Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Happy birthday, "Pet Sounds"

The first post on this blog mentioned a bit about "Pet Sounds." I suggested that I might eventually tackle the album head-on, and do a review.

I haven't gotten there yet. Why? Because it's one of those albums that has been reviewed thousands of times, and just about everything that can be said about it has been said.

But a big reason that writing about the album is so daunting is because "Pet Sounds" is an album that really has to be experienced. Like Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" (and many others), the album is a combination of sounds and feelings that present a mood ... This is music to be felt and measured, that needs to be digested. Sure, you can enjoy the songs separately (many know the hits "Sloop John B," "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows" without having heard the album), but it's amazing how powerful the album is in its entirety. 

Have time to get into it? Let's try. Prepare for a lot of rambling!

On May 16, 1966, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys released "Pet Sounds" into the world. The UK LOVED it. The U.S.? Well, not necessarily as much. At least, not right away. There are a lot of reasons given for this ... Capitol Records not promoting it, the material being too different and too complex, the music being less fun and more mature, the changing musical landscape, etc.

I'll let others discuss those reasons (and the others given) through their forums. For me, it just isn't important. If "Pet Sounds" had been the landmark album (at the time) that, say, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" had been when it was released, I'm not sure I would have discovered "Pet Sounds" the same way. And it is the discovery of the album that makes it so important to a lot of people who love it.

Talking about music is one of my favorite things to do. Experiencing music is also high on the list. Reading about music? Also excellent. I'm a big music nerd.

I got into The Beach Boys because of my intense love of The Beatles. I read everything I could find about The Beatles. I even went through my high school's old microfiche to print off magazine articles from the Seventies and Eighties about the group. See? I'm a nerd.

No matter what I read, though, The Beach Boys got brought up. Sometimes they weren't brought up in positive fashion, sometimes they were brought up as equals/competitors, and sometimes they were brought up as influences on The Beatles. Surely not, I thought to myself ... How could a group that did such things as "409" and "Barbara Ann" have influenced a group that did "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "Rain?" But hey, Paul McCartney liked the album ... So maybe The Beach Boys did something right.

I had a lot to learn.

One day, I noticed my dad had borrowed a book from a co-worker of his. The book was "Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story." I didn't really know any of The Beach Boys by name, but the book title was interesting ... I knew there was a song called "Wouldn't It Be Nice." And the guy's name was ringing bells, but I just couldn't place it. The guy on the cover looked severe, though. Kind of imposing. Kind of spooked. I was intrigued.

So I started reading it. Wow. First off, it was engaging. Secondly, what a life. Third, seemed like there was a lot of horse shit in it. 

But it fanned the flames of interest.

When my brother and I were younger, my folks tried getting us into music. My brother got a couple cassettes of Beach Boys music and we listened to them fairly frequently, but I wouldn't say those made us huge fans. After reading the book, I decided to bust those out again and give them a listen.

One was basically "The Beach Boys Concert" and the other was "Live in London." They were fun, but hardly inspiring. Since these were live tapes, I decided to go further and really tackle the studio work.

That's not to say that I hadn't heard their studio stuff before. Of course I had. Between the radio, TV and movie shows and some stuff my dad had (one of the first CDs he owned was a Beach Boys disc), I was no stranger to the hits. But in 1995/1996 when I had read the book and was developing my interest, it's not like The Beach Boys were all over the place anymore.

My dad got me my first Beach Boys CD in 1996. It was a greatest hits disc that eventually became the first of three discs in a series ... "20 Good Vibrations." Most of the big songs were there. "Surfin' USA." "Surfer Girl." "Little Deuce Coupe." "Fun, Fun, Fun." "I Get Around." "Help Me, Rhonda." "California Girls." And, of course, "Good Vibrations." It also had a couple songs from "Pet Sounds," the ones that were hits: "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Sloop John B" and "God Only Knows." 

It was a great disc. Really, I enjoyed listening to it. It was fun to play ping pong to, great to mow the lawn with, great to drive to, with different textures and moods. It was a consistently good listen.

I decided to go further. I went to the public library and checked out "Good Vibrations: 30 Years of The Beach Boys," the comprehensive box set. I started from the beginning and got knocked out. I obsessed over all four discs. I got the early stuff, the sun and fun years. I got the growth stuff, with "Pet Sounds" selections and "SMiLE" pieces. I got the group years that showed all the members stepping up to the plate. And I got the weird stuff, the "Carl and the Passions" and "Love You" stuff.

The box set was fascinating. I pored over it. I lived and breathed it. I would pause songs and think about things. This stuff was knocking me out. They weren't The Beatles, of course ... but I started to realize that they didn't HAVE to be.

It was at this point that I decided I needed to listen to "Pet Sounds." I needed to dive right in. 

With my constant checking out of the GV box set, I had decided to buy a copy for myself. When I saved up enough to buy it, I noticed there was a "Pet Sounds" box there too. This seemed like overkill to me. One of the things I had appreciated about the GV box was the variety and how so many albums got a few tracks included without getting overblown.

But at this point, I decided that an album that got so much praise and had inspired Paul McCartney, and that had topped so many "best album" lists, had to be worth it. ... So I saved up and got the box set. I wanted to be able to really explore the album.

That's right. My first exposure to the entire album was a box set. Bonus tracks. Vocals-only tracks. Instrumental tracks. ... A whole lot of material. 

I didn't start with the vinyl album, or even the 1990 CD release. Nope. I went all in.

Holy. Crap.

What an emotional album. What a courageous album. What a spiritual album. What a hopeful ... and sad ... album.

There was just so much to absorb. It wasn't really a concept album, but it really spoke to me and my teen angst. It had confusion and fear and loneliness and joy and confidence and sorrow and experimentation and was so, so sonically rich.

My butt got kicked. Hard.

I could go on and talk about how the GV box and the "Pet Sounds" box opened up the doors to getting all their albums (really, they did ... I did get all the albums after these box sets) and how I started getting into bootlegs and chasing down bits and pieces of "SMiLE" (also true), and how I paid a heck of a lot for a then out-of-print copy of the first Brian Wilson solo album ...

But it all is padding. It's gloss. It's all important to ME, but not necessarily to you.

"Pet Sounds" became a spiritual anchor, in a way. I could listen to the early albums and hear where "Pet Sounds" was coming from. I could hear the later albums and see where elements of "Pet Sounds" remained (and how much of it had disappeared).

And I started to really realize how much music means to me. It wasn't just fun, it wasn't something that I just enjoyed as background, it wasn't just something to spin late at night when I couldn't sleep, it wasn't just stuff I could discuss with my dad. It was all of those things, and more. Music helped me better appreciate my own feelings. Music helped me to open my mind and my heart to more experiences and more ways of thinking. Music made me more tolerant of different ideas ... and I started to explore more genres.

Whereas before I was all about The Beatles, and to hell with everything else ... now I was into The Beatles and just about everything else. 

And that was because of The Beach Boys. It really, really was. My views expanded. Different textures, different approaches, different sounds ... They were all relevant now. They all had their places. Whether it was fun, dumb, happy, sad, experimental, orchestral, psychedelic, funky, pastoral ... I was open to it.

And "Pet Sounds" is a very big part of that. It's an album of many textures and sounds.

That album, perhaps more than any other, gives me internal comfort. It's been more than 15 years since I first heard the album, and it remains a collection of music that I visit at least two or three times a year. I've seen it performed live by a tribute group. I own at least 4 different VINYL editions of the album. I own at least 4 different CD versions of the album. I own the Brian Wilson DVD of his live performance of the album. And the song "God Only Knows" is one of the songs my wife and I jointly love, and we included it on our wedding day playlist.

Today, May 16, 2012, the album turned 46 years old. It is consistently in the top 10 of best albums lists worldwide. The box set has an essay from Paul McCartney. Sir George Martin, the producer of The Beatles, has gone to great lengths to discuss the album and the group. Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Tom Petty, Thurston Moore and countless others have sung the praises of this music.

For good reason.

The album is classic. It is timeless. It is a lifetime of experience in one collection. 

Happy birthday, "Pet Sounds." My life is certainly better that you are in it ... and modern music continues to owe you a great debt.

And Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys will forever hold a top spot in the popular music heirarchy on the strengths of "Pet Sounds" and their other great records.

I have so much to say about "Pet Sounds." I haven't even scraped the surface. I haven't discussed the songs. I haven't discussed Tony Asher. I haven't discussed chart positions. I haven't discussed the genesis of "Good Vibrations" or how "Here Today" works into that. I haven't talked about the influence "Rubber Soul" had on Brian Wilson, or how "I Know There's An Answer" came from "Hang On To Your Ego." There's a lot of ground left to cover.

Some classics are just hard to approach. So an album review is going to have to wait. Today/tonight was about appreciating the album. If you don't own a copy of "Pet Sounds" yet ... Go buy one. It is one of the very, very few albums I think everyone should own. It's just that ... necessary.

I'll try to make my next post something other than Beach Boys! It's a big time for Beach Boys fans, though, with their first new group album (to include Brian Wilson as the main man behind the scenes) in decades ... since 1977's "Love You." Sure, he was involved in the 1985 album, but this new album features more co-writes and direction from the big man. It's epic! So please, excuse my gushing over the next month ...

Have you heard "Pet Sounds?" What do you think of it? Overrated? UNDERrated? Pivotal? Overblown? Do you own a copy? How many copies do you own? Please, weigh in if you have the interest and some spare time. I'd love to hear your thoughts on one of the greatest records of all time.


  1. What a beautiful and accurate review. To me, Pet Sounds is spriritual, emotional, heartfelt and very real. It's comforting, encouraging, understanding and soothing. It's not an album to be listened to with the head, it is all heart and soul. It is very moving, it means a lot to me. Marie x

    1. Thank you very much, Marie. I agree with you all the way. :)

      I appreciate the comment. I hope you stop by again!

  2. I love how you poured your heart & soul into this review! Excellent!
    (And I enjoy your other writings as well.)

  3. Thank you very much, JL. I really appreciate that. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...