Fred Only Knows

The spelling “a capella” is the correct way of writing this, but Americans as usual have their own way, and we often use the word acapella to classify singing without instrumental accompaniment.  ‘God Only Knows’ was released on Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys eleventh studio album by in 1966.  It was written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, a songwriter and advertising copywriter who composed the lyrics.  This song is often praised as one of the greatest songs ever written, and as the Beach Boys’ finest record.  In 2021, it was ranked number 11 in Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest songs of all time, and Mojo Magazine ranked this song as the 13th greatest song of all time.  Pitchfork media named it the best song of the 1960s.  Oddly when it first released, it only reached #39 on the US charts, however it did get to #2 in the UK.

Brian and Tony were talking about the 1944 popular jazz standard ‘Stella by Starlight’ and that became the inspiration to write this song.  Brian said he thought Tony saw something, like being blind then in your head you see a place, or a song and they saw that song together, because they were both in the same place and this is why they worked so well together.  Tony and Brian had a lengthy conversation about using the word God in this song, because unless you were Kate Smith and you were singing ‘God Bless America’, no one thought you could say God in a song.  No one had done it, and Brian didn’t want to be the first person to try it.  They thought about titling this ‘Fred Only Knows’, but God worked better.

Carl Wilson sang lead vocals, with Brian Wilson and Bruce Johnston backing him.  The instrumental recording featured Carl Wilson on twelve string guitar, Hal Blaine on drums, Jim Gordon on percussion, Lyle Ritz on string bass, Carol Kaye on electric bass, Ray Pohlman on danelectro bass, Don Randi on piano, Larry Knechtel on organ, Carl Fortina and Frank Morocco on accordion, Leonard Hartman on clarinet and bass clarinet, Bill Green and Jim Horn on flute, Alan Robinson on French horn, Jay Migliori on baritone saxophone, Leonard Malarsky and Sid Sharp on violin, Darrel Terwilliger on viola and Jesse Erlich on cello.  Brian said that there were 23 musicians present during the ‘God Only Knows’ sessions, although only 16 are credited as being present on the actual take that was used for the final song.  The Beach Boys rereleased Pet Sounds in 1995, a three-CD, ninety-song box set containing alternate takes, instrumental tracks and the first true stereo mix of the landmark album with an a cappella version of this song.

This song is about how life will be different for somebody without their lover and this situation of what his life would become could only be fathomed by God.  It is a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, where the guy says that life would still go on, but he is not planning on moving forward after this devastating loss, because his love is eternal.  Wilson said that Asher’s and his intention was to create the feeling of being blind, but in being blind, they could see more.

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
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
God only knows what I’d be without you
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 (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 (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 (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 (what I’d be without you)
God only knows what I’d be without you

Written for Bee’s Love Is In Da Blog 22 where today we are asked to find an A Capella Love Song.

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