Pet Sounds America's Best Album?
It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. 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 love the orchestra, the arrangements ... it may be going overboard to say it's the classic of the century ... but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways ... I've often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence ... it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines ... and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines. "God Only Knows" is a big favorite of mine ... very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. On "You Still Believe in Me", I love that melody - that kills me ... that's my favorite, I think ... it's so beautiful right at the end ... comes surging back in these multi-colored harmonies ... sends shivers up my spine. - Paul McCartney
I consider Pet Sounds to be one of the greatest pop LPs to ever be released. It encompasses everything that's ever knocked me out and rolled it all into one. - Eric Clapton
For me to say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. I had never heard such magical sounds, so amazingly recorded. It undoubtedly changed the way that I, and countless others, approached recording. It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty. - Elton John
Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn't have happened... Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds. - George Martin
I never bothered to pay much attention to The Beach Boys. I’d heard enough of their songs on the radio to know that I didn’t really like them all that much. Sure, their songs are catchy, but it’s all a bit like sitting down to a heaping plate of pure sugar - it’s good for the first couple spoonfuls and then you vomit. The Beach Boys always reminded me of what the Backstreet Boys might have sounded like circa 1965 – they were the Backstreet Boys of their age as far as I was concerned.
About a year ago, I decided to find out what the fuss over Pet Sounds was all about. The Beach Boys? Greatest album of all time? It can’t be. Impossible. So I decided to give it a listen to uncover this obvious conspiracy and put things to rest once and for all.
Everything changed the first time I actually heard Pet Sounds. It's hard to express, but at some point I realized there was still something that could surprise me out there, that music could be so moving and inspiring (yes, it's decades old, but it was new to me). That's not to say that it changed much about my opinion of The Beach Boys earlier (and much of their latter) work, but I developed a wholehearted respect for Brian Wilson as a composer and producer and even a grudging respect for the rest of the Boys, they really could really sing if you gave them something worth singing.
Unlike The Beach Boys´ previous work, Pet Sounds is an acquired taste. That’s because it’s such a departure from everything that has come before, or been released since. It took me several listens, but once I dropped my preconceived notions and opened my ears, it was a great awakening. I was caught completely off-guard by the beautiful innocence of the lyrics, by the seeming effortlessness that belies its complex arrangements, the astonishing instrumentation, and the expressive melodies. I suddenly could hear the influence of The Beach Boys all over, from faves ranging from The Beatles to Jane’s Addiction. Pet Sounds really could be the best album of all time, and not because it has any overbearing hooks or monumental songs, not because The Beach Boys had great personas, and certainly not because they possessed some otherworldly coolness, but because of its purity and emotive simplicity, its sadness, nostalgia and longing, song after song, it captures emotion like nothing I had ever heard. While each song is just a song when taken individually, taken together they are perfection.
Within a week, I had become a Pet Sounds convert and began raving about it to my friends. It must have been a bit like opening one’s front door to find a newly converted Jehovah's Witness standing there because I truly gushed the new religion. They had to see the light. They had to LISTEN. I got responses ranging from "What? By who? You can’t be serious…” to “Dude, whatever.” It must be very tough work for a JW to get someone to change their entire worldview; it was practically impossible for me just to get a couple of my friends to listen to a Beach Boys album.
Admittedly, today The Beach Boys music is considered largely devoid of substance and perhaps more fatal still, just plain uncool. While, The Beach Boys are the No. 1-selling American band of all time according to Billboard, the classic Beach Boys formula of surf, sand, and girls didn’t age well and their reputation for shallow, knock-off pop is deserved, however well executed. It’s no surprise that one seldom hears The Beach Boys mentioned among the pantheon of greats of the era such as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin.
But then there’s Pet Sounds… I can't name a single album that I can say tops it.
In all fairness, Pet Sounds is not so much a Beach Boys album as an experimental album by then 23 year old Beach Boy, Brian Wilson. While the rest of the band was on tour in Asia, Wilson stayed behind to create Pet Sounds, without their input, and it seems against their will to varying degrees.
The band, and Mike Love in particular, viewed Pet Sounds with feelings of impotence (its complex backing tracks where recorded by an ensemble of studio musicians), professional jealousy, and concern about the impact of the new direction on their established fan base as well as their bottom line.
Don’t fuck with the formula, is how Love is said to have put it to Wilson.
Fuck with the formula Wilson did... and the results were amazing.
While Pet Sound was the product of Wilson’s growing independence (some say isolation) from the other band members, it was also the beneficiary of the prevailing currents and innovations of the day.
Technological advances in recording such as the introduction of the eight-track recorder and the wall of sound technique developed by pioneer Phil Spector gave rise to the recognition that studio recording techniques could be an integral part of composition, which made possible Wilson’s growing sophistication as a producer and composer. (Some say Wilson named the album in part to honor Spector, with his initials PS becoming Pet Sounds.)
Equally important was the influence of The Beatles' Rubber Soul album. For the first time, a pop album was widely seen as a work of art rather than a hodge-podge of singles. Rubber Soul was an innovation, one that set a new standard for musical creativity, and one that Wilson wanted to meet - and exceed - with Pet Sounds.
Wilson’s increasing experimentation with drugs and his slow descent into mental illness also contributed to the score. For better or worse, Wilson’s mind was intermittently expanded and driven into the depths of depression, but his creative prowess and technical know-how seemed boundless.
Like many great works of art, Pet Sounds was not commercially successful when first released, reaching only #10 on the U.S. album charts - something which hurt Wilson deeply. A lack of interest by Capitol Records and that the fact the album, released in 1966, was years ahead of its time, contributed to disappointing sales. The lackluster commercial performance made the other band members even more resistant to the next iteration of Wilson’s new sound, SMiLE, an album even more ambitious than Pet Sounds - and one that he hoped would top The Beatles' mighty Sgt. Pepper.
Instead of the creative outburst continuing with SMiLE, Pet Sounds proved to be the apex of Wilson's career as he succumbed to pressure from the rest of the group, drug abuse, and metal illness. The subsequent disintegration of the SMiLE project marked the end of the Pet Sounds revolution before it really began. Subsequent “compromise” efforts that included input from the entire group proved, by and large, commercial and critical disappointments. The Beach Boys faded from relevance while SMiLE has gone down in music history as one of the great unfinished works.
While fans of Pet Sounds long for what could have been with SMiLE, I am thankful that we have Pet Sounds, which almost a year later is still my favorite album.
If you’ve never heard Pet Sounds, just listen to it… a minimum of five times... and then you'll know what I mean.