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'God Only Knows' connects generations for a good cause and good music

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(Read caption) 'The Impossible Orchestra'

“God Only Knows” how they pulled it off, but Tuesday evening, twenty-seven international recording artists united to sing the famed Beach Boys song of the same name to raise funds to help the BBC charity Children In Need and launch a new music channel – all while avoiding the trap of being a lackluster “We are the World” wannabe for today’s music fans.

Many parents who rocked to the early days of MTV – when it just showed music videos – will remember the original British Band Aid and US for Africa funds, that inspired star-studded music collaborations to help raise awareness and money for charities.

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I admit I wasn’t planning on watching the video, because I was expecting it to be more of a commercial for the new music channel mixed with a poor imitation of the classic 1985 USA for Africa collaboration “We are the World” video, featuring artists like Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson.

However, this morning my 10-year-old son got the song “God Only Knows” stuck in his head via a Facebook post.

The BBC seems to have potentially pulled together two generations with entirely different musical tastes, partially because of my curiosity to know why my son was singing a 1960s classic.

Using what the BBC calls “The Impossible Orchestra,” the collaborative effort premiered the song on Tuesday when all of the BBC's TV, radio, and online channels simultaneously broadcast the track as part of the official launch of BBC Music, according to the BBC website. 

The song also raises money for the BBC charity Children In Need.

However, it was hearing my 10-year-old singing the Beach Boys over breakfast this morning that got my attention.

It’s not his usual style of music, and I couldn’t imagine him choosing to sit through what I had assumed must be a somber BBC video of a bunch of stars clustered around a piano wearing headphones and singing into oversized studio microphones.

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I asked what was so great about the video that he chose to watch it twice before cereal, resulting in the song being stuck in his head.

“The CGI [computer generated image] butterflies all over the guy who did the songs for ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’ [Sir Elton John],” he answered. “Also the girl with the real wings [Lorde]. But mostly all those cellos were awesome.”

The only part of the answer that made any sense to me was the cellos, because Quin just started taking cello lessons at school.

It turns out that the BBC has one rocking post-production crew who integrated some gorgeous CGI into the video wherein each artist sings a single line from the 1966 song with the refrain, “God only knows what I'd be without you.”

Among the 27 diverse, eclectic, and internationally known music artists in the video: Pharell Williams, Queen’s Brian May, pop group One Direction, Lorde, and even Stevie Wonder.

Some highlights include, Kylie Minogue floating past in a giant bubble as a fantastical rainforest landscape unfolds, and a tiger leaps onto the piano being played by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, while at the heart of the performance is the 80-piece BBC Concert Orchestra and the Tees Valley Youth Choir.

The super kid-friendly video had pretty much everything else, including an element of history, being filmed in the shabby Alexandra Palace Theatre that was home to the BBC’s very first broadcast nearly one-hundred years ago.

Because my child was engaged by the video, so was I. In the gamer terms my teenagers like to use, the video was “super effective.” We even went to the charity web site and made a donation.

Seeing the video and how much my child loved it made me wonder if American television could pull-off this level of simulcast for charity today.

It struck me that this kind of tool is far more effective today with the help of social media, YouTube, and smartphone delivery systems that simplify electronic donations.

Since the US once flattered the UK most sincerely by imitating Band Aid, perhaps we can again mimic this new, CGI enhanced, more cinematic fundraiser to benefit our own children.

I’m glad my son took me back to the days of the “We are the World” phenomenon, when both a song and a will to do good got stuck in our heads.