“God Only Knows”: A Golden Anniversary Tribute

It probably wins my vote for prettiest pop-rock song of all time, and it’s a far-from-controversial opinion. “God Only Knows” and all the other great tracks from the Beach Boys’ incomparable Pet Sounds album are 50 years old. (The album was released on May 26th, 1966.)

I owe a big thanks to my pal Mark Goldenberg who inspired me to really learn the entire tune. Mark performs an exquisite solo version, far more lyrical and poetic than my relatively motoric reading. He and I are also preparing a duo version for an album project in the works.

I say “really learn” because you don’t appreciate the number of perverse composition tricks in the tune until you study it bar by bar. Example: the jarring leap into the bridge after the second verse. Or the way that chromatically snaking bridge seems to usher in a return to the chorus, but it’s only a three-bar tease (and in the “wrong” key at that) before a exquisite harmonic pirouette into the final verse. Or the fact that many, if not most, chords in the song don’t feature their root note in the bass. (Especially that verse! The voice leading simply makes no sense on paper, but it’s perfection in practice.) And while countless musicians have praised the outro’s beautiful choral polyphony, I haven’t got much to add, except to say that it’s frickin’ hard trying to cover all those parts! (I didn’t succeed — I only played as many as I could cram into my left hand.)

And oh, the guitar: It’s the latest installment in the ongoing Mongrel Strat Project.I’ve been hacking away at the same sad parts for years. Literally hacking, in this case: I had to route out the pickup cavity to accommodate a pair of über-retro PAFs (a Duncan Joe Bonamassa signature set). Yeah, a Strat with humbuckers isn’t a new idea. But the pickups used are almost always high-gain models designed for macho soloing. I wanted to try something low-gain and unpotted for relatively bright, resonant sounds not quite so far removed from traditional Strat tones. I’m finishing up a video about the project, and I’ll post it in the next few days.

Anyway: Happy birthday, beautiful. You wear your age well.:)

21 comments to “God Only Knows”: A Golden Anniversary Tribute

  • Brooks Bell

    Very nice. Maybe use your looper just on the outro?

    • joe

      Funny you say that! I tried exactly that last week during my solo looping gig — I played the whole tune pretty much as heard here, but switched on the looper at the point where the chorus melody jumps up an octave (in my version, not the original). I run that setup in stereo, and I’d assigned the controller pedal to adjust panning, so I was able to play all the vocal lines and pan them in stereo. It sounded pretty cool! I might have done the same here, but … the looper was all the way over there in my road case, and I’m so frickin’ lazy. 😉

  • .
    Fuzz you.
    You are loved.

  • El Capitan

    Joe, not only are you a fantastic musician, your descriptions are always an added pleasure to read.

    Thank you.

  • Oinkus

    Good job , we do love anything connected to the Mutant Strat Project just because.

  • Julian

    A gorgeous tune, and a lovely interpretation (especially on solo guitar). And I noticed in the gear credits a new Gore pedal…?

    • joe

      Fingers crossed! It’s a one-knob vibrato circuit I like a lot, but it’s not on the release schedule yet. But I’d like to put it out before long!

  • Alfredo Odriozola

    Absolutely beautiful. To me is the second best tune ever written, second only to “Dalla sua Pace” by Wolfie. Do you have this written somewhere?

  • Deb

    Perfect 50th birthday gift – for us.

  • Hernan

    That’s some great playing as usual, thanks for posting this.

    By the way, how does one get started with playing bass + melody at the same time like you do on this piece (and on last week’s *Daydream Believer*)? Any method books that may be of help?

    • Joe Gore

      Thanks for the kind words, Hernan! Most of my fingerstyle stuff is based on modified classical guitar technique. I’m not sure about your technical background, but if you don’t have a lot of experience with non-pickstyle playing, I suggest a good classical guitar method. Frederick Noad’s Solo Guitar Playing is an oldie but a goodie. Hope that helps! 🙂

      • Hernan

        Thanks Joe, that book looks ideal to get the rust off of my hooks. I see that people post some cool-sounding studies from it on YouTube…

  • Matthew

    Very nice. Great sounding rendition of a great song.

    Out of curiosity what is the bass on your far left. Looks like a Gold from the head stock but I’ve never seen one like that. Looks like a fun little four string.

    • joe

      It’s a Guild Starfire bass that I keep strung with a tape-wound set. It’s vintage, but the reissues are really good — probably better than the originals.

  • Brett

    Joe,you are one of my favorite guitarist out there right now…if for no other reason than To Bring You My Love,but you have since kept my interest as an artist. Thank you,sir!

  • Dave

    Such a beautiful version of that song! Would you ever consider tabbing it? Also I absolutely love your guitar work on the Premiere Guitar P-90 roundup, especially the thing you do for the neck pickup. What was that? Awesome stuff. Also thanks for your Pagey Project info. I read it and used it and love the mod. Thanks, Joe!

    • joe

      Thanks a zillion, Dave! I’d love to tab all my stuff, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day. (I’ve got a couple of other projects I can’t talk about yet that are sucking up lots of time — in a good way.) But if anyone wants to have a go at a transcription, they have my blessing. (But not for sale without royalties to Wilson and Parks.) I’m not sure what you mean about the neck pickup — if you can point out an example, I’ll try to explain. 🙂

  • Dave

    It’s the first piece you hear when you play any of the audio bits for this review article:


    It’s a really beautiful little tune! I think you do neck first, then bridge, then middle. They all sounds great, but I really love that first thing you play on the neck pickup. Thanks!

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