Carl Wilson and the Beach Boys: “God Only Knows”
In the wake of the (let’s be honest) semi-bland Beach Boys reunion tour this summer, I’ve been thinking about Carl Wilson. Carl died tragically of lung cancer in 1998 but, during the long years of Brian Wilson’s weirdness, carried the torch of the Beach Boys — touring for years and years with Mike Love, playing lead guitar, and taking most of Brian’s lead vocals.
As a fan of Brian Wilson’s genius, I never paid much attention to Carl, but that changed recently when I went YouTube diving for old Beach Boys live performances. I learned that it’s Carl’s voice, not Brian’s, on “God Only Knows” (one of my top-five favorite songs of all time) and he also contributes prominently to “Good Vibrations”. In the later period of the band (post 1966) he moved into the lead singer roll, offering an anecdote for the cheesiness of Love and bringing some sanity back to the Wilson name. He sings on many of the songs on Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.
Carl was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, but continued to tour even after becoming very ill and weak. He would sit during his performances, an oxygen tank nearby for use between songs. During “God Only Knows”, though, he would respectfully stand. Pretty cool.
Here’s Carl with the band doing the tune in 1980.