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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.

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

In popular culture

Film

  • 1998: Boogie Nights
  • 2003: Love Actually
  • 2003: My Life Without Me
  • 2004: Saved!

Television

  • 1989: The Wonder Years – used in the episode "Heartbreak"
  • 2006–09: Big Love – used as opening music for the first three seasons
  • 2007: Skins – sung by characters performing in a choir
  • 2016: "The Goldbergs" – used in the third episode of the fourth season "George! George Glass!"
  • 2017: "The Leftovers" – used in the seventh episode of the third season "The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)"

Other

  • 2013: BioShock Infinite

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
  • 2016 – Michael Bublé, Nobody But Me
  • 2017 – Avenged Sevenfold, The Stage

BBC Music Version

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."

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 Music

God Only Knows - BBC Music

full

Released October 07, 2014
Length 2:50
Director François Rousselet
Production Co
Choreographer
Filmed
Location
VEVO views 16,462,609 (as of May 09, 2019)

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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