As we mentioned earlier in our list, in 1963, Brian Wilson was so obsessed by Phil Spector's orchestral vision for The Ronettes' 'Be My Baby' that he took to listening to it 100 times a day. Spector revels in telling this story – depicting Wilson as a dope-smoking dilettante, smitten by the wonder of the Wall of Sound. 'I'd like to have a nickel for every joint he smoked figuring out how I got that “Be My Baby” sound' is just one of his many barbs.
Yet, three years later, Wilson and the Boys would surpass the master with a song that lifted the notion of the sophisticated love song clean into the heavens.
The uncertainty of the first line ('I may not always love you') is a classic pop curveball, which works with the swooping transition from intro to verse. Once that miasmic mix of harpsichords and celestial brass clears, and that opening caveat is laid bare, we’re left with a heartbreakingly tender song of yearning, of devotion and of fidelity.
Combining the fatalism of lines like ‘what good would living do me’ with the use of God in the title was risky business back in the mid-’60s. Few should have worried. In fact, the song’s universality has turned it into an almost non-denominational and humanist hymn – blessed with an equivocal outlook that can magically give succour to all forms of love.
Film makers certainly know it: just compare the Kleenex-soaking finale of ‘Love Actually’ to the complicated pseudo-family resolution at the end of ‘Boogie Nights’. Two vastly different stories of love, but both tied together neatly at the end by ‘God Only Knows’ in a pretty, complicated, perfect bow. How like love. Oliver Keens