Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Beach Boys Pet Sounds (1966)


I’m a Beatles connoisseur. A die-hard. I’ve walked across Abbey Road (with a cigarette in hand, though it was too brisk to go barefoot), quaffed pints in the Reeperbahn, and could point out fifty “Paul is Dead” clues. I’ve burned through a bookshelf of biographies about the band and I noticed that the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds is continually mentioned whenever the end of the Beatles’ touring days and the start of their `studio years’ is discussed. With its 40th anniversary looming I started to wonder about Pet Sounds.

I always dismissed the Beach Boys as a half-baked band who parlayed a bunch of sunny tunes into a bubblegum legacy. While Brian Wilson could be considered the group’s only gifted musician, but the boys could definitely sing. Gorgeous harmonies filled their 45s, but their words were always about things which were alien to me like surfin’ and California sunshine. So, why the hubbub surrounding Pet Sounds? “No one is educated musically until they’ve heard Pet Sounds…It is a total classic record that is unbeatable in many ways”, Paul McCartney proclaimed. Wow. Powerful, yet not as bold as what Beatles Producer George Martin said: `Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened… Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.” What the hell made Beatle Paul, Sir George Martin, and countless other music luminaries bow to 1966’s Pet Sounds? I was about to find out.

The other night I dug out my copy of Pet Sounds, which I half-heartedly listened to a few years ago before tossing it to the back of my collection, and I listened to it…and listened again. My original lukewarm judgment of the album mirrored the American record buyers of 1966 when LP peaked at #10 and failed to go gold. I spent the evening playing and replaying the album. A hearty auditory diet of Pet Sounds followed for the next few days. It became the soundtrack of my driving, my meals, and even my showering and shaving. The songs grew on me like a suntan-and I became more and more engulfed in its richness and splendour with each listen. As Pet Sounds connected with me through my earphones, I thought about how striking the sounds were and how naive I was to have dismissed them years ago….

After suffering two nervous breakdowns, twenty-three year old Brian Wilson stayed home in L.A. while the Beach Boys (with Glen Campbell filling in for Wilson) continued to tour in autumn of 1965. He suddenly had time to work on his new project- a project that was to show his new fangled musical vision- but was unsure of his direction until the Beatles’ Rubber Soul became the catalyst for his new mission. “Rubber Soul was a collection of songs … that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I said, ‘That’s it. I really am challenged to do a great album.”

Fueled by barbiturates and good vibrations, Brian Wilson diligently worked through January and early February 1966 with lyricist Tony Asher penning songs with lyrical themes which evoke both the passion of newly born love affairs and the disillusionment of futile romances. Brian looked beyond the conventional guitars and keyboards when he hired and recorded some of the industry’s best session musicians to play the backing tracks for the new material. Breathy saxophones, rolling accordions, piping flutes, Baroque harpsichords, pounding tympanis, regal English and French horns, and even some melodious oddities like Coca-Cola bottles, bicycle bells, and a ghostly sounding theremin are all interwoven into the album’s rich fabric. When his band mates returned from their three-week tour of Japan and Hawaii, they laid down the immaculate vocals that blanket the record.

The result is an astonishing and harmonious orgy of sound. Wilson painted a dense and melodic landscape whose hills far out number its valleys. Pet Sounds is a gem from the opening blissful guitar plucks of the youthful anthem Wouldn’t it be Nice to the crestfallen sounds of the barking dogs and passing train of the dirge Caroline, No. Brian’s buttery voice on You Still Believe in Me and Don’t Talk (Put your Head on my Shoulder) sends shivers down my spine. The heavenly God Only Knows, with its wintry sleigh bells and clip-clop percussion, melting vocals and marriage of horns and strings, make this an album highlight. Brian hands younger brother Carl the lead and the band recorded one of the loveliest and most divine songs ever heard on a pop album. ” It’s a favourite of mine…very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me,” McCartney said of the song. The song’s unorthodox opening line of “If I should ever leave you,” is the cherry on top of the sundae for me. Perfection.

Pet Sounds is the crest of Brian Wilson’s wave. He was able to use inspiration from across the pond and thread it into a richly textured and intricate piece of stunning pop. It was his vision, his baby, his masterstroke. His soul breathes through the vinyl.

May 4, 2013 - Posted by | The Beach Boys Pet Sounds |

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: