Wonderful (The Beach Boys song)

"Wonderful" is a song by the American rock band the Beach Boys from their 1967 album Smiley Smile and their unfinished Smile project. Written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, the song tells the story of a young girl's sexual awakening and its disruption of her devotion to God and her parents. It was the only "boy-girl" song they wrote for Smile.

Song by the Beach Boys
from the album Smiley Smile
ReleasedSeptember 18, 1967 (1967-09-18)
Producer(s)The Beach Boys
Licensed audio
"Wonderful" on YouTube
Audio sample
Song by the Beach Boys
from the album Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys
ReleasedJuly 29, 1993 (1993-07-29)
RecordedAugust 25 – December 15, 1966
StudioWestern and Columbia, Hollywood
GenreChamber pop[1]
  • Brian Wilson
  • Van Dyke Parks
Producer(s)Brian Wilson
Licensed audio
"Wonderful" on YouTube
Audio sample

Numerous early versions of the song were recorded by the group from August 1966 to April 1967 at three different Hollywood studios. It was originally sung by Wilson with harpsichord, trumpet, and the group's backing vocals as accompaniment. The arrangement for Smiley Smile differed significantly and was recorded in a single three-hour session at Wilson's makeshift home studio. This version featured Carl Wilson on lead vocal, supported by piano and organ, and a 35-second doo-wop interlude.

The original Smile version was released on the compilations Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys (1993) and The Smile Sessions (2011). As a solo artist, Brian rerecorded the song twice, for the albums I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (1995) and Brian Wilson Presents Smile (2004). Cover versions of "Wonderful" have been recorded by artists including Nikki Sudden, David Garland, Adventures in Stereo, and Rufus Wainwright.

Background and lyricismEdit

"Wonderful" is one of the numerous songs Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks wrote for the Beach Boys' never-finished album Smile.[2] The song title derived from a pet name Wilson had for his then-wife Marilyn.[1] It was the only "boy/girl song" written for the project.[3] Van Dyke Parks recalled,

Musically, it's entirely different from anything else. and I thought that it was a place, an opportunity, to begin a love song. I remember Brian pressing me about the relationship between the mother and the father and the child. And this is the guy who wrote "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)", the guy who is becoming a man. I really think that he was thinking about his own personal progression from childhood. Now I thought, once we had gotten "Heroes And Villains" done, we might have seen a boy/girl song emerge, other than "Wonderful". Honestly, I really thought we would do it, but I never found an opportunity to pursue that with the music I was given.[3]

The lyrics tell the story of a girl whose meeting with a boy disrupts her devotion to God and her parents.[4] Of the songs on Smile, some of which deal with spiritual themes, "Wonderful" is the only one that refers to God explicitly.[1] Music journalist David Zahl wrote that although "The Lord gets a mention in 'Wonderful'", it is "mainly as a somewhat creepy device to deal with adolescent sexuality."[5] Biographer Mark Dillon interpreted the interlude on the Smiley Smile rendition as a musical representation of the female protagonist's sexual awakening.[6]

Parks was not initially credited as one of the writers of "Wonderful". He was awarded an official writing credit after broaching the issue with Wilson in 2003.[7]


Smile sessionsEdit

"Wonderful" was one of the first songs attempted for Smile, and according to historian Keith Badman, none of the Smile recordings of "Wonderful" were finished versions of the song.[8] The original is a harpsichord-led arrangement supported by trumpet and the group's backing vocals.[1]

The basic track for the first version was recorded on August 25, 1966 at Western Studio. It took 18 takes to record; Wilson had trouble playing the harpsichord. At one point in the session, he remarked to engineer Chuck Britz, "Some of these notes are fucking up. I swear to God. You push them and they don't go."[9] On October 6, Wilson overdubbed a lead vocal onto the track. Drums and other instruments are also added to the track during the session. Wilson then created a rough mix of the track.[8] Further vocals were recorded for the song on December 15 at Columbia Studio.[10]

On January 9, 1967, the second version (known as the "Rock with Me Henry" version) was recorded at Western.[11][nb 1] Badman speculated that Wilson "consider[ed] this another potential candidate for the B-side of 'Heroes and Villains'."[12] A third version of the song, with piano as the sole accompaniment, was recorded by the band around April 10 at Armin Steiner's Sound Recorders Studio.[11] On April 29, publicist Derek Taylor reported that a single, "Vegetables" backed with "Wonderful", would soon be released. Regarding "Wonderful", he wrote, "I only heard [it] improvised at the piano with the boys humming the theme for Paul [McCartney]."[13]

Smiley Smile sessionsEdit

From June to July 1967, the Beach Boys recorded simplified versions of Smile-period songs, including "Wonderful", for the forthcoming album Smiley Smile.[14] According to Dillon, "Wonderful" had "the most radical reinterpretation".[4] It was recorded in one three-hour session at Wilson's makeshift home studio. Carl Wilson sang the lead vocal with piano and organ as accompaniment.[4]

This version omitted one verse from the original lyrics. Instead, the section consists of a 35-second interlude described by Dillon as "a left turn into a hash den".[4] Dillon believed that, amid the group's giggling and nonsense doo-wop chanting, the phrase "don't think you're God" can be heard in the mass of voices.[15]


In 1972, the Beach Boys performed "Wonderful" at numerous concert dates in medley with the Flames' song "Don't Worry Bill".[16] They nicknamed the medley "Wonderbill".[17]

Recognition and legacyEdit

For his curation of the 2002 compilation Classics Selected by Brian Wilson, Wilson chose the Smiley Smile version of "Wonderful" as one of his favorite songs by the Beach Boys.[1] It is also Mike Love's favorite song from Smile.[18] In a 2011 interview, he commended Parks' "marvelous job" with the lyrics and described the piece as beautiful, sensitive, and possessing the ability to move listeners to tears.[19] In 2012, he added, "'Wonderful' is an amazing, amazing piece of work. Holy shit! Van Dyke and Brian did a great collaboration on that one. It’s a really beautiful song. That’s probably my favorite thing from the Smile project."[18]

Musician Matthew Sweet praised the Smile version for its baroque feel, although he decreed, the song "gets a little more trivialized on Smiley Smile".[1] In a 2011 interview, Darian Sahanaja said, "I remember around 1984 or ’85 getting one of the first cassettes with Smile bootlegs floating around and hearing this version of 'Wonderful' with Brian playing harpsichord. That pretty much changed my life. It sounded to me like the natural link between Pet Sounds and 'Heroes & Villains.' So amazing. Even now, when I think of Smile I think of that piece."[20] Dillon characterized the Smile version as "proto-psychedelic chamber pop" and the Smiley Smile rendition as "Beach Boys' Party! on acid."[21] He wrote, "If Smile was indeed shelved in part because any band members found the music too weird, it is inconceivable that they would have seen this as any more accessible."[6]

Release historyEdit

Single by Brian Wilson
from the album Brian Wilson Presents Smile
B-side"Wind Chimes"
ReleasedSeptember 20, 2004
LabelNonesuch Records
Songwriter(s)Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks
Producer(s)Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson singles chronology
"Your Imagination"
"Good Vibrations"
Licensed audio
"Wonderful" on YouTube


Per band archivist Craig Slowinski, the following credits pertain to the Smile versions.[11]

Version 1 (August 25, 1966)

Version 2 (January 9, 1967)

  • Hal Blaine – overdubbed drums
  • Carol Kaye – Danelectro fuzz bass (uncertain edit)
  • Ray Pohlman – overdubbed mandolin (uncertain credit)
  • Lyle Ritz – overdubbed upright bass
  • Brian Wilson – backing vocals, harpsichord
  • Carl Wilson – lead and backing vocals

Version 3 (April 10, 1967 [uncertain date])

  • Al Jardine – vocals
  • Mike Love – doubletracked vocals
  • Brian Wilson – vocals, grand piano
  • Carl Wilson – vocals

Cover versionsEdit


  1. ^ Slowinski could not determine when and where the vocals of this version were overdubbed.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Dillon 2012, p. 151.
  2. ^ Badman 2004, p. 148.
  3. ^ a b Priore 2005, p. 71.
  4. ^ a b c d Dillon 2012, p. 149.
  5. ^ Zahl, David (November 16, 2011). "That Time The Beach Boys Made a Teenage Symphony to God". Mockingbird.
  6. ^ a b Dillon 2012, p. 150.
  7. ^ Priore 2005, p. 170.
  8. ^ a b Badman 2004, p. 150.
  9. ^ Badman 2004, p. 145.
  10. ^ Badman 2004, p. 166.
  11. ^ a b c d e The Smile Sessions (deluxe box set booklet). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 2011.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  12. ^ Badman 2004, p. 173.
  13. ^ Badman 2004, p. 182.
  14. ^ Badman 2004, p. 188.
  15. ^ Dillon 2012, pp. 149–150.
  16. ^ Badman 2004, pp. 306, 310, 313, 321, 323.
  17. ^ Badman 2004, p. 306.
  18. ^ a b Beard, David (January 4, 2012). "Discover the story behind The Beach Boys' 'SMiLE'". Goldmine. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  19. ^ "The Beach Boys Smile". Mojo Magazine. June 2011.
  20. ^ Roedel, J. (October 12, 2011). "The AD Interview :: Darian Sahanaja (Behind The Smile Sessions)". Aquarium Drunkard. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  21. ^ Dillon 2012, pp. 150–151.
  22. ^ Badman 2004, p. 151.
  23. ^ Priore 1995, p. 160.
  24. ^ "Endless Harmony [Soundtrack] - the Beach Boys | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic".
  25. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2012). "Made in California – The Beach Boys". AllMusic.


External linksEdit