It’s a beautiful rendition of a pop classic and one respect the reasons for recording it, but give me Brian Wilson’s original recording of his gorgeous “God Only Knows” over this star-studded version, any day.
Often, one cannot improve on the original which is why they remain originals. And when an emotionally mangled Brian Wilson produced this brittle, innocent song in 1966- simple on the outside, musically complex on the outside and written with Tony Asher- the first song to use the word “god” in its title- it led to his masterpiece- Pet Sounds- promoted and released as a Beach Boys record when it was a definite solo project. It was also a project which was to result in a competition by Wilson to “out-Beatle the Beatles”, which had Paul McCartney return to the studios and re-record “Sgt Pepper’s”, and finally took its toll on the Beach Boy by pushing him over the edge at a time when he was already on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The story of Brian Wilson’s life starting with the physical abuse he suffered under his father Murray Wilson who was the band’s manager, is a deep, sad and dark one as is how he tried to follow up “Pet Sounds” with the ill-fated “Smile” project which ended with the master tapes supposedly lost in a freak fire and Brian Wilson deciding to grow fat, never leave his home and, try to rediscover his genius playing piano in a sandbox in his living room.
A few friends and I watched the new video for “God Only Knows” earlier this week and on what would have been John Lennon’s 74th birthday.
Some remarked how the outward simplicity of Brian Wilson’s song was similar to Lennon’s “Girl”, “In My Life” and “Imagine” whereas all of us wondered what Lennon might have accomplished if he were still alive today.
Subscribing to the When Your Time’s Up, Your Time’s Up School Of Thought, I personally think he was taken from us as he had nothing more to give after Double Fantasy. Or did he and could he have had more?
The key question is whether John Lennon would have ever recorded with Paul McCartney again.
Yes, he definitely might have written, recorded and performed with George and Ringo, but writing with Paul again might have happened- in time. And what would it have sounded like? Going by the music on Double Fantasy, Lennon seemed to be returning to his songwriting roots whereas at this same time, McCartney was making music with Wings- and also returning to his roots- by touring.
In the past few years, McCartney has not only toured the world, he’s been busy recording with Dave Grohl and Nirvana, producing a variety of new music, appearing at various charity concerts and is even said to be recording with Yeesus himself- Kanye West.
Of course, there are certain things, I never ever wish to think might have happened: John and Paul singing a medley of “Imagine” and “Let It Be” at the Grammys, recording Big Band versions of Their Greatest Hits with guests like Lady Gaga, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Eddie Vedder and One Direction or showing up as- gawd forbid- mentors on “The Voice”.
Would he have remained married to Yoko Ono, would he have back to baking bread, would he have become a political activist and hung out with Hollywood activists like Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, would he have jumped up onstage and played with the Stones or joined Steve Jobs to revolutionise the world, we’ll never know.
What could have happened, what might have happened, what should have happened, we can only dream about, and just be happy that his music lives on and remains the soundtrack to many of our lives.
Happy Birthday, John.