'God Only Knows' how the BBC got this lot together: Auntie's star-studded new single is a slick yet charmless affair

Pharrell Williams, One Direction and Kylie join forces for BBC's The Impossible Orchestra cover of Beach Boys classic

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In the face of cuts and questions over the licence fee the BBC is probably hoping that the rather less-than subliminal messaging in a star-studded new cover version of “God Only Knows” (which continues “What I’d Be Without You”) it released last night will remind us all just how necessary the corporation is.

The reworking of the Beach Boy’s 1966 classic includes more celebrities than your average night in Funky Buddha.  The 27 big names, including Dave Grohl, Elton John, Pharrell Williams, Paloma Faith and Emeli Sande, have joined forces to mark the launch of BBC Music, an initiative described as “an ambitious wave of new programmes, innovative partnerships and ground-breaking music initiatives that amount to the BBC’s strongest commitment to music in 30 years.”

The video, which aired across the BBC’s digital, radio and television platforms simultaneously last night, is dripping with high production value and sleek celebs decked out as the various players in a rather fantastical orchestral pit, accompanied by a real 80-piece BBC Concert Orchestra. Think Moulin Rouge meets The Royal Albert Hall. Jamie Cullum floats in a hot air balloon, Elton brushes butterflies off his suit and Kylie floats above the musicians in a giant bubble in an impressive display of the BBC’s CGI might.

But what of the song? The classic B-side to the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is a beautiful, if irritatingly catchy tune. And in comparison to the BBC’s most memorable musical release to date, a megastar cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” in 1997, the voices it has gathered together can each be heard individually rather than as one hoary mass. But the high production value hasn’t produced the charm of “Perfect Day”, with each individual star inserting maximum oof and definition into their brief line or (in Jake Bugg’s case) set of “la la las”  - a result which some might find rather cringe-inducing. There are plenty of pleasing arrangements, but too much trembling vibrato for my taste.

Video: Watch the full video here


Like “Perfect Day”, which raised 2 million for Children in Need, the BBC’s new single will go on sale to fundraise for the children’s charity. But unlike “Perfect Day”, which evoked a media storm after Auntie seemingly failed to recognise the implications of Lou Reed’s tribute to the drug heroin, “God Only Knows” is free of murky overtones and innuendo. The corporation has done well to showcase the breadth of musical talent it can access and this beautifully produced, if rather anodyne single, is likely to be a crowd-pleaser. Even if it is trying to get us to question, rather too explicity, quite where we’d be without the Beeb.

Who's who of 'God Only Knows' collaborators

BBC Concert Orchestra - Led by Principal Conductor Keith Lockhart

Martin James Bartlett - BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014

Pharrell Williams - N*E*R*D front man, solo artist and producer

Emeli Sandé - 2012’s bestselling artist in the UK

Elton John - International award-winning performer

Lorde - Youngest singer to top the Billboard Hot 100 in a quarter-century

Chris Martin - Multi-award winning Coldplay singer and songwriter

Brian Wilson - The Beach Boys founding member and front man

Florence Welch - Florence and the Machine’s leading lady and BBC Introducing alumni

Kylie Minogue - Aussie pop star and actress

Stevie Wonder - Motown’s biggest selling artist

Eliza Carthy - Yorkshire born international folk star

Nicola Benedetti - Former BBC Young Musician of the Year and international selling violinist

Jools Holland - Later… host, Radio 2 presenter and Squeeze pianist

Brian May - Queen’s lead guitarist and rock legend

Jake Bugg - BBC Introducing graduate and solo star

Katie Derham - BBC Radio 3 and BBC Arts presenter

Tees Valley Youth Choir - Young North East collective

Alison Balsom - Trumpet soloist and former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist

One Direction - Global boy band phenomenon

Jaz Dhami - Birmingham born Bhangra sensation

Paloma Faith - British pop songstress

Chrissie Hynde - The Pretenders founding female

Jamie Cullum - Modern Jazz vocalist/pianist and host of Radio 2 jazz show

Baaba Maal - Senegalese Pulaar singer and guitarist

Danielle de Niese - Renowned Australian lyric soprano

Dave Grohl – Nirvana, Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age rock god

Sam Smith - BBC Sound of 2014 winner and transatlantic No.1 selling artist

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