Pet Sounds ► Monday Musical Appreciation
Previously on Not Now Silly:

Brian Wilson ► Happy Birthday, Genius ► A Musical Appreciation

On this date 50 years ago one of the greatest LPs of the Rock era was released: The Beach Boys 11th studio album, Pet Sounds. It was not an immediate hit, only rising as far as #20 on the Billboard album chart, far below their previous LPs.

Yet, Pet Sounds rises to the top of all critics’ greatest lists. Rolling Stone pegged Pet Sounds as the #2 Greatest Album of All Time, right behind Sgt. Pepper. That’s ironic because Beatles producer George Martin said that without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper would never have happened. No less a musical authority than Sir Paul McCartney has rated Pet Sounds as his favourite LP. In fact, he’s been widely quoted as saying:

[I]t was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the
water. First of all, it was Brian’s writing. I love the album so much.
I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in
life—I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that
album. I was into the writing and the songs. 

Double irony: Brian Wilson, for his part, was spurred on to write Pet Sounds by The Beatles’  Rubber Soul. From the WikiWackyWoo:

Wilson recalls that Asher played him the Beatles‘ newest album, Rubber Soul (1965),[19] it being the alternate US version that was configured by Capitol Records to have a cohesive folk rock sound.[25][nb 6] Wilson was immediately enamored with the album, given the impression that it had no filler tracks, a feature that was mostly unheard of at a time when 45 rpm singles were considered more noteworthy than full-length LPs.[26][27][nb 7] Inspired, he rushed to his wife and proclaimed, “Marilyn, I’m gonna make the greatest album! The greatest rock album ever made!”[29] He would say of his reaction to Rubber Soul:
“I liked the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing. It
was a challenge to me … It didn’t make me want to copy them but to be
as good as them. I didn’t want to do the same kind of music, but on the
same level.”[30] Later, he clarified: “The Beatles inspired me. They didn’t influence me.”[31][nb 8]

Which makes it a triple irony: Wilson loved that it had “no filler tracks” and “the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing,” but it wasn’t that at all. It was a record cobbled together for the U.S. market by his own record company, different from the canonical Rubber Soul that The Beatles released in Great Britain.



15 Facts About ‘Pet Sounds’

At 50, Pet Sounds remains The Beach
Boys’ most puzzling, influential album

Five amazing albums that wouldn’t exist
without The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’

Why Does the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet
Sounds’ Still Have Its Hold on Us?

The rest of The Beach Boys were not so enamored of Pet Sounds. Here’s the quick backstory:

After Brian Wilson had a panic attack on an airplane while on tour with the band, he retired from live performing. This gave him the time to produce the more complicated songs he had begun writing. When the rest of the band returned from a tour of Japan and Hawaii, they were presented with an almost completed album, with tracks laid down by The Wrecking Crew, a group of studio musicians who had played on hundreds of songs for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound productions. All that was needed to complete the tracks were the Beach Boys’ harmonies. However, they weren’t convinced.

One of the issues was the album’s complexity and how the touring Beach Boys would be able to perform its music live.[54] Wilson said that the band “didn’t like the idea of growing musically … They wanted to keep making car songs and I said ‘No, we’ve gotta grow, guys’.”[55] Marilyn said: “When Brian was writing Pet Sounds,
it was difficult for the guys to understand what he was going through
emotionally and what he wanted to create. … they didn’t feel what he
was going through and what direction he was trying to go in.”[56] Tony Asher remembered: “All those guys in the band, certainly Al, Dennis,
and Mike, were constantly saying, ‘What the fuck do these words mean?’
or ‘This isn’t our kind of shit!’ Brian had comebacks, though. He’d say,
‘Oh, you guys can’t hack this.’ … But I remember thinking that those
were tense sessions.”[57]
Wilson believed the band were worried about him separating from the
group, elaborating that “it was generally considered that the Beach Boys
were the main thing … with Pet Sounds, there was a resistance
in that I was doing most of the artistic work on it vocally”. The
conflicts were resolved, accordingly, “[when] they figured that it was a
showcase for Brian Wilson, but it’s still the Beach Boys. In other
words, they gave in. They let me have my little stint.”[58]

Next month Capitol Records is releasing a giant 5-CD 50th Anniversary Edition of the iconic LP. According to Ultimate Classic Rock

Pet Sounds (50th Anniversary Collectors Edition) will include four CDs of various mixes, outtakes and alternate versions of the album as well as a Blu-ray audio disc featuring a 5.1 surround sound mix of the 1966 classic, often heralded as one of the greatest records ever made. The set will be released on June 10, about a month after the record celebrates 50 years.

Like 1997’s celebrated four-disc The Pet Sounds Sessions, Pet Sounds (50th Anniversary Collectors Edition) will include snippets from the studio as Brian Wilson pieced together his masterpiece. Backing tracks, alternate mixes and different versions (including some songs where Wilson or Mike Love sang lead on numbers that were released with other members singing) round out the collection.

As Not Now Silly is fond of saying, it’s all in the grooves. Listen to Pet Sounds.

Crank it up and  D A N C E ! ! !

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.