“God Only Knows”: Italian A-Side

Rob Chapman – in his review of the 6-CD box set Immediate Singles Collection for the June, 2000 edition of Mojo – takes issue with with the choice of tracks regarding American vocalist, P.P. Arnold (who kicked off her solo singing career in mid-60s UK), demanding to know “where is her ecstatic version of [Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys’] ‘God Only Knows‘?”:

“GOD ONLY KNOWS”     P.P. ARNOLD     1968

“God Only Knows” would be sequenced just after the opening track on side one of 1968’s Kafunta album, which enjoyed distribution in the UK, US, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Canada, and Japan.  Arnold’s version of the standout track from The Beach Boys’ groundbreaking Pet Sounds would spend its entire existence confined to the album — except, however, in Italy (and nowhere else), where “God Only Knows” nobly served as the A-side of a 1969 single release.


PP Arnold 45-a2The reverse side of the Italian picture sleeve includes jukebox title card – plus photo!

PP Arnold 45-bbThere is a page on the Smiley Smile chatboard devoted to this recording in which one of the members makes the following observation:

“But seriously folks, this is pretty much a song no one should cover.  In doing a cover version you either do something completely different with the song and/or top the original.  The latter is as close to zero chance as you’ll get, and the former not likely to work considering the power of the original arrangement [#2 Pop – 14 weeks on the charts].  That said, P.P. does a decent job – doesn’t embarrass herself.”

An original copy of the 1969 Italian picture sleeve sold at auction in 2012 for 20 Euros.

This just in:  Arnold’s “lost” album of songs recorded in the late 1960s/early 1970s – The Turning Tide – was finally released last August, as reported by Billboard.  “Derek” (i.e., Eric Clapton) and the Dominoes (Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon and Carl Radle, along with Jim Price & Bobby Keys) served as backing musicians on three of the songs, while Madeline Bell, Doris Troy, and Rita Coolidge share vocals with Arnold on other tracks (with Clapton, Barry Gibb, Caleb Quaye and Arnold serving variously and/or collaboratively as producer).

“The First Lady of Immediate Records” (who was gracious enough to share this history piece on her Facebook page!) is about to embark upon her first ever concert tour of Australia – tour dates listed on the official poster below:


Bonus Track
“God Only Knows”:  Rare LP-Only Version

Thanks to Smiley Smile for pointing Zero to 180 toward another notable (pop) “soul” cover of the classic Beach Boys track “God Only Knows“:   Philadelphia’s own, Brenda & the Tabulations:

“God Only Knows” would serve as the third track on side one of 1967’s Dry Your Eyes.

Sealed for everyone’s protection

“The Little Girl I Once Knew”: Pop’s Pregnant Pause

Brian Wilson’s “The Little Girl I Once Knew” languished in relative pop obscurity (on 45 only) until included as a bonus track on the 2-albums-as-1-CD reissue of The Beach Boys Today! b/w Summer Days and Summer Nights released in 1990.  It might be a little challenging for today’s ears to appreciate just how radical it was — especially when considered within the context of 1960s AM pop radio and its non-stop aural barrage — to play a song that contained two (mostly) full measures of musical silence.  Not just once but twice within the same song.  Rather daring for 1965.

“The Little Girl I Once Knew”     The Beach Boys     1965

Check out the deep bottom in this stereo mix:

Carol Kaye‘s bass line in the walk-up to the second pregnant pause, in particular, slays me every time — masterful in design and execution.

“The Little Girl I Once Knew” also includes one of pop’s all-time great intros.  As David Leaf aptly observes in the CD liner notes, this single is “the record that’s clearly a bridge between ‘Let Him Run Wild’ and the Pet Sounds album.”  And yet, the song is perceived as a relative chart failure (“only” reached #20 on the pop chart) “coming on the heels of consecutive top-five singles.”  Radio programmers, according to David Leaf, did not appreciate the song’s it’s-the-notes-you-don’t-play aesthetic and were, to some degree, responsible for holding back the single’s performance in the marketplace.

Little Girl - US

                Germany                                    Denmark                                 Sweden

Little Girl - GermanyLittle Girl - DenmarkLittle Girl - Sweden

                       UK                                       France                                    Holland

Little Girl - UKLittle Girl - FranceyLittle Girl - Holland

                   Norway                                   Japan                                   New Zealand

Little Girl - NorwayLittle Girl - JapanLittle Girl - New Zealand

Paul Tanner: Musician-of-All-Trades & Oddball Instrumentalist

Paul Tanner, who just recently passed, lived to the ripe old age of 95.  I was delighted to learn that this one-time trombonist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra went on to play the pivotal theremin part on the Beach Boys’ worldwide 1966 hit, “Good Vibrations” – as well as on “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” from 1965’s Pet Sounds plus the title track from 1967’s Wild Honey.

According to Bruce Weber, Tanner went to California in the early 1950s to do film soundtracks, as well as live musical performances on ABC TV, and it was during this period in which he “became something of a musician-of-all-trades, taking up a variety of oddball instruments and performing on them when a quirky score called for them.”

Tanner became interested in the theremin – Leon Theremin’s self-named futuristic 1920s electronic musical instrument – as a result of having witnessed its effective implementation in the soundtracks of such 1950s science fiction films as The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing (From Another World) click here to hear a theremin recording session for The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Tanner, after noticing theremin performers struggling with the instrument to obtain correct intonation and dynamics, contracted with a TV repair shop owner and friend, Bob Whitsell, to construct for him an instrument that would replicate the sound of a theremin but include manual levers that would allow the player to have greater control over volume and pitch.  Thus was born the “electro-theremin” (also known as the Tannerin) and first employed on Tanner’s 1958 “ambient” album, Music for Heavenly Bodies.

Heavenly Bodies - Paul Tanner

Here is an early work-up of “Good Vibrations” that features Paul Tanner’s electro-theremin part more prominently in the mix than the 45 version released in October 1966:

Alternate Vibrations – The Beach Boys

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear Paul Tanner’s electro-theremin featured in an early mix of “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys.]

Incredibly, Tanner donated/sold his one-and-only prototype of the electro-theremin in the late 60s “to a hospital to use for audiology work, because he believed that newer keyboard synthesizers made it obsolete.”

Extra Credit:  memorize the chart listings for “Good Vibrations” for various countries outside the United States.

National Chart (1966–67)            Peak Position
Australian Singles Chart                  2
Belgian Singles Chart                     6
Canadian Singles Chart                    2
Dutch Singles Chart                       4
German Singles Chart                      8
Italian Singles Chart                    12
Malaysian Singles Chart                   1
New Zealand Singles Chart                 1
Norwegian Singles Chart                   2
Rhodesian Singles Chart                   1
UK Singles Chart                          1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100                    1