Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

No2AV Objections Answered #yes2av #no2av

Posted in politics by Andrew Hickey on March 31, 2011

I’ve been volunteering for the Yes campaign for a while now, and I’ve heard surprisingly few arguments put to me against AV and for First Past The Post. I’ll try, in this post, to answer all of the ones I’ve either seen online or come across while campaigning. Some of these arguments appear strong at first, others pitiful, but they’re all genuine arguments from genuine No supporters. I’ll try to put a case against the arguments, but you may, of course, remain unconvinced.
If you have other arguments, please make them in the comments. However, be aware that I have a fairly strict moderation policy – genuine discussion gets as much free reign as possible, but derailing and acting in bad faith gets you banned.

It’s Too Expensive
I’ll deal with this one first, because it’s the main plank of the No campaign’s advertising, and it’s simply a lie. They’ve taken advantage of the fact that there appear to be no laws regulating political referendum campaign advertising (as opposed to election campaigns) to simply make up a huge number as the new cost.

It’s Too Complicated To Explain
This one comes from none other than David Cameron, the Prime Minister, who has a first class honours degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford university. Shame that degree obviously didn’t require learning to count. AV is a simple system – it’s a run-off, where the least popular candidates get eliminated, like in X-Factor. Except you rank the candidates in order so you can have an ‘instant run-off’ as they call AV in America. Just keep knocking out the least popular candidates until there’s a definite winner.
FPTP is more complicated, if you’re a voter who wants to influence the result.

Only three countries use AV in General Elections
This is just the argument from popularity. It means we should never be the first to do anything, or even among the first.

AV isn’t a proportional system
No, but neither’s FPTP. However, AV is likely to produce a far more proportional outcome, most of the time, because more people’s votes will count towards the outcome. And it’s far easier to move from AV to a proportional system like STV or AV+ (both of which are very, very similar to AV and would require only minor tweaking rather than a complete overhaul) than it is from FPTP. Anyone who wants electoral reform should choose AV – it’s both an improvement in itself and (if the people of the UK decide it’s what they want) a first step towards an even better system than that.

Nobody likes AV
I do. I’ve dealt with this one here.

I Want To Upset Nick Clegg
If you want to upset Clegg, vote against the Lib Dems in the Council elections at the same time, instead. Clegg, to be honest, isn’t all that interested in voting reform – it’s a big issue for the Lib Dems generally, but his own policy interests have been mostly in the areas of foreign relations (especially Europe) and civil liberties. I’m sure he wants a yes vote, but he won’t be unduly upset if it doesn’t go through.
On the other hand, me, my wife, Floella Benjamin, Eddie Izzard, Tony (Baldrick) Robinson, the leadership of the Labour party, Tony Benn, Colin Firth and my mate Dave (to take a random sample of vocal Yes supporters) *will* be upset if the No campaign wins, while Nick Griffin, Ian Paisley, David Cameron, Simon Munnery and Mark Millar will be upset if the *yes* campaign wins.
But rather than making decisions on major constitutional reform based on which public figures it’s likely to upset or cheer, why not decide based on the issue itself?

I want to end the coalition government
Thought experiment. You’re a Lib Dem MP. Your party’s in the odd position of both being in government for the first time in its history and having the lowest poll ratings it’s had in twenty years. You’ve just lost a huge number of council seats in a horrible local election, *AND* on the same day you discover that people have voted to keep the same unfair voting system which is biased against your party and which you’ve campaigned against all your life. Do you:
a) think “Oh, well now’s the *perfect* time to force a General Election! I like nothing more than losing my seat and seeing my party wiped out for a generation!” or
b) Not do that, and keep your job for at least another four years?

I like strong government
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of strong government – after all, the strongest form of government is dictatorship. I prefer a weak government that’s the servant of the people, rather than a strong one that makes the people its servant.
That said, AV isn’t any more likely to bring in coalitions or hung parliaments. In Australia, they’ve had *one* hung parliament in the last ninety years. In Britain, meanwhile, four of the last ten General Elections didn’t lead to conclusive results, and led to a rerun a few months later, a Labour government propped up by the Liberals, a Tory government propped up by the Ulster Unionists, and now a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition.
What causes hung parliaments and coalitions isn’t a particular voting system, but who people vote for.

The system we have has worked for centuries!
No, it’s worked for just over sixty years. Before that we had a weird hodge-podge system with some seats being STV or AV and others being FPTP.

It’ll help the BNP!
The BNP are one of only four parties against AV – the other three being the Tories, the DUP and the Communists. This is because AV is an anti-extremist system. It helps small parties that can still appeal to something of a broad base (e.g. the Greens), but small parties who appeal *only* to a small, bigoted minority won’t get anywhere, thanks to the need in AV to win the support of 50% of people who express a preference.

Some people get more votes than others
No, everyone gets one vote in each round of counting. Those whose top preference stays in for that round are counted as voting for that person again, while those whose top preference was knocked out get counted for their next preference.

Winston Churchill didn’t like AV
Churchill also didn’t like votes for women, supported sterilisation of the ‘feeble-minded’, held a number of racist views… and, in short, held all the views one would expect of a member of the Conservative Party who was twenty-seven when Queen Victoria died. While in many ways of course an admirable man, his views as to what was a suitable system for the Britain of the early 1930s might not be the best guide to what is best for the Britain of 2011.

Hitler liked PR, Superman doesn’t. Who do you prefer, Superman or Hitler?
This argument from the comic writer Mark Millar on Twitter was apparently intended seriously. He seems to have forgotten that Hitler was a fascist dictator, and one of the defining features of fascist dictators is their lack of support for democratic elections of any type.
Superman remains unavailable for comment as to his views on electoral reform.

ETA: wonderful Yes campaign postcard:
Yes postcard

Gallifrey Series IV

Posted in Doctor Who by Andrew Hickey on March 29, 2011

I come to Big Finish’s new Gallifrey series from a slightly different angle from most of its listeners. I listened to the first three series several years ago, and was unimpressed – I remember the first series as being moderately entertaining fluff, while the second and third series got so far up their own arsehole they actually succeeded at navel-gazing from the inside, (This may be an unfair judgement. I remember them as being the very definition of fanwank, but it may well be that the attempt to do a fifteen-part epic story was just too ambitious for my own attention span).

But series three of Gallifrey had ended on a cliffhanger – the start of The Time War, with ‘some metal gentlemen’ having infected all of Gallifrey with a virus. And if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s the Time War. Especially since reading Richard & Alex’s wonderful Fractal History Of The Time War, I’ve been treating the Time War in my head like a gigantic multidimensional puzzle.

The interesting thing about the Time War is that the further one gets from ‘canon’, the more interesting the stories become. The Faction Paradox books are among the best books I’ve ever read, as is Dead Romance (which is slightly more ‘canon’ than the books). The Faction Paradox audios (with officially licensed Doctor Who baddies) and the Eighth Doctor books are good – sometimes very good – but rarely great. And the actual 2005-2009 TV series that established a version of the war as ‘canon’ is, to my mind, pretty much uniformly awful. The Time War/The War/The War In Heaven is as much as anything a war between alternative versions of history, and a history written by the winners and imposed from above is usually far less interesting than the multiple perspectives of the oppressed – would you rather read Homage To Catalonia or a piece of Falangist propaganda?

That’s not to compare Russel Davies to Generalissimo Franco – though I can imagine certain of the more rabid message board denizens emulating the example of the Tilbury dockers – Davies has actually been remarkably good on the issue of ‘canon’, loudly and publicly refusing to use his position of authority (in the minds of the kind of fans who like authorities) to adjudicate on what does and doesn’t ‘count’. For all the faults I find with him, Davies’ view is an inclusive one.

Rather, it’s to argue that those who are looking for certainty and ‘canon’ are limiting themselves unnecessarily (an argument I have made before, of course, in my book Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!). The Daleks as one possible Enemy in the Time War is a decent, though rather obvious, seed for other stories. The Daleks as *the* Enemy, on the other hand, closes off the other possibilities (an incursion of Time Lords from another ‘bottle universe’, the Time Lords themselves in the future/past, a new idea that radically disrupts ossified ways of thinking, the writers of the books themselves, a non-existent threat created purely to give the illusion of conflict, humanity, the vampires/Mal’akh wanting their universe back, the new TV series itself… ).

It might be fun, in fact, to do a few posts here looking at different options as to who or what The Enemy is. I particularly like the war between the Time Lords and The Enemy as the war between the ‘classic’ (small-c conservative, big-L Liberal) and Welsh (New Labour – modern, glossy, “we can brook no criticism, because however bad it is, it’s better than the horrible wilderness years we had before, do you want Thatcher back/the show off the air again?”) series…

But anyway, if we pop out of this digression from a digression from a digression, the Gallifrey audios – like the Big Finish audios generally – are in an odd place when it comes to ‘canon’ for those who care about such things. They’re officially licensed, but have to be approved by the makers of the current show. But at the same time, they can’t make reference to anything in that show. So even though Gary Russell, who is in charge of the Gallifrey series, is also a script editor on the Welsh series, and he has clearly stated (including on the special features for these stories) that he intends the War that happened off-stage between series three and four to be the Time War featured in the TV show, this can’t be stated directly in the stories themselves. This leads to an interesting kind of forced ambiguity being imposed *against* authorial intent.

And whether intentionally or not, this has produced a story where the in-universe and out-of-universe epistemic statuses are mirrored. We have a multiple-universe story (always a very good thing), but one where all the alternate universes travelled to are just that – alternate universes. They exist not as the parallel worlds in, say, Lance Parkin’s Faction Paradox novel Warlords Of Utopia, do – as worlds whose divergences produce results both good (in Parkin’s case, a peace that has lasted millennia, and a flowering of culture and technology) and bad (dictatorship, paedophilia as social norm, slavery). Rather, they exist as wrong turns that could have been taken, lessons that this (or in this case, the main Doctor Who universe) is the best of all possible worlds, with each of these universes being defined as wrong, inferior timelines, and each one diverging in precisely one way, which leads to disaster.

So along with the ‘real’ Romana, Leela and K9, plus the characters Narvin and Braxiatel from earlier stories, we get alternative versions of Romana (both her first and second regenerations), Leela (an articulate, educated fascist torturer, whose distinctly different tones show once and for all that Leela’s rather stilted way of talking is a deliberate acting decision by Louise Jameson, rather than a poor performance), two Sixth Doctors, and more, all in some ways ‘worse’ than the ones we know.

(Sadly there is no alternate K9. John Leeson was the star of the earlier Gallifrey series, with his bitching between the two K9s. Here, there is only one, and he doesn’t get to shine the same way except during his brief promotion to Castellan).

Of the four stories here – which can only be bought as a bundle, though for a very reasonable £30 (£35 if you want the CDs rather than just downloads), by far the best is CD3 – Gallifrey: Annihilation. Oddly, given that Russell was a co-writer, and he’s known for being more obsessed with continuity and fan-wank than most, there are no alternative Doctors or Romanas or whoever (though Lord Prydon *may* be intended to be an alternate Master, given that he’s played by Geoffrey Beevers), and surprisingly/thankfully Katy Manning isn’t playing Jo Grant or Iris Wildthyme, but a female Borussa.

For those of us who like playing games with that sort of thing, in fact, this story could fit quite neatly in with Faction Paradox, as it’s set on a Gallifrey where Rassilon was turned into a vampire by the Great Vampire, and there’s a civil war between the Vampire Gallifreyans and the ‘True Lords’, who never developed time travel but *could* regenerate. This could easily be the timeline from which the Faction’s masks come, and it will be in my ‘personal canon’ from now on. (Also in my ‘personal canon’, these are four of the Nine Homeworlds. No-one said the Nine Homeworlds had to be in *this* timeline – or if they did I don’t remember, which is the same thing).

It’s quite a nice piece of space-opera-Gothic, Beevers makes an appropriately sepulchral vampire, and it’s an entertaining way to spend an hour, though hardly ground-breaking stuff.

The worst, unfortunately, is Justin Richards’ Gallifrey: Disassembled. I say unfortunately, partly because this has the best performances of the bunch (from Louise Jameson as two Leelas, and a great turn by Colin Baker as Lord Burner), and the first half-hour or so is genuinely good, but it soon degenerates into a load of nonsense, with illogical, made-up-on-the-fly rules about what does and doesn’t count as a paradox, hints at Braxiatel being the Doctor’s brother, explanations as to why the Doctor originally left Gallifrey…
When I say that the big turning point in this universe is that Zagreus took the place of The Other in its history, I think that will tell everyone all they need to know (if you don’t know what those words mean, be thankful…)

The other two stories, Gallifrey: Reborn and Gallifrey: Forever, bookend the series quite nicely, providing us with, respectively, the set-up for this four-story series, and a new status quo at the end with Romana and Leela trapped on a Gallifrey which hadn’t yet invented time travel but where Romana’s now president.

Overall, quality-wise this sits somewhere in the middle of Big Finish’s range. Nowhere near a genuine masterpiece like Peri And The Piscon Paradox or some of their other recent triumphs, this still feels like it was created because of someone’s desire to tell the story, and so it’s still above some of the landfill “let’s have the Doctor team up with two companions from different eras, and have them fight the Celestial Toymaker, who’s teamed up with the Zarbi” stuff they do when inspiration fails completely.

You already know if this is the kind of thing you like or not (in fact you probably either ordered it in advance or are never going to hear it), but for the kind of thing it is, it’s well done. And thankfully, either through diktat from above or through taste on the part of Gary Russell, it leaves as many questions about the Time War unanswered at the end as at the beginning.

Linkblogging For 28/03/11

Posted in linkblogging by Andrew Hickey on March 28, 2011

My writer’s block has gone into remission, so I’m working on the next Cerebus piece (finally!), the next How We Know What We Know, and a piece on Batman, Inc. I may also review Richard Herring’s show on Wednesday. But today, I’m busy typesetting vol. 1 of my Beach Boys book (sample index entry: Love, Mike: songwriting credit lawsuit, 15, 19, 25, 31, 37, 38, 40-44, 51, 54) so I’ve got some links for you:

James Ward gives his impression of yesterday’s march against the cuts

Many people reading this, obviously, are Doctor Who fans. I strongly suspect at least some of you are on the autism spectrum. In which case you may want to fill out this questionnaire and help an autistic Who fan write a book on the subject.

The Gregg’s Adventure is one man attempting to eat one of everything they sell at Gregg’s the Bakers. Will he survive?

The Yes To AV campaign have released the names of their donors. Why won’t the No campaign?

Colin Smith is looking at Kraft & Giffen’s Defenders run. Giffen was *scarily* late-Kirby early on, wasn’t he?

A review of a live performance of Big Star’s Third

Frank Santoro talks through some of his layout decisions for his Silver Surfer story in Strange Tales

Bob Temuka likes Hitman

Can the deficit be reduced through growth alone? It looks like the answer’s a resounding “no”

Big Finish are now taking orders for next year’s Fourth Doctor stories

And here’s an index to Illogical Volume’s recent Mindless Ones posts

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Note To Publishers: DRM Costs You Money

Posted in books, computing by Andrew Hickey on March 27, 2011

I recently bought a cheap e-reader from Waterstone’s, and am very happy with it so far. I’ve been using it to read books from Project Gutenberg, papers from the Arxiv, ebooks from Baen, books by Charles Stross and so on.

One thing I will be doing very little of, unfortunately, is buying new books to read on it.

This is not because I don’t want to. I currently buy several new books a month, and one big advantage of using an ereader is that I don’t have to buy as many paper copies of books as before. My flat is fast filling up with large amounts of paper, and being able to fit several thousand books into something smaller than my hand is very convenient.

But the software my ereader uses, Adobe Digital Editions, doesn’t have a GNU/Linux version. This is slightly irritating, as all major ebook devices at the moment are based on GNU/Linux, so it would make sense for the software they use to run on GNU/Linux as well as Windows and Macs, but it’s not the end of the world – I probably wouldn’t want to run that software anyway, as I prefer Free Software (free as in speech, the Adobe software doesn’t cost anything financially). The PDF and ePub readers on my desktop PC aren’t the same software the ereader uses either, and that’s not a problem.

The problem is that the books you can buy from shops that sell in Adobe’s format (such as waterstones.com, whsmith.co.uk and barnes and noble, to take some of the bigger examples) are almost all DRM’d, and require Adobe’s software to be installed on the computer on which you buy it.

This means that if I want to buy a book from Waterstone’s or somewhere, I have three options:
1) Buy the bulky, expensive, paper copy which will take “2-3 weeks” to get to me assuming it’s not lost in the post
2) Install WINE on my desktop, install Adobe Digital Editions in WINE (not supported by Adobe), buy the ebook, then – because you can’t synch a copy of Adobe Digital Editions in WINE with one on an e-reader) run a load of dodgy Python scripts you can find on the internet to (illegally) break the DRM and convert it into a normal ePub file, so I can read it on my e-reader. This involves breaking the law at least once, possibly twice, just to read a book I’ve paid for.
3) Just buy a different book, from the few retailers who do want my money.

It’s not like it’s impossible to release books for e-reading without DRM. The ePub and PDF files I sell through Lulu (and, I’m pretty sure, the Kindle copies of my books too) are all DRM-free. The music industry have already learned this lesson – I can buy any album I want, pretty much, as DRM-free MP3s which will work fine with any computer or device. The result of this is I’ve bought hundreds – possibly thousands – of legal MP3 albums in the last few years (since I’ve had the money, a fast internet connection, and a decent-sized hard drive). Even closer to the publishers’ wallets, I’ve spent the best part of a thousand pounds in the last four years buying audio dramas – fiction – from Big Finish, who again sell their books DRM-free. In fact, between the public domain and enlightened publishers who understand that turning away customers is a bad idea, there are enough books available to keep me reading for years without ever having to decrypt a DRM’d file.

As far as I can see all DRM on ebooks is doing is making life difficult for some customers and turning others away, while any book one could possibly want is freely available on torrent sites. The publishing industry should learn from the music industry, rather than repeating its mistakes.

The Beach Boys On CD: Good Vibrations

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on March 26, 2011

A revised version of this essay appears in my book The Beach Boys On CD. If you like this, please consider buying it. Hardback Paperback PDF Kindle (US) Kindle (UK) Kindle (DE) All other ebook formats

I… I love the colourful clothes she wears

While for the most part I am dealing with the Beach Boys’ music on an album-by-album basis, with this song (and one other I shall get to later) it feels wrong. The album this was eventually released on, Smiley Smile, is to my mind possibly the best the band released, yet this track still sits in the middle like a black hole, distorting the feel of the whole album in a profound way.

I have sixty-five different versions of this song in my MP3/FLAC collection, not counting copies on vinyl or CD. The worst is a version by Mike Love and Adrian Baker from the 1980s, the best is the version that was released as a single. For all the live performances, outtakes, covers and alternative versions, nobody has ever beaten the three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of mono glory that came out on October 10, 1966. It may well be the greatest pop single ever released by anyone.

It was certainly the height of the Beach Boys’ commercial and artistic success – it was their first UK number one, but their last (for 22 years, at any rate) in the USA. It took just over five months’ work, from the recording of the basic backing track on February 17th 1966, to the final electro-theremin overdub on 21 September, to create the track. At least two sets of lyrics were written for it, and it spanned the recording of two different albums before being released on a third.

That original, February 17, session has been released in part in various places, most recently on the Good Vibrations 40th Anniversary Single (spotify link), where it’s the beginning part of what’s credited as Good Vibrations (various sessions). You can hear, listening through these session recordings, that the basic verse/chorus of the song was there from the very beginning, but that the rest of the structure took a lot of tinkering and experimentation. Many of the ideas that were thrown out during these sessions (such as the ‘hum-de-ah’ vocal parts) would have been the principal hook for any other band.

We can hear the original conception of the song most clearly on this recording (Spotify), which is the 17th February backing track with a guide vocal put on by Brian the next day.

Listening to it, Brian originally intended the track to be a ‘psychedelic R&B’ track, and already has the verse and chorus music worked out. What we have here, in fact, is very closely related to several Pet Sounds tracks – the arrangement and general feel are similar to that of Here Today, the electro-theremin part is similar to that of I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, while the melody is a cousin of God Only Knows. In fact, the best way of thinking about this track is that it’s taken the lowest common denominator of Here Today and God Only Knows and turned the result into an R&B track. We have the same minor-third key change between verse and chorus we’ve seen throughout Pet Sounds, the same descending scalar chord sequences, the same mobile bass parts, but here, rather than to express melancholy, these things are used in a way that’s as close as Brian Wilson ever got to funky.

However, after those first two verse/choruses, Brian seems to run out of ideas, and much of the rest of the track is more or less vamping. Tony Asher’s lyric, too, is half-formed. The idea’s there – the basic concept of a man ‘picking up’ ‘good vibrations’ from a woman (which came from Brian’s own thoughts about telepathy), but it’s clearly a dummy lyric:

She’s already working on my brain
I only look in her eyes
But I pick up something I just can’t explain
I pick up good, good, good, good vibrations, yeah

I bet I know what she’s like
And I can feel how right/good she’d be for me Brian sings both words on this double-tracked vocal
It’s weird how she comes in so strong
And I wonder what she’s picking up from me
I hope it’s good, good, good, good vibrations, yeah

The result is close enough to the finished version that you can see where he’s going, but at this point it would have been an album track at best.

Fast forward five months and what we have is something very different. Firstly, we have new lyrics by Mike Love. I’m not normally a huge fan of Love’s lyrics, but this time he’s done something quite clever:

I, I love the colourful clothes she wears,
And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair
I hear the sound of a gentle word
On the wind that lifts her perfume through the air

I’m picking up good vibrations
She’s giving me excitations

Whereas Asher’s original lyric had focussed solely on the extra-sensory aspects (“She’s already working on my brain” “I pick up something I just can’t explain”), Love here grounds the song in the sensual and earthy before the more ethereal lyrics of the chorus. Note how he manages to work in sight (the colourful clothes, the sunlight), hearing (the sound of the gentle word) and smell (the perfume). This gives the song a grounding in the earthy, the quotidian, which allows the lyric to take the listener into more outrageous places and be sure the listener will follow. Whereas Asher’s lyric alienates, Love’s lyric draws us in.

The other major change suggested by Love is, of course, the good vibrations/excitations lyric. This is exactly the kind of dumb-but-brilliant idea Love was so good at, at his best. Taking the fairly low-profile bass part and turning it into a hook was a stroke of genius.

The finished recording is a patchwork, but somehow manages to be amazingly coherent. Let’s go through the different sections and see what’s going on.

We start with the sixteen-bar first verse I quote above. Coming straight in on the first word with no intro, we have Carl singing over just organ (played by Larry Knechtel) and bass (presumably either Carol Kaye or Ray Pohlman – I can’t find a copy of the session logs for the Feb 17 session online, and so am going by the logs from April 9 onwards – this verse recording sounds to me in fact like it comes from that very first session. Flute (Jay Migliori) and drums and percussion (Jim Gordon and Hal Blaine) come in on bar nine, which also helps to disguise one of the more interesting edits on the record.

Listen again to that line “I hear the sound of a gentle word” and you can tell it isn’t just Carl singing. The first half of the line – “I hear the sound of a” is in fact Brian, sounding a lot like Carl but clearly more nasal and less breathy (in fact it *MAY* be Brian doubling Carl. There are two voices there with different timbres – one may be Carl, but the more prominent is definitely Brian). The same thing happens on the line “when I look in her eyes” in the second verse.

This is an odd decision to make, frankly, as Carl could hit those notes (although they were to the top of his range). One can only presume that he just had difficulty with them – this being, after all, only his fourth real lead vocal. Listening to concert recordings, Carl would be doubled by someone (I *think* Bruce) on very early live versions of this song (e.g. the Michigan performance on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of the Beach Boys box set. Brian doubles him on the widely-booted Lei’d In Hawaii shows, when Bruce wasn’t present) but by late 1967 (e.g. the ‘concert rehearsal’ take on the Endless Harmony rarities collection) Carl was singing the line solo.

Either way, it’s something that, once you’ve noticed it, you can’t unnotice, but manages to escape most people’s attention…

Harmonically, this section is just a scalar descending pattern in Ebm, going down from the tonic to the dominant twice, before the second time it goes into the subtonic leading into the chorus.

The chorus starts with Mike Love singing, solo, the line “I’m picking up good vibrations/she’s giving me excitations” over a two-chord shuffle in F#. This two-chord vamp seems to come from Can I Get A Witness by way of the Ad-Libs’ The Boy From New York City (both of which are songs the Beach Boys had referenced before, on Carl’s Big Chance and The Girl From New York City), and this is obvious in the basic backing track, but the jazz-tinged bassline/vocal part disguises this somewhat, and the ‘cellos playing triplets (a suggestion of Carl Wilson) make the resemblance seem distant. But listen to Can I Get A Witness and you’ll see you can sing this line over the top easily. However between the ‘cello part and the electro-theremin (played by Paul Tanner) this sounds like nothing else on Earth.

(Well, almost nothing – it’s been suggested that this section of the song bears more than a slight resemblance to Delia Derbyshire’s realisation of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme. According to Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood’s About Time series of guidebooks, Carl Wilson used to watch the show in his dressing room before gigs in the UK. However, looking at the dates, prior to the recording of Good Vibrations the band had only been in the UK for one broadcast of Doctor WhoPlanet Of Giants episode two – and they were on BBC TV themselves that day, though I’ve been unable to find out precisely what time, so it seems extraordinarily unlikely that any of them had ever seen the show, still less seen it often enough to remember the theme tune).

We then repeat this line, but with a three part harmony (sounding to me like Brian, Carl and Al) girl-group answering phrase (“ooh bop bop, good vibrations, bop bop excitations”).

We then depart from the original version – the whole thing then moves a tone up, and we add another, falsetto, Brian singing “good, good, good, good vibrations, ah”. This falsetto Brian part is actually the original chorus melody, but here it’s just a final element in an intricate tapestry of music and vocals. We then move another tone up and repeat this last line. This movement of a two-chord chorus vamp up in stages of a tone at a time is something that Brian is reusing from California Girls.

There’s then a hard edit into the second verse on the last “excitations”, and we repeat the verse and chorus musical material almost exactly, but at the end of the second verse we go into a completely different section.

We start with a continuation of the ending chorus vamp between Bb and Eb/Bb, but this time played on tack piano (Al de Lory), bass and jew’s harp (Tommy Morgan), with ‘ah’ vocals and flute (piccolo?) coming in part way through. We briefly move to vamping between Bb and Ab for Mike’s “I don’t know where but she sends me there” and Brian’s “Oh my my what a sensation”, before returning to the original vamp for Mike’s answering “Oh my my what an elation”. All this material is still based on the chorus, but sounds stunningly different.

We then have a simple, almost churchlike, three-chord section in F, with Dennis playing the organ, hand percussion (Blaine?) and piccolo. This starts out instrumental, and then Mike comes in with “Gotta keep those lovin’ good vibrations happening with her”. After this line, the bass comes in, and Brian sings the same line in falsetto, harmonising with Mike. They sing the line again, but their vocals fade out, replaced by Tommy Morgan’s harmonica, which continues playing the same phrase until the held F chord and “ah” vocal from the entire band.

There follows a brief reprise of the chorus material, but this time instead of going up in whole tones, it moves rapidly downward, ending up on B.

We then have a single, pulsing, bass note under a falsetto “na na na na na, na na na” (which actually doesn’t sound like Brian’s falsetto to me, strangely enough – I suspect this is actually sped up, and may be Carl or Al). We move up a tone, continuing this falsetto melody while Mike answers underneath with “ba ba ba ba ba, ba”, move up a tone again and have someone in the middle (Carl?) singing “do do do, do do, do do”, move back down a tone continuing this (note the constant obsession with whole-tone movements here), before suddenly everything drops out the ‘cello and electro-theremin come in, and they repeat the chorus riff to fade, with the other instruments coming in, staying in the key of Ab (the same key as the third line of the chorus).

That’s, by my count, at least seven distinct sections in this three and a half minutes of music, all variations of at least one of two ideas – whole tone steps and two-chord shuffles. As a *song*, Good Vibrations barely exists – it’s not something you can sit down with an acoustic guitar or piano and play and expect it to sound particularly good – it’s something rather different, a play with theme and variations in a way one doesn’t normally get in pop music, an experiment in production, the combination of instruments, and the use of the studio to create sounds one could never otherwise hear. Everything is hammering home the idea of ‘vibrations’ – the church organ, the jittery triplet ‘cellos, the ethereal electro-theremin, all sounding spectacularly different from almost anything.

Nothing like this had ever been recorded before, or ever would again.

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