleigh bell, harpsichord, and a quartet of violas and cellos heard throughout the piece in counterpoint. The musical structure has been variously cited for its harmonic complexity, inspiring tension through its disuse of authentic cadences and a definite key signature. Its closing section features perpetual rounds, a device that was not normally heard in popular music of the era.

Lyrics

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I'll make you so sure about it

God only knows what I'd be without you

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows what I'd be without you

If you should ever leave me
Well life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you

Cover Versions

  • 1967 – Andy Williams
  • 1977 – Glen Campbell
  • 1977 – Neil Diamond
  • 1974 – Olivia Newton-John
  • 1984 – David Bowie, Tonight
  • 1989 – Tatsuro Yamashita, Joy
  • 1993 – Elvis Costello, The Juliet Letters
  • 2001 – The Langley Schools Music Project, Innocence & Despair
  • 2004 – Mandy Moore
  • 2004 – Michael Stipe
  • 2004 – Joss Stone
  • 2006 – Michael Armstrong, Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of the Beach Boys
  • 2006 – Daniel Johnston, Do It Again: A Tribute to Pet Sounds
  • 2010 – JR JR
  • 2010 – Rivers Cuomo
  • 2011 – Taylor Swift
  • 2012 – The Flaming Lips, Pet Sounds Revisited
  • 2012 – Wilson Phillips, Dedicated
  • 2013 – A Mighty Wind, BioShock Infinite
  • 2013 – Charles Lloyd on Hagar's Song
  • 2013 – Eleanor McEvoy
  • 2014 – She & Him
  • 2014 – Paul Dano, Love & Mercy

BBC Music Version

God Only Knows
God-Only-Knows-BBC-Music
Information
Released

October 7, 2014

Format

Digital Download

Length

2:25

Recorded

2014

Writers

Brian Wilson, Tony Asher

Producers

Ethan Johns

A cover version of the song was simulcast across BBC television and radio channels on October 7, 2014, to

launch BBC Music. It featured Brian Wilson himself and other major artists from different musical genres (creating a supergroup called the Impossible Orchestra). The music video, directed by François Rousselet, features the artists in lavish, fantastical computer generated settings. The track was released the following day as a charity single for Children in Need 2014.

Wilson said: "All of the artists did such a beautiful job ... I can’t thank them enough, I'm just honored that 'God Only Knows' was chosen. 'God Only Knows' is a very special song. An extremely spiritual song and one of the best I've ever written."

Despite the musicians all performing free, the promotion has drawn some criticism in the press. Adam Sherwin wrote in The Independent: "With its message, that the BBC 'owns' the entire musical waterfront and licence-fee payers would do well to remember that, it is the kind of propaganda film an autocratic regime sensing that its legitimacy is crumbling might produce." Writing for The Guardian, Alex Petridis observed "There's clearly something a little self-aggrandising about the BBC getting a raft of stars to sing an unambiguous song of undying devotion apparently to the corporation itself. ... perhaps we should forgive them three minutes of self-congratulation, particularly when it’s raising money for charity." The Daily Telegraph, however, reported that the project cost less than the 1997 version of "Perfect Day" which drew much of the same criticism but went on to raise over £2 million for charity.

Participants

Accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra, each of the following performers are listed in order of appearance, singing vocals unless otherwise specified:

  • Martin James Bartlett – celeste
  • Pharrell Williams
  • Emeli Sandé
  • Elton John (the only artist who also performed on the 1997 version of "Perfect Day")
  • Lorde
  • Chris Martin
  • Brian Wilson
  • Florence Welch
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Stevie Wonder – vocals, harmonica
  • Eliza Carthy
  • Nicola Benedetti – violin
  • Jools Holland – piano
  • Brian May – electric guitar
  • Jake Bugg
  • Katie Derham – violin
  • Tees Valley Youth Choir
  • Alison Balsom – piccolo trumpet
  • One Direction
  • Jaz Dhami
  • Paloma Faith
  • Chrissie Hynde
  • Jamie Cullum
  • Baaba Maal
  • Danielle de Niese
  • Dave Grohl
  • Sam Smith

Lauren Laverne, Gareth Malone, and Zane Lowe also appear in the video.

Music Video

Music Video Information
God Only Knows - BBC Music02:50

God Only Knows - BBC Music

full

Released October 7,2014
Length 2:50
Director François Rousselet
Production Co
Choreographer
Filmed
Location
VEVO views 13,279,770

Chart Performance

Charts (2014) Peak

Position

Ireland (IRMA) 77
Israel (Media Forest 10
Scotland (Official Charts Company) 18
UK Singles (Official Charts Company) 20

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